Janet Hetherington and Dan Bennett join some 140,000 attendees (give or take) to experience the incredible number of animation, video game and vfx-themed panels offered at Comic-Con 2008.
A sold-out Comic-Con International in San Diego (July 23-27) continued its shift in focus this year to areas beyond comics, and the show was brimming with programming focusing on animation, video games and vfx -- a direct tie-in to successful media exploitation of such comics properties as The Dark Knight, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Iron Man and more.
In the enormous exhibit hall, it was easier to find network and gaming companies' booths than Artists' Alley. In his keynote speech at the annual Will Eisner Comics Industry Awards, The Spirit director and Sin City creator Frank Miller said that he was delighted to address the Eisner crowd, because it was the first time he was able to talk about comics all day. He commented on the dominance of movies, games and toys at the show, and reminded comics creators that the real purpose should be "to do a really damn good comic book."
Darwyn Cooke Adapts "Parker"
Animator and Eisner Award-winning cartoonist Darwyn Cooke (Justice League: The New Frontier) appeared to heed that advice with his announcement at an early press conference during Wednesday's Preview Night that IDW Publishing will bring out four original graphic novels by Cooke based on Richard Stark's "Parker" novels. Richard Stark is the pseudonym for noted crime fiction author Donald Westlake, and many of Westlake's novels have been brought to the big screen, including Point Blank, The Hot Rock, and Payback. As part of the announcement, IDW offered fans a set of three signature cards featuring original Cooke illustrations. The first "Parker" graphic novel by Cooke will be released mid-2009.
Both New and Familiar for Nick at Comic-Con
Nickelodeon enjoyed its usual solid presence, celebrating both the old and new.
A panel celebrated the transition of Making Fiends from popular Web series to television series, while fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender viewed an hour of the series season finale, followed by a Q&A with the creative team. The panel The Fairly OddParents: Past, Present and Future brought together the producing animators and considerable voice talent in a packed session, and new episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants and The Backyardigans were screened.
"We're very excited by the fact that, since the beginning of the year, we have really regained our creative momentum," said Roland Poindexter, VP of Animation for Nickelodeon. With the new series from talented people like Amy Poehler (The Mighty B!), and an expansion of our portfolio of 3D and CGI creative properties, we're looking forward to the future."
Nick enjoys the advantage of a large and widespread demographic for its animation. "The fan base spreads from 2 to 62, and that presents a lot of opportunity," Poindexter said. "Now it's up to us to take advantage of it."
Mike DiMartino, co-creator of Avatar, said the Comic-Con experience provides instant feedback. "It's fun watching the final episode with an audience. The feedback we receive helps us creatively."
DiMartino and fellow co-creator Bryan Konietzko are now working with film director M. Night Shyamalan on the three live-action feature films based on Avatar. The first is scheduled for 2010 release.
"It's exciting to work with this new format," Konietzko said. "These characters enjoy the elements to make for very creative stories on a larger canvas."
Fairly OddParents creator Butch Hartman remarked that he was excited to see familiar faces returning for the presentation at Comic-Con. "The kids who were watching the show at 10 are adults now," Hartman said. "We didn't go into the show expecting it to last a decade, but here we are. I like to think the longevity is because this show ultimately provides good messages. We've had changes in staff, lots of different versions, but the good messages remain the same."
Wonder Woman Gets Animated
Con-goers were seen toting much-coveted oversized loot bags depicting the new animated version of Wonder Woman, who will be featured in yet another direct-to-DVD original animated movie showcasing a DC Comics icon (following Superman Doomsday, Justice League: The New Frontier and Batman: Gotham Knight). The movie's creators were on hand at Comic-Con to discuss animating the Amazing Amazon.
Producer and noted artist Bruce Timm said that director Lauren Montgomery (co-producer of Superman Doomsday) is responsible for all the designs for this animated interpretation of Wonder Woman, which will retell the origin of the Amazon warrior princess. "Lauren is an accomplished storyboard artist and she designed most of the major characters, with tiny input from me."
Timm said that it was logical to choose Wonder Woman for the next movie, which will make its debut in both PG and PG-13 versions in February 2009. "She's an obvious candidate," he said, "because she didn't have her own animated television series, and she's one of the 'top three' characters of DC Comics [with Superman and Batman]."
What Timm did find surprising was that the direct-to-DVD project was greenlit even after the live-action feature had been optioned. The animated version will feature Wonder Woman as a fierce warrior who is not afraid of bloodshed or battle.
