SUPERMAN EXCLUSIVE Behind the Scenes Look at 75th Anniversary Animated Short
Last year Warner Bros. premiered an animated short celebrating Superman's 75th Anniversary. In this excerpt from an exclusive "making of" piece, director/storyboard artist Jay Oliva discusses how the short came together.
One of the highlights of the 75th Anniversary Superman celebration last year, was the animated short that captured the essence of those many decades in a little over two minutes. Put to the themes of, first, John Williams and, then, Hans Zimmer, it was an inspiring effort that no doubt left even the most casual fan of the Man of Steel smiling. What may be surprising to some, however, is the tremendous amount of thought that went into creating the "moments" represented in the short.
Jay Oliva served as director, storyboard artist and producer of this effort. Oliva, of course, has a long history in animation as both storyboard artist and director, and has most recently helmed the films The Dark Knight Returns, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox and the forthcoming Justice League: War. Additionally, he served as storyboard artist on Zack Snyder's Man of Steel. Now, Oliva is reflecting on the making of the animated short exclusively with Voices From Krypton. What follows is the first part of that behind-the-scenes discussion.
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: I have to tell you, I sat in the audience at New York Comic-Con watching this short for the first time with the biggest smile on my face you could imagine. And the thing that grabs me right from the outset was the use of the John Williams theme. People love that theme, as evident from the audience's reaction.
JAY OLIVA: When we first started throwing ideas of how it would be, of course, they were, like, "We should use the John Williams theme." The original idea was to do more of a montage with music from throughout the years. We would start with the theme from the George Reeves series and go to John Williams and so on. That was in our first meeting. The first idea was to do everything in one shot, but I realized there was no way to do it in two minutes and feature all of the benchmarks in the character's history.
By the time I got involved, Peter Girardi and Bruce Timm had their initial pitch where they showed all the landmarks they wanted to hit. Things like Curt Swan, Wayne Boring, Turtleboy, Christopher Reeve, the Atari 2600 and Super Nintendo games, and so forth. So I got all of this information, sat down in front of my computer and thought to myself, "How do I track all of this together?" I realized early on it had to be the John Williams theme all the way through. So I went back to them and said, "Hey, can you guys check with the legal department and see if we can use the theme?" They looked into it and they said, "Yeah, we can use it, and it’s actually not very expensive for us to use it," so that was cool. As soon as I knew we got that in, I said we’re going to stick to the John Williams theme, because I told them I would be story boarding to the music. What this meant was that all of the transitions and all the switches from one decade to another woul be based on the music. That's why I wanted to start with Action Comics #1 and then, as soon as the music hit, you would go with the animation.
The original storyboard - maybe someday I’ll post it – was a shot of a really crappy wooden coffee table, and then the comic book would kind of drop down into it and there would be a kid’s hand on it. That's how I read comic books, on a kind of crappy wooden table, and I thought, "Oh that would be kind of nice." The table would have stains on it and stuff, and the camera would slowly be pushing in on it. The build-up was kind of slow and while the audience was looking at it, as soon as the music hits, boom, there's the animation and Superman jumps off the cover. He runs to the camera and we're now in the Shuster 1940s world. Obviously we didn't shoot the coffee table, but from him running towards the camera he runs through a crowd and down an alleyway. I didn't want him flying in the beginning, because back then he didn't - he leapt, so we had him leaping up from building to building. You get to the top of the tallest building, and that would transition to the Fleischer cartoons, him smashing through the airplane and all of that.
VOICES FROM KRYPTON: Were there any other elements that you had originally hoped to have in there but ultimately couldn't for one reason or another?
JAY OLIVA: When I was going over what they wanted, I thought they messed up because they didn't have Lois & Clark and that sort of thing. Originally I had it mapped out for four minutes, because that's how long the John Williams theme is, but the budget wouldn't support it. Originally it was supposed to be a minute thirty seconds, and I was able to stretch it to a little over two minutes. But, yeah, originally I had a scene where Clark Kent comes out of a phonebook, and he does that whole "This is a job for Superman" thing and he reveals the costume. I had Clark running by a train, and a whole sequence inside the Fortress of Solitude. There's a part of the theme where it slows down for a bit and I was going to use that moment to project Jor-El and scenes from the movie in the fortress; you'd see the scene where Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder are flying through the sky, with the city of Metropolis in the background. I wanted this thing where you would see animation in the foreground, but live action stuff in the background.
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