Toon Zone Interviews Joaquim Dos Santos on Directing "Avatar"
Nickelodeon's Avatar the Last Airbender built its reputation at least partially through its dazzling displays of animated martial-arts. However, fans of the show may have noticed that the action sequences started getting larger, more intricate, and more creative somewhere around the middle of Book 2. The exceptionally sharp-eyed may have also noticed that Joaquim Dos Santos' name started appearing in the credits at around the same time. Given Dos Santos' work directing episodes of Cartoon Network's Justice League Unlimited, we don't think these two events are unrelated.
In an incredibly short span of time, Dos Santos has built up a sizable reputation as one of the top action animation directors working today (his skill has even led us to nickname him "Dr. Fight" here at the Toon Zone News Bullpen). We were able to speak with Dos Santos via e-mail about his time on Avatar and his brand of action-adventure animation shortly before the "Sozin's Comet" season finale aired on Nickelodeon.
Note: There are spoilers for Book 3 of Avatar throughout this interview.
TOON ZONE NEWS: Just to make sure, you're not the Joaquim Santos who does insane motor racing, right?
JOAQUIM DOS SANTOS: If that were me you would probably be see the crowd running in fear as I stuck my head out the window and projectile vomited all over them.
TZN: How did you join the staff of Avatar?
DOS SANTOS: I had been over at Warner Brothers directing on Justice League Unlimited, and I had heard rumblings that there was a pilot floating around about a little monk kid who did martial arts and used the elements to fight. Everyone in the industry who saw the thing was raving about how good it looked and how cool the characters moved. Some time went by and I was so busy at work that I just sort of forgot about it.
Then one day (months later) I come into work and everyone is talking about this show Avatar that premiered on Nickelodeon the day before. From what I could gather the animation and style was some really "next level" stuff -- a real hybrid of anime visuals with Western story sensibilities. But again I was so busy and I did not have a TiVo at the time, so I just sort of let it pass me by. Finally, some time later (about a month I'm guessing), my wife (who was then my girlfriend) calls me up and says "I'm watching this show about a little monk kid with an arrow on his head. He and his friends are on this adventure with a giant bison and a little cute monkey thing..." I knew that the show had to be special if my wife, who does not work in animation, was calling me up to tell me about it.
That night I came home and watched the show for the first time (we had bought a TiVo by then). I remember it was the "Jet" episode and, needless to say, my mind was completely blown. I wondered who the heck are these guys Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko? I thought I pretty much knew all the guys that worked in action-adventure animation and these guys come out of nowhere and raised the bar way high!
By that time one of my co-workers (and the guy who happened to get me into the animation industry), Michael Chang had left WB to start working on the show. I called him up along with another buddy of mine who was working on Danny Phantom at the time and asked if they could give me the hookup with the powers that be over on Avatar. They happened to be looking for a storyboard artist at that time and they gave me a test.
I can remember my ego telling me at the time "You shouldn't have to test for this show, you're a big shot director." My wife was working as a producer on a TV show that was filming in Vegas for a week. So I flew out to visit her and brought the test with me. While she was working during the day, I just locked myself in the hotel room, ordered a whole lot of room service and stayed hunched over my little light box for hours on end. I finished the test that weekend and turned it in on Monday. I heard from them the next week and they said the job was mine if I wanted it.
TZN: Avatar is a show where an episodes may need to rely on the script, the storyboards, and the fight choreography by Sifu Kisu to tell the story. Can you talk about how those things come together?
DOS SANTOS: The whole process is very organic. The writers will be very specific about choreography if it is important to the story, like in the finale when Aang hits his scar on the rock triggering the flashback and his transformation into the Avatar State. Moments like that are "beats" that you have to hit within a sequence to move the story forward, so the writers will call those out in the script specifically. Or sometimes Mike or Bryan will have a very specific idea of what they want to see in a sequence after the script has been finalized and those ideas will usually come up in the "start-up" meeting we have before we go into pre-production on a new episode. Those ideas will then get refined in our choreography meetings with Sifu Kisu.
But I'd say the brunt of the choreography is realized when we pitch our rough storyboard concepts. Once those are approved and most of the staging and shots are figured out, we have a second meeting with Sifu Kisu, where he will look over the action in the rough story boards and spell out the beats on film giving each movement the proper form. The board artists then take what has been filmed and use it as a point of reference when they create the final "clean" storyboard. The animators overseas also use this film as a point of reference to create the most authentic animated kung-fu on TV!