"We wanted to make her a strong, loveable, appealing character," commented director Montgomery. "However, we didn't pull any punches either; she's out there kicking butt. There's a lot of violence. Of the 'big three,' Wonder Woman is the one who is not afraid to kill."
The story, which takes place in contemporary times, uses material from various comic book sources and will include familiar Wonder Woman elements such as bulletproof bracelets, the lasso, the tiara and the invisible jet. The movie will feature both 2D and 3D animation, with the 3D touches focusing on vehicles such as the plane.
For the voice of Wonder Woman, dialog director Andrea Romano needed to find someone who could express both strength and innocence. "There's a certain naive quality about the character... at first Wonder Woman is kind of ignorant about the ways of mankind," Romano told the crowd. "I watch a lot of TV and film, and I saw the movie Waitress with Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion. There was a good chemistry between the two." Russell was cast as Wonder Woman and Fillion became the voice of Steve Trevor.
Other voice actors include Rosario Dawson as fellow Amazon Artemis, Virginia Madsen as Wonder Woman's mother, Hippolyta, Oliver Platt as Hades, David McCallum as Zeus and Alfred Molina as Wonder Woman's adversary, Ares. "He's a strong villain, and Alfred Molina is a brilliant actor, with such a versatile voice," Romano said.
While Wonder Woman has a legacy of being a feminist icon, the movie is aimed at all comics fans, both male and female. "We didn't make a concerted effort to make it more girl-friendly," Timm noted. "Wonder Woman's appeal to women is already built into the character."
Freaks, Geeks and Tiny Toons
Timm and Romano also appeared on the "Freaks, Geeks and Tiny Toons" panel that spotlighted the popular Freakazoid and Tiny Toons Adventures TV series, which were each released on DVD from Warner Home Video on July 29. Other panelists included Paul Rugg (Freakazoid writer), Jean MacCurdy (executive producer), Paul Dini (writer, story editor), Sherri Stoner (writer, producer, story editor), John McCann (Douglas Douglas, Hero Boy story editor) and Rich Arons (producer, writer, director).
MacCurdy recalled how, in 1988, Steven Spielberg wanted to make a Tiny Toons movie. However, following the success of Disney's DuckTales show, the decision was made to turn the feature into a TV series. The show proved to be a fertile training ground for many animation writers, artists and directors.
Storyboard artist and character designer Bruce Timm joined the team early on, after working with John Kricfalusi on Mighty Mouse and Beany and Cecil. Paul Dini moved to LA to join the writing staff. Director Rich Arons says that he had not actually directed before Tiny Toons. "I was doing layout at the time," Arons says. "I was walking down the hall, and [senior producer and production head] Tom Ruegger asked me, 'Want to direct?'" Sherri Stoner, who had previously only written sketch comedy for the Groundlings comedy troupe, wrote a script for Babs Bunny and was offered a staff position by Ruegger. "There was so much pressure to get it just right," Stoner says. When there were changes to be made, they came straight from the top. "There were no notes except from Tom and Steven," Stoner recalls with awe.
Romano said that casting for Tiny Toons was a "major challenge." The show was about new, younger characters drawn from the Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck/Looney Tunes universe. "I think we interviewed every voice actor alive," Romano says. "We wanted smaller, diminutive, charming voices, because we needed to find younger versions of the characters. It was an awesome responsibility, because the voice actors needed to be musical, too."
Tiny Toon Adventures went on to become a Daytime Emmy Award winner, as did Freakazoid. Freakazoid was created as a result of Steven Spielberg's desire to have an animated adventure series like Batman: The Animated Series, but with a manic hero. MacCurdy says that Freakazoid proved to be a "hard sell," and at a WB Network staff meeting, she "got up and ran around the room" to demonstrate the wackiness of the character.
Dini remembers how he wrote several funny, off-the-wall scripts (one featured kung-fu nuns in Las Vegas fighting Rat Pack adversaries), but Spielberg didn't like them. As a result, Dini says, "We were already behind schedule before we started. The Freakazoid mentality was 'write what was funny that day.'"
Romano experienced difficulties voice casting for Freakazoid, and interviewed a number of candidates, including a "dreamy Scotsman" named Craig Ferguson, who became the voice of Roddy MacStew. The show also featured the voice talents of Ed Asner, Jonathan Harris, David Warner, Ricardo Montalban and Sandra Bernhard in some of her first-ever voice-over work. Paul Rugg, in addition to writing episodes of the series, ultimately voiced the super-kooky Freakazoid. In addition, Spielberg actually appears in the series.
