Director Lauren Montgomery Discusses ‘Wonder Woman’
After her successful co-directorial debut on Superman Doomsday, Lauren Montgomery takes full command of the helm for Wonder Woman, the next entry in the popular series of DC Universe animated original PG-13 films. Warner Premiere. The video event is due out on March 3, 2009.
Montgomery has directed an origin story for Wonder Woman that remains true to the title character’s various incarnations while setting the tale in more modern times to allow greater accessibility for a wider audience. Working alongside producer Bruce Timm, Montgomery has brought to life Michael Jelenic’s entertaining script with an impressive balance of explosive action and well-timed humor. A talented artist with a lifetime of experience devoted to drawing and animation, Montgomery is proud to give Wonder Woman her first feature film treatment.
Warner Premiere provided the following conversation with the director.
Question: You’ve gone from directing one-third of Superman Doomsday to helming the entirety of Wonder Woman. What’s that progression been like for you?
Lauren Montgomery: It’s mostly in scale of responsibility. On Doomsday, it was all about my one section of the film. Now, it’s everything from background design and color to character design and camera angles, helping select the voices for the cast and approving every storyboard for the entire film. So (she laughs) it was all a lot harder. It’s been an incredible learning experience, it’s probably the most hands-on I’ve ever been on anything, and it’s really prepared me for more of those responsibilities in the future.
Question: What were the driving factors behind the final design of Wonder Woman?
LM: We kept the designs simple enough for animation, but we wanted to give them a slightly more detailed, less cartoony look for the PG-13 content. Wonder Woman went through a lot of different versions. Gradually, and for the betterment of the film, we determined that she should look strong and athletic without being manly. She’s an Amazon, so I wanted her to be able to be taken seriously. We wanted her to look like she worked out, and not just make her a curvy, busty pinup. So I tried to give her slightly slimmer hips versus the hourglass figure, and I think it makes her more believable and engaging in a lot of action.
Question: Did you utilize a different color palette from previous DC Universe films?
LM: We wanted the film to be vibrant, but we also needed our characters to fit into their settings. Our color stylist, Craig Cuqro, used colored filters to set the characters into their backgrounds, and our overseas studio Moi added a lot of diffusion, which gives the characters a really nice kind of glowing look – especially during the scenes in Themyscira. The soft diffusion throughout the scenes in Themyscira makes everything seem much nicer, like a paradise. The style adds a lot of quality to the overall look of the film.
Question: Are you a mythology aficionado?
LM: I always liked epic stories, and Greek mythology was a subject that kept my attention in school. The characters were larger than life – they were gods and each had their own nuances and specialties. Being an artist, I could really visualize those characters and that made their stories that much more interesting. Wonder Woman is based in mythology, but it doesn’t follow it to a ‘T’ by any means. I really just had to bone up on my Wonder Woman version of mythology, so I could make sure that we pleased the fans. We wanted to stay true to the legend but we did eliminate or underplay some of the sillier aspects of that mythology.
Question: Like the fact that the Amazons have an invisible jet, but they with fight swords and don’t appear to have indoor plumbing?
LM: There are a few things in the movie that we opted against really explaining because, honestly, the explanations were more convoluted than not explaining it at all. You don’t need to break down the minor details. If we tell you exactly where the invisible jet came from, then that’s time and energy that would’ve taken away from our core story.
Question: How did Michael Jelenic’s script complement your approach to direction?
LM: Michael Jelenic has really strong, entertaining ideas in his scripts. Seeing his first drafts really inspired me because there was a lot of action that showed her true strength. He told a story that captivated me the entire way. Beyond the action, Michael is good at interjecting a lot of humor – Steve Trevor’s sense of humor echoes Michael’s in many ways. He also likes to write a lot of director-embellished action scenes, which didn’t always make it easier on me. That’s the one thing I’d like to punch him for. But otherwise, he did a great job.
Question: What’s your depth of love for comics and/or super heroes?
LM: I was always more a fan of animation than comics. I just didn’t realize until I was a little older that you could actually make a living making cartoons. And once I discovered that career path, I knew exactly what I was going to do when I grew up.
My love of super heroes didn’t really start until Batman: The Animated Series – that series just took everything to a higher level. It didn’t speak down to people, it made you think more, it had really serious stories, and it went about telling those stories in a way that didn’t put the violence right out there for you to see. It kind of undertoned it. It was more sophisticated storytelling and that drew me to the Superman and Justice League series, and then I ended up working on Justice League. So most of my experience with super heroes are through animation, not actually through the comic books themselves.
