by Jim Harvey
Having reached its 20th anniversary in September 2012, Batman: The Animated Series‘ pivotal role in the world of animation remains uncontested to this day. Based on the characters from DC Comics, Batman: The Animated Series brought in a wealth of talented professionals and creators, resulting in an unforgettable experience that revolutionized television animation and brought a stunning new look to the legendary Caped Crusader. Among its eclectic cast of talent, to vast here to list, the series was developed by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski. Both with a unique set of visual talents, Timm and Radomski ended up creating a landmark visual style for the series that, in effect, would still remain a heavy influence in animation to this very day. Timm and Radomski laid the groundwork for what would become the most revered superhero animated series of all-time.
The World’s Finest had the opportunity to talk to Producer Eric Radomski about his time on Batman: The Animated Series and much more…
The World’s Finest: I guess we’ll start with the basics. You’ve stated before that, before Batman: The Animated Series, you weren’t really a Batman fan. What drew you to this series and how did you prepare for it? Was it just another animation gig, or did you know something special was being created?
Eric Radomiski: Tim Burton’s Batman movie was my first exposure to the dark side of the character and his world, like most of us comic book illiterates, I’d only known the campy 1960′s TV interpretation which I watched mostly because my viewing options were limited at that time… As an adult, I came to appreciate that series for what it was. As a kid, I recall it being rather annoying and unfortunately the likely reason I avoided comics all together thinking that all comics would be as lame as that series… I was wrong.
Ironically I’d been ‘preparing for it’ all along, I just didn’t know it…
I began my art career with illusions of becoming a fine-art painter, which exposed me to countless concepts, techniques, and styles, I studied and practiced continuously until reality stepped in and finances forced me to pursue illustration, the kind of painting that actually pays the bills. All along, I maintained my fascination and experimentation with animation and at a certain point my interests converged.
Specific to Batman: The Animated Series; I had been working on Tiny Toon Adventures as a background painter two years prior to the birth of Batman: The Animated Series. Toward the end of Tiny Toon‘s run, WB opened up animation development on several WB-owned properties. I contributed development art on all of the titles they offered purely to participate, with hopes of sustaining my employment. That said, the Batman movie struck a personal and artistic cord in me… A blend of Impressionism, Catholicism and 70′s Illustrators – Fuchs, Peak, English to name a few – along with the [Max] Fleischer’s Superman series seemed to be the special sauce I thought Batman: The Animated Series needed to distinguish itself from most of the previous action adventure shows I’d experienced.
WF: Starting off, you stated that you and Bruce Timm were somewhat inexperienced as producers. Did that cause any problems early on, perhaps with other writers or editors working on the series? How did you overcome that to make the show as consistent in tone as it eventually became?
ER: In hind site, the 90-second test Bruce Timm and I created truly ‘sealed the deal’ as far as he and I working on the series… simply because we got it done and it looked so different. Even upon completion he and I thought we’d be art directors at best and we were fine with that. It was a bit of a shock when Jean MacCurdy, President of WB Animation at that time asked us to be the series producers and that WB wanted to produce 65 episodes right out of the gate. I swear, we must have looked like classic WB characters, stunned ‘jaw to the floor’ expressions. We thought “what the hell, the worst that can happen is they’ll fire us” and off we went.
The first few months were a bit clumsy as Timm and I were asked to work with two writer producers that were talented enough but didn’t really share our vision. Nor did they seem comfortable to collaborate with two newbies like us. I believe Jean recognized our passion and vision for the series and realized that was too important to sacrifice. Fortunately, she had the brilliant idea to introduce us to the shows narrative hero – Alan Burnett. Alan brought maturity, experience and collaboration to the team and that seemed to calm down any hesitation that remained. 85 episodes and a 70-minute film later we all stepped back in awe of the unique opportunity we’d all just experienced. Great memories and the start of several outstanding careers for many of the artists that were part of this series.
