Emru Townsend: Japanese
Bruce Timm: What about it?
Influences. No, not necessarily influences, but one of the questions I get asked a lot from animation fans is, does Japanese animation have any impact whatsoever on the North American TV and movie industry? Impact can mean anything.
BT: A lot of guys in our crew and some of the directors that worked on the first series of Batman that we did way back when--very, very heavily influenced by Japanese animation. It's probably not as much of a direct influence on what we do. Itís not like when we sit down to do a Batman episode we say, let's sit down and watch a whole bunch of Japanese cartoons and figure out what they did and try to do it. We have done that, we actually do that a lot for the effects, they're geniuses with effects, so we've actually sat down and frame-by-frame, tried to figure out how they do some effect.
For the most part, Japanese animation is--that's a big thing, Japanese animation, there's so many different kinds of Japanese animation. There's stuff that's practically fully animated like Akira, and there's stuff that's more simplified and stylized like Ghost in the Shell, where they make real creative use of limited animation.
So we try to do a lot of their tricks that they do, but we've always had as a mandate from the corporate headquarters to not do any of that quote-unquote "limited animation crap". So what we've always tried to do is [as much] quote-unquote "full animation" as possible, so a lot of the stuff the Japanese do doesn't really apply. But especially on Batman Beyond, a lot of people say, oh yeah, it definitely has an anime-inspired look. Yes and no, it kind of does and it doesn't; if anything, it's probably something that's more subliminal. It's more of a subliminal influence than a direct influence.
To be honest, I don't really see it.
BT: That's good. [everyone laughs] Because a lot of people see it and I don't really see what they're talking about.
I think it's largely because it's futuristic.
BT: I think the [aesthetic] is a big part of it. You know, the futuristic city with a lot of foreign language, Japanese and Korean characters on the buildings, and a lot of it neon. That's very much something that the Japanese have been doing for quite a while in their science fiction anime.
Yeah, they seized on some of the images of cyberpunk and such a lot earlier.
BT: Well, yeah. We came up with a fairly successful formula for how to design characters for animation, and on that aspect of it, it's not really anything like Japanese animation. Going back to when I first started working on that style in the original Batman series, I would say it's a combination of Alex Toth and Sleeping Beauty. It's like Alex Toth's designs for Hanna-Barbera in the '60s and the really, really strongly graphic design that the Disney artists did on Sleeping Beauty, that's kind of the quote-unquote "Batman style".
With a little bit of the Fleischers thrown in.
BT: Well, the Fleischers... that was definitely an influence on us on the first series of Batman--
Glen Murakami: The look and the feel is very Fleischers, but it's more stylized.
BT: Yeah, the actual drawing style is more stylized. If you look at the Fleischers, everything is very round, very quote-unquote "classical" animation, very Disney-oriented and very rounded, where the specific stuff we're aping from Sleeping Beauty is sharp straights against rounded curves. It's actually something I picked up on when I was working at Don Bluth, then I was really heavily influenced by that style.
But the Fleischers, I think they were an influence on the original Batman series, but again, it wasn't like we sat down and said, let's do that shot, let's do that, let's do this. The way we shadowed the characters was probably, again, subliminal. You know, we've seen the cartoons so many times we can't help but think, that works, we'll kind of do that. It's not like we're sitting down and literally watching a Superman cartoon and drawing a Batman cartoon. It's [just] a common influence.
I'd like to pursue the Japanese animation thing a bit further, just because of one thing. In a recent episode of Batman Beyond, in the "Spellbinder" episode, you had a shot there which looked like it was straight out of Nausicaä.
BT: Oh, the big bug.
BT: Yeah. Well, that sequence was actually boarded by one of our board guys, named Adam Van Wyk. He is probably the biggest Japanese animation fan on our staff.
GM: We're big Miyazaki fans. I'd say we're more influenced by Miyazaki than probably any other [anime artist].
That was going to be my next question. What is it in particular about his style that you like?
GM: The simplification in the way he breaks down the animation is very smart and economical. Because we're doing a TV show we don't have a feature budget. We use the Japanese animation more for the technical and mechanical reasons rather than stylistic reasons.
BT: But also I think what we really like about Miyazaki is that his stuff is actually more fluid and more filmic than most of the other anime directors. You know what I'm talking about when I say the limited animation thing? It's like when I think of Ghost in the Shell I think of these ultra-rendered heads which don't actually animate but they really just animate the hair and they just slide the background behind it, and hold on it for a really long time.
Sure. And they manage to redirect your attention by the dialogue or something else so you don't really pay attention to that fact.
BT: Right. Whereas Miyazaki doesn't do a whole lot of that. His animation isn't quite as full as, say, Disney animation, but his characters go from pose to pose, they go from a real naturalistic pose to another naturalistic pose, and he tries to keep it fluid when the characters are moving. But just his storytelling sense also, is just unbelievable.
GM: He's very clear.
BT: Very clear. That's always my big thing. When you mentioned the Kurtzman thing, when I think of Kurtzman staging, I think everything is just clarity. He's a real meat and potatoes artist in the way he stages things. It's not tricky. It's just, he shows you the right angle and the right pose at the right time. And Miyazaki's kind of the same way.
