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Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2000


By Rob Allstetter

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - Boyd Kirkland says he serves many masters. As producer of X-Men: Evolution, Kirkland leads the production team at Film Roman. But he also has to please Kids' WB! and Marvel - and then there's his own goals for the series.

He seems to be succeeding. X-Men: Evolution, which premieres Saturday, is carrying a solid buzz, and everyone involved seems satisfied with the show's progress.

During The Continuum's recent visit to the Film Roman offices, Kirkland talked about the challenges of X-Men: Evolution, Saturday morning animation, what it was like to work on Batman and his hopes for action/adventure animation.

The Continuum: What were the challenges of putting together a show like this?

Kirkland: There's all these different phases, and each phase of production has its own challenges. The first thing was getting everybody together and on the same page as far what the show was going to be. We spent just a couple of months in development. We should have had more time and I would have liked to have had more time. We got this show started later than normally and we really had to rush. Even with that, it's turning out great.

The network has a certain kind of show they want to see and Marvel, of course, has their interests in the characters and how they should be portrayed. And I have my own sensibilities about how to tell a story and do this stuff so that it will play well. When you go from one medium into another, comics into film, there's always adaptations that you have to make. You have to take all that stuff into account. It's always an interesting process getting people with all these different agendas together and happy with where it all ends up.

So, in the early stages, we had some meetings where all of us were sitting in a room together and Marvel would send reps from New York to have some discussions and look over what we were doing. So, there's a lot of push and pull and give and take. That's a big challenge, initially. Just to get everybody in sync with what we're doing.

And once you get everybody excited about that, then it's to find people who can executive that, with the writing and the visuals and the artwork.

The Continuum: What type of look were you striving for?

Kirkland: I'm not a big fan of a lot of the super-hero animation that's been done for TV, design-wise, because it's too complicated. In other words, there are people designing stuff that are designing stuff trying to make it look just like the comic book, with all the anatomy and the little bells, whistles and buttons. The difficulty I have with that, is it's really tough to animate. Even if you've got an artist skilled enough to draw it, it's one thing to draw it once for a page in a book, it's another to draw it 24 times for one second for film. Multiply that, and you wind up with hundreds of thousands of drawings. There's a compromise that's made between making it look really good, and how much detail and information you can put in a drawing.

I wasn't saying, "This is going to be Gothic or this is going to be Art Deco," or any of that, as much as something that looks like a good, classic animation style and didn't veer too far away from the comic-book origins but was simplified enough that it would work for animation.

The Continuum: Teams shows are probably even tougher to do, too?

Kirkland: Any team show is tough to because you've only got 20 minutes of screen time to tell a story and you're dividing all that time with eight different people, you don't feel like you're really getting connected with any of them. They're all running around and moving and saying their lines, but do you care? That's a tough thing to do with a team.

The Continuum: So that's why you have a slower reveal with the first season, building up the characters through the episodes?

Kirkland: That's a big part of it. Just like they do in any ensemble show. Like Star Trek, here's your ensemble group of guys and each episode we say we're going to focus on this guy and whatever issue he's dealing with. The others are around doing their little bits, but we don't focus on that.

The Continuum: With the characters being teenagers at the school, will the stories be told on a smaller scale?

Kirkland: It's a little more localized. They're not planet-hopping in every episode as much, like they do when they mature into the functioning X-Men super-hero team. As part of Professor X's discovery process with Cerebro locating mutants and all of this, they go to different places, wherever they discover one to go and try to recruit them. But most of the action takes place where they live.

The Continuum: Are the X-Men actually in costume much?

Kirkland: Not as much as the original series. The focus is not, let's get these guys in their long johns and run around and beat each other up. The focus is to treat them like their real human beings and as characters dealing with real issues like everybody else does. But then they have this other thing going on on the side. So we tried to balance the stories between feeling like they're real characters living in the real world with getting enough action in there to make it exciting and keep the kids interested.

The Continuum: Is there a season-long story arc?

