Directing Wonder Woman: Talking to Lauren Montgomery

Animated Shorts - Mike Jelenic

Image from the 'Wonder Woman' DVD
Image from the 'Wonder Woman' DVD
There's a rising star of animation in the upcoming Wonder Woman animated DVD movie.

As said last time, there’s some astounding young talent rising up through the ranks of the DC Animated Universe projects, and as anyone who sees Wonder Woman will agree, Director Lauren Montgomery is chief among them. Listen to what boss man Bruce Timm has to say about her.

“We didn't want to do anything that even remotely looked like what we had done with Wonder Woman on Justice League,” he said. “She presents a challenge because she needs to be drop-dead gorgeous, but also very, very strong both physically and emotionally. She's a powerful presence and we had to find that balance between athleticism and glamour.

“Lauren really took the lead on the design of Wonder Woman herself, and I think she came up with a very unique approach. It's not like anything you've seen from the comics, though we did look at a lot of the comics for inspiration. We liked the George Perez version and Adam Hughes' version, and all points in between. But there are a lot of the things that Adam and George brought to the character that were so specific and detail-oriented that they wouldn't necessarily translate to animation. We wanted to keep the number of lines down to a minimum…to create a relatively simple and straight-forward design. It was quite a challenge, but I think the design Lauren came up with is exactly what it needs to be.

Image from the 'Wonder Woman' DVD
Image from the 'Wonder Woman' DVD
“We rely on our storyboard artists to really inject acting into the storyboard drawings as a key for the overseas animators,” Timm continues. We are blessed with really, really excellent vocal performances on these films, but you need a very good storyboard artist to act out the character's motions and emotions in simple drawings.”

In other words, Timm thinks Montgomery is such a storyboarder. For further proof, he refers to a section she actually directed, and he supervised.

“There's a short sequence in Superman Doomsday where, after Superman has died, Lois Lane goes to meet Martha Kent for the first time. It's a very simple, subtle scene; just two women meeting and commiserating with each other over the loss of Superman. It's shot very simply with two-shots and close-ups. The thing that makes this scene so powerful is the very clear emotion on the character's faces, and that was the sequence Lauren storyboarded. When you look at it on the screen, it's as though we got really good actresses giving performances charged with emotion in their specific facial expressions and body language. Ultimately, it was Lauren's storyboard and direction that really brought that scene to life.”

And one can now say Montgomery’s reward was to be the main director on Wonder Woman, which will be released direct-to-DVD on March 3.

Lauren’s storyboarding skills are certainly is getting her noticed. If you check the credits on Hulk Vs. , you’ll see she did her share there as well.

Image from the 'Wonder Woman' DVD
Image from the 'Wonder Woman' DVD
“I worked a lot with Sam Liu, who directly supervised the ‘Hulk vs. Thor’ portion,” says Montgomery. “Sam is a good friend of mine. We’re working together again. I love working with him because he’s very thorough. He also thinks about character motivation and story. He gets deep in the whole process. He’s a really good person to learn from.”

Then again Thor and Wonder Woman also shows another thing about Montgomery. She has a solid knack for the more mythical side of the comic book world.

“I do,” she admits. “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 tee 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.

“I also like working with less of the constraints of a TV series. With TV everything is very PG. You have to pull a lot of your punches. I like working with DTV. You’re allowed to do a little more. I mean you can actually punch faces. You don’t have to cut out stuff.“

Punching faces is fine and dandy. Still it was as a character designer where Montgomery made her first real impressions as an animator. Part of this is due to her childhood, where she spent much apparently years copying Disney. Another part was the aforementioned Mr. Timm.

“In my younger years I drew a lot and I wasn't quite as social,” Montgomery recalls. “When I came home after school, I would finish my homework, and then sit in my room and draw. 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.”

Image from the 'Wonder Woman DVD
Image from the 'Wonder Woman DVD
Among those that had an affect on her was Disney legend Mary Blair.

“In as much as Mary Blair definitely influenced Disney, I was influenced by Disney,” she said. “So not so much directly. The work I tried to mimic was the much more detailed character drawings. That was because I was still learning. I hadn’t grown enough appreciation for the stylized stuff. I didn’t really appreciate Blair until my later years.

“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. Once I discovered that career path, I knew exactly what I was going to do when I grew up.

