A familiar name to the Marvel Animated Features line from Marvel Animation and Lionsgate Home Entertainment, Planet Hulk Supervising Director Frank Paur has contributed to countless animated projects in recent years, his latest being animated adaptation of the acclaimed "Planet Hulk" Marvel Comics storyline. Paur recently participated in this new Marvel Animation Age Q & A to discuss Planet Hulk and the many different facets of working in animation. Please click on the thumbnails included in this article for a closer look at each image.
Marvel Animation Age: What makes Planet Hulk the perfect story to be animated?
Frank Paur: WellÖ itís the Hulk, itís on an alien world, it has all sorts of critters, monsters, evil tyrants, and hot alien encounters of the third kind. Whatís not to love about animating that sort of thing?
Oh, and itís a great arch-type for storytelling, the heroís quest, the struggles for acceptance, and the character evolution from monster to man. Greg Pak had so many solid elements in his story, the difficult part was deciding what not to animate.
MAA: What is the role of supervising director?
FP: Think of this analogy; master painters never do the entire job themselves; they have assistants that carry out the bulk of the work. The painter will set a direction that he will have others follow. During the process he will periodically review their work, and if needed, make corrections to push the direction in the path that he wants. And after the bulk of the work is finished, he will then go in and refine the work, tighten the art, and correct the errors until the work is complete.
A supervising director is in charge of bringing the entire project to creative completion. He gives focus to the production. Thatís pretty much what I do, I assemble an incredible cast of artists around me, and then I sell them the vision of where I want the story to go. I then stay as much out of their way as possible, only stepping in as needed to insure that everything goes in the direction needed.
You have to have a good knowledge of just about every aspect of animation to pull it off, because you will wind up doing copious amounts of storyboarding, timing, editing, designing and most importantly; people skills, If you can pull it off, itís pretty rewarding.
MAA: Were you worried about adapting a 12-issue story in a regular 70-minute animated feature? How did that influence the choices you made as a supervising director?
FP: Itís always worrisome when you are called in to adapt a long form project into something considerably shorter. Iíve seen the results of other attempts to do this, and most of them are spectacularly underwhelming, not because the talent isnít there, but the time isnít.
As a fan of these types of stories, I understand all too well how disappointing it is not to have all of your favorite moments on film. So what you do is prioritize those elements of the story that are essential to the story. The Hulk is essential. So anything that does not contribute to his story is out, everything is contained around him; by using that tunnel-vision focus, we were able to push away most of the temptations that would have taken us down a difficult path.
MAA: Youíve worked on both top-tier DC and Marvel animated series, and more than a few great ďthird partyĒ series. Is there a different approach you take with the DC animated titles as you do with the Marvel works?
FP: First, it is important to point out that that I havenít worked with the DC titles since Batman: The Animated Series, which for me was ďOnce upon a time.Ē Second, I worked there as a director with some extraordinarily talented people. At the time I remember we were conscious about having the show focus more on character than had ever been done before. Which to me meant more of a Marvel approach to the show.
Iíve always felt that the difference between Marvel and DC, to me as a child reading comics, is that Marvel always made you feel empathy for its characters, heroes and villains alike. As an adult, it now effects how I tell a story. To me the story dictates the approach that you take, be it Marvel, DC, Disney or anything in between. Action is great and helps to push the story forward, but it is always the emotion of the characters that I always remember.
MAA: How so you approach an animated movie when directing? What type of process do you go through?
I take everything based on the story being told. Where does the story take us? How does it affect the characters in it? What is the journey our protagonist goes through?
When all this comes into focus, I then decide how best to tell that story. Animation gives us a wide choice artistically to do this. I try to give every movie I make a different look. With a different look comes a different feel. On Hulk Vs, Wolverine required a darker tone. Its story was horrific and it needed a harder edge to draw the viewers into it. At the same time Thor was a much grander story. Its designs needed to feel more epic, so everything was pushed to a hyper reality, which I found to be a perfect opposite for the Wolverine designs and they complimented each other perfectly.
On Planet Hulk the greatest challenge was inventing the world of ďSakaar.Ē On these Marvel titles, we look at the backgrounds as a character in the film; these designs are not meant to just fill up space for the character to play on. They contribute to the overall feel and emotion of the scene. Sakaar has to feel like an alien planet. The audience has to believe that they are not earthbound. The designers did a great deal of experimentation to create the set pieces that you see, from the shape of the cities, the desert, the sky, color, everything.
When the designs are in motion, Iíll then go over the story in detail with my director, and discuss the character actions, motivations, and the level of action. We spend a great deal of time with the personalities and how they all react with each other. The director will pass on all that information to his storyboard artists so they then can use it in their work. That process is repeated down the line, character designs, color, editing, and music etc.
MAA: You have also directed and contributed to a considerable amount of animated shows, what type of constraints so you feel directing an episode as opposed to a movie, and vice-versa. Do you find thereís more difficulty with one than the other?
FP: Time. Time is a huge constraint, for the time it takes to plan and execute a movie you can pop out 26 episodes of a television series. Of course, your crews are bigger, or should be, so youíre constantly juggling multiple shows at a time. Currently Iím doing post on season one of one series and at the same time ramping up production of season 2. On the plus side you are able to really get into the soap mode and really tell some great stories over extended lengths of time. So there is always a trade off.
MAA: Storyboard artists tend to ďgraduateĒ to directors (one example being James Tucker, who started out as a storyboard artist but eventually found himself directing episodes of Legion of Super-Heroes, and other series). Youíve done both storyboard work and direction, among other works, why do you think that is? What types of skills translate from one area to the other?
FP: Storyboard is the best stepping stone there is for directing. It encompasses composition skills, acting and design, all of which are necessary for direction.
However, if you think thatís all there is to it, you would be wrong. Timing, animation, writing, film editing, music and a good knowledge of film are essential to directing. A good director will draw from everything he knows; I studied fine art in college and Iím always using those skills to assist me in the work that I do. And Iím always studying up to try and keep ahead of the curve. If you want to stand out, you better know your stuff.
MAA: So back onto Planet Hulk, have you seen the final product? And, if so, can you provide any thoughts on how you think it turned out?
FP: Literally, about a thousand times, and it turned out great. I would say itís the best of the Marvel DVD titles. At least until Thor: Tales of Asgard comes out. And you know something? As often as Iíve seen it, I can always find something I want to do to make it better. Thatís something else a director goes through, weíre never satisfied, and we always run out of time.
MAA: As we slowly move toward the end of the Q & A, can you tease any surprises or drop any teases as to what fans can expect from Planet Hulk, now available to own on Blu-ray and DVD? What about Planet Hulk will blow fans away?
FP: Iíve said it before; this is a Hulk nobody has ever seen before in film. For the Hulk purists it has action on a grand scale, the pacing never slows, and it is one of the most beautiful films that youíll ever see in an animated super-hero movie. It really is a roller-coaster ride of emotions that should leave the fans on the edge of their seats.
MAA: So, to wrap this up, where will we be seeing you next? Any details on what animated features youíll be working on in the near future?
FP: Maybe sometime this fall. Iíve been assisting on a project these past few months for Marvel, and itís looking pretty good. As for the features, my lips are sealed.
Marvel Animation Age would like to thank Frank Paur for his participation.