Kirkland: Sort of, yes and no. There are issues that get introduced and sort of evolve and develop, but it's not like you've got to watch episode to episode to episode to feel like you know what's going on. Each episode has its own complete story.

The Continuum: This show really isn't for the core crowd, it's more for a broad audience?

Kirkland: I don't know if you would say this is not a fanboy's show. It's the same issue I think they faced with the X-Men movie. We're making something that's for a brand-new, big, broad audience, that hasn't read all the comic books and know all the stories and can sit there and say, "Look who's in that scene." We're not doing that. We're not trying to do that. We're trying to make something that somebody who doesn't know anything about any of this stuff can sit down and watch and pick up on it and get involved with it.

The Continuum: Did you like the movie?

Kirkland: I liked it a lot. It was really good. It kind of felt more like a prequel than a movie unto itself. But I thought that what they did is reached a mass audience. Any time you try to take this comic-book, super-hero stuff into live-action, boy you're walking a fine line because as soon as you start putting spandex outfits on real, living human beings. It gets corny really fast. It's always tough to take comic-book stuff and turn it into live-action. Of all the super-hero movies, X-Men did one of the best jobs that I've seen. Keeping it feeling real but not offending the fans.

The Continuum: Was the movie much of an influence on X-Men: Evolution?

Kirkland: Ironically, they had such tight grips of what was going to be in the movie, we weren't told anything about it. The only person in any of the development discussions that knew anything about the movie was Avi Arad. He would keep bringing up things and all of us would look at him and say, "If you want us to include that, Avi, you've got to let us see it or show us the script or give us stills. Show us the movie!"

So what it ended up being, was no, the movie had very little if anything direct influence. Xavier's wheelchair ended up being that way because we gave Marvel a wheelchair and Avi said, 'No, I want the one like in the movie.' And I said it, 'Show us what it looks like.' And so we got some artwork of that. But I didn't even see a script of the movie. I didn't know what the story was going to be. Nothing.

The Continuum: Why the new character Spyke?

Kirkland: I think that grows out of a necessity for almost of these network Saturday morning shows to try and represent the spectrum of the racial community in America. When we were doing the early development, we looked at the options of existing characters that were in the X-Men Universe and the continuity of when they were introduced of all of that, and we just had a really tough time coming up with a character of color that existed in the first 10 years or so. All that early X-Men stuff was pretty whitebread.

The Continuum: X-Men fans have pointed out the apparent similarities between Spyke and Marrow. Are they essentially the same character?

Kirkand: With Spyke, we kept kicking around ideas. What can this guy do? What could he be? There were all kinds of possibilities. When I suggested this idea, I didn't know about Marrow. And as what I suggested and the artwork evolved, Frank (Paur, series director) said, "This character is a lot like Marrow." And I said, "Who's that?" It didn't develop with the idea in mind that we were going to make another Marrow. It just sort of ended up that way. You try to think up a character with powers that nobody's done already. It will end up being like somebody who already exists, I'm telling you.

The Continuum: How does this show compare with working on Batman or the Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero movie?

Kirkland: With the Batman show, the greatest joy I had was the (SubZero) video because that was separate and that was mine. I produced it, directed it and got to write the script. Warner Home Video was pretty hands off. The approval process was nothing. I got to do what I wanted to do. I was told up front what were the parameters. They thought Mask of the Phantasm was too dark and had too much gun play for a kid's video, and they told me to keep that under control. So I had to structure a story that had action in it, but didn't have that kind of violence.

The Continuum: Which sounds like the problems they've had with Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker...

Kirkland: They're headed for the same kind of problems now, even more so than with Mask of Phantasm. What can I tell you? I was told to be careful of that. I know some of the fans weren't as thrilled with SubZero because it didn't go there, it was more of a kid friendly thing. I thought there was plenty of intensity of action in that, though.

But, really, I was pretty feel free to do whatever I wanted with the art, with the story, with everything. Creatively, it was a joy.