TZN: "Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos" is usually a good indication that the episode of the show is going to have some pretty incredible action sequences. Is this something that you're drawn to naturally, or is that something you feel you have to work at?
DOS SANTOS: Thanks! I do love action! Growing up as a kid I watched a lot of action/adventure and martial arts films, so I think it's something I gravitate toward naturally, but it never really comes easy. Keeping it new and fresh and exciting is something that always seems to challenge me, especially on a show like Avatar. It’s a simple equation: More Action (in the show) = Less Sleep (for the artist), so it can be sort of a double edged sword that way. Luckily, I don't need that much sleep.
TZN: In a lot of your action scenes, we often get information about a character through the way they fight. Is that something you try to do deliberately?
DOS SANTOS: Wow! Thanks for noticing! I personally feel that you can gain a lot of information about a person or a character by studying the way they fight. Kind of like body language I guess. I find that "story within the story" aspect of a fight sequence very interesting. Even though it may not always come across to the viewer I think the effort put forth by the artist to get inside the combatants head usually makes the scene that much stronger.
TZN: Do you do a lot of research into fighting styles and fight choreography to stage your scenes, either as a storyboard artist or as a director?
DOS SANTOS: I am already a huge fan of combat sports -- mixed martial arts specifically -- and I've been training Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu for some time now, so I think that sort of helps with understanding how the body mechanics of a punch or a throw work. That kind of gives me a little bit of a leg up in the choreography of a sequence. I'm not preoccupied with the "how do I draw this or that." It’s more worrying about the cinematography of the sequence, and for that I study a lot of film. I've got a huge DVD collection so if a scene I'm working on does not feel right I'll pull out some film I feel is relatable to the scene I am working on at the time and study why those scenes work. That not only pertains to action sequences, but to all sequences with in a story.
TZN: What's the difference between doing a giant sized, epic-scale battles and doing the one-on-one duels on Avatar?
DOS SANTOS: Both have their challenges, but I'd say the biggest difference is having to try and keep track of where everyone is from scene to scene in those big epic battle sequences. That can sometimes drive a director to the breaking point. Keeping a sense of scale can also be a bit tough especially when you do not always have the time to give a scene the length of time is deserves. In other words, fitting "Epic" into 22 minutes can be a challenge.
TZN: You directed one of the most memorable episodes of Book 3, "The Puppetmaster," which introduced the idea of bloodbending. Where did you guys get the idea of bloodbending from?
DOS SANTOS: I think the bloodbending was something that Mike and Bryan came up with along with the writing staff, but to be honest I'm not quite sure. The mechanics of how it actually worked is something we worked out in one of many Sifu Kisu sessions. It creeped me out though.
TZN: Looking back on that episode, what would you do differently knowing what you know now?
DOS SANTOS: That is an evil question to ask. I am my own worst critic, as I think most artists are. To be honest with you, the list is way long on that one. Don't get me wrong, I think it was a solid episode and super creepy to boot, but there are a bunch of little technical things that I would want to change that probably only I would notice. Overall, I wish we had given more time to the conclusion with Katara learning and mastering the bloodbending, since it seemed to wrap up a bit fast. It sort of seemed like the last 10 minutes were in fast forward.
TZN: You directed episodes 3 and 4 of the massive four-part season finale of Book 3. What was the hardest thing about assembling such a big production? Did you need to interact with the other two directors a lot to coordinate things?
DOS SANTOS: There was a ton of coordination that had to be done for the 4-part finale, and luckily for us a lot of it was done in the writing! Once each director is focused on his or her episode, they tend to go into their own little universe for about a month or so. I did not see a lot of anything except my episodes while I was working on them. Every now and again, I would hop into (finale directors) Giancarlo Volpe or Ethan Spaulding's storyboard pitches to see what they had going on, but TV schedules are so tight that you really don't have the time for big meetings on this. We all really relied on Mike and Bryan to catch things that would slip through the cracks, since they were overseeing the big picture.
TZN: Is there anybody's work in animation or some other medium that you study or admire and aspire to?
DOS SANTOS: Oh man, there are way too many to name to be honest. I can say that I have been fortunate enough to have worked with a lot of the people I grew up admiring. And so many of the talented people I meet in the industry make me aspire to be a better artist every day.
TZN: What's the one thing that you wish you could do better as a board artist or a director?
DOS SANTOS: Honestly, everything. I think I still have so much room to grow in all aspects of directing and storyboarding.
TZN: What are you working on now that Avatar has wrapped up for the time being?
