The epic struggle between Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the Red Skull’s Cabal came to its conclusion this past Sunday in “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble,” as Iron Man and his team finally, fully trounced the band of baddies.
To celebrate the climactic final showdown, we spoke once again with series Supervising Producer Cort Lane, as well as Co-Executive Producer Eric Radomski, the man responsible for heading up the animation team that brings “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” to life every Sunday morning.
Covering everything from the Red Skull’s Tesseract-wielding shenanigans to M.O.D.O.K.’s very own character arc, take a look back at the first season of the Avengers’ animated adventures with two of the show’s creators!
Cort Lane: We didn’t play out in the summits how it would all roll out. We did discuss though, at the very beginning, if the Tesseract would become a big part of it since it was part of the theatrical lore. And we knew in the end that Red Skull would turn on his team. So the pieces of the puzzle were there but we didn’t put it together until a much later summit.
Marvel.com: As far as the design for the Cosmic Skull, Eric, could you talk a little bit about how you guys wanted to represent his power and how, when he becomes this huge, almost omnipotent being, you show that level of power in animation?
Eric Radomski: The practical side of it is to come up with something that, aesthetically, is pleasing to us design-wise. And then the second part of that is to be sure it can be executed for the animation with all considerations with budgets and schedules, something that is attainable and fits within the design of the animation itself. That’s sort of the process that we go through, and then we do a little bit of experimentation where we actually create the design, throw it against the background and consider the effects that we could add to it and see what seems to work best. So the practical approach is usually more just aesthetic, where we wanted to give Skull some sort of armor to make a little bit of practicality out of the fact that he was going to use the Tesseract as his source of energy, not unlike Tony’s [Iron Man armor]. Peeling the costume and the armor off of Tony was part of the storytelling and, almost as a slap in the face from Skull to Tony, he was not only going to dominate with his power, but was going to go so far as to steal the clothes off his back. And that’s kind of what birthed the idea.
Marvel.com: In these last two episodes, there were a lot of really, really big fights. In the last episode, there were literally armies that the Avengers were going against.From an animation standpoint, what are some of the challenges or joys in creating sequences like that, with such a large cast of characters?
It’s always daunting when you read [a new script]. It’s exciting at first, then it’s daunting to see if we can live up to it. And we have to be considerate of our overseas studios and some poor mid-level animator who gets the crowd scenes and they spend a week drawing three scenes of fifty characters [that] goes by in a flash on the finished films. So there are a lot of different components that go into it, but we try to maintain the original intention of the stories as they were written.
Marvel.com: Getting back to the story a little bit--Cort, in the last episode, we saw the Red Skull betray his teammates and at the opening of this one, Tony tries to get the Cabal to team-up with the Avengers to take him down. But they sort of just laugh him off. I was curious why they initially did that? Why, even after the Red Skull’s betrayal, they weren’t willing to join up with the Avengers to go after the Skull?
Cort Lane: Well, [they’re] sworn enemies, but if you watch very closely, Iron Man gets to M.O.D.O.K. He knows he just has to turn M.O.D.O.K., [who] has a really interesting arc in the season in and of himself. [He] ends up being a key part of Cosmic Skull’s defeat. And [Iron Man] does convince M.O.D.O.K., but M.O.D.O.K. has to pretend in front of his colleagues, “Yeah, I didn’t mean to teleport them and I just sort of came to their headquarters because I needed some stuff.” He kind of gets away with it and then he teams up with the Black Widow. It’s all very nice because as much as this episode finishes out Tony’s arc, maybe the C arc in the episode belongs to M.O.D.O.K., which I love because I’m a huge M.O.D.O.K. fan.
Marvel.com: I was actually curious about that because he does have that line, “Oh, whoops, I couldn’t adjust the parameters of the teleporter.”
Cort Lane: [laughs] And Black Widow knows that he’s full of crap. She calls him on it later.
Marvel.com: While we’re talking about those larger character arcs, for each of you, which was your personal favorite to follow and track over the course of the season?
Cort Lane: Oh boy, that’s tough because there are a lot of them that are very interesting. I think the one that was emotionally interesting to me was Hulk’s arc through the season. He really can’t stand these guys at the beginning of the season and over the course of the 26 episodes, he’s developed these relationships with them. Black Widow was somebody who was terrified of him and couldn’t trust him and they developed a really great rapport. He teases Hawkeye but they come to a sort of understanding in the Mojo episode. And he is really a different Avenger and willing to be a part of this family by the end of the season in a way that he wasn’t at the beginning. I think [Co-Executive Producers] Man of Action really worked with our writers to develop wonderful character moments for him along the way so that it felt really organic. It just has a lot of heart in it, so I liked that one.
Eric Radomski: I’m going to go to the opposite side of the spectrum in Red Skull. For me, [it] was enticing from the very beginning even though his emotional arc didn’t have as much of a bow, I liked the idea that you never knew what was coming next from him--you just knew that he was driven in some way, shape, or form, to achieve his goal. And obviously it’s a little darker in my own mind, but I loved the fact that he is so obsessed with his power that he is going to be his own undoing. I just like the crazier characters. I think, psychologically, he is not threatened by any of the Avengers or all of them at the same time. He stood his ground, he didn’t have any particular superpower to speak of, but he was just so absolutely obsessed that he was willing to stand up and take a beating and still come back and continue to try and challenge the Avengers. So my dark appetite has fun with his character.
