Animated Shorts: Bruce Timm, Gotham Knight

Bruce Timm on Batman: Gotham Knight

Here’s something to think about fanboys. When the idea of having six different anime directors work on the next Batman direct-to-DVD, even Bruce Timm himself, Executive Producer of the DC Animated Universe, held pause.

When the initial announcement was made, a number of Batman purists started the usual covering themselves in ashes and sporting the latest in sack cloth. After all, they yelped, it was bad enough when the DCAU utilized anime techniques in such shows as Batman Beyond or Teen Titans. How dare they now hand the actual design work over to the hated Japanese?

Yes, I’m being sarcastic.

Timm had other considerations for not wanting to do the project though.

“I believe it was Gregory Noveck, Senior Vice President of Creative Affairs, DC Comics, [who came up with the idea]” Timm recalled. “It was actually the first DCU film we proposed in the series, even before Superman Doomsday. It was a cooperative development with DC Comics and Warner Premiere/Home Video, but Gregory really headed the project from the start. Personally, I thought it was crazy. I liked the idea of anime directors doing Batman, but there were several other wrinkles in the process that I thought would turn the project into a disaster.”

One has to admit, six different creators doing six interconnected stories involving six different Japanese studios would be a heck of a coordinating job, even if each segment was approximately 10-12 minutes in length. Conflict could come up anywhere, from how the creator interpreted the characters to just plain old production bugs. The last time Timm attempted anything similar was when he did the “Legends of the Dark Knight” episode in the Batman: The Animated Series. Yet it “Legends” there was only three stories, done in one studio and for only 22 minutes.

Batman: Gotham Knight doubled the number of shorts, put the creative pretty much in six Japanese directors’ hands and for over 75 minutes.

There was another consideration, and that is Gotham Knight is supposed to take place inbetween the two Chris Nolan directed live action films, Batman Begins and Batman: Dark Knight.

“Batman Gotham Knight fits loosely between the two live action films,” says Timm. “We like to think of it as a stand-alone film that die-hard Batman fans can use as a reference to understand even more background about the character within the Nolan universe. The writers and directors weren't really restricted beyond the usual basic mandates anyone approaching a Batman project would have. Ultimately that turned out not to be the case, as you can see by the final product. So I was very happy to be proven wrong.”

Indeed. It’s probably a safe bet to say B:GK is the best D2D release from the DCAU. Ever. Really. Is that praise enough for you?

One key reason the DVD turned out so well is simple enough. Noveck put a strong and experienced team of writers on the job. All having some sort of Gotham experience under their belt didn’t hurt either.

“Gregory Noveck was point person in selecting the writers, and I think he was looking for great writing and interesting perspectives,” said Timm. “We wanted writers who understood the character. He found the right guys.”

Those guys were Brian Azzarello, Alan Burnett, David S. Goyer, Jordan Goldberg, Josh Olsen and Greg Rucka. One has to admit it’s one superlative list of writers.

Yet there was the matter of choosing the animators. Like it or not haters, Japan has many a fine artist over there. In fact, the real problem probably would have been how Timm finally used the six he did when there were so many to choose from. What made him work with Madhouse (Black Lagoon, Ninja Scroll, Paprika, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust) when there were also the likes of Ghibli, Gainax or Gonzo out there?

“Ultimately, we got who we wanted,” said Timm. “There were some talent we wanted that ultimately didn't work out, due to scheduling and things like that. But I'm very happy with the directors we did get.

“I would've loved to use Ghibli, but we didn't really even consider them because they're not really a work-for-hire studio. They're pretty much autonomous. I'm also a big fan of the work done by Gainax, but we decided not to go there.”

What did matter though was Timm managed to pair the correct writer with the right animator. It’s hard to think of any other studio doing something as action-oriented as Alan Burnett’s “Deadshot” segment than Madhouse. The kids tale of Josh Olsen’s “Have I Got A Story For You” couldn’t have been paired off better than with , Shoujirou Nishimi who was a key animator on Tekkon Kinkeet and also worked on such productions as Akira.

One interesting note was “Story,” which leads the whole project off. It starts off with four kids meeting at a skatepark. When one asks why the other three are late, it turns out each was a witness to guess who in his pursuit of a villain. In many ways it carries a similar structure to the aforementioned B:TAS “Legends” episode, which has been included in the extra content of the 2-disk set.

“Even though it was something we'd kind of done before, Josh Olson came up with a pretty different twist than on B:TAS,” says Timm. “Josh's approach was unique in a way that really helps establish where this film is going, so it made sense to start that way to set up the whole movie. Josh even took it a step further. In his tip-of-the-cap to Chris Nolan, he actually has his short vignettes running in backwards order, which is a reference to Nolan's film Memento. If you watch closely, you'll notice that the villain has more equipment as the segment goes along – even though he loses something during each segment.”

Personally, I think the real standout here is Azzarello’s segment, “Working Through Pain.” One gets the feeling that while Timm will play no favorites, he’s equally impressed.

“Brian gave us a vision of Bruce Wayne that had never been seen before,” says Timm, “a look into his deepest roots during his preparation to become the Dark Knight. I thought it was a very interesting take on Batman's training, on his path toward becoming who he is and why.”

One thing that’s truly nice to hear again though is the return of Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman. His resonant baritone truly reminds us just how important Conroy is throughout the entire series, a solid rock that keeps the character in place no matter who’s doing the writing and animation.

“When we set out to do this film, we were initially attempting to get the live-action cast,” Timm admits. “But we knew that if we couldn't get Christian Bale, it didn't make sense to get the rest of the cast. When we knew that was a dead end, Andrea (Romano) and I discussed the casting at length. The one thing that hit us was that every time we initiate a Batman project, the fans all cry out for Kevin – by the fans' standard, and ours, he is the definitive Batman voice. So we went to Kevin and, fortunately, he was ready and excited to do the film.”

In the meantime, the DVD also has a sneak peak of the next DCAU project, the story of Wonder Woman. The preview is all pencil sketches and some dialogue samples. Still, based on what I’m seeing, it could give Gotham Knight some serious competition.

“Lauren Montgomery, one of the three directors on Superman Doomsday, is directing from a Michael Jelenic script that's crammed full of action and humor,” says Timm. “We've got a great cast starting with Keri Russell as Wonder Woman and Nathan Fillion as Steve Trevor, along with Virginia Madsen, Alfred Molina, Rosario Dawson, Oliver Platt and a few others. The early footage we've seen looks great and we'll be discussing more at Comic-Con. We're going to do more. Hopefully lots more. So long as the fans want them, we'll produce them.”

Yet this brings in an interesting little bit of conflict for Mr. Timm. Believe it or not, given his druthers he’d rather do TV.

“I like the rough and tumble world of TV production a little better,” says Timm. “I like the instant gratification of banging out story ideas, working through the scripting and storyboarding, recording the voices, editing quickly, getting through post production, seeing the show on air – and then you're suddenly back in post on another episode. That's fun. Working on features has its moments, too – you've got more time, you can fine-tune things a lot more. I guess I'm ADD or something. I like moving on to something else right away.”

Apparently he is moving on to new projects as we read this. While he admits he can’t talk about them just yet, I get the feeling we’ll see them—on the net—in the relatively near future.

NEXT COLUMN: Been a while since I said that, eh? Well, interviews already in the can include Alan Burnett, David X Cohen and Gen Fukunaga, founder and president of FUNimation Entertainment. Lots more in the works, too. See you shortly..


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