Lance Sells is the Creative Director Of Motherland, the company behind today's release of the Spider-Woman Motion Comic from Marvel. I asked him to tell me not only what went right with the motion comic – but also what went wrong.
Excuse me while I ramble.
A history of motion comics according to Motherland:
We've been working in one way or another on motion comics since late 2005. We first started working with Marvel with trailers and then moved into longer form with them for Stephen King's N which is the first time we worked with Alex. During that time we did some broadcast pieces for the show Smallville with DC as well as some trailers, some shorter motion comics for The Dark Knight Returns and a music video for Black Tide. All along we've been trying to figure out what works and what doesn't in regards to moving around comic art in a manner that looks good and tells a story.
Problems & Issues.
I think one of the biggest things all motion comics face is there are moments and things that happen in between panels in the gutters of the page that just don't work once you start putting things in motion. There's a good deal of the dialogue that works well because it's written as if they are saying things sequentially but a lot of times the art skips forward in time. That's the nature of comics but what happens in motion comics is you basically get some weird jump cuts and odd edits. Motion comics are much more animation than comics and you have to really look at ways to edit things the right way. Luckily for us Spider-Woman was drawn and written with this in mind so there might have been places where that happened but we were able to correct it as everyone was working. We would see something that didn't work edit-wise in the animatic and Alex Maleev would be able to fill in that space with a shot.
Speaking of Alex he needs to be praised for this whole thing. He's doing the artwork for each book in 3 weeks which includes giving us the artwork all cleaned up in layers and the right aspect ratio but ALSO filling in the gaps when needed. He's a machine and the artwork is truly amazing. People are going to be blown away by how this looks.
One other difference I see with motion comics compared to comics is that in a comic or a book it's all done at the reader's pace. You can have a gorgeous splash page with big blocks of text and it all feels right because the reader is reading and then checking the art out or vice versa and it's all at whatever speed they choose. That same splash page in a motion comic is more or less one shot that's maybe more powerful or iconic than some others but it's just one shot in hundreds of shots. All that text on a splash page could take you a minute to read but in a motion comic you can't have a minute of voice-over relating to one image. Timing is everything in animation so it just doesn't work. Like I said before the Spider-Woman motion comic was built for the comic and the motion comic at the same time so there were fewer instances where that happened and we could catch them and adjust whatever we needed before we put these things on the street. One of the greatest strengths of this project is it was tailor-made for motion comics and it shows.
The whole process for Spider-Woman ran pretty much like an animation production with the only major difference being that the storyboards were drawn after we had recorded the voiceover. It went script, rough VO timing(these had to be a certain length), VO recording, storyboards, animatic, animation. One of the great things about working on some previous motion comics is we've learned how to make things a little more cinematic and alive even if we were limited on the animation. We try and treat the artwork to give it more of a filmic look. Things that I think work horribly in most comics work really well in motion comics. Things like depth of field, motion blur, lights and light leakage. Those work great in a motion comic but not in a comic.
We've done a lot of learning on this one. You always learn something new and we're doing almost an hour's worth of animation here so there are things that come up that you wouldn't expect and you hopefully remember them next time you're working on one.
I would call motion comics in general a form of animation. What the difference is between motion comics and another form of animation is the artwork. You're dealing with beautifully rendered illustrations that are usually above and beyond anything you're going to see in any other animation. There are obvious drawbacks in that it's tougher to pull off convincing animation the more detailed and realistic you get but I think what needs to be done is to exploit that artwork in ways that other animation can't or doesn't. With Spider-Woman we really tried some new elements that added to the whole experience of watching. One of the ways was we figured out a way to incorporate 3D objects into the artwork without looking "too" 3D and we even shot some live-action stuff for a couple scenes that we mixed into the artwork in a really cool way. The whole motion comics thing is so new I think there's going to be leaps and bounds over the next couple of years as to what people do with it. Like I said, the artwork is where the strength and difference is compared to other animation and you're going to see people really take advantage of that.
The first episode of the Spider-Woman Motion Comic is released on iTunes today for 99c with subsequent episodes costing $1.99 and a trailer for the Spider-Woman can be seen below. Not quite sure about that "London" accent… or the out-of-service Routemaster bus?
A montage of Motherland work…
And a clip from Captain Pugwash to show you just what to avoid.