DOS SANTOS: I have moved on from Avatar, although I still keep in contact with Mike and Bryan. I am now working as a Supervising Director/Art Director on G.I. Joe: Resolute, a micro series that will be released sometime in 2009. Watch out for it -- it is going to rock your socks off!
Toon Zone News would like to thank Joaquim Dos Santos for taking the time to answer our questions, and Maria Poulos at Nickleodeon for arranging the interview. Dos Santos will be a participant on the Avatar panel at this year's San Diego Comic Con International, and fans should also visit Joaquim Dos Santos' DeviantArt account to check out his artwork (including full-sized versions of some of the art above) and keep up to date on his latest news.
Image from "The Puppetmaster" borrowed from our friends at AvatarSpirit.net.
NY Anime Fest Hosts Birthday Dinner for Hideyuki Kikuchi and 10 Fans
The New York Anime Festival has announced a special birthday dinner in honor of Hideyuki Kikuchi, creator of Vampire Hunter D, who will be celebrating his 59th birthday the day before the Festival begins on September 26, 2008. His birthday dinner will be held on Sunday, September 28, 2008, and there will be 10 seats reserved for die-hard fans, who will dine with Mr. Kikuchi and his collaborators: artist Yoshitaka Amano and translator Kevin Leahy. Tickets for the dinner will be $125, and can be purchased at the New York Anime Festival website now.
From the Animation Guild Blog:
A Question and Answer
Last week I got a call from one of the writers on Sit Down, Shut Up, the Sony Adelaide series where the writers negotiated themselves better terms and conditions than the usual TAG c.b.a.* I was asked the question:
"Is TAG going to enforce the terms of this side letter?" ...
I had gone over the letter and signed it a day or two before. It's got stuff in it that's tied into the WGA's contract, to let you know. I told him:
"Yes, absolutely. Everything that's in it."
And we will. It's like, kind of a responsibility that labor organizations have.
* Although the usual TAG collective bargaining agreement says: "Nothing in this Agreement shall prevent any individual from negotiating and obtraining from the Producer better conditions and terms of employment than those herein provided ..."
Iron Man DVD Confirmed for Sept. 30
Video Business has confirmed that Paramount Home Entertainment has set a September 30 release for Iron Man on DVD and Blu-ray Disc.
Amazon.com is currently accepting pre-orders for Iron Man and lists the title as being offered in three different versions - a Two-Disc Special Collector's Edition, a Special Collector's Edition Blu-ray Disc and a Single-Disc Edition.
Marvel Studios will pass out a flash drive containing a sneak peek of the DVD at its Comic-Con booth this week.
Heroes' Oka Talks 'Villains'
Masi Oka, one of the stars of NBC's hit SF series Heroes, told SCI FI Wire that the show's third season--subtitled "Villains"--refers not just to superpowered bad guys, but also to the bad guy inside us all.
"I think that you'll see a dark side of everybody, because being a hero or villain is very subjective," Oka said in an interview at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour in Beverly Hills, Calif., on July 20. "Each human being has the ability to become a hero or a villain. It's the choices that we make every day, and that can be influenced by the things around us. So you'll see the journeys of everybody, you know? ... Will they become heroes? Will they become villains? Even villains can become heroes. It's all relative."
Oka returns as the time-and-space-jumping Hiro Nakamura. This year, he will have his own personal nemesis: Daphne, aka "Speedster," played by Brea Grant.
"She's Hiro's nemesis," Oka said. "And every time Hiro sees her, he calls her his nemesis. And she's great. She's very spunky. She's a speedster. It's kind of like Batman has his Joker; Hiro has his Daphne. Except I consider it more like a Wyle E. Coyote and a Roadrunner relationship, except she says more than meep, meep. And Hiro falls off from cliffs a lot more as well."
Oka added: "Brea's fantastic. She came from Friday Night Lights. She's such a joy to work with. We had a chemistry test, and I loved working with her, and we have so much fun working together. Hopefully you guys will enjoy it as well."
Oka added that viewers can expect to see the version of Hiro from the future again. But with a twist. "You'll see a lot of future everyone," he said. "You'll see Future Claire. But you'll see a different kind of Future Hiro. Future Hiro as we've seen won't exist anymore. Well you know, because [the disaster was prevented], because we change everything."
And Hiro will once again be with his best friend, Ando (James Kyson Lee). "There is definitely more of the Hiro-and-Ando show going on," he said. Heroes returns Sept. 22 with a retrospective clip show at 8 p.m. ET/PT and a two-hour season premiere at 9.
