Superhero Shorts: Death of Spider-Man
Death of Spider-Man Motion Comic
Welcome to this week’s edition of Superhero Shorts where I take a look at a different superhero themed short film and get the creator of the film to answer a few interview questions. This week I’m talking with Andrew Bates and Drew Lawson who came up with their own motion comic for Ultimate Spider-Man #158-160 written by Brian Bendis where Peter Parker dies. It’s very high quality both in terms of the animation as well as the voice work, it’s on par if not better than the few professional motion comics I’ve seen before. It’s a bit longer than many of the shorts I feature here with a runtime of just over 20 minutes, but it’s worth the watch.
I’ve mentioned that I’m not a big comic book reader, but I do keep a loose ear on big comic book news. So I knew that Peter Parker died a little while back and the new Spider-Man in comics is Miles Moralis, unless they’ve gone back on that already. I never really knew what the story behind it was, I just knew that it happened. So this was my first chance to see what the fuss was all about. I know that aside from the word balloon removal and some of the moving effects, all the artwork is taken directly from the comic book, but I thought the pacing and choices for movement were done quite well. It gave a real sense of the comic book coming to life without overdoing it. The voice acting was also a real treat, I know that often in the amateur realm of fan-films, the acting is often the weakest point, but everyone working on this really brought their A-Game. This really is a professional level of work and I enjoyed the heck out of it. But enough from me, let’s hear from the voice of Peter Parker, Andrew Bates, and the animator, Drew Lawson.
Bubbawheat: How did you make the decision to create a motion comic, and how did you decide which one to do?
Andrew Bates: Well, The whole idea started when I heard that Marvel was planning on doing a new animated series based on Ultimate Spider-Man. I loved the Ultimate Spider-Man comic and was just getting into voice acting at the time. And I kept thinking how cool it would be to be the voice of my favorite version of Spidey… especially since Peter Parker’s only 15-16 in this series, which fit really well with my younger sounding voice! (I’m actually 33 but sound like a 17 year old!) And when I heard that Paul Dini, one of the creators behind the new Spidey show was going to be at Dragoncon (a HUGE geek-fest here in Atlanta) I swung into the studio and recorded a few of my favorite scenes and lines from the Ultimate Spider-Man Comics. Well, it obviously didn’t work out for me with the show, but a guy in the UK heard the samples I put online and asked if I wanted to be Peter for a motion comic of a scene from USM he was doing! It was the scene where Peter finally tells Mary Jane that he was Spider-Man…and then Aunt May walks in. One of the best scenes in the series! Hilarious and heartwarming! Needless to say, I agreed and got a couple of my VERY talented voice actor friends and mentors, September Day Carter and Jean Verdel Alexander to read for MJ and Aunt May. It. Was. So. Much. Fun!!!! The chemistry between the three of us was awesome and the audio turned out great! Sadly that’s where the project stalled (as unpaid projects tend to do) but hopefully that scene will find it’s way to the public one o’ these days!
Fast forward a few months to the announcement of the Death of Spider-Man storyline from Ultimate Comics…now this sounded like an interesting acting opportunity! I really wanted to challenge myself as a voice actor, and this looked like it might be a story ripe with opportunities to test out my voice acting. Plus, if Ultimate Peter Parker really DID die, I really liked the idea of making a tribute to this character who I really consider is MY Spider-Man since I connected with this version of the web-head so much. So I started putting together a dream cast of people I knew for the characters that were potentially going to appear…Jean and September, of course, Jason Elkins, Tony Messano, and September’s husband, Bob Carter. I’d been DYING to work with Bob for ages, and if you look him up on IMDB or Behind The Voice Actor you’ll see part of the reason why! He’s the big leagues, and I really wanted to create the opportunity to learn from him and just see him in action! (He does NOT disappoint!) I was a little nervous as to how we could accomplish the video part of the project, but that’s when a friend’s birthday party and fate intervened and brought me Thomas Andrew Lawson! 🙂 After a chance meeting, it turns out Drew was a really talented animator and a big fan of Ultimate Spidey!!
Drew Lawson: He asked me if I would be interested in helping him animate the Death Of Spider-man story arc into a motion comic. Honestly, I have never really cared about motion comics. Marvel’s official motion comics have been a little lackluster and underwhelming. But since I am a such a huge fan of Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-man comics, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to work on Spidey.
AB: So Drew dove into the video direction and assembled an amazing team of visual artists and story editors and cranked out a STUNNING adaptation of the Death of Spidey! And after 6 or 7 recording sessions and countless hours of work by Drew and the video team and me on audio post-production, it all came together!
BW: Where did the unlettered art come from, if I may ask?
DL: None of Bagley’s panels we used were unlettered initially. Travis Coley and Michael Griffin(Hi guys!) helped me scan the issues into Photoshop, where I then edited the panels into layers for animation. We all painstakingly removed the word balloons from the artwork and I would have to reconstruct the artwork. From there we animated the panels in After Effects and Andrew handled the audio.
BW: Wow, that’s a lot of work, but it’s a real testament to the details because I would have never guessed it was filled in by hand. The voice acting is unexpectedly great for a fan-feature, did any of the actors have voice acting experience? Have any of them pursued voice acting since?
AB: I’m pretty lucky to actually work as a recording engineer and audio editor in a voice over studio as my day job, so I get to work with and make friends with TONS of REALLY good voice actors!!
