Big Red On The Small Screen
♦ 2018 is the 25th anniversary of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and we are representing a number of classic Tripwire Hellboy pieces. Here’s one from back in Tripwire Annual 2007 and our interview with Hellboy Animated Director Tad Stones…
HELLBOY ANIMATED DIRECTOR TAD STONES on bringing Mike Mignola’s creation to the small screen
TW: How did the Hellboy animated movies get off the ground?
TAD STONES: At one point during the nine year process of trying to get Hellboy made, Guillermo del Toro and Mike Mignola briefly considered doing the Hellboy movie in animation to avoid budget restrictions. I’m sure it was for all of a day at most.
I don’t think Guillermo could slow himself to an animation pace, he’d have to do a couple of movies on the side. Anyway, for however briefly, animation was considered then put aside. But the appeal of animation, where your imagination isn’t limited by foam rubber and latex, stayed with him. He started talking about a possible Hellboy animated series with the fans even before he started shooting the first Hellboy. I had pitched Hellboy as a prime time, “animated X-files” about a dozen years ago while I was still at Disney. When I finally left the Mouse House, I hooked up with an agent whose associates were handling the licensing for the Hellboy movie. Y’know, thinking about that, I should’ve gotten a lot more free swag. My agents were also instrumental in putting together the Hellboy Animated deal and positioned me to be considered as show runner. Since Mike already wanted me in charge, and Guillermo and I had talked about it a few times, there wasn’t a problem. But without Guillermo’s drive at the beginning, I doubt Revolution Studios would’ve bothered with animation.
TW: How much contact did you have with Mike Mignola when making the movies?
TS: Lots. I would’ve had more but I’m a Hellboy fan and didn’t want to stop Mike from working on the comics. Since we’ve been working together, Mike has expanded the Hellboy universe considerably with Abe Sapien and Lobster Johnson mini-series, the early adventures of the B.P.R.D. and of course, new Hellboy and B.P.R.D. arcs. Generally, I’d update him once a week unless we were working on story. The movies started in his kitchen where we discussed possible storylines and worked out rough story beats. Mike simultaneously thinks at a conceptual and detail level. He won’t just say that a ghost appears to give Hellboy a message, he’ll talk about the costume of the ghost, how it lurches out of the shadows, color choices and give some possible dialogue. On the
first movie, I then wrote the story as an outline which Mike gave notes on, then gave it to Matt Wayne to script. On Hellboy: Blood and Iron, I wrote up a four page premise after discussions with Mike then Kevin Hopps wrote
the treatment. Mike gives notes on all premise, treatment and script drafts. He goes to the major recording sessions then wipes his hands of it until it’s on DVD.
Actually, that’s not exactly true. Both Sword of Storms and Blood and Iron were 20 minutes short so we repeated the process with the extra material. I also had Mike look at all character designs that were based on his creations from the goddess Hecate to Sidney
Leach, human metal detector.
TW: How important was it for you to have contact with Mike?
TS: I would hate to have tried it without him. Mike has unique sensibilities about both drama and humor that are at the core of Hellboy. I wanted to get as close to that as possible. Plus, the most enjoyable part of this whole process is working
on story with him. And I certainly want him pleased with the end product.
Working with Mike was quite inspirational for me. I appreciated how he creates on a deeper level than just monsters bashing each other. There is poetry to his work. He draws a page not so much to tell a story but to make an artistic
statement. I’ve developed many characters and shows over the years but now I want to hold all my personal work to a higher standard.
TW: I noticed that Guillermo del Toro’s name is mentioned on the DVD. How much contact did you have with Guillermo?
TS: Very little unfortunately. While we were producing the movies at a breakneck speed, Guillermo was struggling to produce the wonderful Pan’s Labyrinth. At the same time, he was writing the script to Hellboy 2: The Golden Army. He didn’t have time to be messing with cartoons on the other side of the world. Having said that, there would be no Hellboy Animated without Guillermo and he had notes which resulted in stronger performances in Hellboy: Blood and Iron.
TW: How familiar are you with Hellboy as a character?
TS: Very. Outside of his appearance in the handbook of the San Diego Comic Con, I have every Hellboy appearance from the start.
In addition, when I left Disney after 29 years there, I wrote a couple of half-hour Hellboy scripts, one based on a short story of Mike’s, one completely original. I think those scripts were what really made Mike comfortable about
working with me. It was the same process that we used for the movies; I pitched him premises and he gave notes at every step. In fact, he was surprised when he learned I wasn’t going to be writing the animated movies. But I understood
the studio’s position. They didn’t know me so they were reluctant to trust me as producer, director AND writer. Plus, there wasn’t the time for me to do the writing because we had to hit the ground running.
Those half hour scripts meant talking to Mike about Hellboy as a character, his dialogue and his humor. My best days are when I come up with a visual or piece of dialogue that Mike feels could have come from him.
TW: In a related question, how much of the Hellboy library did you read before making the animated movies?
TS: As I said, I was a fan from the start but I reread everything before starting. I discovered the difference between reading the comics as they came out vs reading them in trades.Some of the short stories collected in the third TPB
actually were published between the first miniseries, Seed of Destruction , and Wake the Devil. They helped flesh out Hellboy’s character and supporting cast and made Wake the Devil much more powerful.
I’ve also read all the non-Mignola penned Hellboy material, novels and short stories. The fact that I can’t recite every detail and important date on his timeline says more about the condition of my brain than my obsession with
Hellboy. The danger of knowing Hellboy so well is that I can slip into assuming the audience knows the comics. The live action and animated movies have brought more people to discover the comics but we have to reach well
beyond that crowd to be a success.
TW: What did you look at in terms of style before you began making the two movies?
TS: Separately, Guillermo and I felt that the way to put Mike’s work on the screen was to pull the model sheets right from the comics. I had some experience with that on a cancelled spinoff series of Disney’s Atlantis . That’s when I first
started working with Mike. But it turned out that the contract prevented us from using that style! I assume it was for merchandising reasons; who gets money from toys changes depending on whether the comic, movie or animated Hellboy is portrayed. I
think Guillermo lost a lot of interest in the project right there. He really wanted to see Mike’s art on the screen. Curiously, Mike Mignola was not looking forward to that. In fact, it pains him to see people attempting to copy his style. Atlantis was a Disneyfication
of Mike’s look and Guillermo’s movie was live action, so he could deal with those but the only person who really knows what Mike is doing is Mike. So unless he’s the guy approving every drawing, you’ve going to get a weak
imitation at best. Now understand that Mike can’t stand to look at his own stuff half the time. He’s constantly redoing pages and covers, sometimes several times. So if he’s that hard on himself, imagine how he’s going to perceive the work of an underpaid
animator on the other side of the world.
We had several artists take a shot at designing Hellboy, Liz and a monster. Mike picked the work of Sean “Cheeks” Galloway because it was the most different from his work and because Sean shares his sense of the caricature
and contrasts of shapes. Skinny legs, wide shorts, barrel chest, huge honkin’ hand — Mike lives that stuff. If I had known how different he wanted to go, I would’ve assembled an entirely different line up of artists to submit designs. But
I think we ended up with a pretty nice blend.
TW: What is it about Hellboy that lends itself to the animated format?
TS: Well you want a great character in any kind of movie and Hellboy is certainly that. But Hellboy’s world is that of the strange and fantastic. All that equates to truckloads of money in live action. In animation, there’s not a lot of difference between animating a guy on the street and a twenty foot monster although tentacles cost extra.
TW: How has the response been? Are there any plans to make any more?
TS: Fan response has been fantastic. They can tell how much we loved Hellboy . We weren’t remaking it into something more mainstream. Unfortunately, sales haven’t been as strong as the studio would like. Our marketing budget doesn’t
allow for the kind of media blitz that the Marvel releases get so word of mouth is incredibly important. Luckily there should be great buzz for the second feature. Mike, Guillermo and I all agree that Blood and Iron is the stronger movie of the first two.
It’s darker, spookier and closer to the Central European feel of many Hellboy stories. The structure of the story is ambitious and we see a young Professor Broom out in the field for the first time. John Hurt came back to reprise his role
from Guillermo’s movie. Of course, Ron Perlman, Selma Blair and Doug Jones are back too. The subject matter is 100% Hellboy: vampires, witches, the Iron Maiden and the goddess Hecate.
What’s not to like? Plus we have new extras on the DVD including an unaired animated Hellboy short, The Iron Shoes . Of course there’s a commentary track by Mike Mignola, Vic Cook, the other director and me. As to the future, the script for Hellboy: The
Phantom Claw is complete and sitting on my desk. This time I got to write it. It’s the mad science side of Hellboy featuring Dr. Herman Von Klempt, robot apes, Frankenstein zombies, a new demon adversary and the animated debut
of Lobster Johnson! We’ll also see how Hellboy came to Earth back in World War 2. This script was a chance to finally apply the learning curve to a story. I have to say I really, really want to do this one. And if the sales of Blood and Iron are
strong enough, we’ll be in production by summer and I’ll be in the running for the happiest man in the world title.