Superhero Shorts: Batman vs. The Terminator
It feels like it’s been a long while since I’ve had the chance to do one of these but I’m back with another Superhero Shorts and it’s a good one. This time around I’m talking with amateur animator Mitchell Hammond who spent 4 years working on this short completely by himself using digital frame-by-frame animation. He created a world set in the Terminator universe where Batman exists and is working with, or at least parallel to John Connor where he is trying to take down Skynet. As always, you can watch the short right below, or you can check it out on Mitchell’s blog along with other behind the scenes info.
While it may still surprise some people that I’ve still not gotten around to watching a Terminator movie all the way through, though I have seen many bits and pieces of the first two. Batman himself is obviously an older version of Batman and one who has adapted to life in the Terminator’s future with a more armored suit and a high tech Stinger Batmobile tank. The animation itself is quite stunning, with a lot of high contrast lighting making the future look very stark. Everything looks professionally done with several things happening at once, explosions, deaths, and the menacing looking exoskeletons. It really has a great feel to it and makes it seem like part of a larger picture, something I would definitely like to see more of in the future. But enough from me, let’s hear from the animator himself, Mitchell Hammond.
Bubbawheat: When you think of programs to use to make animation from, I would be surprised if Adobe Indesign would be at the top of the list. Were there any times when you thought about searching out other programs that might make things easier, or were you just more comfortable with the ins and outs of that program?
Mitchell Hammond Actually Indesign is dirt easy to use to animate, it’s just nobody else thinks of it as an animation tool. I was in a Graphic Design course from 2007-2009 and with Typography being a big part of the course, Indesign was a main program we used. So yes, I’d say I became very accustomed to it. People have the misconception that the reason it took me over three and a half years to animate was due to working in Indesign. It’s not. It’s that I animated everything that you’re looking at completely alone with zero experience. From the falling ash, to entire backgrounds animating. By a novice, too, so I was improvising. Nearly 4 years with no commitments, no job, no social life, complete isolation from the outside world, never leaving my house, either unconventional sleep patterns or no sleep at all with a sprinkling of falling in and out of depressions, anxiety and stress where I’d gain asthma and irritable bowel syndrome in the process. So smooth sailing, it was not.
BW: I know artists sometimes suffer for their work, but that is some pretty significant suffering you had going on there. When you finally finished and posted the animation, there was a definite feeling that you never wanted to do a project like this again based on the comments in your own blog. Now that it’s a month later, has any of that feeling changed?
MH I’m ambivalent at the moment. I spent the first half of my 20s slaving away at this animation, I don’t want to spend the second half doing the same thing. Physically and mentally I don’t think I can do it again. However, there are still stories I have in my mind that I only see as animated, and I can’t escape them. Thing is they’re not shorts, they’re full three act structures and the level of ambition is greater than my Batman/Terminator short. Much greater. I guess ambition is for me both a passion and a curse. I just want to make beautiful work where I can push myself to the absolute limits as if it’s my final piece. Being prolific is not an interest of mine. The bar I set for myself with the Batman/Terminator animation was Akira quality. Now, I had zero experience in animation at the time, and I knew I couldn’t literally reach the level of Akira, but that was the amount of work, discipline and commitment I was willing to put into the project. Right now I have to figure out a path in life that can lead me to making these ideas a reality. People keep recommending Kickstarter, but I’m not interested in taking any of your money, as flattered as I am for the offer. I just can’t.
BW: As popular as it is, it can still be thought of as internet begging in a way, so I can totally get that. Obviously you’re an artist at heart, even if it’s not full blown animation I would imagine you keep drawing. Do you think you might go back to what this project initially was going to be and do webcomics as a hobby, either ones expanding on this story, or more original creations?
MH: I think I spoiled myself with animation. After making my images move I can’t go back to just still images (laughs). Truth be told I’m not very good at drawing for drawings sake. As evident by some of the character design in my animation – the anatomy being stumpy and stiff. I haven’t seriously drawn in maybe 7 years. I lack a lot of confidence. Maybe I’ll pick it up again but currently I have a difficult time being able to even stand looking at my pictures. I’m so harsh on myself (laughs).
BW: I know that the first two Terminator films are held in high regard, and the second two not so much, similar to the first four Batman films. What was your opinion of them and what were some things that you really wanted to pull from them, and was there anything that you specifically wanted to ignore?
MH: The first Tim Burton Batman was the only Batman film I liked growing up. Though now especially after Batman Begins you really see how it’s just about Batman going up against the Joker and that’s basically it. I love it for it’s style, tone and attitude. Batman kind of has the man with no name air about him specifically in that film as opposed to any others. A real lone interloper, which makes him a straight up badass. I’m not too big on the whole rubber suit thing, though. I’m still waiting to see him in his tights on film like the comics. If Sandy Collora could pull it off I think Hollywood ought to be capable.
