We were thrilled when, this week, we happened upon a gorgeous little collection of Batman original production backgrounds. These are from The New Adventures of Batman and Batman Beyond, and they are exquisite. One of them is over 28 inches long…
Holy Priceless Collection of Etruscan Snoods!
We’ve been working to find key set-ups and original backgrounds from the Batman tv series since starting our gallery nearly 30 years ago. We found very few from the first season of Batman: The Animated Series, which is what started it all, but we have had some from the second season, and been on the lookout for backgrounds from The New Batman Adventures and Batman Beyond. While the look of the characters changes, the style and design of the backgrounds remained much the same, and is one of the ways the various shows have some continuity.
Before Batman: The Animated Series was suggested, created, and introduced, there weren’t cartoon series that looked like them. You’d have to go back to one of the inspirations for Warner Brothers cartoon, the 40s Superman cartoons from Fleischer Studio to find animation that looked remotely like the new show.
The critically acclaimed 85 episodes of Batman: The Animated Series (or BTAS as the cool kids call it) prepared the way for The New Batman Adventures (often shortened as TNBA), which allowed the existence of Batman Beyond, and then Justice League and a host of direct to video releases. Each series has its diehard fans and its great qualities, but it is BTAS that created the hardcore following that continued to watch continuations and other incarnations of the caped crusader’s story. It also created Harley Quinn, which has launched a thousand comic books and even her own feature film.
Thought this collection of backgrounds is from TNBA and Batman Beyond, their aesthetic is anchored in the original 1992-1995 series. Batman: The Animated Series was created by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, and won several daytime Emmys and one Nighttime Emmy (for Robin’s Reckoning, Part 1). Timm and Radomski did an early, minute and a half animation test to show what they had in mind for a Batman show, and the producers loved it.
Here is a great primer about BTAS, TNBA and Batman Beyond, from Comics Explained:
You can also find out a lot more, if you haven’t already seen it, from the video released with the BTAS home edition, which has all the major creative players interviewed.
Interview with Background Designer Don Cameron:
I spoke to background designer and layout artist Don Cameron, who worked on the first season of Batman: The Animated Series, and asked a few questions about his experience and the aesthetic of the show.
Working for WB and especially on Batman is a really big deal. How did you wind up there?
“I was aware of it because I knew someone at Warner Brothers who had gotten a tape of the test that Bruce Timm did. I saw that tape and was just blown away by it. I thought it looked amazing, and I immediately thought of the Fleischer Superman cartoons. The guy mentioned to me that they were looking for background people and he could get me a test. I took the test and got a call from Bruce Timm later that day asking if I was available for work. I got hired, and I was one of the first people, but there were a bunch of us hired on the same day.”
Other than the Fleischer Superman and the pulp magazines and book covers of the 30s and 40s that Bruce Timm had pasted up all over, what additional inspiration do you remember was part of building the look of the show, and since you worked on the backgrounds, that specifically?
“As to the backgrounds mostly we were told to look at the work of architect Hugh Ferris. There was also a comic book out at the time called Mr. X. Those were the two main sources to look at, as well as the Superman cartoons, obviously. Ferris was huge, especially with the early versions of Gotham, they were taken straight from his work.”
Hugh Ferriss was an architect from the early part of the 20th century who considered the psychological conditions of urban life and was a huge influence on other architects of his generation. He architectural drawings are famously dark and moody, often presented at night, light by spotlights, or surrounded by a mysterious fog. He is so famous as his craft, that every year the American Society of American Illustrators gives out an award in his name for architectural rendering excellence.
Mr X was created by Dean Motter. Mr X is an architect of a dystopian place called Radiant City. He believes he must fix errors in its construction, so he rarely sleeps and stays awake thanks to a drug he engineered. His design theory is called “psychetecture”, which leads its citizenry to go mad. It is influenced by Bauhaus and Friz Lang’s Metropolis.
Mr. X, in turn, influenced Tim Burton’s Batman, which was also an inspiration to Bruce Timm in creating the look and feel of Batman: The Animated Series.
How many designers were there? How many folks working on your part of the project?
“I think as far as background designers, there were 5 or 6, and then background layout was probably another 4 people, then maybe 4 more people working to turn them into production backgrounds. It’s so different now, but we were drawing on the old animation wheels and we would draw on animation paper, and then they would take those drawings and transfer them onto black board, and then they would airbrush the final image onto the black board. To have 4 people making all those backgrounds, that impressive. Batman backgrounds, when you see them in person, are pretty spectacular.”
how you were directed in terms of creating? What kinds of guidelines were you required to stick to?
“One time in particular I did was a warehouse, and Bruce really liked the design that I did. Basically, we were told to look at the inspiration, and then you had a lot of freedom. ’We need a warehouse, it’s gotta have a skylight and a door right here.’ That was about it. You were left to just take off and do whatever you wanted, as long as it fit within the style. I never remember feeling really confined with anything.”
How did you learn what you wanted to do, since architecture requires a very specific type of drawing?
“I actually wanted to be an architect when I was younger. I tried it, and then soon discovered the artistic aspect was sometimes secondary to regulations and rules that you’re required to follow when you’re designing. I had done some study of it, though. I also worked as a machinist for 8 years so I was very 3D oriented, having worked on blueprints and that sort of thing. The Batman stuff came very naturally to me, because it was very geometric.”
“I did a pan on the very first episode, that was the “On Leather Wings”, the scene with a couple of policeman in a blimp, and they’re drifting over the city, and you cut to a shot from their POV of the buildings passing by as they drift over. I actually did the layout for that scene, and it was 3 fields wide. The field would basically be the image that’s on your tv when you look at it, so 3 fields is 3 tv widths across. I drew the city from the angle that they would see it, which was a 45% angle. I remember it took me a week to do that one shot.”
