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NYCC 2019 – ‘Wonder Woman: Bloodlines’ Interview with Directors Justin Copeland and Sam Liu

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Wonder Woman: Bloodlines is DC’s newest animated film. At New York Comic-Con, directors, Justin Copeland and Sam Liu, chatted with the press to discuss helming the Wonder Woman animated feature. 

Promoting the latest DC animated original, Wonder Woman: Bloodlines, the creative minds behind the solo feature came to the famed New York Comic-Con to provide insight on the latest incarnation of arguably the most famous female superhero, Wonder Woman, the Princess of Themyscira.

The Workprint sat down with co-directors, Justin Copeland and Sam Liu. Copeland has been involved in the animation and art department of both Marvel and DC media since 2011. He directed Batman: Hush, the previous DC Animated Original Movie, and returns to direct this film. Sam Liu is a veteran of animation, with a resume dating back to 1997. He has credits in the animation department, art department work, and 31 directorial credits under his belt. 

Justin Copeland

Did the live-action movie have any impact on your movie?

I don’t know how much. I know that was a fun movie to watch, you know, and this has some similarities, just in the sense of her origin story, but this sort of stands on its own. It’s a pretty good story. I think in this one, we get to see a little bit more of her vulnerabilities, which I think makes people human. And I think that’s why some of the fans like her because the other guys are gods and they’re not weak, unless you prove it to them. But in this one, Wonder Woman makes herself vulnerable, which makes her more human. I think that’s what’s unique about ours. 

With this movie getting greenlit, did the whole Wonder Woman craze help?

Yeah, that’s been cool, and I think that more people are recognizing how cool the character is because she’s probably the most human out of all the DC superheroes. It doesn’t have anything to do with the level of strength she has; she allows herself to be put in situations that Superman can never enter into, and it gets her into trouble, but at the same time, you can see these really deep awesome qualities about her. But, you’re right, it does help trigger the overall greenlighting to screen as much as possible. 

How did Wonder Woman develop in this one from previous films?

I think just seeing her, in this one, she takes on more of a mentor role, which I think is cool; like Wonder Woman as a mentor to this young lady. Also, she makes mistakes, and there are like devastating, you know, and how does she recover from this. And her thing is “I’m going to recover by saying how weak I am, by saying that I need help and that I can’t do it.” We put her in a really tight spot, I can’t wait until you guy, you guys going to watch it? I think they do like a viewing here. Yeah, I’m interested to see what everyone thinks, and it’s like “how is she going to come out of this?” I think that Superman, you never have to ask that question, you know, it’s like “who else is going to die that he’s going to feel sorry for?” But, for her, it’s like man, she caused this and what’s she going to do? I think that that aspect is, (different from) those other movies (makes) this amazing. 

What are some of the challenges of directing animation?

Yeah, there’s a lot, and in this one, I was co-director with Sam. Sam Liu is like my mentor. We worked together on a lot of stuff. I was on Killing Joke, and then I’m moving my way up from there, with Sam kicking the crap out of me every step of the way. So when I was on this, I was wrapping up Hush, I directed Hush so they brought me on like “can you help out? Sam’ll be doing like a lot of other stuff,” and I’m like cool. And just knowing that I have more of a voice as a director rather than Sam’s head of story or a storyboard supervisor and saying “no, no, no, I feel like it should be like this” that was a huge challenge. But, also, staying on schedule, keeping everything on track, I didn’t get a whole lot of say on the story; the story was like done by the time I jumped on. So, wrangling all our storyboards together and saying, “here’s what we’re going to do,” but also sharing that voice with Sam. We had to be on the same page, and then staying on budget and schedule are always the two things. Those were the hardest parts, but a lot of fun. We had been putting together a crew since, oh these movies all melt together in my head, I think that right after Death of Superman, we were like “this is our crew going forward.” You know, then keeping everyone’s morale up, after Justice League vs The Fatal Five, have you guys seen that one? That was a lot of fun, I think it just came out a few weeks ago, but after that one, everyone was like “that was a really hard movie,” so I had to get everyone’s energy back up to do Hush, and right after Hush, we did this one. So those things are kind of difficult, you know, and when everyone’s tired “Hey guys, we are starting a really hardass Wonder Woman movie.” So those are some of the challenges.

What makes this movie special compared to the other ones you’ve worked on?

