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Todd McFarlane Weighs In on the Creative Process
May 20, 2005
Copyright 2015 TMP International, Inc.

Since this update will be the beginning of many, I thought it would be entertaining and useful to start at the initial stages of the Spawn: Animation project and take you through some of the different steps that will be worked on. Some of this information and visuals will be very interesting, while other pieces might seem a tad boring, but all are necessary. The reality of animation is there are so many components that need to be addressed and so many details that need to be taken care of in bringing a script to life, that you might be amazed at how intricate it all is.

As the weeks go by, we will be bringing you updates on all aspects of this project and give you a glimpse into some visuals that you would otherwise never have a chance to see. Items will include character designs, prop designs and backgrounds. Since this is the start of showing you an “insiders” look at the animation, it only makes sense to begin at the beginning:

Todd McFarlane Productions in association with Todd McFarlane Entertainment and Film Roman (FR) agreed to re-introduce Spawn to the world of animation through a feature-length direct-to-DVD movie. Going the “direct-to-DVD” route allowed us the freedom to tell the type of story I’d envisioned, without being hampered by any restrictions on the story content. Whatever I wanted to see onscreen would be there.

At the same time, we are attempting to create a show that -- with careful editing -- could become our backdoor pilot episode for a TV network in the future. The idea is to use parts of the finished product as a presentation tool when we go to the networks and cable channels to “pitch” the series as a weekly program.

Obviously, I’d like to see Spawn back on HBO and will make them the first place we go. After that we will look into other channels that might be just as well-suited to run this show. But -- and here’s the best part of the deal we struck -- if no one in Hollywood wishes to pick up the show to distribute, we are set to bring the story out in DVD form regardless. Either way, the fans come out ahead.

The head company that owns the animation division is one of the biggest distributors of DVDs in the nation. What that means for us (and eventually you the consumer) is there will be a definate release of this animation. Unlike so many projects in Hollywood where you can develop something for years and never have it made, we have started a process that will be seen on televisions screens, no matter what, come early 2006.

So this is coming next year guaranteed. Now let’s talk about the creative process…

Since this first story is a feature-length movie, we needed to create a script that would be roughly 80 pages in length (one page per minute, give or take, is the standard rule of thumb in Hollywood). This isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are a number of factors to weigh when writing a script, especially when working on subject matter that has the diverse history of Spawn.

To get our project off the ground, I began with trying to set the mood I wanted to capture instead of concentrating on the actual story first. Since I had ultimately been selected to write the script, along with Spawn comic writer Brian Holguin, (more on that later) I wanted to make sure that the environment Spawn lived in would be dark and gritty. We began the process of coming up with a story by talking to each other over the phone as we established some broad strokes as to what direction we wanted the plot to go. From there, characters, settings, motivations, etc., all needed to be strung together into a coherent storyline that would be worthy for our first animation project since the end of the HBO series. Once all of this was laid out, we moved on to the most important step in the storytelling process: script development. This is where those important elements are put together to create the story we will all see next year.

The new characters we created had been interesting and quirky enough to stand out as individuals, but real enough for you to believe in their emotions, their fears, their entire world actually. Additionally, each character had to be able to exist in the same environment with all the others. Realism and exchange of dialogue are also important in creating a believable story with authentic characters. All of this, along with subplots and pacing, are key to the story’s success and its ability to hold an audience’s interest. Regardless of how visually interesting the film looks, without believable characters the story would fall flat.

Another of the biggest challenges we faced was the expectations of the fans who had already seen the prior three seasons of the HBO animated series. These viewers’ expectations – remember, they’ve been waiting patiently for five years -- had to be kept in mind. As such, I felt there needed to be some thought given to the fact that the character Spawn had appeared in animation before. For instance, since the HBO series ended with some unanswered questions, do we pick up where we left off or start anew? What was the best way to get back in front of a new audience without alienating the old one? This was the million-dollar question. It was debated a number of times, sometimes calmly, sometimes not-so-calmly, as I took into account the opinions of many others, from other producers to people working around me. Finally, I decided we should use this initial movie as a jumping-on point. Essentially, we would be starting over. This would give us the opportunity to reinvent what had happened to this character in his five-year absence.

