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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2007

SUPERMAN DOOMSDAY: BRUCE TIMM

SAN DIEGO -- Superman Doomsday marks a new era for the character in animation: A new look, a new voice cast and a movie launching a series of direct-to-DVD films based on DC Universe comic books.

But one thing remains consistent: Bruce Timm. The veteran animator -- whose credits include the Batman and Superman series, Batman Beyond and both Justice League shows -- leads the charge at Warner Bros. in its DVD line of movies as a producer and director.

Just before a public screening of Superman Doomsday at Comic-Con International, Timm sat down with a group of journalists.

Below is an edited transcription:

Question: When did you begin on this project?

Timm: It was early spring of last year.

Question: Was there any need to take down the naysayers who didn't like the original Superman series?

Timm: Were they any?

Question: People who didn't think it was on par with Batman.

Timm: That may have been true at the time, but I think over the years the opinion about that show has kind of gradually changed. With time passing, I think people look back on it and go, "You know what? That actually was a good show." Now that it comes out on DVD, they have a chance to look at it again and go, "Hey, this was much better than I remembered."

It's not so much challenging the naysayers. I thought we did a really good job with that show, but it was still clearly intended for a kid audience, bottom line. And everything about this project (Superman Doomsday) was to age up the property to appeal to an older and larger demographic. That kind of informed the entire creative process.

Question: In drawing from the comic, what were the things that you said, "This has to be the way it was?" and things you said, "Well, that was 1991..."?

Timm: It's hard to talk about it without spoiling the whole movie. The comics was this huge sprawling story that took like 2-1/2 years of comic-book time spread out over three monthly books with a bunch of different creative teams doing the book. That's both a good and a bad thing.

The good thing was that it's not as coherent a story -- and this is not to slam the original comics -- (as) New Frontier, which was created by one person and it was intended to be a beginning, middle and end. "Death of Superman" was a really wildly serialized story, like I said, with all these diffeent creative teams, so it tangeted off like in a bunch of different directions.

It was pretty easy to read the book and go, "OK, we don't need that, we don't need that. we don't need that." Even the main thrust of some of the storyline, the big climax of the comic, we felt it was OK for the comic, it doesn't really cinematically and we need to come up with something better -- or something more cinematic. It was always a challenge to go one step beyond the comic was and in, some places, make a left turn from what the comic was.

Question: Was that an influence to take not only the cast, but the artwork and everything else, in a new direction?

Timm: That's really kind of from a practical standpoint. The home video people really wanted to do whatever we could to rebrand the propety so it was not tied to the previous show's continuity in any way, shape or form. They really wanted to make this a complete standalone or a restart.

That meant all new models, all new cast. I took it across the board. For all intents and purposes, I shouldn't even have been producing it. It really should have been somebody else, but I was available. (laughs)

Even to the music. I could have used the three main composers that I have been working with for years and years and years. They would have done a great job. But again, "Wanted to do something different here."

There was a guy named Robert Krall, who I've been a fan of for a long time. He did the music for Angel. I knew at the time he had also done the music for Duck Dodgers, our Warner Bros. cartoon from a couple of years ago, so I knew he was available to do cartoons. Turned out he had an opening in his schedule and he just did a really magnificent job with the score. It doesn't sound anything like any other movie or any other TV series we've ever done.

We just wanted to do everything different.

Question: Would you say this is the most emotional piece you've done?

Timm: Nah.

Question: We keep hearing that word "emotional" in interviews.

Timm: It's up there. It's definitely emotional. But I love tear-jerking drama, schmaltz stuff. All of our shows have had that stuff. But it's up there. It's a pretty powerful, emotional story.

I've said this before, but it's true. The battle scenes are great. I love good action scenes, and here we've got Superman and this monster from outer space beating the crap out of each other for 20 minutes. But my favorite part of the movie is the second act after Superman's dead and we spend a lot of time with Lois and how she's dealing with it. That to me is the most powerful part of the movie.

