One-on-One with Spawn Director Chuck Patton
November 04, 2005
Copyright 2014 TMP International, Inc.
By Janet Jaramillo
Conversations with animation director Chuck Patton on working with Todd, working with Film Roman vs. HBO on the same property, and working in animation as a director in the 21st century.
How did you get started in the animation business?
CP: I actually started my career in comics, as an artist. I was self-taught, although I have a degree in art. I passed on a journalism degree to go to New York to join DC Comics to be an artist on Justice League of America. I was turned on to animation through a friend who was working in Los Angeles making way more money than most of the guys I knew in the comic business.
I was never a fan of television animation, so I was apprehensive about making a move away from comics. But I was becoming disillusioned with the comic business and I was ready to move on. A company offered me really good money, because they wanted an art director with a background in comics, so I moved to LA and started a career in animation.
So did you work your way up, or did you just become a director?
CP: I started basically at the bottom. I was a character designer, an art director for a studio, and then I got into development work. While working in all these different aspects of animation, time and again I would run into many of the same guys I had worked with in comics. Like I said, the money was better.
I still don't really consider myself an animator. I have hands-on experience in all aspects of creating images to be animated, though. From props, to background layout, to color -- I have done it all. And that experience helps me in my directing.
What skills must you have to be a director?
CP: First and foremost, you have to be a good storyteller. That is actually a bit controversial in the business right now. You are seeing more and more directors who are good storytellers but don't have a background in animation. Visual storytelling is really the key. For me it helps to know all the ins and outs of what it takes to get something on screen.
Overall, like anything, you must have a huge passion for the art and be a perpetual student of the game. Don't get stuck in a rut; let your skills evolve with the technology.
Did you know Todd from your comic book days?
CP: Todd and I were really coming up in the comic industry at the same time. Our styles were hugely different so we never really crossed paths until he was moving from Hulk to Spiderman, and Marvel called me to take over Hulk. They wanted me to emulate his style, and I was like, ‘Why are you even offering this to me? You know my style is nothing like his.' Anyway, a friend of mine ended up getting that job. The weird thing is, I didn't run into that friend again until I was at Film Roman working on Spawn and the same guy was working at Film Roman on another project. It's just an odd little coincidence where Todd made a connection for the two of us without even knowing it.
What has it been like working with the actual creator of the property you are directing?
CP: Working with Todd on Spawn has been great. It's helpful in so many ways to be able to know where he sees Spawn going. Knowing the ultimate goals gives us a lot of insight and guidance on what direction to take this animation project. The character's history is very rich, but it's nice to know he has much more story to tell. What you thought you knew about Spawn has changed, which has allowed for the story to develop differently than fans expect. So to answer your question, it's nice to be able to work with someone like Todd who has his ideas and opinions but is willing to listen to others interpretations and incorporate them into his long-term story.
What are the differences between working on Spawn with Film Roman vs. the HBO days?
CP: Well, starting at HBO, Spawn has really become a love affair for me. So to be able to pick it up again at Film Roman has been a real treat. The experiences on this show have been like nothing I have ever worked on. Since Todd treats his animation like a live-action movie, it's just such a unique experience that I really enjoy it, no matter what company we're with.
HBO was, and is, a pioneer in the broadcast industry. In regard to Spawn, they had the highest respect for the property and they didn't approach it like a cartoon. They accepted it as a dark and gritty drama that just happened to choose animation as its platform. Film Roman, I think, has the same respect for Spawn, but just may not understand it differently.
On the other hand, Film Roman has been more visionary in trying to bring Spawn into the 21st century, allowing this project to be more of an urban crime horror thriller than it was at HBO. At Film Roman, we have mixed genres and have created something truly unique to American animation.
How do you think our current fans will react to the new animation?
CP: Overall, I think comic book fans like surprises. I think they will appreciate the new direction and understand and accept that the old characters' stories have been told, and it's time to move on. I hope they will accept that Spawn is moving forward with new and different experiences ahead of him.
In our movie, there is drama and huge conflict -- which is intense and claustrophobic. We are trying not to be predictable. The key is not to show all your cards at once. We are at the beginning of a new chapter for Spawn, looking for new ways to interpret a story you know to keep it interesting and exciting. I can't see what's not to like about that.
My hope is that the audience will feel intrigued about where Spawn's story is going in the future.
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