Cartoon Network Gets Bat-powered, Goes for Adult Swim
With The Dark Knight setting box-office records, it wasn't surprising to see Cartoon Network in full bat gear for Comic-Con. CN presented the panel Batman: The Brave and the Bold. The Warner Bros. Animation series has Batman joining forces with other DC Comics heroes, including Blue Beetle, Green Arrow and Aquaman. Producers, animators and voice talent gave fans a glimpse of the good stuff to follow.
CN also presented the panel The Powerpuff Girls, celebrating the show's 10th anniversary, joined by the folks from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends.
Not to be lost in all the Clone Wars happenings at C-C, CN also presented a panel playing up the Cartoon Network series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The panel was a component of the main Star Wars panel.
And for bigger kids, an Adult Swim panel sang the praises of Robot Chicken, from actor/producer Seth Green and Matthew Senreich, which uses "stop-motion animation to bring pop-culture parodies to life in a modern take on the variety/sketch show format." In Robot Chicken, as the show's tagline goes, no pop-culture target is safe.
A Ben 10: Alien Force panel was packed, not only with the show's devoted fans, looking forward to Ben's return as a fearless 15-year-old facing enemy aliens, but also those eager to know more about the new series Secret Saturdays.
"It's about a family of secret agents," said creator Jay Stephens. "One of the characters, 11-year-old Zak, is fearless, but he wants to become more a part of the family team." The family of world-saving adventure scientists travels to and explores ancient temples and bottomless caves, and tangles with twisted villains.
Tim and Eric, the comedy duo from the hit Adult Swim series Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! hosted a picnic at the nearby Embarcadero Marina Park North, along with games, giveaways and a karaoke contest. Meanwhile, panels and presentations for Chowder, The Misadventures of Flapjack and Underfist drew big crowds.
Robert Englund Speaks
Perhaps best known for his role as nightmarish Freddy Krueger, Robert Englund, has been doing significant voice work as well. In addition to voicing The Riddler (in The Batman) and Felix Faust (Justice League Unlimited), Englund is the voice of The Vulture in The Spectacular Spider-Man. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has scheduled the release of the first DVD for this animated Spider-Man show (with the "Attack of the Lizard" story arc) for September 9, 2008.
"It was great playing the Vulture," Englund says. "I'm still defining the character, but I can tell you there's lots of screaming as Spidey yanks me out of the sky." Englund also enjoyed the opportunity to see other actors at work on the series. "It was really fun watching Peter [MacNicol, who plays Doc Ock] work."
Englund also spoke about his roles in two new live-action horror flicks: Zombie Strippers and Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer. "Zombie Strippers is a sex farce... a kind of Grindhouse-style movie produced in a low-budget way." In that 2008 film, due out on DVD on October 28, Englund plays another nasty dude -- a strip club owner who hates women. "I've always been a character actor," notes Englund. "I've never played the real me, close to the bone."
In Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, Englund portrays an absent-minded professor who becomes possessed by the 'Black Heart' as the result of an ancient curse. The actor says of the required vfx make-up that after things like Stephen King's The Mangler and playing Freddy, "this was pretty light." However, Englund enjoyed working on the horror comedy, which he compares in spirit to Sam Raimi's early Evil Dead movies. Anchor Bay Entertainment is planning an October 7, 2008 DVD release, just in time for Halloween.
Futurama Secrets Revealed
Con-goers packed the panel room for "Futurama Secrets Revealed," which boasted top talent (creator Matt Groening, executive producer David X. Cohen, writer and co-executive producer Eric Kaplan, producer Claudia Katz, director Peter Avanzino and voice actors Billy West, Katey Segal, John DiMaggio and Maurice LaMarche, along with Bongo Comics' Bill Morrison) to promote the Bender's Game DVD release on November 4, 2008 -- which happens to fall on the U.S. Election Day.
While the focus of the panel was on the third of four direct-to-DVD features, Futurama trivia was discussed, including the evolution of Bender, who was described in the pilot script as "a shiny man." "That made us think that he could be a robot," producer Eric Kaplan says.
The fourth DVD will be released in spring 2009, and director Peter Avanzino says that, in that production, large crowds of people appear, in multiple scenes. The script called for every character in Futurama to appear in the fourth movie. "Crowds are not the most fun thing to do," Avanzino noted.
