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The World's Finest Presents

Boyd Kirkland
by Stu Hamilton

Chances are, if you watched a superhero cartoon in the last 20 years, you'll have seen something Boyd Kirkland worked on. His resume includes performing a wide variation of tasks on such shows as Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, Mr. T, Dungeons and Dragons and many others.

Boyd recently served as a producer on the Kids WB!'s X-Men: Evolution and is currently doing freelance storyboard work for several different studios and developing projects of his own.

To celebrate the release of Batman: The Animated Series Volume 3 DVD, The World's Finest caught up with Boyd to talk about his work on the show, and his DTV feature, Sub-Zero.

May 22nd, 2005

How did you become involved in Batman: The Animated Series?

I had really been impressed with the quality of Tiny Toons, and knew that Warner’s was the place to be. When I heard they were developing Batman and were looking for directors, I set up an interview. Fortunately, I got the job.

Which of your episodes do you consider to be the best and worst, both in terms of creating the episodes and watching them now, years later?

Lots of factors affect how I feel about my episodes, including story, artwork, staging, timing, animation, acting, editing, music, sound, etc. But I won’t bore you with that kind of analysis, as I’ve noticed that the story is all that most fans really care about. I had no control over which scripts I was assigned, so was fortunate to get several very good ones. All we could really do to improve the not-so-good scripts was to “edit” them by dropping unnecessary dialogue, pumping up visual storytelling, etc. Episodes with strong stories that turned out pretty well were: It’s Never Too Late, Perchance to Dream, Beware the Gray Ghost, I Am the Night, Harley and Ivy, and Second Chance. Others that had less compelling stories, but still had some nice visuals or strong character moments were Joker’s Favor, Pretty Poison, His Silicon Soul, Sideshow, Catwalk, and Terror in the Sky. At the other end of the scale for me are Nothing to Fear, Make ‘Em Laugh and Cat Scratch Fever; but even in these, there are moments that I like.

You've previously mentioned you found the original, straw-less Scarecrow design to be silly rather than scary. Were there any other designs in which you and your storyboarding team really had to work at to effectively translate the character to screen?

One of the appealing things about the Batman series was its radical new look, which included very streamlined, caricatured character designs. Beyond just the aesthetic, these simplified designs made the characters easier to animate, which is a good thing in TV animation where hundreds of artists of varying talents are working on it all over the world. The trick is, of course, how far to simplify and still be believable. Also, something too broadly caricatured becomes more comedic than serious, and affects the tone you’re trying to establish. The decisions to eliminate Scarecrow’s straw hair in Nothing to Fear, or Batman’s beard stubble in I Am the Night, were made to make them easier to animate. But for me, those decisions also affected the storytelling. I could mention other examples, but you get the point.

 What were your feelings towards Robin being included in all the episodes in the renamed The Adventures Of Batman And Robin series?

From the beginning, we were under pressure from the network to make the show more “kid friendly,” so they were always asking us to include Robin more. I think that in most of my shows with Robin, the writers did a good job of making his inclusion work for the story. It also helped that Dick Greyson was old enough to be in college. You could buy him as someone capable of taking on the bad guys and being a real asset to Batman.

You directed both of the episodes featuring Scarface. Was this by chance? What intrigued you about the character?

I assume it was by chance, unless the producers liked what I did with the first one, and steered the second one my way. I don’t know. As with many of Batman’s foes, Scarface was interesting because he was psychologically really screwed up. It was just twisted and weird to watch the whole split-personality thing, much like with Two Face. And of course, since he was a dummy, it was fun to get away with machine-gunning him in Read My Lips…

One of the better episodes on the upcoming Batman set is Make 'Em Laugh. Given that Batman was a serious cartoon, did you consider comedy episodes out of place, or do you find them fun to do?

You’re apparently one of the few people who like that episode! Most of the ratings lists I’ve seen out there on the Internet rank it near the bottom. Comedy relief was often used very well in the series, providing some much needed light amidst all the darkness of Batman’s world. But as they say, “drama is easy, comedy is hard,” and for some reason, the comedy just didn’t work for me here. There are some pretty cool moments with the big balloons at the end, though!

Are there any amusing stories from the episodes you directed that you'd like to share?

