Bruce Timm sets the record straight on DC Universe Animated Original Movies
Who’s under the Red Hood? Bruce Timm knows, but he’s not telling. However, he answers a bevy of other questions in a Q&A focused on the July 27 release of Batman: Under the Red Hood, the latest entry in the ongoing series of DC Universe Animated Original PG-13 Movies.
Batman: Under the Red Hood is just the latest finished product to come from Timm’s canon of super hero vehicles at Warner Bros. Animation. A veritable legend among the creative forces in animation today, Timm has spearheaded the elevation of DC Comics’ characters to new heights of animated popularity and introduced generations of new fans to the characters via landmark television series and made-for-DVD films. The latter task includes the creation of the current series of DC Universe Animated Original Movies, which now number eight in total and each has been greeted with critical acclaim and nifty sales.
Warner Premiere, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation, will be distributing Batman: Under the Red Hood as a Special Edition version on Blu-Ray™ and 2-disc DVD, as well as being available on single disc DVD, On Demand and for Download.
Timm paused long enough in his unthinkably busy schedule for a few cigarettes and a battery of questions, responding in true Timm form – whether it be discussing the casting and art direction, revealing his across-the-board love for all versions of Batman, or setting the record straight on quotes attributed to him from a certain widely reported interview-that-never-was. This is vintage Bruce Timm – read what the man has to say …
QUESTION: What made Brandon Vietti the right director for Batman:
Under the Red Hood?
BRUCE TIMM: Brandon is one of our up-and-coming director/producer
types who has been with (Warner Bros. Animation) for a while. I’ve
known him for years – he actually worked for me back on the Superman/Batman
series – and I’ve watched him work his way up from being a top
storyboard guy to a director. His work on the first third of Superman
Doomsday was very powerful. When we were looking around for a
director for this film, Brandon was very anxious to do something
completely on his own, and I knew he was ready.
The thing about Brandon is that, besides just being talented, he’s
super, super thorough. He’s very detail oriented. So it was a relief to
me to have someone like Brandon in charge, because I could pretty much
leave it up to him to run the show and I knew he wasn’t going to make
any missteps. The end result is a very good film across the board in
terms of action, emotion and design.
QUESTION: How did Judd Winick convince you that his comic
series/graphic novel would translate well to an animated film?
BRUCE TIMM: When we first heard that Judd wanted to pitch Red
Hood as an adaptation for our DC Universe film line, Alan Burnett and I
quickly got copies of the book and read through it. My first impression
was that it was an entertaining comic, but it was quite a long
mini-series and it had all these tangents of supporting characters who
came and went through the course of the story. Quite frankly, it was
confusing to me and I kept thinking to myself that I didn’t see how a
lot of those things would work. The big thing about the story is that
it’s a sequel to a big event in the history of DC comics – the death of
Robin that happened back in the 1980s – and I didn’t see how we could
set that up, because it all hinges on being a sequel to that story.
Furthermore, the way the pitch was arranged, we were in a room in
Burbank and Judd was in San Francisco and had to pitch over the
speakerphone. But amazingly, every single problem I thought we’d have
trouble making into a movie, Judd had fixed in the pitch. Judd had
already clearly put a lot of thought into the entire film – how to stay
focused on the main story, how to clean up the death of Robin thing, and
how to eliminate all the extra baggage. He pitched for about 45 minutes
and when he was done, Alan and I looked at each other and said, “Yeah,
that’s a movie. Let’s do it.” And away we meant.
QUESTION: Batman Gotham Knight was a collection of
short stories loosely tied together and produced in anime. What made Batman:
Under the Red Hood the right story to be the first true Batman
movie in the DC Universe animated franchise?
BRUCE TIMM: Seeing that this was going to be our first
full-length Batman movie in the DC Universe line, we thought we really
needed to have a strong story that wasn’t just another adventure story
or a caper that Batman foils. We wanted it to be something that truly
needed to be told in a PG-13 venue that had a fair amount of, for lack
of a better term, adult content that you couldn’t normally do on
television. And this story is loaded with it. It’s also a personal story
to Batman – it does have an adventure plot and a crime plot, but the
emotional arc of the story is rooted in Batman’s messed up history with
family relations. And especially in our animated universe, Batman always
had a kind of dysfunctional family dynamic going on. He’s famously an
orphan, he’s got Alfred as his surrogate mother/father, he’s always
bringing in surrogate sons to mentor, and it always kind of goes badly.
And this is, once again, one of the big expressions of that. So it makes
for compelling drama as well as an exciting adventure.
QUESTION: A few casting questions. Why Bruce Greenwood as
BRUCE TIMM: It’s always a challenge to cast Batman because we
invariably have to ask ourselves, “Who can we find out there who can
hold their own against the legend of Kevin Conroy?” I’ve been following
the career of Bruce Greenwood for a long time – I’ve seen him in a
zillion movies and TV shows, and he’s always struck me as an actor who
has this excellent, interesting voice and impeccable acting chops. And
around the same time we were casting this film, I saw the trailer for
the J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek – and there was Bruce Greenwood. So we
tracked him down, he was agreeable, a great guy to work with, and he
totally knocked it out of the park.