McG Talks "Terminator" Current Status
The official production blog for "Terminator Salvation" has been updated by director McG who talks about the film's current status:
"We are half way through filming. Our teaser is in theaters and playing before The Dark Knight. You will see that this is a movie inspired by the first films, but is a true new beginning in that it takes place in the future.
All three Terminator films took place present day, with Terminators traveling back in time to attack. This picture takes place after Judgment Day. It happened. Everything is gone. The story of the movie is the "brink moment" Reese always talked about.
From a technical perspective, we have set out to achieve a completely new visual style that hasn't been seen before. We're shooting the film on color stock but are using a method inspired by the Oz process which was developed at Technicolor by Mike Zacharia and Bob Olson. Basically we are adding three times as much silver. It creates a surreal texture that is in keeping with the notion of the entire picture - feeling detached from the world we know today.
Every morning and every night Christian and I work on the story. Sam's contribution has been excellent. We are committed to putting the story and character first and then supplementing that with action and visual effects. It is our intention to make a film on a large scale with the nuance and subtext of a high quality independent picture.
The richness of the story is really coming out now. It's a Prometheus tale really, how creating life creates real responsibility - and if left unchecked, can be our undoing. The entire crew takes the making of this film very seriously. I made a point of hiring key personnel that are passionate about getting this right. Everyone is well versed in the mythology.
Comicon is this weekend. I look forward to sharing the film with the passionate.
PBS series "WordGirl" wins at TV Critics Awards
The satirical -- and educational -- cartoon series "WordGirl" received a TCA Award on Saturday for Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming.
Produced by Scholastic Entertainment Inc. and Soup2Nuts, WordGirl is one of two PBS series which was honored by members of the Television Critics Association. In the show, WordGirl, disguised as mild-mannered fifth-grader Becky Botsford, possesses superhero strength with the added benefit of a colossal vocabulary. She battles and prevails over evil (albeit ridiculous and comical) villains.
Other nominees for Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming were Curious George (PBS), High School Musical 2 and Hannah Montana (both Disney Channel), and Yo Gabba Gabba (Nickelodeon).
The awards ceremony was introduced by the legendary Smothers Brothers.
Three TCA Awards were bestowed on AMC's freshman series Mad Men, including Program of the Year, Outstanding New Program of the Year and Outstanding Achievement in Drama, marking the first-ever wins for the network.
The 24th annual TCA Awards were held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Founded in 1978, the Television Critics Association is composed of more than 200 reporters and columnists in print media from the United States and Canada.
Lincoln Butterfield Animation 'Tan' Gains Distributor
Kung Fu Egg Action
Animation development and production studio Lincoln Butterfield Animation, a new studio as established by some familiar faces, is looking to break into the field of family-friendly television animation with their first major project Tan. Having just signed on with a notable, worldwide licensing and distribution partner for said new series, Lincoln Butterfield is placing their fortune in a fun story about a young martial artist, who also happens to be an egg, as he graduates from school and ventures out into the world around him.
Currently reported or television availability in Fall 2009, Tan will be an action-comedy cartoon that follows a group of friends as they set out to journey across the outside world, now having graduated from the Lo Fat Martial Arts Academy & Cooking School. Tan and his friends, at the center of the story, are eggs… but like any other group of close-knit kids, their curiosity and sense of adventure always make for an interesting day. Using their learned skills and strong friendship, Tan, Foo Young, Tamago, and Curry constantly find silly but engaging ways to learn about the world and each other.
While preparing its animated series Tan (26x30) for production, Lincoln Butterfield has come to an agreement with PorchLight Entertainment, making PorchLight the property's worldwide distribution, licensing and merchandising guide. With an anticipated key audience of Kids 6-11, Tan brings the insights of kung fu eggs and of giant monkeys wearing tiny vinyl hats to viewers looking for a little fun; hoping to teach kids that a little optimism can go a long way.
"I'm really looking forward to working with Lincoln Butterfield on Tan," Fred Schaefer, PorchLight's Senior Vice President of Animation, commented to one source.
"I love the character's good-natured, kid-like confidence—he's both endearing and very funny. That, plus the enormous talent that Lincoln Butterfield brings to the table, virtually ensures that the series will be both a creative and commercial success."
Tan's confident and sometimes out-of-the-ordinary philosophy comes from the minds of a few experienced individuals from the animation and feature film industry. The veteran talent behind Tan, and founders of Lincoln Butterfield Animation, include Robert Hughes and Mitch Schauer. Hughes has served as an animation director for the 90's cartoon Rocko's Modern Life, and most recently as director for Disney Channel's increasingly popular new series Phineas and Ferb.
