Nerdlocker Artist Interview – Mitchell Hammond


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Find tickets and showtimes on Fandango.

Mitchell Hammond’s animated short on YouTube has been making the rounds on social media lately. If you’re a Batman and/or Terminator fan, you can see his adoration for both of these franchises. Nerdlocker had the privilege to interview the New Zealand artist and creator of this fun-filled amalgamation!

POSTERNerdlocker (NL): Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of your background as an artist and animator? What got you into animation? Besides making cool animated mash-up films, what do you with your time? What are your interests besides Batman and Terminator?

Mitchell Hammond (MH): I’ve sort of drawn a lot throughout my life. I was one of those kids in school where in art class my drawing would get the attention of the teacher, then she’d hold it up to the whole class, and me being a very introverted guy would just freeze up and want it to end. I enrolled in a Fine Arts program and a three year course in Graphic Design.

But really, I spend my time just watching movies, playing video games, or for the past several years working on this animation. I’m a pretty no thrills guy, to be honest.

NL: How did you get the idea for Batman vs. The Terminator?

MH: Well actually that was my buddy Tony’s idea. Tony Guerrero played the part of the Co-Host 3000 for a website called Spill.com that had 4-5 critics from Austin, TX who’d go to a press screening then come back and record what was essentially a podcast review. Then they’d animate themselves as characters to the audio. I’m sure you can still find this stuff on YouTube. Around the time that rumors started about Christian Bale starring as John Conner, Tony wrote up an article (which you can find on my blog under the entry ‘Origins‘) where he went into what he’d actually like to see: Bruce Wayne vs The Terminator. I thought the concept he wrote in that blog was so ingenious that I wondered why it had never been made into a comic. It just kinda made perfect sense. Tony and I had struck up a friendship from across the globe, and upon receiving a generous gift of comics and a George A. Romero autograph sent all the way from Austin to New Zealand, my broke-ass attempt at repaying him was with a webcomic titled Batman versus The Terminator.

NL: What made you change medium?

MH: Around mid 2008, I took an animation class without any real ambitions, to me it was just another class that I felt I wouldn’t fit in with or understand. Turns out the learning curve for myself was surprisingly quick. This is when I realised that this had to be an animation instead. Originally it was to be my thesis project for the third and final year, but I just didn’t have enough time to work on it. I signed up for a post-graduate degree, hoping that I’d get to work on the thing the whole year and maybe carry it on into further degrees, but about 6 months into 2010 it wasn’t happening.  Now, I don’t begrudge anyone or anything. It just wasn’t the right environment for what I was doing. I wasn’t making a web layout, or a business report design… I was trying to make a movie. About a week later, after ditching a 2 day job in a factory, I started on what is now the final animation.

NL: It seems as though your depiction of Batman is derived from Frank Miller’s in The Dark Knight Returns. He’s older, of course, and has a stockier build than traditional depictions. The Stinger also reminded me of the Bat-tank in TDKR. If at all, in what way was Miller’s graphic novel an inspiration for your incarnation of Batman?

MH: The Miller influence, that I consciously chose anyway, was mainly that of his age. To me, the older you are the more of a badass you are in that you haven’t anything to lose and you have the experience to back yourself up. Total confidence. Not to mention that Batman is insane, and I like the idea of him being this old geezer who is insane. The Stinger is actually inspired by the APC from James Cameron’s Aliens and Bruce Timm’s Batmobile from Batman the Animated Series, with the center being pushed in and the sides being lifted up. Also, it’s named The Stinger because of the way a bee kills itself when it uses its stinger, the tank destroys itself.

 NL: I liked that you gave Batman a beard. What is the reasoning behind that besides just making him look older? What about the rest of the costume? What was the reasoning behind the design (both stylistic and plot based)?

MH: I just figured, why would Batman bother shaving. Sure, when he decided to wear the cape and cowl once again in The Dark Knight Returns he shaved, but it’s a new world in my animation. Bruce isn’t sure what he can make of himself in this new world. As for the suit, he’s wearing military fatigues underneath what was once a bomb blast vest and helmet that were built before the apocalypse but never used until now. Before the events in the animation it had a torn cape to go along with it, but I won’t go into what happened to it. There’s also a Mad Max reference with the outfit with the shoulder pad. In The Road Warrior, Max’s outfit is a cannibalisation of his police uniform, but he’s added a few things. The shoulder pad is one of those things.

NL: When Batman leaps from the Stinger, he falls to all fours when landing. Are you implying that he’s in a weakened state? 

MH: Yeah I’d say that’s probably the only real instance of his age, at the same time he’s leaping pretty far from a high surface with a lot of gear on. I animated him getting up a little too quickly. I should’ve added some grunts and maybe bone clicks.

NL: On your blog you mention that Bruce survives Skynet’s nuclear blast because of the Batcave and that he’s joined forces with John Conner. In the film he says to John, “You picking this up, John? My method worked.” What method is he referring to exactly? Is this implying that Conner didn’t think Batman’s method would work? Is Batman working with Conner or under him?

MH: Pretty much. John Conner thinks that Batman is a geriatric maniac with delusional ideas. Conner is too pragmatic whereas Batman is a risk taker. To John they are at a point in human history where they can’t chance on risks, especially to end a war they’re losing. For Batman, he’s somebody who never knew the apocalypse would happen, and as such has had to relearn and rebuild himself into the strongest he can be. As well as being an older person, he has his own regrets. Wayne Enterprises should have been able to intercept Skynet’s origin and stop it, but it was too late. So for him he feels like he has a duty to at least try to end this. As for Conner, he’s somebody who has had the end of the world and the position of being a leader prophesized to him since he was a child. Now it’s the year 2029, and John has lost hope in himself, and even meeting Batman he feels that even if Skynet was destroyed it’d take thousands of years for the planet to heal. Mankind will die out before then. But he has to send Kyle Reese back to 1984, so he’s willing to go with Batman’s idea.

