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Developing the Next Animated Blockbuster: It Ain't Easy

Developing an animated series or feature from a comic book might seem easy from the standpoint that the comic book would give a development team a solid starting point. However, developing a comic book into an animated property has its own set of special problems. We asked a select group of development executives, "What were/are the most challenging aspects of transferring a property from comic book form to an animated one?" While story plays an important role, it seems the actual shift in medium remains to be the most problematic aspect of the process. ...

Developing an animated series or feature from a comic book might seem easy from the standpoint that the comic book would give a development team a solid starting point. However, developing a comic book into an animated property has its own set of special problems. We asked a select group of development executives, "What were/are the most challenging aspects of transferring a property from comic book form to an animated one?" While story plays an important role, it seems the actual shift in medium remains to be the most problematic aspect of the process.

Robert Réa, Ellipse Programme

Robert Réa has been the executive producer for the adaptations of such comics and books as Babar, Blake and Mortimer, The Adventures of Tintin, Fennec, and currently Corto Maltese. Here he supplies us with his Top Ten Pitfalls!

  • 1. "The false "good ideas." Some comic books are not adaptable because one really needs toread them. To transfer such a property into an animated cartoon would be an artistic flop.
  • 2. Some comic books have a non-transferable graphic style which would be completely transformed in the event of an adaptation. At this point we have to ask ourselves, "Which one will we choose and why?"
  • 3 Some comics' authors neglect to write a true story that is really structured. In this case, the transfer to animated cartoon can only be envisioned in an artistic short-length picture.
  • 4. When we decide to adapt a comic which appears, to us, adaptable, we must accept that some supporters will never forgive us.
  • 5. How can one recreate the atmosphere of a comic book? Television and cinema are linear concepts. There is no way to turn pages, and read backwards or forwards.
  • 6. For that reason, sometimes it is impossible to follow the comic book as it is. The most important thing to keep in mind is the "soul" of it.
  • 7. In the case of a famous comic book, which had been edited for a long time, the graphic style was not homogeneous. We had to keep the most representative style.
  • 8. The artistic control by the original authors, their heirs or representatives can turn into a nightmare, but sometimes it can be helpful.
  • 9. Creating new characters, backgrounds or stories in an adaptive concept requires particular care.
  • I0. One has to read and reread a comic book many times before adapting it and then one must continue to read it again and again through all of the adaptive process."

Gerard Baldwin

Gerard began his apprenticeship in animation at UPA studios working on Mr. Magoo. He left for two years in order to serve in the Korean War and was assigned to the National Security Agency. He returned to his apprenticeship and began a rapid rise in the world of animation. Besides directing Rocky and Bullwinkle, George of the Jungle, The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Dr. Seuss, and The Smurfs, he also wrote and created commercials and industrial and educational films. He also produced Emmy Award-winning shows and is the recipient of numerous other awards. "The Smurfs easily translated into animation. They were simple to draw. They were clearly defined. Their world was beautiful. Peyo was protective of his creation and rightly so. Television is a gigantic consumer and we used up Peyo's life's work in the first few episodes. Problems came from everywhere.... "If you put classical music in this show I'll brake your arm!" "We really need another girl!" "How about adding a dog? Everybody loves dogs." "This music is niceWho did it?" "Vivaldi." "Can we get him?" "Isn't there a way we can get a black Smurf in there?" "Careful, Gerard, some of the religious right are saying the Smurfs are satanic!" After five years, I quit The Smurfs. Maybe smurfed out, maybe not. So, finally, the powers got their dog - and a grandpa - and another girl - and a baby - and a lot more sugar. That Peyo allowed any of this is appalling. Money won."

Laura Harkcom and Tim Hauser, Warner Bros. Feature Animation

Warner Bros. Feature Animation Creative Executive Laura Harkcom and Warner Bros. Feature Animation Producer Tim Hauser are currently in story development on animated feature interpretations of classic DC Comics properties. Laura formerly worked in development at Walt Disney Movietoons, where she contributed to the development of A Goofy Movie, and the upcoming animated feature Tarzan. Laura is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University. Tim is a former staff writer and creative executive with Walt Disney Feature Animation, where he contributed to the development of many projects, including Beauty And The Beast. He also conceived the original story for the Oscar-nominated Mickey Mouse short Runaway Brain.. Tim graduated from the California Institute of the Arts and has also been a production artist on various animated films like, Brave Little Toaster. He also served as Sequence Director and Animation Supervisor on the Fox feature Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. "The superhero genre is a pop form of modern mythology. Like all folk and fairy tales, a successful film interpretation requires a determined suspension of disbelief and an earnest, unquestioning acceptance of impossible happenings. The older DC Comics characters have classic, thematic hooks that make this fantasy acceptable and relevant to the viewer.

The most difficult aspect of getting solid interpretations to the screen is the wild success of previous film and television interpretations. These properties have left indelible preconceptions on people who are less familiar with the root material and its rich subtext. Even with many crew members, there is an automatic assumption of Batman (be it "camp" or "dark") or Super Friends ("stiff" or "shallow") that is a constant reference battle at every stage of conception. Due to the collaborative nature of the filmmaking process, these stereotypes tend to creep back in at various stages from story to art conception, even if there is a tangible new vision present. To me (Tim Hauser), this is much of the reason for the "sameness" between many comics-based films. It's a constant challenge to maintain the integrity of the original material."

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