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The World's Finest Presents

Dick Sebast
by Stu

One of the under appreciated directors of Batman: The Animated Series, Dick Sebast is best known for his outstanding work on the Emmy Award Winning "Robin's Reckoning," widely regarded as one of the finest stories of the critically acclaimed show. The World's Finest managed to catch up with Sebast to talk about his contributions to Batman.

January 17th, 2006

How did you originally come to work on Batman?

I received a phone call from Warner Bros. near the beginning of production asking me if I would be interested in replacing another director who was leaving the show.

"Fear Of Victory" was the first episode to feature the revamped Scarecrow design. Did you have any say in the new model? What did you think of the whole situation?

The models were all designed by Bruce Timm and/or the character design team and okayed by Bruce.

By 'the whole situation' I assume you're referring to the story line. I felt it would be challenging and probably stood a fair chance of being weaker than some of the other episodes because the Scarecrow's mo is psychological manipulation, and thus his immediate villainy is not very visual.

What is your take on the scene with Robin’s parents death ["Robin's Reckoning, Part 1"]? It was originally intended to show Robin’s parents hit the floor, but was changed to show the broken rope. Did this lessen or increase the impact of the scene, in your opinion?

Well, first of all, there wasn't a chance in the world that BS&P would have allowed us to show Robin's parents hitting the floor. Just the same, I think the scene is as strong or stronger for that. It's the old Psycho shower scene bit: your imagination filling in the details more dramatically than the actual portrayal.

There's an interesting sidebar to this sequence—one which I feel did weaken the impact. For some bizarre reason, network would not let us portray any strong reaction from the crowd or show Robin crying after his parent's death. They seemed to think that a display of heartfelt emotion would traumatize children, or some such nonsense. The emotional impact of the ensuing scene with Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne is considerably hamstrung as a result.

Two of your episodes take place in dream/nightmare/reality worlds. Does this give you more toys to play with, or do you prefer the episodes to be grounded in reality as much as possible?

It's definitely an opportunity to exploit the kind of visual and emotional manipulation of the audience which is better suited to the film medium than any other.

Which of the episodes you directed do you consider your favorite? On a similar note, is there any that disappointed you?

Without a doubt, my favorite was "Robin's Reckoning", the Robin origin episode, and the one that garnered the Emmy for the series. I was disappointed in "Fear of Victory", the Scarecrow episode, largely for the reasons stated, and for some production shortfalls. Oddly enough, I was also disappointed in "Robin's Reckoning, Part II", and in "Feat of Clay." For a number of reasons, I felt the staging could have been stronger and the animation was weak.

The animation quality on the episodes you directed ranges from fantastic (Robin’s Reckoning) to dreadful (Moon Of The Wolf). How do you react to seeing both good and bad animation on your shows?

Obviously it stings like whip when your show is massacred by the overseas animation studio. Each director on the show, after pouring his heart and soul into an episode, would wait with bated breath to see if it would be assigned to Akom—the kiss of death. When that happened, you sort of wrote it off that part of it in your head and moved on.

You directed several of the episodes that focused on Robin before he eventually appeared in every episode. Do you consider him a burden, or was he fun to work with?

I don't recall Batman being without Robin when I was reading the Batman comics as a kid, so It just seemed natural to me to have Robin there for Batman to play off of. So no, I wouldn't say it was a burden.

Any amusing stories from the show’s production you’d like to share?

The one that immediately springs to mind involved one of the crew (who shall remain nameless) who was prone to falling rather soundly asleep in his chair on occasion. So soundly, in fact, that a couple of other crew members decorated his face with an indelible felt-tip pen as he snoozed, never disturbing his slumber for an instant. The hapless victim awoke to find everyone reacting strangely (to say the least) to him wherever he went. When at last he and a mirror came together, well…let's just say there was hell to pay.

What’s your overall opinion of the show?

One of the highlights of my career. It was groundbreaking in a lot of ways. It was, of course, darker than any animated series at the time—both story-wise and visually, for the use of large areas of dead black, a commonly held taboo in the business. But perhaps its greatest achievement was that it abandoned conventional cartoon voice-acting in favor of more realistic performances. The pairing of natural acting with the simplified character designs which also defied action-adventure convention, made for a truly unique result.
 

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


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