Um, let’s see… nothing immediately comes to mind. This isn’t an amusing story, but one nice experience was taking my youngest son to a recording session so he could meet Mark Hamill and other cast members. It was a very cool experience for him, and I must say, I also got a kick out of meeting so many of the well-known actors who did voices for us. They were all extremely pleasant, talented people.

How do you react towards one of your episodes suffering from bad animation from the workers overseas? In a similar vein, how do feel when you see one of your episodes return with popping visuals?

As you’d expect, I was delighted whenever an episode came back looking great. I worked hard on all of them, so was disheartened when any of them came back with problems. Some studios could always be counted on to do good work, and others were a real crapshoot. The producers made the decisions about which episodes went where, so I had no control over it (you’ll notice they always sent the episodes they directed to the stronger studios!). Early in production, we had time to get several sets of retakes to fix problems, but once the series began to air, airdates quickly caught up to production, and we often had to air shows with few, if any, retakes. We always took the time to fix them for second airings, though, and hopefully, the fixed versions are what they’re using for the DVDs!

If given the opportunity, how would you have tackled writing an episode of Batman?

I had a couple of ideas I proposed to the writers, but they were never used. In general, I think we needed more stories where Batman was ahead of the game, rather than always just playing catch-up. That’s one of the reasons why I like It’s Never too Late so well – Batman is pulling the strings rather than just trying to figure out “who done it.” One idea I had for a light-hearted show was for Batman to have a really bad day, where nothing seems to go right for him – his car breaks down, his motorcycle is in the shop, his various gizmos malfunction when he needs them most, his girl dumps him, Alfred and Robin are out of town, etc., all in the midst of a real serious crisis. I thought it would be fun to see this usually very serious, very in control guy, coping with just one bad turn after another. It would be one of those existential angst things, where he would wonder if the fates were conspiring against him.

Given how you left Mr. Freeze at the end of the SubZero direct to video feature, how did you feel about the characters return in The New Batman Adventures?

Well, it’s certainly not a direction I would have gone. The Mr. Freeze in Heart of Ice and SubZero was a wonderfully tragic, sympathetic character. The walking head with two bimbo sidekicks in Cold Comfort was played just for shock value.

What did you have planned for The Catwoman feature, especially considering it looked to be based from a movie everyone hated? Is the project now dead?

I can only assume it’s dead, although I’ve heard nothing official. About a year before the Catwoman movie came out, Warner Animation asked me if I would be interested in developing a direct-to-video Catwoman movie to be released in the wake of the live action feature. I came up with a story about Selina Kyle, based loosely on an idea I had while developing another Batman video after SubZero. They liked it, and asked me to write an outline, which I did. Then, Warner Home Video decided it had to also include the new Catwoman portrayed by Halle Berry. They sent me the script for the movie so I could see who this new Catwoman was. I had to completely rethink my story, but still managed to retain the central premise. I wrote a complete script, which portrayed how these two women meet, and discover more about themselves. It delved much deeper into the Egyptian mythology set up in the Catwoman movie. I think it would have made a pretty entertaining video. Too bad the live action film did so poorly, as that pretty much killed any chance of my script ever getting made.

Do you consider Batman: The Animated Series to be the definitive superhero cartoon, as many others do?

Well, for it’s time it certainly set the bar. We probably had greater creative freedom and studio support than any other series I’ve worked on. That was one of its chief advantages. But overall, I’d have to say that its quality was uneven, and could have been improved in many ways. Some episodes were real gems, and others were real turkeys. One of the difficulties was the sheer magnitude of it. We had to turn out a massive amount of material in a relatively short time, and that forced compromises and spreading the work thinner than we would have liked. In comparison, the Japanese have produced some artistically beautiful shows for their own market that I think in many ways surpassed us. They have the advantage of having the whole production process there, where they can exercise much tighter control. They also don’t have the storytelling limitations that we have imposed on us here by the networks. Since we made Batman, new digital tools have made it possible for cartoons to have far broader, more subtle color palettes, more ambitious visual effects, and very fine-tuned timing and editing. And I must say (even though I’m obviously very biased here), that the best of my X-Men: Evolution series sometimes even surpasses my Batman work. But as I said earlier, it really always comes back to the storytelling. And on that score, given the current restrictive climate that exists at the networks, we may never see the likes of Batman: The Animated Series again.

The World’s Finest would like to thank Boyd Kirkland for his participation in this Q & A.

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