However, the team is still eager to do more Futurama, including more DVDs, television shows and a theatrical release. Kaplan says, "If these videos do well enough, we could go back on the air. This is the first Comic-Con that Fox executives have come to, and I'm hoping that there are some of those execs lurking around to hear and see [the response to this panel]. There are a lot more stories to tell. We have not told them all, and we still have a few secrets left."
Hulk Bellows; Next-Gen Avengers on the Way
Hall H, the mega-huge auditorium that hosts most of the major C-C screenings, was filled to the back rows for a Thursday afternoon premiere of the new DVD effort Hulk vs. Wolverine. There were no problems hearing the presentation. In fact, the Hulk's voice and the Wolverine's plaintive cry were cranked up several notches in this impressive audio and visual display.
Never before had these two legendary antiheroes met fist-to-claw, so the crowd was pumped up. The title arrives on Blu-Ray and DVD in January from Lionsgate and Marvel, and follows Wolverine's efforts to stop the Hulk from creating havoc as he pulverizes towns in the Canadian wilderness.
Notable is the fact there is no preamble or dainty introduction. The two characters face off in pretty much the first couple of minutes.
"We decided to get right into the action," said co-writer Chris Yost. "For most fans, these characters are very familiar and don't need a lot of introduction. So let's just go for the all-out brawl."
So how to decide who wins the battle when both characters enjoy devoted legions? "We kept asking ourselves who was going to win," Yost said. "It's not an easy question."
There was no calming of the action or violence. "It's definitely an edgier project than some of the previous incarnations," Yost said. "I mean, Wolverine has claws, and he uses them. When you got a guy with those kinds of claws on his hands, there's going to be blood."
Meanwhile, The Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow takes a lighter approach. In this DVD release, scheduled for Sept. 2, the children of the world's most unstoppable heroes debut in the first PG-rated title in the Marvel Animated Features franchise. Turns out it is Tony Stark, Iron Man himself, who kept the children of the original Avengers safe and raised them to be heroes in their own right.
"It's a different kind of story than we've had before," said producer-director Gary Hartle. "We wrote it as an honest depiction of children, knowing children would watch."
Voice talent for the Hulk, Wolverine and Iron Man performed mini-impressions of the voice-familiar characters for happy listeners. The title will be supported with the biggest kid-targeted Marvel Animated Feature ad campaign ever.
The Chosen One
Other animation concerns vied for fan interest and enthusiasm, including Indican Pictures, which previewed its production of The Chosen One. Animated from first to last frame by writer/director Chris Lackey in his Santa Monica apartment, the movie was created as a truly independent alternative to the big studio animated features. Writers Lackey and Chad Fifer approached producer Andreas Olavarria with their comedic road movie, and obtained the go-ahead to complete the animation project entirely in Flash animation.
In the film, a down-on-his-luck lab technician (Fifer) is informed by the eccentric Church of Frank that he is "The Chosen One" -- the savior from prophecy who must travel to Kansas, speak to God and deliver the world into a new age. The animation team committed to completing the film "by any means necessary" and were fortunate to bring on board such notable voice talents as Tim Curry (as Lucifer), Traci Lords (as the femme fatale), Chris Sarandon (as Zeb), Laura Prepon (as the ex-girlfriend) and Lance Henriksen (as the religious zealot), among others. Despite the rocky road familiar to all makers of independent films, the team forged ahead to complete the indie effort, which will be released on DVD on August 26, 2008.
The Greatest American Hero
Animation news also came from unexpected sources -- including the Greatest American Hero (GAH) panel, which featured the stars of the original 1980s TV series (William Katt, Robert Culp, Connie Selleca, stuntman Dennis Danger Madalone and a video greeting from creator Stephen J. Cannell), along with the publishing partners of the new GAH comic book series (from Catastrophic Comics).
William Katt (who plays the teacher who bonds with the GAH super-suit but loses the instructions) says that in addition to six issues of brand-new comic books, there will be Internet animation and shorts in "cool Flash." According to Katt, the 2- to 4-minute episodes will show the GAH suit "utilized in a way we haven't seen before." Selleca, Culp and Katt will be voicing the new animation, reprising their classic roles.
"How time flies," Katt commented. "I remember the first time I put the red suit on. I was mortified... but I get it now, how much fans have embraced the show. It's time to resurrect the franchise." The deluxe limited-edition DVD set of the original series hits stores on October 3, 2008, complete with a full-sized cape and a copy of that long-lost instruction manual.