I think that everybody loves drawing her because she is a badass. She fights like, imagine a really super powerful Roman gladiator, that’s how she fights. She can do close-quarter combat, she fights with swords, she’s got a shield, she can fly so drawing her beating the hell out of people is a lot of fun. And then, like, her acting, she’s got a very beautiful face, we took, Phil Bourassa didn’t design this movie, but we kind of take our design cues from a lot of his stuff. So drawing her face is very beautiful, it’s a lot of fun and good. Everyone loves drawing her, and I love working with Rosario

One thing that caught my eye from the trailer was her costume. Thoughts?

Yeah, we changed it a little, didn’t we? Oh my god, that was one of the best days ever because (Steven) Choi, one of our character designers James was working with. James is a ridiculous character designer; he’s amazing, but all the designs were laid out in front of us, and all of her designs, I was like “Dude, I want all of these, I want to do all of these,” So it was a lot of fun, the little changes that we made, you know? We keep all the stuff in mind, a lot of it is economy for animation, we don’t want to put thousands of lines. Poor Bourassa, he will wear our animators down. I don’t know how they do Young Justice. He is like “I am not going to strip my quality so they can do it.” But we really had to think about lining economy in this movie just because we were so behind. A lot of the designs comes from that having to simplify but keep it beautiful. We took outlines and, man, it looks gorgeous. It looks really cool.

When it comes to those decisions, did one co-director have to make those calls?

Yes, sometimes. Like I said, James is very particular about his designs. Sometimes, I’ll be like, “James, in Act 2, she’s going to do this thing here, and then she’s fall and this thing breaks off. I don’t know if we can have that thing there, maybe we should do a (different) thing,” and he will go “Oh yeah, that’s right.” Because once I get the script, I dream about it. So, that’s sort of what our job as directors is to keep our brains on that, on those levels like, she’s going to do something or her costume, something is going to happen, she has to change it. Like Hush, he changes his costume. You got to keep that stuff in mind, but he (Liu) is going to get the last say on what her costume will be. It really hard when something breaks, we try not to laugh to hard, “we told you.” 

Were there any really fun, memorable moments?

Yeah, I brought in a scene where she’s in Themyscira, and she’s leaving, that was really fun. I built this gigantic 3D background for this area where they are, that was cool. Directing some of the fights, Jake Castorena, who directed Batman Ninja Turtles, he was one of our board artists. I love when I get to work with Jake because he is a monster fight choreographer, which that movie you could see. And he boarded this fight between Wonder Woman and Cheetah that was fan-dam-tastic.  It was amazing. I mean, it was a lot of stuff we had to take out, we’re like “we are not going to animate her hands going there, bro, there just not.” To work with him on that scene was a blast. When you get to like, “here, take this fight scene and go crazy,” to a lot of our (animators), Elsa Garagarza, she’s also a director, she boarded a lot of my fight scenes in Hush, all the Nightwing fight scenes, she did those in Hush. But she did a bunch of fight in here, that was cool. Act 3 in this movie is gigantic, it’s huge. That was a lot of fun, but it was equally as difficult, so the two parts, trying to figure it out, “how the hell are we going to do this?” And we made the giant character way too giant, had to go back in and shrink her down. That was hard as hell. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s equally as difficult. 

There is a scene that I saw that takes place in the Middle East. Can you share where it was?

Nope (laughs). No, we tried to keep it general. We tried to keep it “it’s in the Middle East.” That’s funny, we were doing the voice record with the actor, and this guy, he’s a like day player for voice. I wish I had his life because he comes in for 10 minutes and makes a ton of money. But when we were first recording it, Sam and I thought it was in South America, so he was doing this Latin accent, and James comes in and is like “No, it’s the Middle East,” and he immediately switched and did this Middle East (accent). He was sick, had the flu, did this Middle East accent, one or two takes for every one of his lines, and he was out. It was amazing. But we try to keep that non-descript because the location wasn’t really about the story, it was about what’s going on. But that scene is cool, and you’ll like that. I actually built the model that that place (was based on). I do a lot of the background designs, and I’ll hand them to the pros. These guys are a monster B team, but they love it when I’m on a movie because I’ll do the rough design then hand it over. But I didn’t base it off of anywhere, that’s how I know. 

Sam Liu

How was it like to work on this movie? Any favorite moments?