“We had a lot of freedom as long as it looked like it belonged in the city. I was taking components and maybe flipping them around or turning them on the side. You do whatever tricks you can to create entirely different buildings. You’re basically working with shapes and how you arrange them, and the rest is up to you, and your ideas.”
You just worked on a feature film for Bob’s Burgers. How was that different than your experience on Batman?
“I was a background designer on that, too. It was far more difficult. I thought it would be easier. The thing with Bob’s Burgers, you have to draw everything from real world and you have to draw it to scale. Since they’ve had a show that’s lasted 10 seasons, it’s important when you design a room, that it’s perfectly to scale, so that it can be used somewhere down the line. You can’t change the scale of doorways from one scene to the next, because over time that problem will compound and become more obvious. There has to be cohesiveness to everything. These are very very detailed backgrounds. It was difficult but it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it.”
At least it’s digital, though, so if you make a mistake, it’s a lot easier.
“Yes, it’s all digital. I got into 3D as well about 10 years ago, and I did a little clip on YouTube. It’s just a few seconds. I actually built a 3D version of Gotham and I did a little scene and I was able to draw it, animate it, and color it all within a few days. That was just my little test to compare the old ways with the new ways. It’s pretty amazing what can be done with the technology.”
You said you have a cool and special story for my readers, that few know about on Batman. Do tell!
“On one of the episodes, a character layout artist on the crew, his name was Charlie Bean and he came to me and said he was leaving the show. I thought he was crazy, because he was on one of the biggest shows around. He said he was leaving to do a show about a cat and a chihuahua. I thought, ‘You’re leaving Batman to do a show about a cat and a chihuahua?” He thought it looked cool and he wanted to try it, and of course it was Ren and Stimpy. His final episode is one with the Scarecrow called Nothing to Fear. There’s a scene in which Batman gets one of Scarecrow’s grenades thrown at him, and Batman starts to hallucinate, and he sees a bat appear in front of him. That was the final scene that Charlie worked on before he left for Ren and Stimpy. If you look at it very carefully, for a few seconds the bat looks like Ren from Ren and Stimpy!”
What are you left with in terms of your memories of the show in retrospect?
“The thing that was cool about Warner Brothers is you’d get off the elevator every morning and there was the shield. I got to meet Stephen Spielberg because he was around the studio a lot, working with Tiny Toons. That was so great. I was really young when I worked on BTAS, and I got to be really free in creating and I loved that, but I think it was only later that I realized just how lucky I was to have been on the show. It’s got a huge following, and people just continue to love it. I am so glad to have been able to be part of that, and even now I’m really glad I get to do this, do art, for a living. There are thousands of people lined up who would love to do this job, and I still get to do it every day. I know I am very lucky.”
In terms of Batman original production backgrounds, we have one key-set up with Joker and Harley from Joker’s Millions (which, by the way, Don Cameron actually worked on) which is gorgeous:
“The Joker’s Millions” is both a comic book story and an animated TV series episode where the Joker suddenly inherits a massive fortune, only to find out too late that he has fallen victim to an elaborate scheme to humiliate him.
We also have several hand-painted production backgrounds from Batman Beyond.
The first is from Rebirth, which is episode 2 of Batman Beyond.
“Rebirth” is the two-part premiere of the show. It depicts Batman‘s retirement when Bruce Wayne steps down, and later rebirth as Terry McGinnis years afterward. After Bruce becomes aware of his declining health and lays down his mantle, Gotham City is without its protector for twenty years until Terry discovers the secret then takes the batsuit to avenge his father’s murder, which revives Batman in Gotham City.
From episode 6 Heroes, This background is around 20 x 10 inches. Doesn’t this remind you of Blade Runner? That film was also inspired in part by the designs of Hugh Ferriss.
“Heroes” is about The Terrific Trio, a group of scientists who became superheroes after gaining powers in an experiment gone awry, who make their way into Gotham and become media sensations. But Magma, Freon, and the 2-D Man soon learn that the accident that gave them their powers was not really an accident. The Terrific Trio were based upon the Fantastic Four, a superhero group created by Marvel.
“Dead Man’s Hand” is the eighth episode of Batman Beyond. It depicts the first time that the Royal Flush Gang fights the new Batman. After learning that Batman is back in Gotham, the Royal Flush Gang returns to take revenge. Meanwhile, Dana breaks up with Terry but he finds a new girlfriend: Melanie Walker. Unbeknownst to Terry, Melanie is actually the Gang’s “Ten”. Now, both of them must deal with their dual lives while trying to be with each other.
“A Touch of Curaré” is the twelfth episode of the show. It depicts the first appearance of the assassin Curaré. Gotham City District Attorney Sam Young has been marked for death by the Society of Assassins, who have sent their best member: Curaré. Now Batman must face off against one of the world’s deadliest fighters. Making things worse, is the fact that Commissioner Barbara Gordon, Young’s wife, isn’t as liberal as her father was when it comes to costumed vigilantes, despite having been one herself.
“Mind Games” is the tenth episode of the second season of Batman Beyond. It depicts Terry‘s first encounter with people wielding psychic capabilities. After saving a supposed family from a car accident, Terry starts receiving strange messages from the family’s daughter. He soon learns that she’s contacting him telepathically and that she’s been kidnapped by a group called “The Brain Trust”. Now Terry must fight to save the child from super-powered individuals.
I love getting pieces I wasn’t expecting. This is the most fun part of owning an art gallery that specializes in film and animation art. I can’t wait to see who winds up with these beauties!
I’ll leave you with the opening sequence from Batman Beyond, which I love: