Justice League vs. Teen Titans comes out on Blu-ray tomorrow! (You can read my review of it from WonderCon if you’d like.) In honor of it’s release, I was given the chance to talk to a few of the cast and crew who worked on the movie. This first dish features the character designer and one of the producers.
Phil Bourassa has been working as a character designer for many years. His first project at DC was Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman back in 2003, and since then he’s worked on many other animated features and TV shows, including fan favorite Young Justice. Producer James Tucker has been in the animation business for more than twenty-five years. He’s worked on everything from Animaniacs and Static Shock to the more recent run of DC animated films.
Eat Your Comics: There’s something a little bit different about Batman in this movie, so how do you approach that as a character designer?
Phil Bourassa: For these films, they’re in a continuity. So this Batman was established in Justice League: War essentially. Jason [O’Mara] has been providing the voice the whole time. The design really hasn’t changed that much. Starting with Justice League: War and then Son of Batman, it’s essentially the same design, same approach to the design. There are a couple small cosmetic differences when he appears in a Batman film or when he appears in a Justice League film, but it’s the same look because it’s the same continuity based narrative. We don’t really change the model too much.
I refine little things if I see the footage is coming back and I see issues with the animation. If I think it’s something I can fix by streamlining the design, then I’ll make little adjustments, but I don’t change the basic theory.
EYC: Do you feel a pressure when you’re producing projects with such well-known characters?
James Tucker: Oh, yeah. Well, pressure? More of a responsibility, ‘cause I’m a fan too. I wouldn’t want to make anything I wouldn’t want to watch. It’s hard because comic book fans have read it all. If you read a lot of comics, you’ve seen every possible story line, and it’s all in your head. I think about that ‘cause I’m a comic book fan. When someone sees my movie, I can’t fit all the continuity that twenty years of the character. Damian was out for almost five or six years and had that much continuity, so you have to back things so that a regular audience understands too. It’s always a balance between making it fun for comic book fans still but also making it relatable and understandable for people who aren’t comic book fans. It’s a challenge, but I like it. I love it.
EYC: What’s your process like when you find out you’re doing another DC animated movie?
PB: The first thing I probably talk to James Tucker on the phone or we’ll have a meeting and just talk about the tone of the film, who are the characters in it, you know. If it’s a Justice League film, it will have a range of different themes than a Batman film, so we talk about tone and art direction, just the sort of vibe we want to create.
Then I read the script. The DC universe is so big, it has a lot of history. No matter how long I do it, we’re always introducing characters that I might not be familiar with, so I do a lot of research as far as looking up the history of the character, their background, what artists and writers have worked on them in the past. Some of these characters are sixty, seventy years old. There’s usually a lot of history in the comics, a lot of references. Maybe they’ve gone through a lot of costume change, lots of different artists have done their take. We might gravitate toward one aesthetic more than another based on how it parallels the themes that we’re trying to bring out of our movies.
My process is pretty much to talk to my collaborators and figure out what their thoughts are and look at all of the source material from the comics and look at our script, then I start drawing from all of that inspiration.
EYC: What are you excited about in this film specifically?
PB: This one’s so fun because we’ve done a lot of Batman and done a lot of Justice League, which is great because I love those characters and they’re awesome, but this one has the kids in it. The teenage superheroes are so fun. There’s opportunities for levity and tenderness. There’s just something about drawing and writing the teenage heroes, the younger heroes, that gives you so many more options in a way because they’re not so set in stone, they’re not god-like. They’re vulnerable. They’re obviously more flawed. They’re going through awkwardness. There’s so much more to play with. I’ve always loved drawing the younger heroes. It’s something that I just really enjoy.
EYC: The current DC theme seems to be a lot of one person or group against another. Was this something you knew about ahead of time?
JT: We’re following Damian to a new team, but we needed to do a Justice League movie to introduce the Titans. I know they’re on two hit shows now, but it was thought that we needed to use the Justice League to piggie-back the Teen Titans into their own thing. My goal is to ultimately do standalone Teen Titans movies. It was just figuring out the logistics of it.
Back to your question, the versus aspect in our movies, it’s usually more Batman has a deep issue with Robin, not versus, but superheroes work out their issues by fighting. If they were in therapy, that might not sell very well.
We use the versus as a means to say there’s a schism between this group and this group. They don’t hate each other, but there’s a conflict. If you read Marvel’s old comics, they did superheroes fighting each other all the time. In fact, any time the superheroes met each other for the first time, they automatically fought. It’s an old tradition. We’re not reinventing the wheel. And they make for catchy titles.
EYC: Is there a plan you have going forward that you want to see Damian or any of the other heroes move toward?
JT: I don’t try to get too far ahead because I want to be surprised myself by some of the developments, so I don’t have a chart or anything. Eventually we’ll bring in other characters to be the focal point. We’ll have other movies where he’s not in them. The next movies, I can’t talk about, but he’s not in it. We’ve followed him a lot so now it’s time to stretch and go out into other things and shake it up. That’s the plan; we don’t know specifics yet.
Check out this clip from Justice League vs. Teen Titans.