Butch Lukic on Animation Style & the Importance of The Long Halloween
Several animated movies have been released by DC has released since the universe was seemingly reset in the conclusion of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. Until now, they have all been original stories. Warner Bros. Animation, DC, and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment present a classic DC story in the new universe, one that has affected comics and movie scripts ever since. Torn from the pages of the iconic mid-1990s DC story written by Jeph Loeb (Batman: Hush, Hulk: Gray) and Tim Sale (Batman: Dark Victory, Daredevil: Yellow), Batman: The Long Halloween is a cornerstone of Batman lore. Center of our tale features the triumvirate of justice – Batman/Bruce Wayne (Jensen Ackles), Police Captain James Gordon (Billy Burke), and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel) – as they combine forces to solve the mystery of the Holiday Killer.
Supervising Producer Butch Lukic (Justice Society World War II, Batman: The Animated Series) helms the adaptation sprinkling in details and nuance that only three-plus decades in animation can provide. From his start as a storyboard artist to director and producing, Butch has forgotten more about the industry than most can remember. In anticipation of the Blu- Ray and Digital release, the DC Animation veteran joins Bleeding Cool's Jimmy Leszczynski for a one on one chat about the challenges of adapting such a beloved tale and his approach to a European/ French style of animation.
How important is Batman: The Long Halloween as a story, or where would you rank it as far as Batman or DC stories go?
Butch Lukic: I really liked Batman: Year One, with Frank Miller and (David) Mazzucchelli. There was also the Ra's Al Ghul Story Denny O'Neil, Neil Adams. I loved that one. So I would rank this in and around number five. Dark Victory I really like too, you know? It's tough, but it's definitely in the top five.
The original Batman: The Long Halloween story takes place over thirteen issues. What are some of the challenges to adapting such an iconic story, with reams of content, into an animated movie?
BL: It's a matter of trying to keep things exactly the intent of the story and not try to screw it up. The main issue was only cutting out content that was redundant. And content that just, that wouldn't work on screen. You know, it works on the comics page, but it doesn't exactly adapt to the screen. And then it was just a matter of trying to fuse the characters' stories… more in line to where we- because once reading Long Halloween again, after I hadn't read it in like ten years, realizing, oh yeah, this story arc with this character doesn't exactly connect up with where so and so should be. So we kind of bridged a few things that we saw while working out the plot ideas that we could fully keep, and also finding out what the story entailed as far as family and things, what we could fuse together that actually makes it work cinematically as a story. Also, it would have worked in the comic too. Just little things we found out while working out the story for this. We did a deep dive going through the script, and the story, or the books. And Tim (Sheridan – Batman: The Long Halloween) definitely fleshed out certain things that were there in one panel or two, but it definitely meant more in the finished script for the screen.
In these last couple of movies, I've noticed the character design has a bit of a thicker outline. Is this part of a new animation style or animation process?
BL: Yeah, It is actually hand-animated. The whole thing I wanted to do, from when I started it. I started this style with Long Halloween in mind. So, what I wanted to do- So they told me when I did Long Halloween, I can't do the style that came before, which was, you know, James Tucker (Reign of the Supermen, Batman: Hush) and that stuff which was more anime look. I had to do something different, so I just went; I actually think of more of a European French style … I can't do Tim Sale (style) because Warner Brothers wants me to do a style and continuity that I could keep going with other movies, other than just Batman: the Long Halloween… I looked at Otto Schmidt's (Green Arrow, Harley Quinn) work online, who I've always liked, saw the stuff he does by himself illustrated, and realized, yeah, this style I could adapt to animation. It works. It has a bit of a comic book, its comic book, and it has a European feel to it. That's why I changed; you know, the style having the thick line around it, it's more the thick and thin line sense of a comic book drawing as opposed to a thick outer line, it's kind of like the lines are going thick and thin throughout the design.
You were saying that is a style that you could translate into your own universe, but you combined that style and Tim Sale's style to really bring these characters to life in this new/ your style. You can definitely see the comic style in your designs.
BL: That really was because Long Halloween was supposed to be our first movie, and I wanted that; definitely a cinema film noir look. So I figured that going with a heavier outline style and design style, it would marry better to what I wanted to do.
Justice Society World War II featured a much brighter palette and similar to the sunlight coming through the trees in the park, Batman: The Long Halloween plays with lighting a lot. The lighting in Gordon's office, closing the blinds, the reflection off Gordon's glasses, Batman's shadow. It all adds an entire level of detail and atmosphere of classic noir films that separates these animated comic book movies, if you will, from the rest. What subtle additions are you most proud of in this that might go unnoticed?
BL: Yeah, there is stuff like that and also with Joker and Harvey Dent. There is a nice sequence where they are going in and out of the shadows themselves. There's also, in the sewer scene with Grundy and Batman. I lit it to have a glow on top of them because they are in a very low-lit area. So also, the water is bouncing off on the walls and things like that, so all that was obviously intentional. When you do it for film/ live-action, some of that's a happy accident, but for us, that has to be thought out and drawn. So none of it is an accident. It's all there for a reason; it was put there intentionally.
It is the details, in addition to the story, that makes your movies stand far and above the other animated movies. What do you want to say to the fans of the original? Does this version land?
BL: Yeah, I'm pretty sure it will. Look, I loved the books when they came out; they were great style-wise, story, you know? The characters were excellent, and everything we did in these films is to try to hold to these characters. The feel and the intention of what the books were wanting you to feel and think about. So it's all there. And there are a couple of things that we added to just kind of help with the inconsistencies.
Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One, is currently available on Digital and Blu-ray.
The all-star cast includes Jensen Ackles (Supernatural, Smallville) as Batman/ Bruce Wayne, Naya Rivera (Glee) as Catwoman Selina Kyle⁷, Josh Duhamel (Transformers, Las Vegas) as Harvey Dent, Billy Burke (Twilight, Revolution, Zoo) as James Gordon, Titus Welliver (Bosch, Deadwood, The Town) as Carmine Falcone, David Dastmalchian (The Suicide Squad, Ant-Man, Dune, The Dark Knight) as Calendar Man, Troy Baker (The Last of Us, Batman: Arkham Knight) as Joker, Amy Landecker (Your Honor, Transparent) as Barbara Gordon, Julie Nathanson (Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay) as Gilda Dent, Jack Quaid (The Boys, The Hunger Games) as Alberto, Fred Tatasciore (American Dad!, Family Guy) as Solomon Grundy, Jim Pirri (World of Warcraft franchise) as Sal Maroni, and Alastair Duncan (The Batman, Batman Unlimited franchise) as Alfred. Additional voices were provided by Frances Callier, Greg Chun, and Gary Leroi Gray.
Chris Palmer (Superman: Man of Tomorrow) directs Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One from a screenplay by Tim Sheridan (Reign of the Supermen, Superman: Man of Tomorrow). Produced by Jim Krieg (Batman: Gotham by Gaslight) and Kimberly S. Moreau (Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Supervising Producer Butch Lukic (Justice Society: World War II, Superman: Man of Tomorrow) and Executive Producers are Michael Uslan and Sam Register