|Behind the Scenes - Steve Gordon Interview
Steve Gordon worked as both Director and Character Designer on both The
Ultimate Avengers and X-Men: Evolution. To celebrate the release of The
Ultimate Avengers, The Marvel Animation Age caught up with Steve to talk
about his work on the direct to DVD feature.
did you come to work on these Ultimate Avengers DTVs?
I knew a lot of the people that were putting these projects together
since they were a lot of the same ones who worked on X-M:E and they
asked me if I'd be interested in directing and designing on the first
show. When I found out it was going to based on "The Ultimates" I leapt
at the chance.
You’ve previously designed characters on X-Men: Evolution. What
thought process went into these new Ultimate Avengers designs? Did you
want to separate them from XMEN, or maintain a consistent look? Were you
allowed to be more risqué with the look of the feature?
I purposely went for a different look than what I had used on X-M:E. On
X-M:E the designs were resonably graphic and exagerated. There was a lot
of Disney's classic 'straights against curves' elements incorporated
into these designs. The Ultimates felt like it should be worlds away
from any graphic approach.
I knew these designs needed to feel as close to Hitch's design sense as
possible. I went for a more straight ahead handling of the human figure.
I referenced to a lot of photographs of models, body-builders and actors
to simulate this look. I still used my own sense of 'simplification'
that I've developed over the years as a working animator. I knew what
was possible and wasn't possible, but I definitely pushed for more
detail on these characters than ever before.
My intent was to in some way bring Hitch's sense of realism to the
designs. I obviously couldn't do it the way he does with all the line
work and shading so opting for the very straight realism seemed to be a
Did you feel any restraint trying to bring Hitch’s very detailed The
Ultimates look to animation or did you find it to be a simple task to
streamline them from both a designing and directing point of view?
I love what he's done with the realistic approach to costuming and I
definitely wanted to keep that feel. So that meant a lot more work and
pencil mileage to keep many of those details like the appearance of
seams and zippers.
If you study Hitch's designs you realize he was able to add detail,
remove it and rearrange as he felt necessary for a good drawing. I
didn't have this option. I had to find what best exemplified his designs
and find a way to keep it consistent from every angle.
As far as directing I thought it was important to try and compose the
scenes as if it was a live-action movie. We used a lot of big wide shots
and cinematic-style angles the type that Hitch uses so well.
But it wasn't just the action sequences that were influenced by this
type of film-making. For example in the sequence where Bruce is talking
with Betty it was intentionally storyboarded for a sense of intimacy
with the use of tight two-shots when Bruce is feeling like he's making a
connection with Betty. But when he's feeling alone and distant from her
the story artist staged it so that Bruce was shoved into the corner of
the screen and by himself to help give the audience a sense that he was
trapped and feeling cornered - even when Fury joins them its mostly
comprised of shots of Fury standing on one side of the screen with Betty
and Bruce standing all alone on the other side. That's the type of thing
an audience might not be consciously aware of but helps convey an
emotional feeling to them that's not very typical in most TV style
What thought goes into creating an alien design, especially one that
must fight a group as varied as The Avengers?
The alien design is one of the few that I didn't have much to do with.
that was actually worked on by another artist and then I was given his
concepts to try and make them consistent with the balance of the show.
You’ve worked in television, theatrical and now direct to DVD
animation. Which do you prefer and what do you consider to be the pros
and cons of each medium?
Wow. that's a BIG question and I'm not sure I can give you an answer
that really does it justice in any real sense. All I can say is they all
do have pros and cons and often overlap. A lot also depends on which
demographic your trying to reach and who else is involved in the
project. I find the most important thing, at least for me, is to like
what you're working on and who you're working with.
Were you concerned at all about using actual Nazi’s in the opening of
the film, given how they’re usually censored/watered down in animation?
Did it create any conflicts?
I wasn't concerned. They were a real evil that actually existed and I
don't think should be shied away from and I say this as a Jew. As long
as we don't give a false impression of what they really were I don't
have a problem with them being portrayed on screen. I went to a lot of
effort to make sure the costumes were pretty realistic also, but it was
kind of a strange feeling surfing the internet looking for Nazi
Whilst the designs do seem to take heavy inspiration from The
Ultimates, what ‘classic’ motifs did you hope to keep?
I'm sure you've noticed the big differences were Iron-Man's design and
Thor's lack of a beard. These were definitely done to help bridge the
gap between the world of The Ultimates and the world of The Avengers. I
also created new designs for all the character's faces to try and create
a more diverse looking cast.
What it is like to co-direct a feature, rather than control all of
the direction of them film on one’s lonesome?
It always helps to be able to co-direct with someone as good as Curt
Geda. It means that I don't have to worry about what he's doing and I
hope he didn't worry about what I was doing. We spent a lot of time
conferring and discussing how to handle certain elements and looking
over each others shoulders. If we did our jobs right than the average
viewer shouldn't be able to tell which were my sequences and which were
Curt's. But when there are two or more directors on a project it usually
means that the producer will then make all the final decisions
concerning editing, color, and music, etc. When I'm the lone director on
a project I get to make most of those decisions.
Which character was most fun to work on? On the opposite end of the
spectrum, which took longest to get what you wanted from it, in terms of
both designing and directing?
Hmmm. Well, I enjoyed the challenge of working on Cap in both his
costumes because he was always a favorite character of mine when I used
to read comics. I nailed him with my first design. And I liked trying to
create believable looking women - especially Wasp and Black Widow. Hey,
who am I kidding, it's just plain fun to draw good looking, sexy women.
On the other hand it was really difficult to nail down Tony, Thor,
Kleiser and Natalia. I must have gone through a half-dozen designs on
each before everyone felt that I'd succeeded in capturing them.
If any more Ultimate Avengers DTVs are made, is there any specific
character or villain you’d like a crack at?
I wouldn't mind taking a crack at Hawkeye, Quicksilver and Wanda. Ever
since X-M:E I've had a fondness for Wanda.
What’s your overall opinion of the film? Do you consider it better
than your X-Men: Evolution work?
I think it turned out pretty damn good and definitely looks as good as
most of the X-M:E episodes - or better - and for that matter it looks as
good or better than most other similiar DTVs.
Will you be working on The Ultimate Avengers 2 and other Marvel/Lions
Gates Direct To DVD features?
I did the design work for UA2, but I didn't direct on it. I did not do
any work on Iron Man or Dr. Strange, but as for any others in the
future? - anything is possible.