If you weren’t the least bit surprised to hear Batman would be the star of yet another cartoon series this summer, rest assured you’re not alone. “There have been times when WB has announced they’re going to launch into a new anime Batman or some other type of Batman, and I did think that maybe it was too soon,” Dave Bullock replies, when asked about the continual stream of shows devoted to the Dark Knight. “But the idea is that there’s always a new generation coming up and this is always that generation’s first opportunity to get to know the character,” the artist offers. “And from some of the test materials I’ve seen, this is hands down going to be the best Batman toon coming out of WB.”
Said toon, which debuted last weekend on Cartoon Network, is the sleek CG animated Beware the Batman. It marks WB’s second attempt using CGI to explore a DC Comics property, after 2011’s short-lived Green Lantern: The Animated Series. For Bullock, who has spent the majority of his career working on 2D hand-drawn superhero shows (Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League and Teen Titans to name a few), stepping into the three-dimensional world of Beware required a bit of a learning curve.
“For us in the production department, it’s changed drastically,” he explains. “There’s been a lot of new technology implemented. We’re working with a program called SketchUp, (which allows you) to turn a vehicle or a location setpiece and plug it into a drawn element storyboard in a program like StoryBoard Pro. It’s a really nice advancement in recent years that we’re able to create these animatics and watch them and get an idea very quickly of how the episode is going to shape up.”
His personal challenge, however, has been adjusting to drawing storyboards on the digital Wacom Cintiq. “I know I fought that for a time!” he laughs. “I’ve spent quite a few years drawing on paper, so it wasn’t something I was ready to jump on board with, but after working with it for a while I see all the benefits.”
Bat-fans, meanwhile, have been a bit skeptical about the benefits of switching from 2D to CG animation. Bullock seems to think they’ll warm up to the new aesthetic once they get over the initial shock. “Some of the guys who’ve seen Batman in video games over the years may have an inkling of where some of this is headed,” he begins. “Players in the video game world have had the ability to see Batman’s cape fan open in CG as he glides into a pose. You’re going to see a lot of that sort of thing in this.”
"I also think there are a lot more subtleties you can get into your shots in CG, very subtle reflections and cast shadows and things,” he continues. “You get much more mileage out of that – it’s just a matter of fine-tuning it.”
A perfect example can be found in one of the three episodes he worked on, containing “an origin sequence for a villain who shall remained unnamed,” he teases. “I’ll just say that there’s a guy who falls and passes out against a giant terrarium full of bats and we did a lot of fun reflections and lightning outside the window as a transformation takes place.”
As often happens in the course of developing an animated episode, some of the storyboards for Metamorphosis (above left and right) underwent a bit of revision during preproduction. Bullock knows adjustments are just part of the process and points out that being flexible can even yield interesting results. “This beat of Batman attempting to pick the lock was not in the script,” he reveals. “It’s the type of business a story artist can bring to a sequence that adds dimension to Batman as a detective, then shot and lit the right way looks sneaky and Noir as hell!” Ever the perfectionist, however, he adds, “I sure hope they get those shadows right in the lighting pass!”
One of the most heavily publicized adjustments to Beware’s look was announced in the aftermath of the Aurora, CO shootings last summer. Though Batman’s adventures often involve gunfire, WB stated that alterations would be made to tone down the show’s action scenes. “The studio has to be sensitive to these types of things happening in today’s world,” Bullock notes. “What the changes really came down to was putting a little LED-type thing on the sides of the weapons, to give them more of a fantasy nature. It did not affect any of the storyboards or storytelling that had to be done. All that fun action and good storytelling is still there, it’s just that maybe you’ll see a little bit of an LED light on the side of a pistol.”
“Some people might think it pulls you out of this heavy crime Noir drama, but I think it actually beefs up some of the fictional elements of the property. It goes hand-in-hand with Batman’s crazy gadgets and his Bat-computer so I don’t think anybody will really think twice about it.” Sci-Fi weaponry, he points out, has been a staple of many of the previous WB superhero shows. “If you remember ‘Tools of the Trade’ and all those early Superman episodes, it was all about gang violence on the streets and how those guys were beefing up their high-tech weaponry. It’s part of Steel’s origin story as well. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem at all.”
Folks who were uncomfortable seeing Bruce Wayne’s trusted butler Alfred baring arms will also be relieved to know he has permits for them and years of training under his belt as an ex-secret agent. “It’s part of his background that he’s licensed to have them. He is licensed to kill, let’s say.”
With Alfred (JB Blanc) and Katana (Sumalee Montano) by his side, Batman (Anthony Ruivivar) will be showing off his detective skills in adventures with a distinctively Film Noir flair. “Producer Butch Lukic is a big Film Noir buff and he even had us look at footage of different films, like The Ipcress File and others, that show a lot of strong use of foreground elements. He’s a big fan of leaning into art film territory actually, so I think it’ll have a few moments of that, but still be a pumped-up action/detective show.”
All in all, Bullock is confident the storytelling approach will please longtime fans. “I think everyone is pretty excited in general that the studio is moving away from The Brave and the Bold,” he says, referring to the colorful, tongue-in-cheek animated series which concluded a three-season run in 2011. “It was a lot of fun and I know everybody really enjoyed themselves with it, but I think a lot of the fanbase is looking forward to something that has a little bit more meat on its bones.” In fact, he even believes Beware might edge into Dexter territory. “I think of Dexter as Batman. I mean come on – if he didn’t kill the guy, he’s definitely Batman!”
And before we bemoan the death of 2D animated superhero shows, he would like to reassure us all that there is still a market for those kinds of cartoons. “I think you’re going to start to see some more 2D shows pop up in the near future that maybe have a few CG elements in them. Studios are looking at the content and the tone more than anything.” Plus, CG animation doesn’t come cheap. “I’ll tell you, it’s a lot more expensive to produce a CG series (than a 2D series), so I think it was fairly new for the production studios to dip their toes into that in recent years. They’re learning how to go about assembling a show like that, and it comes with a lot of live and learn.”
Beware The Batman airs on Cartoon Network. Special thanks to Dave Bullock, Cartoon Network and WB Animation.
James Gartler is a Canadian writer with a serious passion for animation in all its forms. His work has appeared in the pages of Sci Fi Magazine, and at the websites EW.com and Newsarama.com.