Director Heuck On AVENGERS Animated

You might say that Vinton Heuck is living the dream.

Not only has the director worked on the new hit show Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, but Heuck is also working on the upcoming Transformers Prime series due out later this month.

With so many big hits for this animation guru and comic book fan — having also worked on books such as Wednesday Comics with DC — Newsarama caught up with Heuck to talk about his role in Avengers, what's next for Transformers, and the differences in how he works with the two pantheons.

Newsarama: Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes is a pretty big venture, considering the sheer number of characters you guys can juggle. Vinton, just to start off with, how did you end up getting involved on this project?

Vinton Heuck: A couple of Marvel animation projects were being developed up on the third floor of the Starz building while I was finishing up directing on "Dead Space", a direct-to-video animated movie based on the EA videogame. Ciro Nieli was developing The Avengers and brought me in for an interview. At that point his office was full of character designs and concepts for the show and I thought they looked great. I loved the classic direction he was taking the show in and I am a huge Marvel fan, so I was thrilled when he brought me on.

Nrama: Now, you worked on the second episode of the series, as well as several of the minisodes leading up the series launch. Obviously, the two-part intro "Breakout" had to look pretty seamless, but I'm curious, from a behind-the-scenes perspective, how would you say your style or process differs from Sebastian Montes, the director of the first episode?

Heuck: We definitely worked together along with Ciro to make sure the "Breakout" episodes fit together. In fact my episode played too long once it was assembled into the animatic and Sebastian's was short, so he ended up using my Hulk fight with the Abomination in his show… In terms of style I think we were both trying to fit the mold of the show, which was defined in great part by Ciro. I am personally always concerned about playing out the character moments as dramatically as possible and making the action visceral and cool. I also think we all wanted to have fun with the crazy characters that Kirby and Lee came up with.

One of my storyboard artists, Dave Bullock, did a great sequence in episode 5 when Whirlwind is being imprisoned in 'The House'. As he passes some of the other cells you get these gem moments with some of the other inmates: Arnim Zola playing Pong; The Grey Gargoyle sipping on tea while listening to his Walkman; the Mandrill relaxing in a hammock reading 'Jungle Girl Weekly'. Ciro art directed all the individual cells to further reflect the characters. He even did a lovingly rendered image for the cover of the Jungle Girl magazine for overseas to use. As far as Sebastian's own style goes, I think the work speaks for itself. He is a top-shelf talent, and one of the nicest guys you will ever meet.

The Animated AVENGERS Get a Comic
The Animated AVENGERS Get a Comic

Nrama: Now, you also directed the minisodes featuring Ant-Man and Iron Man. Okay, first off — what was your take on Ant-Man? That's probably the coolest he's looked in a long time, that little bitty dude belting that gunman in the mouth — what was your approach to taking him on?

Heuck: Well, first off, I can't really say it’s 'my take'. That is more in the writing. I'm just trying to facilitate that along with my board artists. In our show Hank is brilliant to a fault, obsessing over his research. I love how nerdy he is on the one hand, and a pacifist, but when push comes to shove he can be incredibly brave and heroic. So my approach was to show him being all those things. You mentioned a great scene that was boarded by the talented Adam Van Wyck, who in my opinion makes everything look cool. I gave him the giant battle scene with the Avengers at the end of "Breakout" part 2, and I think it is one of the best that has ever been done for a Marvel cartoon. He did an awesome job on the whole Ant-man micro-episode. 

Nrama: Maybe this is a good point to ask about continuity, both as far as characterization as well as available characters are concerned. It looks like you've got the vast majority of the Marvel Universe to play with here, as well as all their histories — how do you go about picking and choosing, just to make sure everyone puts their best foot forward?

Heuck: That is worked out in the script before hand for the most part. I would try and sneak in a few cameos in the background, but that was about it. There was a Shield agent with my likeness I had fun putting through the ringer a few times. He gets his life-force sucked out by Strucker in one of the micro-episodes and later gets turned into stone by The Gargoyle… Trying to have the characters who were written into the script put their best foot forward was definitely a concern of mine. In episode 2 there is a sequence where some powerful frost giants attack Asgard. The Warriors Three are mention in a line or so of script before they are quickly dispatched. Even though they didn't have any dialogue I felt like it was important that they each have their own moment, especially Baldar the Brave. He is probably my favorite Asgardian next to Thor.