Cort Lane: Eric’s right. I think the writers did a phenomenal job, and then animation really underscored it with his physical transformation over the course of the season. He is a really complex and interesting villain and, frankly, unpredictable at the same time. That’s really neat because Red Skull really can be a two dimensional villain if you just play him as the Hydra/Nazi guy.
Cort Lane: The subject of Thanos came up through all the summits. We wanted to save Thanos for bigger things in later years, but we did want to tease him, so it was always in the back of our heads. We have these little cards that we put up on the wall of all the villains, story ideas, and the places we’d like to go, and we use them to sort of spark ideas and thoughts and to arrange them visually to see how things could structurally work out. Thanos was always there but we knew that we had a bigger story to tell with him later. It wasn’t really until this summit for this final episode, and we really broke these last two episodes at the same time, that we knew Thanos was at the very end. We have a plan for Thanos in Marvel animation which I can not talk about at all.
Marvel.com: That’s good. You were talking about breaking these last couple of episodes, and when you were breaking these episodes and animating them and looking back at the entire season, was there anything you felt you learned through the process of making these first 26 episodes about these characters or the stories that work for them that you might not have fully realized before you started?
Cort Lane: Eric can speak to the animation side but there was something that actually complemented the animation needs, and that was that the better stories were the stories that focused on the relationship between two characters. Those were the most fun to watch and had the most interesting character progression in them. Those are also, frankly, easier to animate. It doesn’t mean that the other characters aren’t there, but our story hones in on a relationship. This episode was quite big, being a season ender, but we kept it very focused on Tony so that there was something there. And frankly, in a way, it’s a relationship story between Tony and the Red Skull. But that’s when our stories work best and, frankly, they look the best as well because you can really get great interaction with these two characters, instead of, as Eric mentioned, trying to animated 50 people running around in an environment and there’s not a lot of focus.
Eric Radomski: From a visual storytelling point of view, I think it does take at least the first third to a half of a season to really get comfortable with the characters not only from the way we play with them, but definitely the vocal performances made a big difference, I think. Of all of the characters, the least likely, at least on first blush, was Hawkeye, and he rose to [be] the true comedian of the group. I think that character works in any situation, even just reacting in the middle of a fight, not necessarily with a witty line, but literally being the guy that just lightens the load in the midst. That really helped a lot with making otherwise mundane and routine sorts of battles, and allowed us to have some fun, let their personalities rise to the top. [For example, there’s] the dynamic with Hawkeye and Hulk, and Hawkeye and Thor. He’s always jabbing at essentially the two bigger, tougher brothers, but together it just gave us a little bit more richness to the action adventure shows that weren’t so straightlaced action comic book type episodes. It allowed real personalities to come out of it so it also inspired the artists to be able to work with the characters and expressions and the attitudes and the way that we handle them when we storyboard. I think as the series evolved, each of the characters became very defined.
Marvel.com: Looking back now at this first season, what would each of you say you’re proudest of from these first 26 episodes?
Eric Radomski: From a challenge point of view, it was trying to hold this incredible standard set by the movie [Marvel’s The Avengers]. [Director Joss Whedon’s] version just blew the doors off of action films, and our main mission was not to mess it up. That’s really the goal that I think I set for myself, was to respect it but know that we have 26 stories to tell. We don’t have the resources to do the big bang that they had in the movies, so to be able to come out on the other end of it still intact with the creative output and then to be able to know in the grand sense that we didn’t embarrass the franchise, that’s a huge goal especially with something that was so profound when it was out in the public eye. We wanted to be sure we could at least do it justice. I’m confident that we did everything that we set out to do and I’m proud of everything we’ve got on screen so those were some of the main goals, and it’s nice to be on this end of it and take a breath.
Marvel.com: Closing out, as always--what was your favorite line from this episode?
Cort Lane: When Iron Man has no armor and they’re facing the end of the universe, and he doesn’t even have Iron Man’s armor to fight in and Cap says, “You’re still the man!” And he says, “Yeah, I’ll go all billionaire philanthropist on their butts!” I don’t know, it’s nice when Iron Man has those snarky lines and that was my favorite, that in the face of all of this he keeps his humor. But as he realizes he doesn’t need the armor, he turns the tower into his armor.
Marvel.com: Which I thought was a really cool touch.
Cort Lane: Yeah, a nice twist.
Marvel.com: Where it sort of becomes the Iron Building, I guess?
Cort Lane: Yes. The Iron Tower.
Marvel.com: What about you, Eric, did you have a particular favorite moment from this episode?
Eric Radomski: The moment I absolutely will play by is when Red Skull’s power becomes all consuming towards the end of the episode and you saw his head sort of grow, and he looked like the Wizard of Oz in the crater and everything was exploding. That turned out pretty close to what I was hoping for, so that moment was what pushed it over the edge from being just a villain to being this super hellacious monster. I thought the dialogue treatment, the audio mix and the music all crescendoed in a really nice way to really make Skull into the monster that he wanted to be. That stuck out for me as a nice piece that came together pretty close to the way we intended.