It was also noted that a separate Greatest American Hero feature film is in the works, under the supervision of Stephen J. Cannell. Production is set to start in 2009.
Jane and the Dragon
The floors of Comic-Con International are filled mostly with adults strong enough to fend off the masses and somehow travel from booth to booth, panel to panel, screening to screening. But children are also welcome at the event -- in fact, Sunday at Comic-Con is officially Kids Day. Children with the strength and stamina to keep pace with the action likely have something in common with Jane, the 12-year-old heroine star of the Jane and the Dragon series.
Jane is no ordinary medieval girl. She is a knight-in-training, fearless, bold and effortlessly noble and courteous. Based on the popular children's books by Martin Baynton, the 3D computer-animated series created with motion-capture technology by Weta Workshop (The Lord of the Rings, King Kong) is seen on NBC, ION and Telemundo. The first five episodes of the series become available on a single DVD on Aug. 19, from Shout! Factory.
At Comic-Con, writer Martin Baynton expressed wonder that his highly creative and acclaimed books were translated with such invention and precision.
"It was very humbling, to see what Weta Workshops was able to do with these characters through motion-capture," Boynton said. "I really believe what this project has done is take children's animation to a place it had not been before for television and DVD."
Baynton said the retention of the real drama within the books was essential for him. "The animation captures both the fun and whimsy of Jane's experiences, and also the deeper messages within," he said.
The DVD, retailing at $14.99, boasts extras including a making-of documentary, original concept art, character profiles and a printable coloring page.
As for the current state of children's animation, Baynton says he likes what he sees, and hopes producers will continue to emphasize storytelling as much as technology.
"There's always pressure to spend less, but great art can be cost-effective when it is accompanied by great storytelling," Baynton said. "One puts less pressure on the other. I would say maintain a rigorous discipline when it comes to good storytelling, and the great art will follow."
As creative types of all sorts wandered the crowded hallways, many of them happened on the small booth at goanimate.com, where they found they could become animators -- in an instant. GoAnimate.com enables everyday users to create their own animations, and share those creations instantly with the online community. The site offers web applications "for a wide and diverse list of sectors, including businesses, advertisers, illustrators, artists, cartoon enthusiasts and especially, the typical online socialite."
In other words, most everybody attending Comic-Con.
"I was a computer scientist who was an animator at heart," said Goanimate.com founder and CEO Alvin Hung. "I realized what a challenge it was for people with limited resources to make animation on their own. Everyone has stories to tell. That's been true ever since cavemen were drawing on the walls. Why not make it easier on people?"
GoAnimate.com is set up for children and adults -- just about anybody with an interest in basic animation. The idea is for animators worldwide to get involved and share their work. "It's set up so that animation with stories in one language can instantly be translated into another language," Hung said.
The site provides a demo and detailed tutorials, and will eventually add familiar animated characters in partnership with the license holders, allowing users to create stories about their own favorite characters.
Production Designers Talk Watchmen and More
Vfx professionals were also well represented at Comic-Con, including at a panel featuring Art Directors Guild production designers. Speakers included Richard Hudolin (Battlestar Galactica, Caprica -- BSG prequel), Alex McDowell (Watchmen, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Minority Report), J. Michael Riva (Iron Man, Spider-Man 3), John Muto (Species, Home Alone, Terminator 2 3D) and Ed Verreaux (X-Men: The Last Stand, Monster House).
The panel spoke of how production designers determine the look and style of a film, which then must be accomplished through collaborative effort. The term "production designer" actually originated with the film Gone With The Wind, whose special design requirements went beyond art direction, and so a new title was invented.
The experts were asked how they choose the films on which they work. McDowell said that he " tend[s] to try to turn down a bad script, or not to repeat myself. You can tend to get typecast. There has to be something in the script or story that you believe in... something that will help you to move the story along."
However, production designers are often brought on board even before a script is finished. "I've worked on pictures being written while we were doing them," Verreaux said. "I've had to design a character that was not used. We rely on relationships with directors and studios, and there can be wonderful inspiration if the director is willing to accept our recommendations. We control the visual storytelling. We work very carefully to design the look of the movie."
