First Family: Fully Animated

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Marvel continues its global domination of all media with the premiere of the new animated series: Fantastic Four this weekend. Marvel called the press together to discuss the upcoming series, and Broken Frontier was there. What follows is a run-down of the conference call.

On hand for the discussion were Executive Producer Craig Kyle and Story Editor/Head Writer Chris Yost. They opened the floor by giving a quick description of the series, and both involved were very excited about the upcoming series. Chris started off the discussion:

“Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes will be premiering on September 2nd at 8PM on Cartoon Network. And it’s Fantastic Four at its best. Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben doing what they do best: exploring new worlds, meeting crazy villains and crazy aliens that want to… well, kill them!”

Next, Craig stepped in to discuss how it’s been working with Cartoon Network. “They’ve been great. MoonScoop, from France, has handled the production. We’ve been real impressed with them, and I think their best work yet has been on this series. Their partners were Cartoon Network International. And they’ve all been great. And for having it here in the States, I don’t think there is a better home. People want to see great superhero series and great comedy series, and I think FF is that perfect mixture of both.”

Craig mentioned that the cartoon will have comedy, but will it be a gag-a-minute kind of cartoon? “I definitely don’t think we’d want to do a gag-a-minute cartoon. If you start to do that, you lose some of the emotion, and you know the action and adventure the FF has always delivered throughout the comic. When you look at the family, it’s a fun world. These guys are celebrities. They’ve got fans, they don’t hide, and they are the biggest heroes in the world.

“They are a family, and have all the problems and conflict and craziness a family has. And I think all the stuff that’s been happening, I think we like when they can break up the moments with a joke here and there, or when Ben and Johnny end up fighting each other. We just like when they are fun. And that’s what we want to do for this series.” Kyle then added that the series was not written down for children, but that it would be a funny series enjoyed by all.

Chris chimed in, “Yeah, Craig is absolutely right. I think the Fantastic Four, of all the Marvel properties, lends itself to this combination of light-hearted fun, but at the same time when this series gets big, it gets HUGE. These are four characters that at their core are human beings, and they are just fun. With Ben and Johnny, we saw that in the run, and Mark Waid’s run was a perfect example of this. They’re just like a close-knit group of people that are going to bust on each other, then go and save the universe.”

Click to enlargeClick to enlargeAs for the longevity of the series, Marvel has produced 26 episodes so far. Of course, they hope to do more than that, and Craig explains, “The way Chris and I structured the series, there is a lot of room to grow. We certainly didn’t do everything in the first 26 episodes, and there are a lot of characters we’d like to get to.”

So, what kind of characters can we expect, besides the obvious Doctor Doom appearance? Chris assures us that “all of the major Fantastic Four villains will be there… you’ve got Doctor Doom – who we’ll see in the second episode, you’ve got Mole Man, you’ve got the Kree and the Skulls… as I look at those 26 episodes it’s amazing—the FF universe is built in there. It’s pretty well represented.”   

And what about other heroes guest starring? The answer to this question was a bit more vague. “I don’t know which ones I can mention, but our large green friend, The Incredible Hulk, will be in the first 5 episodes.” Craig was sure to mention that the hulk would be fighting Ben Grimm, which is great news to any fan. The title of that episode will be “Hard Knocks.”

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With the rich history of the Fantastic Four, the question arose as to when the series would be taking place, whether it be in the beginning of their career or in the middle. Chris answered, “When the series starts they have their powers and are operating out of the Baxter Building and the world knows who they are. As the series progresses, they will be introduced to some villains, while others they will have known from the beginning.”

“To be fair, for anyone seeing the FF for the first time on television, you’re going to have to pick it up with the ball rolling in such a way that anyone can enjoy it. And I think we found that balance, and I think the first episode (“Trial by Fire”) with Ronan is a shining example of that and what’s going to come. I think you get into the characters and how they relate to their environment that you care less about how they got their powers. But you will see the origin. I think the fans of this series deserve to see it here, and I think Chris found a really creative way to tell that story.”

When it comes to writing the episodes, there are no plans to bring aboard any established comic book writers, rather using the writers from other animated series, such as Batman and X-Men and Spider-Man. Craig stated, “They were all very anxious to become part of this project. With the FF, it was interesting, as you can find guys who are very good at drama, and others who are excellent at comedy, but finding that fusion is very difficult. It really put a lot of pressure on Chris, as he is very good at that, and he is the person responsible if the scripts don’t have that balance. I think you’re going to find the tone of what everyone likes about the FF in every episode.”

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As for the artwork, it is a very mature looking cartoon, especially if it becomes targeted for a younger audience. Craig stepped in to address the art. “When MoonScoop came in, they had such an amazing idea for this. With 35 years of animation, you want something that’s going to stick out. You may see other versions. You have a version from the 60s, from the 80s, or from the 90s. We wanted something that would pop, that would look unlike anything else. And with this show there is no question, it looks nothing like its predecessors. What MoonScoop brought was spectacular, with all kinds of Kirby-esque technology in and around the Baxter building. Whether it be the bottom of Johnny’s hot rod, or the beautiful lab, they really bring out the best of what Kirby created with these characters. Plus, the expressions of the characters are amazing.”

Most of the stories will be new retellings of the classic stories. Nothing will be word for word from the comics, but we’ll “see the influences of greats such as John Byrne, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Mark Waid.”

As far as the animation, it will be a combination of both 2D and 3D animation, and “really show some of the best animation available today. A lot of people love CGI, but there’s not a lot that are completely CGI and work well. On television it’s very difficult. To me, the best success is when you do the environments, weaponry, and vehicles in CGI, beautiful shots of the city, but the emotion always dies when doing the actual characters in CGI. When you hand-draw the characters, you get wonderful emotion, beautiful and subtle elements you just would never get with CGI. But when you see the Fantasticar tearing through the city that they crafted just so perfectly, you’re going to see the perfect marriage.”

What’s really exciting is that in a series like this, “you can definitely have Doom launch the Baxter Building into space, and have Reed say: ‘Thank Goodness I prepared for this, grab the neighbors!’ It’s a spectacular moment, and it’s great to have them fly the building back through the atmosphere back into New York City.”

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The music will be a great mixture of big action score pieces, as well as that Seinfeld kind of fun music. “It’s a really tricky game when you are crafting the sounds for this series. It will be a really cool retro TV theme that will really fit the series.”

The creators did also mention that the toys—which would be tied to the show—are being put together by the ToyBiz group, and distributed by Hasbro. While no one was sure when they would be released, the best guess was the beginning of next year, after the series is out to the fans.

Finally, there will be a wide presence of the cartoon, as it will see screen time in the UK, France, and Canada among other places.

All indications look like this will be one more on the long list of Marvel’s multi-media successes. Be sure to check it out for yourself this Saturday, September 2nd at 8PM on Cartoon Network.

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