As the Wonder Woman animated movie nears release, Warner Premiere has started rolling out the assets and aggressively getting the word out about this latest entry in the DC Universe series of PG-13, direct-to-video superhero films. To that end, the studio has released a Q&A with the movie’s director, Lauren Montgomery, who previously co-directed Superman Doomsday and helmed episodes of Legion of Super Heroes. She also served as a storyboard artist on Justice League: The New Frontier and Marvel’s latest animated video feature, Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow. Warner Premiere, DC Comics and Warner Bros. Animation will release Wonder Woman on March 3, 2009. See the official website at www.wonderwomanmovie.com.
Question: You’ve gone from directing one-third of Superman Doomsday to helming the entirety of Wonder Woman. What’s that progression been like for you?
Lauren Montgomery: It’s mostly in scale of responsibility. On Doomsday, it was all about my one section of the film. Now, it’s everything from background design and color to character design and camera angles, helping select the voices for the cast and approving every storyboard for the entire film. So (she laughs) it was all a lot harder. It’s been an incredible learning experience, it’s probably the most hands-on I’ve ever been on anything, and it’s really prepared me for more of those responsibilities in the future.
What were the driving factors behind the final design of Wonder Woman?
L.M.: We kept the designs simple enough for animation, but we wanted to give them a slightly more detailed, less cartoony look for the PG-13 content. Wonder Woman went through a lot of different versions. Gradually, and for the betterment of the film, we determined that she should look strong and athletic without being manly. She’s an Amazon, so I wanted her to be able to be taken seriously. We wanted her to look like she worked out, and not just make her a curvy, busty pinup. So I tried to give her slightly slimmer hips versus the hourglass figure, and I think it makes her more believable and engaging in a lot of action.
Did you utilize a different color palette from previous DC Universe films?
L.M.: We wanted the film to be vibrant, but we also needed our characters to fit into their settings. Our color stylist, Craig Cuqro, used colored filters to set the characters into their backgrounds, and our overseas studio Moi added a lot of diffusion, which gives the characters a really nice kind of glowing look, especially during the scenes in Themyscira. The soft diffusion throughout the scenes in Themyscira makes everything seem much nicer, like a paradise. The style adds a lot of quality to the overall look of the film.
Are you a mythology aficionado?
L.M.: I always liked epic stories, and Greek mythology was a subject that kept my attention in school. The characters were larger than life’they were gods and each had their own nuances and specialties. Being an artist, I could really visualize those characters and that made their stories that much more interesting. Wonder Woman is based in mythology, but it doesn’t follow it to a tee by any means. I really just had to bone up on my Wonder Woman version of mythology, so I could make sure that we pleased the fans. We wanted to stay true to the legend but we did eliminate or underplay some of the sillier aspects of that mythology.
Like the fact that the Amazons have an invisible jet, but they with fight swords and don’t appear to have indoor plumbing?
L.M.: There are a few things in the movie that we opted against really explaining because, honestly, the explanations were more convoluted than not explaining it at all. You don’t need to break down the minor details. If we tell you exactly where the invisible jet came from, then that’s time and energy that would’ve taken away from our core story.
How did Michael Jelenic’s script complement your approach to direction?
L.M.: Michael Jelenic has really strong, entertaining ideas in his scripts. Seeing his first drafts really inspired me because there was a lot of action that showed her true strength. He told a story that captivated me the entire way. Beyond the action, Michael is good at interjecting a lot of humor’Steve Trevor’s sense of humor echoes Michael’s in many ways. He also likes to write a lot of director-embellished action scenes, which didn’t always make it easier on me. That’s the one thing I’d like to punch him for. But otherwise, he did a great job.
What’s your depth of love for comics and/or super heroes?
L.M.: I was always more a fan of animation than comics. I just didn’t realize until I was a little older that you could actually make a living making cartoons. And once I discovered that career path, I knew exactly what I was going to do when I grew up.
My love of superheroes didn’t really start until Batman: The Animated Series. That series just took everything to a higher level. It didn’t speak down to people, it made you think more, it had really serious stories, and it went about telling those stories in a way that didn’t put the violence right out there for you to see. It kind of undertoned it. It was more sophisticated storytelling and that drew me to the Superman and Justice League series, and then I ended up working on Justice League. So most of my experience with superheroes comes through animation, not actually through the comic books themselves.
You now work side-by-side with Bruce Timm on DC Universe films. What’s it like to go from fan to colleague?
L.M.: Working with Bruce is extremely interesting, and not in a bad way (laughs). This is going to greatly understate it, but he knows what he’s doing. It’s always a really good learning experience just to sit back and watch him, to see how he works, because Bruce definitely has his own way of doing things. Pretty much all the calls he makes are the right calls’it’s obvious in the body of work that he’s produced. When he makes a call, even if I don’t agree with it 100%, I usually just let it go because I know the film is going to be better for it.
A lot of filmmaking is finessing, and I’ve learned a lot of that art from Bruce. He knows the little tricks to make things a lot better’certain things to avoid, simple camera moves, and ways to not draw attention to the camera. And he’s an amazing editor. He has a way of looking at a film and being able to identify the important parts and really hammer them home. I’m still kind of focused on the storyboards, planning everything out so it plays the way I want it. I don’t really think about cutting around or rearranging scenes because I already did that in the storyboards. But Bruce can look at that footage and know immediately how to rearrange the scenes to make things that much better and that much smoother. That’s what I’m trying to learn from him now.
Has drawing always been a passion?
L.M.: In my younger years I drew a lot and I wasn’t quite as social. When I came home after school, I would finish my homework, and then sit in my room and draw. And that’s all I did, because I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I would save my money and buy books like The Art of Pocahontas and The Art of Hunchback‘whatever Disney art book was out that year. I would take it home and look at it, and I would think, ‘Okay, now my drawings aren’t anywhere near as good as these drawings, so I’d better get to work to make them as good.’ I figured the more I practiced, the sooner I would get that good, so I drew as much as I possibly could.
Who are your influences artistically today?
L.M.: I don’t have specific artists exactly, but I was definitely influenced by the Disney films. Those were the drawings I was tracing and sketching during my early years. I would study each and every one of the princesses and draw them until I had them all down by heart. My facial features are still influenced somewhat by Disney characters. As I got older, I was definitely influenced by Bruce’s style in Batman, and I started getting into anime and some of the more subtle styles in anime drawing. The clothing is a little more detailed than the typical American animation, more believable, yet still simplified. It’s the way they draw bodies and cloth that I kind of incorporate into my drawings, as well as certain aspects of how they would draw hair. So I’d say I have a few different influences in my art style.
Do you have a preference between male and female superheroes?
L.M.: I definitely prefer female leads because I feel it’s just easier to direct their acting. They’re allowed to show a much wider range of emotions. A woman can be feminine and tomboyish, and she can hit all the same poses that a man can hit. But if you start putting a man in a feminine pose, especially a superhero man, it doesn’t fly. So when you’re dealing with the male super heroes, you have a much, much more restricted range of acting. It’s not just a challenge, it’s more of a limitation in general. You can do more with a woman character and it’s still acceptable. So it’s a lot more enjoyable for me. Plus, on a personal level, I think it’s good to give girl fans more options. When I was a girl, I would watch Thundercats and all I really had to choose from was Cheetara. I always wanted more female heroes and I never really got them. Hopefully we’ll be able to explore more of them in these DVDs.