While working on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, McDowell said that he was interested in seeing what director Tim Burton would do with the material. In the end, it reflected his personal style. As for Watchmen, McDowell said that "one very fundamental issue" had to be addressed. "We needed to translate the intent of the graphic novel... it's a political satire, with comic book heroes living and failing in the real world." McDowell also discussed the book's 1980s color palette of "taxi driver yellow," making the film contemporary, and how it must line up with the graphic novel.
Another comic book hero, Iron Man, required special emphasis on the designs reflecting the technology of the special armor. "Phil Saunders provided extraordinary sketches," Riva says. "However, our concern was elegance, especially every time it started to strain the technology." Rubber and metal versions of the armor, created by Stan Winston's company, were mixed with computer-generated imagery to create Iron Man.
The panelists noted that there will be a conference, "5D: The Future of Immersive Design," taking place October 4-5, 2008, in Long Beach, California, to further explore technology and design in narrative media.
Feature Effects for TV Heroes
Zoic Studios presented a panel focused on vfx for the small screen that included such experts as Kevin Bank (Cloverfield, Fringe), Brian Harding (Smallville), Andrew Orloff (CSI, Jericho), Mark Spatney (Heroes) and Jay Worth (Alias, Lost, Fringe).
Television shows do not have the same budgets -- or timelines -- as features, and must be innovative with vfx. While Heroes is shot in Hollywood, Spatny draws upon a library of photography to depict exotic locations like New York, Las Vegas and India, using mattes and virtual treatments. "The biggest problem is trying to achieve an Iron Man vision for TV," he says. "We have to explain what we can do in a truncated timeline, and manage the client's expectations."
Even shows like Smallville, which is a huge WB franchise, must respect the bottom line. "When you have to address something like Bizarro, for example, it still speaks to budgetary requirements," Harding told the audience. "Do we do it with make-up? Do we change the costume? Do we use a CG mask? And you have to figure it all out in a couple of days."
When Clark Kent turns bad in Smallville, a fire lights up in his irises. The flame element is curved and tracked, so that when Clark is affected by red kryptonite and becomes evil, his eyes flicker. It's a small, but effective, effect.
Worth spoke about Captain Cook's Extraordinary Atlas, saying that the animatronics in the pilot of this children's show reflected a look like Pan's Labyrinth (a higher-end film). He said he wants that style to work on TV, and he hopes the show will be picked up.
Orloff noted that sometimes in a production meeting, when he is asked, "Can you do this?" the answer might be, "I don't know," but it comes out "yes." "TV vfx is a very 'can do' industry," he explained.
Bank remembers a situation with Alias, where he assumed a complicated task. "I spoke up before I knew if we could do it," he remembers. "The character had to jump off a building, guns blazing. What we ended up doing was building a CG building, and building all the furniture inside. The day it was due, 17 hours of render time were needed. We needed it finished in 12 hours. So we asked, 'What are the layers that we can turn off?'"
However, at other times, technology -- mixed with good communication -- can help. Orloff says that Jericho posed an interesting challenge. "Green screen cues can be very abstract for actors, and as vfx artists, we key off of actors' performances." To assist in the process, previsualization was used to help Skeet Ulrich in a scene showing an urgent flight to Texas. "We blocked everything out in CG form. It was a full virtual environment, but in very simple shapes and blocking. The DP and director could be shown this, so that they would know exactly what is going on visually."
Director Demian Lichtenstein (3000 Miles to Graceland) agrees that previz is an important tool, and he is he using it for his new film Relentless 3D. Lichtenstein is previsualizing the entire movie, and will be sharing assets with a videogame that is being developed at the same time by GRIN Studios.
Lichtenstein, who has an extensive music video background, appeared on a panel with composer Dennis Dreith (The Punisher, GAG) on "Music for My Indie Film," but was also available to discuss his new 3D project with AWN.
Relentless 3D follows the story of four extreme sports professionals who survive a plane crash in the Amazon jungle and must use all their survival instincts as they are hunted by a group of homicidal (and possibly cannibalistic?) natives. "There is a huge amount of CGI in the film... the plane crash will use CGI, full-size elements and miniatures blended together," Lichtenstein said.
As for other technology, Lichtenstein has been following the work of James Cameron on Avatar and was trained in 3D filmmaking by DreamWorks' James Mainard and Phil McNally. Citing the Vince Pace camera system as the stereoscopic system of choice, the director says that the 3D effects will enhance such scenes as the jungle floor rushing up as the plane crashes, but to achieve such an effect, shooting takes four times as long as in 2D: "It's four times as hard per shot, and four times as long."