WF: As a follow-up to the previous question, while the show hit a consistent tone with story, there were obvious fluctuations with the animation and the different studios used. Did you ever see that as an issue, and did this cause any problems with what you wanted the show to achieve visually?
ER: The production design met resistance with all of our oversea’s studios, simply because our series was like nothing else they’d worked on. Some studios had more difficulty adapting to the style then others. We made every effort to help each studio understand the style. i believed from the beginning that if embraced, this style would prove to be simpler, more efficient, and serve to deliver a better looking product overall. Considering we had up to seven studios in four different countries working simultaneously for two years, our ratio of good versus average looking episodes was very high all things considered.
The series would look amazing using today’s technology. Reminder – BTAS was a traditional 2D production. Hand-made, shot on film with no digital assistance outside of the final music and sound effects mix. The days of hand-painted animation cels is quickly becoming a style of the past. Hang on to those series cels … the market will return sometime soon.
WF: Visually, your impact on Batman: The Animated Seriesis readily apparent. The black backgrounds and the title cards are two highly important visuals from the first 85 episodes that are basically owed to you. Can you run us through why you opted to use the black backgrounds, and how you came up with the idea for the title cards?
ER: Claude Monet, Bernie Fuchs, Coppola, Fleischer’s Superman – All had a technical impact on the concept of starting in the dark and coaxing the imagery out with light and color. It’s a visual storytelling technique that allows the viewers imagination to fill in the blanks.
From a production standpoint, I felt the technique allowed us to suggest more detail and atmosphere then actually existed (or we could afford), and it was easily transferable so that we could maintain consistency amongst all the hands involved.
WF: How did your experience in animation help you as executive producer for this series? Did that help you become so hands-on for this show? Why? Would you say your background allowed for some of the unique offerings of the show, such as the darker palette and more dramatic emphasis?
ER: We all learn by trial and error. My animation experience previous to Batman: The Animated Series was very hands on and from the bottom up. I started as coffee boy, Xerox-clean up, a background artist on commercials in the mid west. I even worked a 16mm Oxberry camera for a while. I earned my way up to assistant animator, board artist and eventually assistant director. I was fairly experienced and prepared for the production of Batman: The Animated Series, I just hadn’t been responsible for the whole process before.
Specific to the ‘darker palette and more dramatic emphasis’ question; that was more personal expression inspired by my maturing tastes for stronger animated content.
WF: This question is likely impossible to answer but, at the time, did you know you and the Batman: The Animated Series creative team was creating something that, even twenty years later, is still an obvious influence when it comes to animation? What are you most proud of about your work on the show?
ER: Agreed, no one could have predicted the lasting success and interest in the series. But I will say after we received the first episode “On Leather Wings,” Timm and I knew we had achieved what we set out to – creating a sophisticated animated series no one had seen since Fleischer’s Superman.
I’m most proud of being part of a team that truly cared about their work, and proved it by committing it to film for the next generation of creators to be inspired, to carry on the art form as we were inspired by the brilliant artists before us.
WF: That being said, is there anything you’d change? Perhaps find ways to push the envelope a little more? Do you think that would even be possible today, especially given the all-ages fanbase?
ER: The digital generation has changed the game completely, good and bad. Batman: The Animated Series would be an even prettier series today, but it’s likely the budgets and patience for a big and bold show like Batman: The Animated Series would be difficult to sell since most studio’s are interested in small investments, quick turnarounds and certain guaranteed high profits. Audience tastes have also shifted to the immediate gratification the internet offers.
That said, I believe in the theory of “quality content is king” and “if we build it they will come.” The past few summer superhero blockbusters give me hope. Digital effects have caught up to the superhero genre, the movies are looking better then ever and more diverse audiences are finding interest in the comic world. I believe its a bit of a rebirth, but time will tell.
WF: Just as an extension of the previous question, and somewhat off-topic, do you think there will be a place for dramatic adult animation here in North America? You worked on HBO’s Spawn and champion the drive for serious adult animation. There are countless animated comedies that air in prime-time, but do you ever think we’ll see an animated drama?