“After mimicking Disney, I looked at Bruce’s stuff and saw how it was simpler to a degree. Still, he helped me learn how to refine my lines. I’m also influenced a tiny bit by anime, especially the character designer of Cowboy Bebop (Toshihiro Kawamoto—ED). The way they draw bodies and simplified clothing is just appealing to me. They can do things simply yet still make it look detailed. I used their influence on the characters that had (laughs) more clothing on than Wonder Woman.”

“My love of super heroes didn't really start until Batman: The Animated Series;” continues Montgomery, “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.

It’s this mix of influences, elaborate and intricate backgrounds need for the mythic feel coupled with simple character design, that makes Wonder Woman such a rich, visual feast.

Image from the 'Wonder Woman' DVD
Image from the 'Wonder Woman' DVD
“We kept the designs simple enough for animation, but we wanted to give them a slightly more detailed,” says Montgomery, “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.

“I did look at Adam Hughes’ design. That looked like he used some live action models. I didn’t look at any particular person. I didn’t look at a lot of live action because when you’re drawing for animation you have to naturally slim things down a lot. Where superheroes are concerned, a realistic body type is not the best thing to go with. A guy in spandex does not look as intimidating. Everything has to be exaggerated.”

As for the future? Even though she just made an appearance at this year’s New York Comic Con, as soon as that was over Montgomery was flying back to Burbank and getting back to work.

“We’re just working on more DTV’s. I’m working on the upcoming Green Lantern one,” she admits. “That’s next in line. I’m not sure what comes after that, but I did a little bit of work on Public Enemies, which is coming down the line. I did some storyboarding.”

So you better get ready for Lauren Montgomery. As her work on Wonder Woman proves, she is one talent who fast on the rise.


As the history books now say, Animation as we know it, was the invention of the American J. Stuart Blackton in 1906. He did it with the stop motion milestone “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces” for his small company Vitagraph (now better known as Warner Brothers).

France didn’t waste too much time in upping the ante. In 1907 Emile Cohl joined the fray with his first short, “Phantasmagorie.” It was the first short to be done strictly on paper, eventually evolving to what many call cel animation today (for later being drawn on washable celluloid sheets instead of paper).

This year, the Stuttgart Animation Film Festival, which will be held May 5-10, will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Germany entering the animated world.

A retrospective entitled "Cheers! 100 Years of German Animation Film" will be on of the highlights of the fest. It will include retrospectives on the works of German animation pioneers Lotte Reininger, (who produced the oldest surviving animated feature film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, and Hans Fischinger. The topical range stretches from the first German animation film "Prosit Neujahr" (1909). Then it moves on to the works of early avant-gardists of the 1920s and 1930s such as Walter Ruttmann and Hans Richter. From there it will feature current productions like Oscar-winning short films "Balance" (1989) by Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein and "Quest" (1996) by Tyron Montgomery and Thomas Stellmach

It also won’t flinch away from more topical matters. The genre’s development during the era of Nazism will not be disregarded. Hitler, like Josef Stalin, was a great fan of Micky Mouse and tried to establish a controlled iconic ideal of phased movie entertainment. Alongside there are abstract works of art like Hans Fischinger´s colourful "Tanz der Farben" ("Dance of Colours") of 1938/39 or the playful "Strich-Punkt-Ballett" ("Ballet of Lines and Dots") of 1943 by Herbert Seggelke, which somehow manage to get past the NS censorship.

The DEFA animation studios of the former GDR (aka Communist East Germany) also produced films. With ideological guidelines on one hand and on the other aesthetically innovative and (with regards to content) controversial films such as Lutz Dammbeck´s "Einmart" (1981) specifically undermined these guidelines.

Since the end of the 70s a boom in the area of animation film has emerged. Animation departments at art schools, universities and technical colleges were founded, a trend that also lead to the founding of the Stuttgart Festival in 1982 and later on to the foundation of the Baden-Wuerttemberg Film Academy.

Other filmmakers featured in this retrospective in Stuttgart are Israeli artist Gil Alkabetz ("Rubicon") who lives in Germany, Andreas Hykade ("Wir lebten im Gras"), Mariolla Brillowska ("Morgenröte"), Kirsten Winter ("Clocks") and the artist duo Hanna and Fritz Steingrobe ("Yo lo Vi").

A six-part DVD series entitled "Die Geschichte des deutschen Animationsfilms" ("The History of German Animation Film") accompanying this retrospective will be published by Absolut Medien in cooperation with Goethe Institut.

For more information and images please visit the press section at

NEXT COLUMN: The voice is unmistakable, even when he’s not in character. We have a sit down with the legendary Steve Blum.


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