Question: You said Batman: The Animated Series was your awakening to super heroes and a career in action animation, and now you’re directing the next generation of that genre of entertainment. What’s it like to live your dreams?
LM: It was surreal at first, but now it’s just another day of work. I’ve kind of adapted to it. But every once in a while when I sit back and think about it, it’s like, ‘Here I am doing what I’ve been waiting my whole life to do.’ And that’s cool. Even on the days where it’s hectic and there’s intense schedules and the deadlines are looming, and I might be pulling my hair out, I know there’s no other job that I would be happier doing.
Question: Along those same lines, you now work side-by-side with Bruce Timm on DC Universe films. What’s it like to go from fan to colleague?
LM: Working with Bruce is extremely interesting, and not in a bad way (she laughs). This is going to greatly understate it, but he knows what he’s doing. It’s always a really good learning experience just to sit back and watch him, to see how he works, because Bruce definitely has his own way of doing things. Pretty much all the calls he makes are the right calls – it’s obvious in the body of work that he’s produced. When he makes a call, even if I don’t 100 percent agree with it, I usually just let it go because I know the film is going to be better for it.
A lot of filmmaking is finessing, and I’ve learned a lot of that art from Bruce. He knows the little tricks to make things a lot better. Certain things to avoid, simple camera moves, and ways to not draw attention to the camera. And he’s an amazing editor – he has a way of looking at a film and being able to identify the important parts and really hammer them home. I’m still kind of focused on the storyboards, planning everything out so it plays the way I want it. I don’t really think about cutting around or rearranging scenes because I already did that in the storyboards. But Bruce can look at that footage and know immediately how to rearrange the scenes to make things that much better and that much smoother. That’s what I’m trying to learn from him now.
Question: Has drawing always been a passion?
LM: In my younger years I drew a lot and I wasn’t quite as social. When I came home after school, I would finish my homework, and then sit in my room and draw. And that’s all I did, because I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I would save my money and buy books like The Art Of Pocahontas and The Art Of Hunchback – whatever Disney art book was out that year. I would take it home and look at it, and I would think, ‘okay, now my drawings aren’t anywhere near as good as these drawings, so I’d better get to work to make them as good.’ I figured the more I practiced, the sooner I would get that good, so I drew as much as I possibly could.
Question: Who are your influences artistically today?
LM: I don’t have specific artists exactly, but I was definitely influenced by the Disney films. Those were the drawings I was tracing and sketching during my early years. I would study each and every one of the princesses and draw them until I had them all down by heart. My facial features are still influenced somewhat by Disney characters. As I got older, I was definitely influenced by Bruce’s style in Batman, and I started getting into anime, and some of the more subtle styles in anime drawing. The clothing is a little more detailed than the typical American animation – it’s more believable, yet still simplified. It’s the way they draw bodies and cloth that I kind of incorporate into my drawings, as well as certain aspects of how they would draw hair. So I’d say I have a few different influences in my art style.
Question: You’re one of the very few women directing action animation today. Does that factor have any resonance within your career?
LM: I never focus on the ‘one of the only women’ aspect of my job – I just always liked action and wanted to work in this genre. I never realized how few women there were in super hero animation. I just thought, ‘I like to draw, surely all the other girls like to draw, too.’ I guess I just didn’t realize how different I was. So I don’t think I’ve got any special trick that makes me a successful woman in action animation. I worked hard and it has paid off.
Question: Do you have a preference between male and female super heroes?
LM: I definitely prefer female leads because I feel they’re just easier to direct their acting. They’re allowed to show a much wider range of emotions. A woman can be feminine and tomboyish, and she can hit all the same poses that a man can hit. But if you start putting a man in a feminine pose, especially a super hero man, it doesn’t fly. So when you’re dealing with the male super heroes, you have a much, much more restricted range of acting. It’s not just a challenge, it’s more of a limitation in general. You can do more with a woman character and it’s still acceptable. So it’s a lot more enjoyable for me. Plus, on a personal level, I think it’s good to give girl fans more options. When I was a girl, I would watch Thundercats and all I really had to choose from was Cheetara (she laughs). I always wanted more female heroes to choose from and I never really got them. Hopefully we’ll be able to explore more of them in these DVDs.