We had a huge opportunity to tell an interesting story where the sky is the limit as far as visual storytelling is concerned. Now, the concept had to be hammered out. I had a rough idea in my head of a Spawn story very different from any I’ve told before. In the beginning, I was not scheduled to write the script, so our challenge was to find a writer who would be able to forget whatever they may have known about Spawn and accept some new ideas. From these initial broad ideas I described to them, the potential writers had to create an interesting plot along with endearing new characters, great pacing and drama. Of course, a cool climax as well. No small order, especially when it was coming from a perfectionist like myself, whose main character is very near and dear to his heart.

Starting in mid-2004 and continuing through October, executive producer and TME President Terry Fitzgerald, Film Roman executive Sidney Clifton and I went through round after round of interviews with potential writers. I would sit on the phone for an hour explaining how the new animation should be treated and they would take notes. We talked about this unique new vision of Spawn and the world he would occupy. The writers would respond as though they understood what I was conveying and on occasion would even ask an interesting question or two. But time after time, I received back writing samples from these potential scribes that left me wondering if the person submitting the story was in fact the same person I had spoken with only a few days before. Although the stories themselves may have been interesting, they were not the direction I was looking for, after this long absence of the character in this medium. We couldn’t just do more of the same. I felt the audience would be expecting more from us. We quickly became discouraged.

Soon, October melted into November and by this time I was getting fed up with the process of finding a writer to write something that I’d been living with in my head. Not to mention, we were beginning to fall a little behind schedule – it was already three months later than we were hoping to get started.

After months of disappointing interviews, we decided to enlist the services of someone who knows Spawn quite well. Enter Brian Holguin, the current writer of the Spawn comic book, who agreed to help me take a pass at writing the animation script. With his knowledge of Spawn -- both the characters and the shadowy world in which they live -- he would be able to help me capture the mood and feel of the story I had envisioned. Brian and I tossed around the ideas we had, then quickly set to work putting them into script form. Once the script was completed, we were really ready to get things rolling. Before I give you the illusion that writing a script is easy, let me give you a timeline of how long that process took before everyone involved has signed off on it:


  • November 2004 – with Brian Holguin on board to assist me with writing the script, brainstorming begins between me, Brian and executive producer Terry Fitzgerald in an effort to flesh out the basic concept before Brian began his first draft.

  • Early February 2005 – first draft of the script is handed in from Brian to me.

  • Two weeks pass as I rewrote and fine-tuned the story. Terry and I sign off on this first pass.

  • Mid-February – TMP submits the first draft to Film Roman for their comments.

  • End February – A marathon conference call with Film Roman takes place to discuss their ideas, changes and comments.

Janet Jamarillo, Terry’s cohort, was in the room with me during my phone conversation with Film Roman, taking notes and keeping track of everything being said. She also needed to be fluent in all aspects of the story as she would be directly involved in helping us facilitate the onslaught of work that would be inevitably coming my way. Terry was on the other end of the call, in LA sitting with the hordes of people from Film Roman. There was a tremendous amount to cover in that one big "notes call." On my end, here in Arizona, Janet said it was interesting to see my reaction to some of the script notes. At times I would nod my head in agreement or let out an occasional “not bad.” Other times I would give a mischievous smirk—the people on the other end of the line didn’t yet see the long-term goal of this first story. After that call, more work needed to be done on the script and I dug in.

  • Mid-March 2005 - after both Brian and I addressed the comments from Film Roman, the second draft was finalized, internally approved and sent over to them. This time, it was sent with an air of conviction that this would be, in fact, the final version of the story.

  • Later Mid-March 2005 - a meeting at the Film Roman offices was set up so I could act out some of the more subtle scenes in the script. From time to time, there are moments that simply do not translate through the written word and I figured they could get a better grasp of certain scenes if they were able to “see” them instead of reading them. This was a very successful meeting and a big part of allowing our partners, who were now becoming immersed in Spawn’s world, to understand the story. A few final, minor notes were given and ...

  • March 30th - the final draft of the animation script was approved by all and locked!

The heart of our project was now complete. It was a long, tiring, but important step, which in the end was worth every second. The effort and notes by everyone went a long way toward creating a much stronger script from which we would build a whole new world. Spawn’s world. A world of darkness and pain. Love and loss. Hatred and betrayal. The Hellspawn is now set to return and nothing will be the same.


All stories are Copyright © and TMP International, Inc., and may not be reprinted without permission.

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