Lichtenstein plans to begin his Relentless 3D shoot in late fall 2008, in Puerto Rico.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
As its name suggests, the new Mortal Kombat (MK) vs. DC Universe (DCU) videogame from Midway Amusement Games draws its inspiration from two established franchise arenas. Designers Brain Lebaron and Eddie Ferrier, along with senior producer Hans Lo, advise that this game will be rated "T" for Teen, rather than "M" for Mature, because, while the game will be "pushing the envelope," Superman does not kill.
Superman does, however, punch, fly and use his freeze breath on adversaries. The game spotlights the most memorable characters from both franchises that pair up well. On the DCU side, players can choose Superman, Batman, Catwoman, Shazam, the Flash or the Joker. On the MK side, there are Kitana, Liu Kang, Scorpion, Shang Tsung, Sonia Blade and Sub-Zero. Battles can take place in environments ranging from Metropolis to the Batcave to the MK world.
Comics creator Jimmy Palmiotti scripted the game so that it provides a linear story and "so that it made sense. The lead-in explains why the worlds collided, and there are films in between the fight sequences," he says. The game also features original music to enhance the drama.
"Comic book people are going to be playing this game, so we are defending the copyright," Palmiotti says. He also notes that heroes like Superman, Batman and the Flash have different powers, so they need to be presented differently. On the MK side, Lo says, "Fans of MK thought it would be watered down, but we're keeping it true to the MK universe."
The game, which uses a heavily modified Unreal engine and will be available for play on XBox 360 and Playstation 3, is due out November 10, 2008.
Sony DC Universe Online
There was more DC Comics game mania at Comic-Con as fans swarmed the Sony DC Universe Online (SOE) booth for information about the forthcoming SOE massive multiplayer game. With this game, a player can create his or her own character -- either hero or villain -- and can interact with the Justice League.
The game features an art style for the characters based on that of ultra-popular comics artist Jim Lee, who also provided designs for the environments.
"There's lots of versatility in this action combat game," says SOE creative director Jens Anderson. "You can choose your powers, choose how you want to fight and select different body types. We're still adding features."
The game has not yet been rated, but Anderson advises that "there is only knock-out, not death." The game will be released in 2009, available for the PS3 and online play.
Dead Space Game and Animated Feature
Comics creator Jimmy Palmiotti told AWN that he and partner Justin Gray wrote the screenplay for Dead Space, an animated movie prequel to the highly anticipated science fiction survival horror game Dead Space from Electronic Arts (EA). EA and Starz Media joined forces to produce the Dead Space movie, and Film Roman is handling the animation.
"It's in 2D and 3D, and was animated in Korea. It's very pretty," Palmiotti says.
The script picks up the plot where the original comic book series ends, and leads up to the beginning of the Dead Space game. The story focuses on the events aboard a futuristic mining spaceship, the USG Ishimura, after it pulls a mysterious artifact from a remote dig site. The artifact triggers the sudden invasion of a long-dormant alien presence, and the Ishimura's crew members find themselves locked in a frantic struggle to survive.
The animated Dead Space feature is slated to premiere at the same time that the game is launched this Halloween.
Sam & Max and Wallace & Gromit
Sam & Max, Freelance Police may have their roots in indie comics, but the crime-fighting duo, created by Steve Purcell, is right at home starring in a series of episodic games. At the Telltale Press Booth, attendees got a chance to see playable versions of its new Sam & Max game for the Wii, which is scheduled for a retail release this fall.
"This is the first time on console for this game," advised Telltale spokesperson Emily Morganti. The Sam & Max story-driven game play and episodic structure has often been compared to TV sitcoms. The new Wii version will present an easy-to-use interface with a low learning curve. For this game, the Wii gives the player more control, moves like a mouse, and provides a new audience a chance to play the whacked-out adventures.
Another Telltale game being previewed at the convention, Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, has a Flash-cartoon style and will launch on WiiWare and PC in summer 2008.
Telltale also announced at Comic-Con that it is producing a new Wallace & Gromit videogame. Platforms are still being determined, but Morganti says that the game will run on Telltale's proprietary engine. While the animation will not be actual claymation, it will emulate Aardman's distinctive style. Telltale is working with Aardman's writers for new plotlines "to come up with the right stories." And although Telltale is based in California, Morganti assures that the cheese-loving duo will remain "very British."