As for the Terminator series, what can I say. We all love the first two and aren’t all too big on the second two. The first one I love the most. It has the benefit of, especially due to time travel, being a self contained and standalone story. Terminator 2 can kind of confuse that a bit, but that’s what’s going to happen when time travel is a part of your mythos. Still benchmarks and masterpieces of the action genre. I saw T3 once, and that’s all I’ll ever see of it. Salvation just confused me with not only the plot direction but in the design of the apocalyptic future. It looked like they just shot it in the Nevada desert somewhere. Why couldn’t Kyle Reese be the main character and have it play out his voyage to meet this John Connor person, instead we get this Marcus Wright guy of which the trailers spoil the twist that he’s a Terminator himself. Not to mention the ending scene where we have the T-800 just throwing John Connor around like a dog toy, knowing full well who John Connor is and how much of a threat he is against Skynet; but when he’s up against Marcus Wright it scans his body, sees his heart, then punches him in the chest effectively killing him. What. Uh, no. Also, never give Skynet a face. I can’t blame Christain Bale for going apeshit on set (laugh).
The Batman Animated Series was a big inspiration. That and The Dark Knight Returns, which is also the only comic book I had as a child. The sky is a definite clue for the former and old man Bats for the latter. I’ve read comments that’d accuse the animation for being predominately Terminator centric and not Batman centric and that’s not true. The soldiers wondering through the wasteland and being struck down by machines only to be inadvertently saved by Batman is a direct emulation of citizens in Gotham walking through the streets at night, being attacked by thugs, then out of the darkness saved by Batman. The Skynet fortress was directly taken from a concept design of what looked like a factory or compound that was used for, I believe, T2 3-D: Battle Across Time and the Special Features menu for the ultimate edition DVD of T2 that you can see here. As you can see I kind of lit it up. I did this because I wanted Skynet, atleast in my universe, to be at the apex of its dominance, and therefore it boasts to the dying mankind of such. When Batman enters, I wanted it to be a stark contrast of color and lighting in comparison to the outside ‘living’ world which is now hell on earth.
BW: I know the one armed soldier seems to get brought up a lot, I have read other places that the idea was mostly just to have something visually interesting and different in place, but I was curious if there was anything specific that you used as references for the way she moves?
MH:I acted out all the characters (including Batman) in my bedroom, using bamboo sticks as guns and a cardboard tube for rolling up movie posters as a rocket launcher. Major Motoko Kusanagi was kinda the inspiration for her face (especially at the end of the Ghost in the Shell film when she’s trying to receive the Puppet Masters body). I watched videos of Olympic hurdling for when she’s being chased by the tank and you see at the very beginning she hops over a wall. There isn’t a back story at all what-so-ever for any of the characters, I just made up what they looked like on the spot. I drew them as simply as I could because it was my first time animating humans (hence the complaints I’ve received about how they animate and such). People have speculated that the bearded soldier is Solid Snake from the Metal Gear Solid series and I can assure you it isn’t suppose to be. I actually have a beard like that and my face isn’t too far off from how that soldier looks… so you can say it’s almost self morbidity.
BW: Do you have any ideas in place on where the story would go from here, or is it something that you would prefer to just not even think about so as not to risk getting the idea to get sucked into another years-long project?
MH: What occurs in the animation would be the midway point of the story. John Connor wants to get inside a particular laboratory which he has a hunch may contain the time machine which he needs to send Kyle Reese back, but its heavily guarded and he’s had men get killed for trying to scout the area. Batman, being the batshit risk taker that he is, has come up with a plan to drive his tank up the side of the fortress like a ramp in an attempt to infiltrate it and maybe even take it out from the inside. John thinks he’s foolish and he’s only going to get himself killed and doesn’t believe such a method is feasible. Well, he was wrong. After Batman has radioed in, Connor and his crew begin to move out of their hideout and start for a journey to the laboratory. But will they make it across the landscape unscathed, and will Batman take out Skynet in time, or even at all?
BW: Aside from Burger King fry cook, is there any other career opportunities you might end up pursuing?
MH: I literally have no idea what I’m doing with my life right now. I’ve sent emails to some animation companies for possible freelance storyboarding work but I haven’t received any responses yet. Outside of storytelling, maybe just some blue collar job so I can pay bills and live on my own. Got to make it through life somehow. I won’t complain.
BW: And finally, as I ask everyone that I talk to. What is your favorite superhero movie?
MH: I love James Gunn’s Super. Ultra violent and dark as all hell, the acting in it is so top notch with such a great cast. Love the soundtrack, too. My favorite of the DIY Super Hero films. Oddly poignant with a lot of heart. Definitely rides the wave of different tones throughout but I absolutely love it. Looking forward to what he does with Guardians of the Galaxy.
That’s one that I enjoy quite a bit as well and Guardians of the Galaxy is probably the movie I’m looking forward to the most this summer. Thanks again for talking with me, and good luck with your future endeavors, whatever they may end up being. Until next tims, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.