ER: Animation became difficult when it became profitable. The animation industry suffers and struggles equal to live-action television and feature films. As long as you can prove profit will exist, you have a very good chance of making content in any form. South Park is the perfect example. They’ve broken every rule most animators only dream about, considering the restrictions from Broadcast Standards and Practices. But South Park generates huge profits at a very low production cost. An easy sell, all things considered.
Animated drama is a harder sell since the merchandizing needed to accompany it would interest a very narrow audience, which makes financing these types of projects difficult.
WF: Getting back to Batman: The Animated Series, it’s well-know that show has frequent run-in with the network censors. Are there any particularly interesting instances of censorship for the series? Also, did you ever find said restrictions a problem that perhaps held the series back in your view?
ER: Actually the restrictions inspired many clever solutions for us to vent our action-adventure spleens. Watch closely, I promise in one episode you’ll see Robin punch a thug in the crotch … or did he?
One instance that always comes to mind when asked this question, this FOX Broadcast Standards and Practices note and solution: “Characters can not punch each other in the head but they can kick each other in the chest”
To be fair, the networks and studio’s have been badgered into these stupid rules by members of the audience that ignore “against fare warning” and “do not try this at home.” The results have been annoying and expensive, but eventually inspiring to the animators. We always seem to find a work around [laughs]!
WF: I realize this is likely a hard question but…how would you categorize your time and role on Batman: The Animated Series. Many consider you one of the unsung heroes of the series. Would you consider that true? How has your work on Batman: The Animated Series affected your career following it?
ER: Batman: The Animated Series was the pivotal point in my career. It made every other animation opportunity since then possible. I’ve enjoyed and learned from every series I’ve produced. I have nothing but gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity to work on such an amazing property with so many incredibly talented artists.
Heroes sacrifice with no intention for reward, but this was no sacrifice. I was vfortunately part of great team that depended on each other working together toward the same goal. We all contributed what we could and all deserve equal credit for what we achieved as a team. Animation is without a doubt a team effort.
WF: Just in general, how do you find the animation landscape has changed since Batman: The Animated Series’s time. Based on your own experiences, do you find it more restricting, more freeing, or does that depend on where you work? And can you see the impact of Batman: The Animated Series even to this day?
ER: These days I often say “production is the easy part.” All the nonsense that has to be dealt with just to get a show started – let alone made – is where a lot of my time is spent. I do it because I love it and I refuse to allow the art form to die, so I make my best effort to work with the restrictions given and make the best show I can. All things considered, there’s no greater satisfaction then making something from nothing and finding an audience that appreciates the effort.
WF: So, the wrap this up with a couple ‘20th anniversary’ questions! First, do you have an absolute favorite episode of Batman: The Animated Series? Care to tell us what it is and why?
ER: “On Leather Wings” was our first born and closest to the vision we were searching for from the start, it defined Batman: The Animated Series.
WF: How do you perceive the legacy of Batman: The Animated Series and its fond remembrance twenty years later?
ER: I was inspired by a few of my favorite animated series when I was a kid. Knowing that so many artists, fans, and followers continue to enjoy and share our Batman: The Animated Series feels like I’ve given back the inspiration and opportunity to the next generation of artists with hopes and dreams of their own to pursue.
WF: Lastly, where can we expect to see your name next. You’re currently working at Marvel Animation, so how has that been going for you and what can we expect to see in the near future from you and Marvel Animation?
ER: Currently I have a rather long title – Senior Vice President of Animation and Development for Marvel Television. I’m responsible for all things Animated from Marvel:
-Season One and Two of Ultimate Spider-Man (season 2 starts in January 2012)
We have a few other surprises brewing as well, to say the least. I’m very busy these days and loving every frame of it.
The World’s Finest would like to thank Eric Radomski for participating in this Q & A! The interview was performed in September 2012.