QUESTION: John DiMaggio has played many comical villains. How
did you know he’d be best as a villain who is also comical?
BRUCE TIMM: The Joker is a very iconic part memorably voiced by
Mark Hamill, and played in films by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger.
Those are really big shoes to fill. John is a guy we’ve worked with for
years playing tons of different kinds of parts, and every time we use
him I think, “God, we’ve got to give this guy a bigger part.” He
shouldn’t just be Thug #2 or the monster that Wonder Woman fights. We
needed to give him a part that he could sink his teeth into. This Joker
came up and it really required somebody who has comedic chops but also
is a really good actor, and DiMaggio has got that in spades. He was
definitely the right guy for the part. He came in and did something that
didn’t sound anything like Mark Hamill or Jack Nicholson or Heath
Ledger or Cesar Romero, and yet he sounds exactly like the Joker. He’s
funny, and he’s scary as hell, and that’s just what you want.
QUESTION: What did Jensen Ackles bring to the table as Red Hood?
BRUCE TIMM: Red Hood is such a pivotal role in that he needed to
be somebody who was forceful, threatening, weirdly sympathetic, and also
had to be of a certain age. Not too young, not too old, just right.
Andrea and I both knew of Jensen’s work, and he was one of those guys we
had in our “Gotta work with that guy some day” file. And he fit the
bill perfectly. He’s got an intensity in the booth that really matched
QUESTION: Were there any surprises along the way?
BRUCE TIMM: One of the things I like the most about this movie is
that, in the best possible ways, it kind of reminds me of a weird mesh
of the Batman Beyond movie, Return of the Joker, and our
first Batman: The Animated Series feature film, Batman: Mask
of the Phantasm. It has a lot of the same kinds of themes, it has
the same level of serious drama in it, and the same level of really good
character development. I think it’s actually fully the equal of those
two movies. It’s dynamite.
Another interesting takeaway I got from this movie is that Brandon
and I agreed that we really wanted to work to give this movie a unique
visual feel. We deliberately tried to not make it look like Batman:
The Animated Series. We tried a number of things in the art
direction to stay away from that. But no matter what we did, it still
kind of looks like Batman: The Animated Series. It’s weird. So
when you watch the movie, there will be about four or five minutes in a
row where you’ll forget about the different cast and slightly different
character designs and it actually kind of feels like the series. On
another level, there is a certain influence from the Christopher Nolan
movies. It’s kind of in the tone of the film and the way Batman himself
is treated and the feel of Gotham City. It’s not quite as realistic –
our Gotham City is a little more stylized than the Gotham of the Nolan
movies – but there is similarity in tone, which makes for a very
interesting Batman salad.
QUESTION: Judd Winick said his first introduction to Batman
was the Adam West TV series, but that he knew even as a kid that it
wasn’t the Batman he wanted to see. You’ve said that was your same entry
point to the character – did you ever have the same sense of Batman’s
BRUCE TIMM: Yes, my first exposure to Batman as a character was Batman
the TV series. But honestly, I didn’t know it was supposed to be a
parody or campy. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Of
course, I was 5 at the time. But all in one fell swoop, I became an
instant super hero fan. Later on, as I got older and started reading
more comics and getting into the super hero scene, I realized that the
Batman show was kind of a comedy. I was reading Neal Adams comics and
thinking, “Batman is kind of cooler than that show – he’s kind of scary
and mysterious.” So my perception of Batman changed over time, and then I
went through the periods with Frank Miller and the Tim Burton movies.
So now I’ve got these warring Batmans in my head. I still love the Adam
West/Batman show. I still love the Neal Adams take on Batman
comics. I still love The Dark Knight. All of these things totally
contradict each other, and yet it’s fine to me. I’ve said it over and
over again – Batman as a character is such a strong concept, he’s the
kind of character that you can take him in any number of ways and it
still feels right. Batman: The Animated Series is a really good
version of Batman. Batman: The Brave and the Bold – that’s a
really good version of Batman. They have equal value.
QUESTION: There’s been a lot of internet banter regarding the
discontinuation of the DCU series based on quotes attributed to an
interview in Calgary with you. True or false?
BRUCE TIMM: Kinda false. First of all, it wasn’t an actual
one-on-one interview — quotes were taken out of context from longer
answers I gave on a panel at the Expo. Bottom line: the DCU films are
definitely continuing. We’ve got projects lined up for the next two
years at the very least – lots of films in different stages of
development and production. I know there are a lot of rumors circulating
about future films. Some are true, some are not. I’ll tell you this
much – anyone at our DCU/Batman: Under the Red Hood panel at
Comic-Con will walk away with a very clear picture of the direction
we’re taking the DCU animated movies in the coming year.