Freaky Creatures from Abandon Interactive Entertainment is a new property that combines a videogame feature, collectible figures, trading cards with codes and even a reusable flash drive. Set for a September/October release date, Freaky Creatures allows players to build custom virtual creatures and battle them against friends. Players begin with a starter pack that features two collectible action figures and a 1 GB reusable USB flash drive that brings the creatures to life in an imaginary online world.
"After purchasing the store starter pack, you can go online to set up your Freaky Creatures," says creative director Matt Saia. "You put in a code, which is added to your account and unlocks your ability to custom-create creatures. You can design for looks or for battle, and design the creature's home. You can also share with others on the website." The game offers 10 base creatures and collectors who buy them all receive an eleventh digital one.
Saia says that each of the creatures is uniquely animated and the game is run using Gamebryo technology, which has been modified for this use.
While not rated, Freaky Creatures is geared toward young players. In addition to customizing the creatures, the game encourages players to care for and feed their freaky "pets," which may transform into a "mean" form if they are not well-cared-for. The website will also serve as a social network and will offer team challenges as well as one-on-one battle play online.
Another game that encourages young players to create new and unusual creatures -- and whole new worlds -- is the much-anticipated Spore, set for release on September 7, 2008. Award-winning videogame creator Will Wright (best known for SimCity and The Sims game franchises, the latter of which has sold more than 100 million units to date) was at Comic-Con in his first-ever appearance.
In addition to discussing Spore, Wright commented on MashON Comic Book Creator's new Spore component that allows children to create their own comic books featuring Spore creatures that they have designed.
After reminiscing about his fondness for 2001: A Space Odyssey and interest in the computer HAL, Wright spoke about the Spore videogame, and its objective to deconstruct existing notions of the universe and to create new stories. Wrights said that kids like to draw and make things, and that Spore will advance creativity and the power of collective effort.
"There are 1,500 known species on Earth," Wright said, adding that he is amazed by the realistic creatures that can be, and have already been, created with Spore (at spore.com), as well as the things being designed that are not creatures at all.
What Wright finds most exciting is how children can take their Spore creatures, create a whole environment, and then lay it out as a comic book, or make a film and upload it to YouTube. "Players take on the role of George Lucas or J.R.R. Tolkien," Wright says, "as they have a hand in determining the history of life through to the future."
Old School Meets New School
Comic-Con is designed as an educational event, and the panel "Toys, Comics, and Characters: Illustrators as Entertainment Entrepreneurs" showcased some of the smartest -- and most successful -- talent at the convention.
The panel featured illustration faculty and alumni from Parsons The New School of Design, including Abby Denson, the Lulu Award-winning cartoonist and creator of Tough Love: High School Confidential; Steven Guarnaccia, chair of the Illustration Department at Parsons; Nora Krug, an Associate Professor of Illustration whose work as an illustrator, animator and visual narrator has appeared in the New York Times, Guardian and Playboy; Tara McPherson, a painter, poster artist and freelance illustrator, who has designed posters for rockers Beck, Modest Mouse, Mastodon and Death Cab For Cutie; and Brian Wood, who released his first series, Channel Zero, in 1997 to considerable critical acclaim.
The panel, merging creative and business ideas, was followed by a reunion of Parsons animators and alumni.
Dress for Con Success
While industry professionals, studios and comics companies were out in full force -- as were the fans -- some of the most entertaining moments from Comic-Con came from seeing attendees dressed as their favorite characters.
In addition to the world-famous Comic-Con Masquerade, Marvel Comics teamed up this year with Disguise, a leading supplier of licensed character-driven Halloween costumes, to present a super-hero fashion show. Disguise created costumes inspired by some of the most popular Marvel female characters, including Black Cat, Emma Frost, Spider-Woman and Captain America.
On the big screen or little screen, in videogames, animated or in-person as costumed crusaders, Comic-Con brings comic books to life for a few crazy days in July. Next year's C-C in San Diego is slated for July 23-26, 2009.
Janet Hetherington is a freelance writer and cartoonist living in Ottawa, Canada, where she shares a studio with artist Ronn Sutton and a ginger cat, Heidi. She is exhausted from Comic-Con International in San Diego, but happy, too. Janet's comic creation Monster Love is in the Top 50 of Platinum Studios' 2008 Comic Book Challenge.
Dan Bennett is a Southern California-based arts and business writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly and MTV.com. He is festival director for Hubbub: The Las Vegas Global Animation Festival and the Los Angeles International Children's Film Festival.
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