We had a chance to catch up with the Victor Cook (Director, "Hellboy Animated") about his newest project, Spectacular Spider-Man, which airs on the KidsWB in early 2008.
ENI: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started in the business?
Victor: I am married and have a daughter and son. I grew up an airforce brat having grown up going to schools in Texas, Florida, California as well as Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. Because of that I was exposed to both american and japanese animated programs from a young age. As well as collecting Marvel, DC comics and big telephone book thick manga.
Although I grew up a comic and animation fan, at Cal State Long Beach I was focusing on comic strips and political cartooning, drawing for the campus newspaper. A college art teacher put me in contact with a former student who had gone into animation. That meeting rekindled my interest in animation. I called Filmation Studios to see if they had any openings, they tested me and hired me the next week as an inbetweener on Brave Starr. Later I started storyboarding at Walt Disney TV Animation, where I eventually had the opportunity to work as a Director on many series such as Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, The Legend of Tarzan, Atlantis Milos Return and also as a Producer/Director of Lilo and Stitch the series. In 2006, I left Disney to direct Hellboy Blood and Iron.
ENI: The Spider-Man Animated Series features Peter as a modern-day teenager. Will Peter work on stories dealing with the real issues kids face today like drugs, violence, and sex?
Victor: Peter will definitely deal with many issues kids deal with today such as finding a date for the school dance, keeping up with studies while holding down a part time job, dealing with bullys and navigating the social cliques of the modern day high school. He is also dealing with some unreal issues such as keeping New York safe from Super-Villians!
ENI: Will the stories be loosely based on previously-established comic book stories, or will they be created from scratch?
Victor: These are new scripts that use the classic characters. Greg Weisman and the writers are contemporizing that exciting time of Peterís life when he first became Spider-Man from the classic Lee/Ditko era.
ENI: Do you plan to use story arcs throughout the season, or will each episode stand alone?
Victor: BOTH!-The episodes can be viewed and enjoyed as stand alone stories, but there are also connective storylines that thread over the course of the season.
ENI: Will we see guest stars from the Marvel Universe, such as the Avengers, Fantastic Four, or the X-Men? Will the Punisher make an appearance?
Victor: Not in episodes 1-13. But we just found out we are doing episodes 14-26. This show could go on for many seasons, so we'll have to see how things progress.
ENI: In your opinion, what will set this series apart from other Spider-Man cartoons?
Victor: The stories, the look and the filmmaking style. Great characterization, plot and action. The stories play as episodes, but also arc over the season. The characters and backgrounds are designed for animation, not the printed page. This will be an action show with classic animation squash and stretch. This will be a Spider-Man that moves! It will also be very cinematic, with an east meets west filmmaking sensibility. Action scenes choreographed with a bit of Hong Kong flair. The pacing, the staging and the color selections are all to chosen to enhance the storytelling.
ENI: You have worked on comic adaptations and original animated productions before. How does your approach differ with these two sources?
Victor: From a Directing standpoint it's all filmmaking. And the approach depends on the genre and the material. On an original idea you can make up the rules of your universe and create your own mythology. On a comic adaptation there is already decades of mythology to work with. The fun and the challenge is how to present that in a new, fresh and exciting way.
ENI: How did you choose the animated style for this series?
Victor: I wanted an action show with classic squash and stretch. I knew the staging, acting and action was going to be cinematic, but I also wanted it to be fun. While it's not going to be "cartoony", I didn't want realistic stiff mannequins walking around. Sometimes the acting is very live action and naturalistic and other times a bit broad. It has been very satisfying being able to determine the look and filmmaking style of this series. Fortunately, all involved on this project were on the same page on wanting to have a fresh visual approach. We all wanted a stylized, sleek animatable look with strong silhouettes. Spider-Man is about speed and movement, so the style had to be free of cluttered detail. It had to be great to look at and be fast and easy for the animators to draw. Because the show centered on Peter's high school years, I also wanted the designs to be fun. The man on the street in the background should be as interesting to look at as Spider-Man or our villains. Sean "Cheeks" Galloway was the concept designer on Hellboy Blood and Iron, which I directed. His concepts had an appealing simplified look that I felt would be perfect for Spider-Man. After Sean did some development art on Spider-Man, we all agreed to bring him on the show. I also wanted the background style to be simplified with strong silhouettes. The backgrounds will have architectural touches and at the same time a lack of detail. We are keeping lines as part of our final painted look. This also allows for three-dimensional camera moves and animating backgrounds to match the look of the rest of our non-moving backgrounds. The paintings are somewhat graphic without that airbrushed look.
ENI: What is it like to work on a series that has such an extensive background?
Victor: With great power comes great responsibility! It's a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. It's also a bit surreal. I grew up on Spider-Man comics, I watched the original animated series and ran around the house singing it's theme song as a kid. Now I get to make a Spider-Man show for the next generation. It doesn't get much better than that.
ENI: What preparations did you make when approaching this series?
Victor: In a way our crew has been preparing for this since our childhoods. We all grew up comic book fans and especially Spider-Man fans. Other than that, we have been rereading and studying the Lee/Ditko era of Spider-Man comics. Greg Weisman and the writers have a goal of not creating any new characters, but using the characters that Lee and Ditko created and contemporizing them. Those early comics are also visual inspiration for the design and storyboard crew as well. Like the early comics, we didn't want our Spider-Man to be some big muscle bound He-man, and I am very happy our design for the show follows that thinking. Those early comics are also inspiration for us in terms of posing and some really great iconic imagery.
ENI: Villains are an important part of a series like this. How much character development can we expect to see with Spidey's foes?
Victor: Very much. We will get to know these villains and what motivates them. These characters evolve over multiple episodes, the audience will get to know many of them before they become super villains.
Thanks to Victor for taking the time to talk with us.