Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Gotham Art

For years I thought about doing a Batman animation. Always seemed like a waste of time since there is no shortage of Batman fan art and animation, and maybe this was, but I had to get it out of my system. Years of character designs needed to get used in some way. I started going through my archives and found some old work that relates the long trip this animated piece took.

I didn't read a lot of comics in high school, but I was watching a lot of Batman: The Animated Series. I also happened to pick up Alex Ross and Mark Waid's excellent Kingdom Come miniseries after seeing it in a store window shortly after it came out in 1996. Over the years, I've definitely leaned closer to Bruce Timm's illustrative style than Alex Ross' hyper-realistic style, which I thought robbed the characters of their majesty - they were too real, I don't need to see the seam on Flash's homemade costume. But at the time it influenced me as much as anything, since I wasn't really as into art in my teens as I was when I was younger. But a whole comic book made up of paintings was unheard of, it blew my mind a little. I ended up creating a 50-page comic that cycled through most of Batman's major villains, and everything from the realistic square chins to the watercolor owes much to Ross. 

As time went on and watercolor became simply too much damn work, I largely abandoned realism for a more abstract and cartoonish style. It happened organically, but I do remember taking a college life drawing course and being completely bored with replicating reality by the 10th week of class. But as I have told my students, it's always easier to abstract reality if you can first replicate it, so I guess I had to get it out of my system. However, even in high school I had some more cartoonish designs of Batman and his universe of characters which were more influenced by The New Batman Adventures on Kids WB (lots of red skies).

Fast forward 15 years later and I am still sketching these characters from time to time, there's always a new angle to explore. A few years ago I considered doing a Flash animation but I never finished it. But the character designs remained relatively the same, albeit a little more simplified and angular.

Finally last Fall I decided to put something together for real. I wasn't really sure where it was going to go, so I started with the least important villain I could think of so I could establish the look I was going for. I chose Black Mask, and classic Black Mask, not the less imaginative black skull head that he now sports. 
 I picked about 18 villains that I felt were essential and just went one by one, which ever character inspired me next. Some of them I had concrete designs and ideas for, some not so much. Here are some sketches and final stills. 

This one was easy, and definitely inspired by the mad scientist from the FALL portions of Samurai Jack episode Seasons of Death.

What is there to say about The Penguin? I've always like that a lot of Batman's villains just wear suits since so many of them were created in the 1940s and are eccentric gangsters.

I'm not a big fan of Bane, and he received the most drastic re-design. I always thought the luchador mask looks silly. Also, there is a reason every animated incarnation takes liberties with his mask: so he can emote. I decided to ditch the mask and adapt his mask as a prison tattoo so we can see the intensity on his face. Also, it never makes any sense that he would have a big tube flailing around - it was gets easily sliced in the cartoons.

Harvey doesn't do much except flip his coin, so it was really just a matter of finding the right balance of acid burn.

Really happy with the mix of texture on Scarface and the simplicity of Arnold Wesker.

Jervis Tetch works great as a lunatic. I wanted the sequence to be slightly creepy.

I had a hard time with Mr. Freeze's outfit. I toyed with the idea of putting him in white, since Black seemed like it would be hot. I realized I was over-thinking it and kept him in black. I didn't want to go with a big bulky robot suit, but some designs made him look like he walked off the set of Tron.

I had a great design for Man-Bat, but keeping him in the shadows was more effective for the sequence.

Same goes for Scarecrow, who has always been a favorite character of mine. I love the hanged corpse design they went with for The New Batman Adventures, it was like a Edward Gorey-designed Batman villain. It's one of the reasons I featured a similar scarecrow in my thesis animation a few years ago. It took me a while to come up with this sequence, but sometimes you have to hide your designs in the shadows to make them effective. I did try to go with a mashup of Batman Begins and Slender Man-inspired Scarecrow, but it didn't quite read as the same character.

How much "Croc" are you going to put into Killer Croc? I kept him pretty close to his traditional more human form rather than a full on croc monster. The sequence is definitely inspired by the "Dallas, get out of there!" scene from Alien

The idea of Commissioner Gordon morphing into Clayface is taken from the comic I created in high school. It was an economical way of using 2 characters in 1 sequence. I never really liked Clayface as a giant muddy monster, so I went with more of a Rodin's Thinker-inspired design.

I wanted to separate the designs for the female characters considerably, so I went with a more elfin Poison Ivy. I really liked the image of her eyes as sunflowers for some reason, that she could become plant-like and camouflage herself. This was also heavily inspired by the Samurai Jack Seasons of Death episode.

I can totally understand why the producers of Batman: The Animated Series had trouble with The Riddler. He isn't a physical threat, so it's kind of hard to come up with something that quickly features riddles and puzzles.

