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.

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