When I first heard that my next movie was going to be Wonder Woman movie, I had these ideas of what does that mean? What’s the, coming off the live-action movie? I think about what Lauren Montogermy did with her Wonder Woman thing, which are these big, isolated tales that a lot of it has to do with (*). In this case, this is in continuity movie, the James Tucker world thing, so when I first read it, it wasn’t quite exactly what in my fan brain was kind of expecting, but when I read it and talked to James about it, I think he wanted this movie to be a jumping-off point where it’s more like an introduction of Wonder Woman. Because this movie is almost like a movie that takes place between movies in the past. He wanted to set up his Wonder Woman in this world. The thing he had mentioned is that how, like with Batman and Superman, right, you all know when it’s Clark Kent, he has his group of people that are around him, right?

When it’s Superman, he has his people around him. Batman, these are his people, the Robins, all of the Catwomans, and all these mythology people. But then, even Bruce Wayne, the Alfreds, and the business side of the things he does. Wonder Woman kind of didn’t have that, right? Steve Trevor maybe that everybody knows of, but beyond that, there’s not a lot. Some people might know Etta Candy, not everyone knows them but even the Wonder Woman villains, not everyone is familiar with them, outside Cheetah maybe, right? So I think James wanted to tell a story that sort of brought in a lot of these more elements of her mythology as a superhero character together and so, on one hand, it’s an introduction plate of Wonder Woman and a lot of the bigger players in her mythology, i suppose, which hopefully will lead to other stories of her, so singular types of stories, but it’s more of a sort of a set-up thing, like here are the players in her life, in her role, and you get to know them more.

But the story itself I feel is smaller even though the parts of it are really epic, I think. If I had to break this story down, I think it’s a story of mothers and daughters. It’s more of an emotional kind of thing, because everyone knows how Wonder Woman going against Hippolyta, left Themyscira, she chose to basically go to Man’s World, deal with Man’s sort of like battles and stuff like that. So the story kind of deals with a little bit more of that happening, like she has this big fight with her mother, and her sort of feeling guilty about leaving and kind of stuff like that, “I’m not going to be accepted in Man’s (world).” It’s a thing where there’s another character, the Silver Swan character, which is going through a totally different thing, but it’s a thing with her and her mother, and Wonder Woman sort of being her mentor and feeling a little bit of an obligation that I need to sort of help guide this woman, she goes in a total wrong direction where she becomes a villain, and there’s a lot of guilt of a lot of things for her.

I don’t want to spoil it too much, but then there’s an event that happens where the direction of this girl kind of goes and her hoping for mother because it all leads back to Themyscira and she has to go back to her mother, so there’s a lot of things about being, in this case, a woman and going against your family, having the things that you were trying to impart, but then hoping you did the right thing, I suppose. So it’s a thing of like a, you know, the male version is obviously fathers and sons, I think it’s a daughters and mothers expectations of your family, your mother, and then trying to find your own voice, (*)  or what you want to do. And hopefully to proving to people that I made the right choice, or that type of thing. I think that’s the heart of it. 

Any inspiration from the live-action film, specifically the Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman?

I mean, there are influences obviously. There’s part of her outfit that she sort of starts with, that shows up in her thing. There’s definitely influences to it, but I think that kind of it. I don’t think we took any parts of the story or something like that. But there are points of reference. 

Do you feel there is any added person of working with a character like Wonder Woman?

Yeah, I do. I think a lot of it has to do with the climate of where it is, which I think is great, but there’s more of a gender or a racial awareness. But it’s difficult now though I think because I’ve had friends or people that I’ve worked with that have the best intentions, and then you try something but you might miss something or you misstep and then you get, you’re trying to do something else but then you get blamed for the thing you are trying to do. I’m not saying that’s wrong either because I think that if you’re going to say something, you need to say it correctly. 

Wonder Woman: Bloodlines is available on digital today. A physical release on 4K Combo Pack & Blu-ray Combo Pack will release on October 22.

Here’s the trailer for Wonder Woman: Bloodlines:

About Bassam Kaado

Bassam Kaado is a writer based in New York City that dabbles in screenplays, comic books, poetry, and articles covering various aspect of entertainment. In addition, he is an actor, rapper, and director. You can following Bassam @bkaado on Twitter and Instagram.

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