Jason Elkins and Tony Messano are two of my favorite talents to work with and I’m so happy they were interested in being a part of this project! You might not know it, but you hear them on commercials and in phone systems all over the world.
Jean Alexander is just one of those people where a dark little part of you hates her for how bloody talented she is! ; ) She’s an actress, a voice actress, an artist, a singer, Super-Mom…and honestly one of my favorite people. She actually just got a part in an upcoming TV pilot called Shrink Rap!
The Carters are TOTALLY the VO Power Couple!!
September is just amazing. She’s not only an extremely gifted voice actress that you can hear all over the radio and TV as the voice of really well known clients like ABC Family, VH-1. Mtv, Sketchers, Levi’s and MANY, many more, but she’s also a talented voice acting educator who does an amazing job at helping aspiring Voice actors begin their careers! (I’m one of ‘em!)
And Bob is the big time. It still stymies and humbles me that a voice actor as accomplished and as talented as Bob was as excited as he was (is) about being a part of our little project as he was! Class act! He’s the voice of Shao Kahn in the new Mortal Kombat game, Balrog from Street Fighter, Bojack from Dragonball, ESPN Radio, and tons and tons more!
DL: the cast on this project was phenomenal. It was a real treat to watch them perform in the studio. There might be some video footage of them floating around out there somewhere.
AB: Like I say, I’m still pretty new to the voice acting world, but I’ve been absolutely LOVING it! And I’ve done a few pretty fun gigs! I’ve been the voice of Foursquare, Nike+, JP Morgan, Sammy the Seahawk for the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, The Video Game Years, and I just recorded my first audiobook for Christopher Holt’s The Last Dogs: The Vanishing which comes out in September! Hopefully my time as Spidey will open up more doors for me to portray more roles in animation!
BW: How long did it take to create from start to finish, and what was the budget like?
AB: We started the first recording sessions in June and released the video online in October. It wasn’t straight through, though, as there were gaps where life was happening every now and then…weddings, babies, more babies, Harry Potter conventions, etc…ya know, the average stuff. It took longer than we wanted, but we are SUPER happy with how it turned out…and that made the extra time worth it!
DL: Funding would have been really nice, but with the talent we had, at least everyone was kind enough to work on this for free. Of course, a little bit of money would have made those long nights feel a little shorter perhaps.
AB: Budget? We don’t need no stinking budget!!! 😉 Yeah, we did this all on our own! Fortunately, there aren’t a lot of costs associated to a project like this… mostly just time, blood, sweat, and tears! Although I did keep the actors fed with Little Caesar’s $5 Hot n’ Ready Pizzas and breadsticks when they’d come in for sessions! And my bosses at GM Voices were kind enough to let me use their facilities for the recording sessions free of charge!
BW: Has it garnered any sort of professional recognition at all?
AB: A little bit! The most exciting has been that Brian Michael Bendis, the writer of the Death of Spider-Man and the guy who wrote almost every major appearance of Ultimate Peter Parker tweeted me after watching it and said “well done my friend. That was crazy flattering” Drew and I kinda fanboy’d quite a bit after that! Bendis now has it as one of the videos on his Fan Film Festival tumblr page which is a TOTAL honor!!
DL: It is pretty awesome that the writer of the comic, Brian Michael Bendis gave us the thumbs up. Ultimate Spider-Man was the comic that got me back into comics and really helped shape what I am trying to do today. With Bendis giving us kudos, it feels pretty good.
AB: The thing that REALLY hits home to me about this video is how many people are touched by it and have such emotional reactions to it! The comment board on the YouTube page is filled with posts about how much the video affected them and how much Spidey means to them. That’s really something special and it’s so humbling and moving that our video connects with so many people that way. I’ve never been so happy to make so many people cry!
BW: Can you tell me a little bit about Valbrook? And is there anything else you’re working on?
AB: I’ll let Drew handle this one! He’s got a lot of awesomeness up his sleeve!!
DL: Valbrook is a webseries that Michael Griffin and I have been developing for past few years. The series is roughly about a group of quirky characters set in a small, southern town. Andrew has been a huge help in recording audio for the series. He also stars as few characters in the cartoons. At the moment we are making more Valbrook shorts, while we develop the series into something we can pitch to television networks. And we are in the process of developing properties for other series as well.
On top of that, I am fortunate to be doing a little animation for the upcoming Magic The Gathering The Musical. It is an awesome short musical featuring puppets who play Magic the Gathering. Keep an eye out for that! It is going to be huge!
BW: What’s your favorite superhero movie?
DL: That is a very tough question for me. Superhero movies are usually the only movies I like to watch. Scott Pilgrim, Watchmen, Iron Man, Spiderman are some of my favorites, but this year has brought us some of the best comic book movies so far. Avengers was an incredibly fun movie that it probably be at the top of my list for a long time. Also The Amazing Spider-Man has to be my favorite Spider-man movie so far. I thought that Andrew Garfield portrayed Peter Parker perfectly. I can’t wait to see it again. And Dark Knight Rises was an amazing end to an amazing trilogy. But it is hard to beat the Joker in Dark Knight. That is a great movie period.
AB: Gosh. That’s tricky. I mean The Dark Knight is one of my absolute favorite films, superhero or not. And I just saw the Dark Knight Rises. Just. Wow. I’m still processing it, it’s just so immense! The Avengers is a completely different kind of film, but equally as earth-shatteringly cool! And I don’t care what the nay-sayers may say…but I totally rank The Amazing Spider-Man up there as one of my absolute favorite superhero movies.