Behind the Scenes - Steve Gordon Interview
by Stu

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.

How 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 good compromise.

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 shows.

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 costuming.

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.