GM: Most Japanese cartoons have just a lot of detail and a lot of explosions and a lot of things going on at one time, and that's very difficult to do on a TV show's budget and schedule. So I think we use Japanese animation techniques, but we try to make them look like American drawings.
Which I think is a pretty good blend, when it's done well.
BT: It's what we try to do.
GM: It's not that we don't like Japanese animation, it's just that it's apples and oranges. Some of the rules don't apply.
Sure. You take what works. There are a bunch of directions we could go with that, but because you mentioned the clarity--one of the things that I like about Batman--from the first series through to Batman Beyond--overall is simplicity. It's got a certain simple, elegant design. You don't have anything more than you need.
BT: Well, that's we try. That's exactly what we're aiming for.
GM: A lot of people confuse simplifying with dumbing down.
Whereas you use simplification and you don't talk down.
BT: That's one thing that we did do a little bit differently in Batman Beyond, because the show is set in the future. Up until that point we'd constantly been taking away detail. The last batch of Batmans we did for the WB, that was as spare and simple a style as we've ever done. If you compare those episodes to the first ones we ever did, the first ones have a lot more detail. A lot more wrinkles on the clothes, a lot more lumps on the figures, on the faces. Partly that's being influenced by Glen, because his style is really spare, compared to mine. But up until that point we were constantly taking away detail, saying, let's see if we can draw an arm with two lines instead of four.
Things got really, really stylized and really flat and graphic on the last go-round with Batman. We did Batman Beyond, and because of the futuristic setting we realized we would have to put a little bit more detail on the characters, and a little bit more detail on the vehicles and the backgrounds, just to give it a different look. But at the same time still trying to eliminate things that arenít important, like--people don't have buttons on their pants, their pants just magically stay up. We just figure it's something you donít need to draw. The same thing with heels on the shoes, you donít actually have to outline the sole of the shoe. That was one of my big sticklers when I was in the business before Batman. Every place where I'd had to design characters, at DIC or Marvel, they were always making me draw all this extra detail on figures, and I'd just think, well, you know, the guys in Korea aren't going to draw it. Or if they do, it's one extra line for them to screw up. So I was always trying to fight that.
I remember when I saw the first publicity still from [the new Batman], and I said, wow, this is radically simplified. Actually, I think the first thing I noticed was that his arm was basically two lines from shoulder to wrist.
GM: We [also] simplified the style with the colors. If you look at Batman, Batman is just black and grey, Robin is just black and red, and Joker is just purple and green. So we even tried to eliminate the amount of color we used too, to push the style.
BT: That's something that we took even further on Batman Beyond. Again, this is directly Glen's influence, because Glen spent a lot of time on the color of Batman Beyond. You might not even be aware of it when you're watching it, but anytime you see Terry and Dana in a crowd scene at school, you'll notice they're the only two characters in the scene that are in full color. Everybody else is all monochrome. It's all the same color in the background, it's like they've got purple hair, and purple pants, and purple shoes. It's kind of a comic book technique, it's something we adapted from comics. It's a way of focusing your attention on the characters that are talking, and trying to let everything else blend into the background.
GM: From EC comics.
What was the reason behind simplifying Batman further for the new one, or for that matter adapting a new look at all?
GM: We wanted to push the style. We had learned so much working on the first series and Superman, we wanted to take it even further.
BT: Not only that, but when they came back at us and said that the WB wanted to do new episodes of Batman, at first I wasn't even really interested, because we'd done so many of them, and we'd done Superman in the meantime, and I didn't want to just go back and do what we did five years before. And like Glen said, we thought we'd learned so much just from analyzing our cartoons about what worked and what didn't. So while I was just thinking about it at home one night, I just said, if I could do Batman again, what would I do different? And I just started sketching Batman again, and I that's when I came up with that really radically angular, flat design, and I thought, wow, that's pretty neat. And even eliminating the highlights on his black areas, which I always thought looked too blue on the screen, too electric blue.
So as soon as I did that, then I moved over to the Joker, I redesigned the Joker and I went, hey, that looks pretty good too. So I showed it to Glen, Glen was all excited, and he said, okay, if we're going to do this, this is the way to go, we can go back in and redo all the characters, make them all fit the style. Of course that meant we had to go back and redo every single character. And sometimes we'd look at a character like Clayface, and we'd say, well, there's nothing wrong with the original Clayface design, but it doesn't quite match the new style, so what are we going to do now? The same thing with Mr. Freeze. We loved the original Mr. Freeze design, but when it came time do him for the new show, it was like, well, we've got to redesign him because it just doesn't match anymore, so it was kind of a challenge.
The new Scarecrow is wonderfully terrifying.
BT: The Scarecrow is one of the characters I was really, really happy that we got a chance to redo, because I was never happy with the old Scarecrow design. To me, for a guy who's big weapon is fear, he just looked so silly in that big orange suit with the big hat and the bag over his head.
In the first series, his design changed two or three times, didn't it?
BT: Yeah. We never did get him right in the first series, so in the redo I was glad we got to do that so that we finally came up with a decent Scarecrow design. That Texas Chainsaw Massacre face.