Question: The original series had a lot of Jack Kirby influence in the art direction. Did that go away with this?

Timm: The old Superman show, I wouldn't really even characterize it as having a whole lot of Kirby influence. I mean, it did in some of the vehicle design and when we had Darkseid and the Fourth World characters.

That was my biggest personal challenge in this movie was trying to coming up with a different style for the movie, so it didn't look like the old Superman animated show. I looked at a lot of different comics. Of course, I looked at the "Death of Superman" comics. I was looking at Dan Jurgens' work and Jon Bogdanove's work. I was looking at Leinil Yu's (Superman:) Birthright. Anything to kind of change up my own personal style.

It's always tough. The style that I've come up with for these differnt shows, I know it works well in animation. So you kind of don't want to throw out what works about it, but at the same time you want to bring out different stylistic touches to it. So it was really difficult.

Question: So how does Superman differ from your previous?

Timm: He's got a little more realistic anatomy. There's a little bit more detail on his face. There's even more detail in his color. He's got this real tricky three-color scheme for the blues on his costume, which was real difficult to figure out. It's all kind of cosmetic.

That's the weird thing. He doesn't look radically different from the old Superman, but he looks different enough that if you put them side by side, you'd say, "Oh yeah, this is really different." It's almost as if I didn't change my drawing style, but it's like if I recast the actors who were playing them visually.

Question: I noticed his face has lines in it.

Timm: Yeah, he's a little bit more rugged, little bit manlier, which goes with the new voice that we have for him, which is much more of a rugged, macho Superman than our any of our previous Supermans.

Question: It is hard to reimagine some of those characters, like going from a big, stocky guy in Lex Luthor?

Timm: He was the easiest one to reimagine because all the other characters are really concrete stereotypes. Not stereotypes, but you know that the minute you go out of Superman's character, it's obvious to everybody. You'd go, "Superman would neer say that."

But with Luthor, we had a little bit more wiggle room with how we play him. Because he's been so wildly different throughout his entire career, going through the comics and the movies and the cartoons we've done. He's either the tycoon or the mad scientist or the renegade super-criminal or whatever.

Duane (Capizzi, screenwriter) and I were very influenced by Birthright, mostly visually. I was very struck by the way Leinil Yu drew him, very, very thing and very guant almost. I thought that was a really interesting look for him. The challenge was to take 40 pounds of flesh off him, but still keep him powerful.

Pesonality-wise, he's not as bombastic as our old Luthor. He's not as commanding. He's quieter. The word we always used to describe him was "reptilian." He's very kind of quietly sinister. It's really, really effective, I think. I love the new Luthor. I love the old Luthor, too.

Question: You've done both now, direct-to-video movies and showrunning a television series. Are you in a mode now where you like movies more?

Timm: That's a hard question to answer. I like both.

The thing about TV is ... I miss the instant gratification of doing a show, sending it out, doing another show and sending it out. And when they start coming back from overseas, it's like bang, bang, bang and I'm getting a new show every week. There's not a whole lot of time to mess around with them. You've got to get it edited real quick and you got to get the sound on it and you got to do all the stuff. And then it's out the door and you're doing another one. That's kind of fun to me. I actually really miss that.

Whereas on these, you get your footage back and you can mess around a little bit and play with it. "Hey Joe, let's go back and look at Act B, there's some stuff in there I want to play around with." And you kind of get lost in the details.

But I'm definitely digging the lesser restrictions of working in a PG-13 venue. And again, it's not so much like, "Thanks God, we can start blowing people's heads off and show nudity and stuff." It's not even about that.

In the past, on cartoons on TV, it's kind of an open secret that we were always kind of pushing the envelope anyways. Our shows were always really pushing the edges of the Y-7 rating anways. They were practially PG-13 shows anyhow.