NL: Besides the awesome concept of Batman taking on Skynet, there were a lot of little details that I loved about the film. My first is the one armed soldier. What made you create this character? She’s the only one of the three who survives, does she have a backstory?

MH: I made her survive because the female soldier in the original Terminator film that is featured in Kyle’s flashback gets blown away by an HK Tank, so I thought I’d be fair and let a woman live this once. I gave her one arm simply so that I could animate her doing movements that’d look more interesting with just one arm (rolling over the wall and popping open the rocket launcher with her feet, for example). None of the soldiers have backstories. I made the entire thing in chronological order so the first time you see them is the first time I drew them. I had no idea what they’d look like. I tried to make them look as simple as I could because I had never animated people before.

NL: I also love when you transmute an airborn Stinger into a Bat flapping it’s wings. You also draw a parallel between the well Bruce fell into and the entrance into Skynet. What inspired these choices?

MH: There’s also one of a bat’s face emerging from the darkness that flashes for one frame when the Stinger fires out of the HK Tank. That in particular was inspired by Captain Howdy from The Exorcist. As for the Tank transforming into a giant bat, I wanted to get across that while this is an armored vehicle it is figuratively a monster blistering through the landscape. As a child Wayne fell into a well that introduced him to something that scared him… but ultimately defined him. It’s about to happen again, but this time it is down the esophagus of Skynet where you can hear the belly of the beast howling.

NL: Besides the one armed soldier, you have arms being crushed in the film twice. I particularly like when the hand flinches after the two surviving soldiers run past the first casualty. Do you have a particular anxiety about arm injuries or did it just seem cool?

MH: The crushed arms represent mankind’s grip on dominance being lost, its own ingenuity has taken its place.

NL: There is something inherently frightening about the cyborg skeletons in all the Terminator movies, what aspect of the terminators do you feel is most important to their depiction? How difficult was it to replicate the design of the terminators in your film?

MH: I always just thought they were awesome looking when I was a kid. I suppose when you think of a Terminator you think of a metallic skull, but whereas a human skull represents death, the Terminator, a being that hides itself among us, exemplifies a being beyond death and therefore unstoppable. The red eyes don’t help, either. Hell, the original film is almost a slasher film more than anything. But it’s mainly those original designs. Big, cumbersome and powerful. The terminators were absolute agony to animate. Absolutely terrifying to animate. All the pistons, wires, the chassis, all of it. Could possibly be the hardest part to animate, believe it or not.

NL: While not an expert, your music seemed more derivative of The Terminator movies than the Batman ones. How did you go about composing the music? What inspired you? 

MH: Actually, the music was scored by Noir Deco. I was a fan of his music on YouTube for years and I never thought I’d ever get to work with the guy on something. I didn’t do all that much directing to be honest, although I did write an enormous email that nearly explained most of the plot and world building. I also wrote time stamps for how the music should rise and fall at certain places within the video, but for the most part it’s all him. I’m proud of him and grateful that we got to work together.

NL: Are there any references to Batman or the Terminator that a casual fan might have missed that you’d like to highlight for us?

MH: There’s the cyberdyne logo from a bird’s eye view of the fortress, if that counts. Now, there are references to other apocalyptic films. For one, the entire animation is derivative of Escape from New York. Batman is Snake Plissken, the Stinger is the Gullfire (as hinted at by the grid displays which is a reference to the wireframe display of New York in the cockpit, for which James Cameron did the visual effects) and the tower Batman lands in is in a similar vein to how the Gullfire lands on top of one the Twin towers. The Stinger shooting out of the HK Tank was taken from Mad Max’s opening chase where one of the cars goes firing out of a trailer home, and the terminator climbing onto the Stinger was inspired by the climbing of vehicles in the Mad Max films.

NL: The film finishes with Batman falling into a cavern and grappling just before a white-out. We nerds are curious (and hopeful). Is there more of this animation to come or are you moving on to another project?

MH: Sadly I’m moving on. It sucks that it took me so long to make five minutes of footage, but man it really did kill me. It’s not as much a matter of money as it is time. You never know, though. Things change. If I decide to move on as either an animator or anything else I’d like to make Batman versus The Terminator a legitimate animated feature backed by both DC and whoever will end up with the Terminator rights. But right now I’m so burnt out, and even becoming anxious about all the attention I’m receiving that it might all scare me away (laughs). Again, time will only tell. I need way more experience though if I’m going to make something that’d please everyone. I’m still young. At the same time, my animation isn’t the end all be all of Batman versus The Terminator. I don’t own either characters or franchises. I think I’d like to see other people get inspired to make their own stuff. That’s what makes these characters special and why they live on.

NL: Final question. If there was a robot apocalypse, what would be the first thing you would grab as you took refuge among the survivors?

MH: Shit, dude; I’d be dead.

Well thanks for sitting down with us at Nerdlocker. We nerds have really enjoyed your creative crossover of Batman vs. The Terminator.

Here is a link to Mitchell’s blog – If It Blogs, We Can Kill It

Here’s the Batman vs. The Terminator animated film itself.

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Jason

I've been a comic nerd since Spider-man and his Amazing Friends and the Super Friends. So someone please explain to me, when did Aquaman become so cool? Also, why isn't She-Hulk in more media?