With X-Men, I mean I'm really happy with what it is, but I'm serving a lot of masters. I get these detailed notes from the network and from Marvel. And not everybody's intent is the same. And a lot of times, my aesthetic sensibilities vary from what these people are telling me to do, which isn't a surprise. You get five people in a room and everybody has a different opinion about what they like and what they don't like. That's inevitable; everybody has different tastes. For me, the guy caught the middle of all these parties and with my own wishes of what I could be doing versus what I'm being told to do, that's kind of a tough place to be sometimes.

It's not that that's a bad thing, Sometimes all that bumping and stuff makes things better. Sometimes you have to make compromises that you wish you didn't have to make. That just kind of comes with the territory of doing a series.

It was the same thing on the Batman series. I wasn't in charge of that. I worked for Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski. They were pretty good about leaving me alone to do what I wanted to do on my particular episode. But every once in a while, I'd come up against Bruce, in particular. I got along pretty well with Eric. Bruce could be pretty hard-headed about some stuff. Any time you're in a relationship where you're answering to other people and there's all these creative decisions to be made, it's inevitable.

The Continuum: There were reports that the network was concerned about having a character like Wolverine, who has these weapons coming out of his hand. Will he use his claws in X-Men: Evolution?

Kirkland: The WB right now, and I believe they've released statements through their own publicity, that they're about being more kid friendly than they were with Batman. The feeling there now is often times those shows went too far with the violence level. So they're being pretty hard-lined with us on this show about what they're going to allow and not allow. It's one of those areas I have no control over. I'm basically told what I can do and can't do.

But he's gonna pop his claws and rip inanimate objects. Wolverine never used his claws on living things in the original series, either. He was always threatening to, but he never did. They won't let us get away with anything like that for kids. But his claws come out and uses them. He cuts things.

The Continuum: But, really, you can't push the edge with violence on this show?

Kirkland: When it comes to the edge of violence, no, we're not being allowed to push the edge. Batman and Batman Beyond have certainly pushed the edge. The original (Batman) series was on Fox and Fox allowed us to do a lot of stuff that up to that time was never allowed on a network. With the climate of what's going on in Washington right now and all the pressure on Hollywood with marketing violence to children, the pendulum has swung the other way now on a lot of this stuff. We're not trying to push the edge. We've been told to keep it suitable for the under-10 crowd.

The Continuum: Who is this show really intended for?

Kirkland: The attended target audience for the network has always been for 2-11. That's where all the advertising is targeted and that's the market that's everybody's interested in. That's the demographic everybody's trying to reach. It was always great that we had an audience that went way beyond that for Batman, but frankly the network never cared because they weren't selling advertising to that market. So, in terms of the revenue coming back to the network, those numbers never entered the picture for them. It's the same thing now. I would think the smart thing to do would be to say, "Gee, we've got this big, broad demographic, maybe we should reposition this show in another time frame." And appeal to that mass market.

The Continuum: And have a prime-time X-Men show?

Kirkland: Yeah, in the evening, like with The Simpsons. But nobody's ever thought to do that. All they do is keeping telling us you're making the audience too old. Stop doing that.

The Continuum: Could a show like X-Men work in primetime?

Kirkland: I've been waiting for years for somebody to realize that action/adventure could play. It all has to do, to a large extent, with the writing. If you write the show that's intelligent and that doesn't insult the intelligence of your audience, I think there's enough people that have grown up with animation and video games, that they'd be willing to watch a really quality show in prime time - if it's written intelligently and aimed at that market.

It's always frustrated me that all the networks are interested in prime time is dysfunctional family sitcoms. Every animated program that's been in prime time is some variation of The Simpsons formula. That's getting real old.

I'd wish they try something new with action/adventure and let us take this material where it deserves to go. Let's face it shows like this deserves to go into those intense conflict kinds of areas and they won't let us go there on Saturday mornings. It'd be nice to be allowed to do that. The only way we can be is if we got one of these things on prime time, and the networks haven't been willing to try it.

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