Even so, there was a certain ceiling we would always bang our heads against. You could never say hell, you could never say damn. The amount of blood you were allowed to show is severely restricted. In fact, when we were on Cartoon Network, we almost never allowed to show blood. If a character has to die on TV, you have to kind of dance around it a little bit in how you stage it, or give it wiggle room so you can say, "Maybe he didn't die and maybe he's going to come back."

But here, if we have to kill a character, bang! They're dead. It's like, "Woo-hoo!" Again, it's not even just for the gratuitous violence to have to kill a character. But if it's dramatically correct the story, we don't have to dance around it.

The same thing for the dialogue. There were so many times on Justice League where the response would have been "Damn it!" And we could never say "damn it" and a "darn it" won't cut it. And you'd have to find something else to do.

But here if we have to have a character say "damn it," we can say "damn it." It's just nice to be a little bit freer with it.

And just the overall direction of the stories, we can be a little bit darker and more adult without anybody freaking out about it. That's a big plus, and I'm really enjoying with these right now.

Question: Our people who didn't read or were fans of the "Death of Superman" going to be able to come in this fresh and understand?

Timm: Absolutely. Every one of these movies -- Superman and New Frontier and anything we do from the point on -- we're treating as a standalone. You should not have to know the history of these characters to understand the movie.

That's one thing that's been a little bit of a challenge in these movies. And it's actually been a real help that we are getting opinions from the home-video people because they're not necessarily geeks. They don't really know all this stuff. So when they're reading the script for the first time. They'll go, "I don't really understand what this means." And we have to stop and realize that we all understand because we're all geeks and we understand the shorthand, and that we have to explain Themyscira. Or we need to explain Oa. Or the history of Deathstroke. Or whatever.

They don't get it. So each one of these things has to be re-established. You don't have to get into this big, long backstory, but, at the same time, you have to make it clear.

With Superman, it's really straight forward. Fortunately, because there have been so many Superman movies and he's been around in so many different mediums, everybody knows Superman's story. We don't have to go back and say, "Strange visitor from another planet, blah, blah, blah." We don't have to reiterate the origin or anything. Everybody knows who Superman is. They basically know what his powers are. They know Lois Lane's "the girl reporter from The Daily Planet" and they know who Jimmy Olsen is.

So we don't have to re-establish any of that. And yet at the same time we do, but it's real brief. It's like, here's our version of these characters and we're off and running.

Question How do you deal with the hype and expecations? This is your first thing after Justice League.

Timm: The truth is, we kind of raised the bar on Justice League, in terms of adult content within a kids cartoon. We knew we had to step up even further and at the same time, not make an R-rated Superman. Because nobody wants to see an R-rated Superman. Well, some people would. But not me. (laughs)

It's tough. There's going to be people who look at it and go, "Well, it's not bloody enough." Or it's not this enough or it's not that enough. I can't worry about that too much. I just do the best I can.

Question: Can you talk about where you are with the other upcoming films?

Timm: Well, New Frontier, we're editing it as we speak. We're starting to get the animation back from overseas and it actually looks really, really good. I think fans are going to dig it.

Beyond that, everything is up in the air. We've got four diffent scripts in active development. Teen Titans is one of them. The other ones were not allowed to talk about yet. It wouldn't surprised you if I told you which ones they were.

It's really just a matter of which script we get into the best shape first. Hopefully, when this movie comes out, it'll sell like gangbusters and they'll greenlight two or three of these movies at the same time.

Question: Do you have any favorites or ones you want to do?

Timm: Well, it's tricky. The ones I really want to do and the really weird and obscure ones. The characters I gravitate towards more are the weird and obscure ones. Because I've been dealing with all the big guns for a long time. I've done a lot of Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman and Green Lantern stories, and I'd like to try something off trail. But realistically, there's not a huge market for those characters -- yet -- until this series gets up off the ground. Like I said, hopefully it will sell really, really well and a couple of movies down the line hopefully they'll take a chance on something that's not as well known.

Question: So you see yourself doing for a couple of years at least?

Timm: Sure.



E-mail the Continuum at RobAlls@aol.com



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