Nrama: For you, what's the biggest appeal for working on a show like this? What do you see the mission statement of the Avengers being, both as an in-universe superhero team as well as a real-world publishing icon?

Heuck: The biggest appeal was getting to work on the type of Avengers show I grew up reading. It wasn’t trying to have a connection to the live action movies or take itself too seriously. Captain America has wings on the side of his head, and Hawkeye is unashamed to wear purple tights. It embraces its roots, and we get to see some pretty faithful depictions of a whole slew of colorful Marvel characters. I think Chris Yost working with Josh Fines did a really great job retelling some of the great, classic storylines and merging them with some of the better elements of the contemporary ones. It is a really fun show. It's exciting, colorful, splashy entertainment that I hope will bring the same kind of thrills to kids that reading the comics did for me growing up.

Nrama: With the Avengers show just now in its infancy, is there anything you can allude to that you're particularly looking forward to playing with? Any characters or concepts you've been dying to get your hands on?

Heuck: Well, at this point I'm done with "The Avengers" and have been directing on the new Transformers series for a while now, but yeah, there are a ton of other great characters and concepts I would like to tackle someday in the Marvel Universe. Hopefully I'll get a chance to revisit that playground at some point, either in animation or in comics. I've written a few things for DC Comics recently and I would love to do the same for Marvel.

Nrama: Speaking of Transformers, what do you see as the difference between working with Marvel's pantheon, and then switching gears to the robots in disguise?

Heuck: They are very different! I wasn't as familiar with the Transformers pantheon as I was with Marvel, but I've definitely become a big fan working on the new series. I'm amazed out how good the shows are looking coming back from overseas.

Nrama: With the sprawling cast of Transformers, not to mention their unique visual powerset, there's a lot of different metaphors and messages that can be delivered with this series. For you, what do you hope to play up with your contributions to the show?

Heuck: Really, the most important thing to me is that the Transformers are not really robots. They are thinking, feeling, living beings. Once I understood that, I realized the true potential for great human drama within the series. That, and some really awesome cgi and action set pieces to play around in.

Nrama: There's also the visual switchup to take into consideration, since Avengers is traditional animation, while Transformers is in CG. For you, what do you have to think about, with a seemingly 3D production like Transformers?

Heuck: Working in 3D is more like live action. It is much more literal. The biggest advantage of course would be the ability to move the camera in a way you would either have to cheat or not even attempt in 2D animation. We try not to overuse it of course, but it is nice to have the option as long as it services the story.

Nrama: For Transformers, you've got a couple of very different fanbases to placate — particularly, the people who loved the cartoon, and the people who loved the high-octane Michael Bay movies. It seems visually you're very much straddling the two styles, but as far as content and execution, what's your plan as far as approaching the Transformers? What's your goal here?

Heuck: I personally thing the show is more connected to the original series, even though it does draw some influence visually from the movies. I think Jose Lopez has done an amazing job of finding that balance in terms of design in a very appealing way. That being said, I think the series stands on its own as something no one has ever seen before. Because of that, what little footage that has been released is drawing criticism from older fans of the original series. But if they actually sit down and watch this thing with their kids and give it an honest chance they will not be disappointed. The series has got a lot of heart, great storylines, and some of the best action you will see in a kid’s cartoon anywhere.

Nrama: Finally, since you've got two big superhero shows either out or on their way, are there any surprises or things you'd say to get people sold on them? What would you say to seal the deal?

Heuck: Unfortunately there isn’t much more I’m allowed to say since it would spoil all the great surprises in store for the viewers. The wonderful thing about both series is that they are episodic in nature, like all those great comics I grew up reading as a kid. Characters evolve. Things happen to them that change them forever. There are consequences for one’s actions. There are great cameos and guest star appearances… in short you are not going to want to miss a single episode if you want to get the whole story, and it is definitely a story worth listening to.

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