Creative content company Alkemy X recently contributed a suite of visual storytelling and post services to “Batman & Bill” — a Hulu original documentary — from acclaimed film documentarians Don Argott and Sheena Joyce (“The Art of the Steal,” “Rock School”). Premiering on May 6th, “Batman & Bill” focuses on the fight to win credit for the late Bill Finger, a comic-book writer who’s now acknowledged to have co-created the “Batman” franchise with Bob Kane.
“Batman & Bill” marks Alkemy X’s fifth feature film collaboration with Argott and Joyce, who commissioned the company to produce animated reenactments of the events and stories conveyed in the film’s interviews, with very little archival footage and only 14 photos of Finger available. Aesthetically, the animations resemble the dithered look and texture of old comic books. Alkemy X also incorporated a contemporary, graphic-novel-style of illustration — more colors and color gradients — to portray the scenes after Finger’s death, including author Marc Tyler Nobleman’s efforts to try and uncover the truth to his past.
“The drawing style and colors of the ‘30s and ‘40s were simpler than modern-day comic books, so we tried to reflect that in the animations,” says Mike Mullen, Senior Art Director at Alkemy X. “I took cues from common printing mistakes of the era, such as color misalignment, overprinting, and tell-tale dot patterns. The style slightly changes to reflect the evolution to modern printing methods, where the pattern and texture weren’t as apparent and the colors were more saturated. More importantly, we ensured that the animations featured subtle movements, as we didn’t want to distract from the story being told.”
Mullen says dialing in the visual style and cohesively applying it throughout the animated sequences proved challenging. Because the narrative was propelled by motion rather than static comic book stills, the patterns and textures had to move along with the animated scenes and characters. Albeit an arduous process, the resulting effect was extremely effective.
Alkemy X has provided post-production services on several other Argott and Joyce documentaries, including “The Art of the Steal,” “The Atomic States of America,” “As the Palaces Burn,” and “Last Days Here. For “Batman & Bill,” the job kicked off with an intensive proof-of-concept, which ended up being the poignant beach scene in the finale of film.
“Some of the most emotional moments in the film were animated, especially the scene with Bill Finger’s son, Fred, on the beach,” says Kevin Fanning, VFX Supervisor/3D Animator at Alkemy X. “It just shows how this technique, if done in the right way, can create such a powerful emotional connection — and this film sheds an important light on a major creative and unsung force behind a seminal superhero. It’s time that he got his due, and we were thrilled to be a part of that effort.”
Alkemy X produced the animations over a six-month period — from storyboarding to animatics to the delivery. To streamline the process, they separated the illustrated drawings into multiple layers with some shots taking longer to draw and color due to varying complexity. Alkemy X then animated and textured them in Adobe Photoshop and After Effects. The team used Lightwave 3D for rendering scenes with water and bats.
“I’m a huge fan of Batman, comics and animation, so it was super exciting to work on this project,” concludes Mullen. “Don and Sheena were awesome collaborators, who brought great direction and communication to each scene.”
About Alkemy X:
Alkemy X is a creative content company offering live-action production, design, high-end VFX, and post-production services. We produce commercials, branded content, network creative, integrated marketing, social/digital initiatives, long-form unscripted television and visual effects for feature films, episodic TV, and commercials. www.alkemy-x.com
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