Schauer is an experienced storyboard artist and program developer, whose credits include creating Nickelodeon's Angry Beavers, and art and production roles for Bobby's World, Garfield and Friends, and many other titles. Similarly contributing are business executive Joseph Walker, whose two decades of experience in digital media production are certainly valuable; and animation producer and visual effects supervisor Michael Lessa, whose credits include Hey Arnold!, and other live-action film properties.
on Lincoln Butterfield: Lincoln Butterfield’s principal belief is that properly developed, produced, and marketed animation, whether 2D or CGI, can reach an even broader audience than exists in today’s markets, increasing its worldwide reach and profitability. While appealing to any specific age group can certainly be profitable, Lincoln Butterfield is committed to the concept that animated entertainment should appeal to the broadest viewing audience possible…the entire family.
FUNimation Licenses Baccano!
FUNimation has revealed that they have licensed light novel based period action anime Baccano!.
The first episode can be seen online at here (password "Flying Pussyfoot")
Simpson Comic To Parody Death Note
Anime News Network reports that Nina Matsumoto of anime-version-Simpsons fame has been brought on board to create a Death Note-meets Simpsons parody in the annual Halloween issue of Bongo Comics' The Simpsons.
Matsumoto recent work also includes Yokaiden for Del Rey and drew a Simpsons comic short that paid homage to anime in Bongo Comics' Free Comic Book Day issue this year.
Upcoming in Japan
The upcoming third season of Black Lagoon has been confirmed via an announcement in the Japanese release of the heroic bloodshed title's novelization.
From Tatsunoko, home of the original Mach Go Go/Speed Racer, comes Mach Girl. Racer girl Lip (or Rip) was design by Suzuka Yoshida, for the anime directed by Nurse Witch Komugi's Masatsugu Arakawa
A video can be seen here
Stitch (based on Lilo and Stitch)
Gegege no Kitaro: Nippon Bakuretsu!!
Gurren Lagann movie
Doraemon the Movie: Nobita's How Space Was Won, New Edition
Worth Checking Out...
Dark Horse has unveiled a new site design
Anime producer and distributor Right Stuf, Inc. and Nozomi Entertainment have unveiled the trailer for sci-fi pastoral, set on a Venezian terra-formed mars, ARIA The ANIMATION at aria.rightstuf.com
ARIA The ANIMATION is the first of three television seasons, plus an OVA (original video animation), that comprise the anime adaptation of Kozue Amano’s best-selling Aria manga. The ARIA anime is helmed by Director Junichi Sato (Princess Tutu, Sgt. Frog, Sailor Moon/ Sailor Moon R) and features animation by Hal Film Maker (Boys Be..., Pretear, Slayers Premium, Sketchbook ~full color’S~). The franchise’s third season completed its TV Tokyo broadcast in March 2008.
The 4 disc DVD set will be released on September 30th for $49.99
Episode 71 of Anime today podcast features Right Stuf's president and C.E.O.Shawne Kleckner discussing Anime Expo, including Right Stuf's license announcements for the Toward the Terra movie and Gakuen Alice anime, news about Nozomi apparel, and a half hour of fan questions.
Anime on DVD spoke to FUNimation's Gen Fukunaga
Tokyopop isn't printing King of Cat's volume 2, but it's online
Newsarama's Remembering When West Has Met East
Newsarama's Changing Manga Scene - Where Does Viz Stand?
Comics212 on Flipping, Splicing, and Mutilating Manga (arranging manga for left to right reading, specifically Drawn & Quarterly’s edition of Red Colored Elegy)
Christopher Butcher also weighs in with The Shape of the Manga Industry Part 2.5
Are Yaoi Manga The Future of Gay Comics?
The Beat reacts to Takashi Murakam
PW Weekly looks at Moribito, the fantasy novels adapted into the Production I.G series scheduled to air on Cartoon Network, starting August 24/be released by Media Blasters
Tiamat picks up the light novel conversation
Otaku USA on Zambot 3 Not Just Another Tomino Ending and MD Geist It doesn't suck
Steam punk wooden mech
Learn English With Gundam, #3
let's anime finds some amazing mecha bootleg stickers
AltJapan's Kappa Attack
Blade of the Immortal anime first impressions
NPR on our love for graphic novels
An Astro Boy Munny
Anime Almanac editorializes of a dominant FUNimation
For those who can't get enough of Kazuo Umezu photos
Where are the Shonen OEL Artists?
Production I.G presents Chiaki J. Konaka & Junichi Fujisaku double interview here and here
Gurren Lagann Parallel Works 6