WF: You've worked on a lot of animated superhero projects as a storyboard artist, where you basically had free reign to invent the action. But with Dark Knight Returns, you are faithfully following some concrete and well-known visual material. Where were you able to find room for your own take? Or is an entirely literal adaptation?
JAY OLIVA: Well, I worked on [Batman:] Year One, but I only storyboarded on that. One of the things I wanted to do was follow what the directors on Year One did, where whenever the source material had very good composition, or was iconic, I tried to put it in the film. I think it's very important to the audience, to see those iconic panels that they remember onscreen. It will trigger in their mind, “Oh, I remember when I read that!” But then, at the same time, there are certain scenes where in the comic...it was only one or two panels, but I have to expand that out into a one or two-minute piece.
WF: How did you approach those new moments?
JO: That was when I was able to think about things more like a live-action director. I can ask, “What's the emotion that I need to get across? What kind of action?” I really like to have highly-choreographed fight sequences, and I want to make sure that if this were a live-action film, this is exactly what you would get. So the process that I wanted to do was bring the source material to life, but at the same time, add a little bit of a spin to it. It has to be paced like a movie. That way, people who have never read the comic book can really enjoy it as a film. And then afterwards, if they read the graphic novel, they'll just appreciate [the film] even more because they'll have more information that adds to the experience. And vice versa.
WF: You mentioned that you wanted Dark Knight Returns to feel like a live-action film. I see that you are working some live-action projects now—most notably, Man of Steel. In storyboarding for a live-action Superman, are there different rules from animation? Or are we at the point where anything that you can imagine in animation, the studio can execute in a feature film?
JO: What's funny is that in the last ten years or so in animation, it's kind of shifted in a big way. It's kind of anything-goes. I always say that anything you can do in live action, you can do just as well in animation. What we try to do nowadays at Warner Animation is to have more realistic fight sequences. We try to do things where the camera moves emulate a live-action type of feel. And on top of that, when I do work with a live-action director, we speak the exact same language. That said, you're going to see Superman do things in Man of Steel that you've never seen him do on film before. The live-action directors have never said to me, “Well, that works in animation, but it doesn't work here.” And that's great, because it's almost like coming home in a sense. Because the same things that I've been trying to push, along with my contemporaries in animation for the last fifteen years, this grounded kind of feel...it directly relates to non-animated features. The action in Dark Knight Returns could easily be done in live-action. And that's why I wanted to make it so that if they ever did do a live-action Dark Knight Returns movie...
WF: ...They'd have to go back to you.
JO: Right. (Laughs.) It would be kind of hard to top what we did! Which is good, because I want to do the source material justice. Because who knows if they will ever do another Dark Knight Returns?
WF: I've been listening to your work since I was two years old.
ANDREA ROMANO: (Big laugh.)
WF: You've spoken in the past about how the vocal performances that you draw out will often inform the visual elements of a project. But in this case, you were starting with very well-known visual material that geeks know by heart. Did you find that your process changed?
AR: I cannot let that intimidate me. Because it would inhibit me. So, I just have to look at each project individually, and say “I can make this work because...,” and find what appeals to me in it that I can start with. Because I am a freelance director, I never have to do it if I don't want to.
WF: You do have a long history with these DC projects, though.
AR: And Dark Knight Returns...what a compelling piece! And it's always a challenge to top the last one, if I can. At the very least, to give it the same quality, so that fans can count on the fact that it's gonna be at least as good as the last one.
WF: You've now cast Batman about half a dozen times.
AR: At least! And it was hard the first time! (Laughs.)
WF: So in these subsequent projects, are there certain core things that you look for every time?
AR: Always, always, always good actors. That's the simple thing. With a voice that prints well. That's got to be key. A voice that will really print strongly. Sometime's it's a kind-of young Batman, sometimes it's a much older Batman. In this instance, we have a much older Bruce Wayne.
WF: Peter Weller.
AR: Yes. So, Peter Weller has that gravel in his voice. That age in his voice, that history in his voice. It just sounds like experience.
WF: One last thing. It's unrelated.
AR: That's fine.
WF: Can you tell me anything about season four of The Boondocks?
AR: It's great! You like Boondocks? Me too. I love The Boondocks. And the fact that it was two and a half years since we wrapped the last season makes it more exciting. (WHV rep indicates that time is up.) Pleasure to meet you!
WF: Likewise. Thanks for your time!