I had a hard time with Catwoman. The Darwyn Cooke goggles & leather looks great, but I wanted a more simple cat silhouette - lean and tall.

I bounced a bunch of Ra's ideas around before settling on moving outside of Gotham to a Lazarus Pit.

I initially wasn't going to include Harley Quinn. To me she is Joker's "Robin", his sidekick. But she's gained so much fandom over the years that I decided I'd stick her in with The Joker (along with a Super Powers toy).

Finally, settling on a final Batman design wasn't super easy, but it's somewhere between Bob Kane, Justice League Unlimited, and Darwyn Cooke.

Here's the final product:

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The School of Life: Why Love Involves Teaching

I was asked to do an animation for The School of Life back in Summer 2015, and, much to my surprise, they quickly gave me another script. 18 months later they have posted that video, "Why Love Involves Teaching", which I had nearly forgotten about. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Batman Be Everywhere

It's been a while since I'd created something of any scale for myself, but I got some daylight in my schedule just at the same time I hit a bit of a creative wall. When that happens, often the best thing to do is to go back to the basics. Just as athletes stretch prior to an athletic contest, a lot of us illustrators will begin a session by sketching to loosen up and let the ink flow. Typically I'll go back to some of the same subjects that I enjoyed illustrating as a kid - comic book and other fictional characters. It removes the need to think much about what to draw, which can keep artists tapping their pencils for too long.

Though I grew up enjoying Batman comics, the 1989 BATMAN film was a major moment in my young life (saw it the 2nd night after its June 23 premiere). However momentous it was to see Batman and the Joker on the big screen, what has remained an even larger influence on me as an artist and animator is its small screen spawn, Batman: The Animated Series.

After years of harmless and very cheaply made cartoons such as The Super Friends and Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends, superhero cartoons' popularity had been usurped by even more kid-friendly Disney adaptations like Duck Tales and TaleSpin. With the exception of a few more serious attempts at reviving super hero cartoons in the late 1980s, it wasn't until the massive cultural event that Tim Burton's BATMAN film became that studios decided to strike while the iron was hot and take another shot at the genre. Rather than attempt to replicate a comic book aesthetic for the show (which X-Men did with some success), Tiny Toons producers Bruce Timm and Paul Dini went in a much more bold creative direction for weekday afternoon cartoon based on comic book characters. They used Max Fleisher's 1940s Superman cartoons as a starting point, adding 1930s art deco designs (which Tim Burton's BATMAN film similarly incorporated), a film noir sensibility, along with streamlined character designs, to create a cartoon that looked familiar yet completely fresh. You could point to a number of influences in any one episode, but this Batman was very much its own (one of the most unique and talented voice cast didn't hurt either). I still vividly remember witnessing that Sunday night primetime debut episode, "On Leather Wings", which itself drew from Neal Adams and Frank Miller, thus setting the tone for the whole series.

Batman: The Animated Series would go on to produce several spinoffs, eventually featuring nearly every hero that ever had a DC Comics title in Justice League Unlimited. By that time another show, Samurai Jack, changed the way I thought a cartoon could move. I've never been an anime fan, but the angular, illustrative designs of Genndy Tartovsky moved with a simple, beautiful grace that I didn't know was possible. The show's aesthetic was a thing of beauty. As someone who always hated drawing backgrounds, I was in complete awe of the artistry of the show: imagery I would gladly hang on my wall might only grace the screen for a few seconds. Thankfully Samurai Jack has returned for a final, thus far, amazing season and is currently gaining even more fans.

So, while at creative wall, rather than beat my head against said wall and force something completely new, I decided to get this out of my system. Nothing revolutionary, a slight redesign to the characters, probably a little Darwyn Cooke in there, and some relatively minimal animation. 'Cause that Batman, he be everywhere.

BATMAN BE EVERYWHERE // An Animated Short from Brett Underhill on Vimeo.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

TED-Ed: History v. Cleopatra

The History Vs. series is back after adjourning for a year. This time, it's a lady...

Monday, December 5, 2016

TED-Ed: Irreproducibility

From Unanimity to Irreproducibility, it's my latest TED-Ed! The next one will no doubt be easier to say twice.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

TED-Ed: The Paradox of Unanimous Decisions

My latest TED-Ed is up, and not everyone is supposed to like. I present "The Paradox of Unanimity".

Much to my surprise, the folks over at IdeaRocket did a brief write-up about the animation. Typically with TED-Ed's, all of the talk is the content, but IdeaRocket has broken down how I conceived and animated the material. They even went as far as looking up some of my past work, which is pretty cool. Big thanks to IdeaRocket for taking the time to look at my work!