» Blog Archive Co-Dir. Lauren Montgomery & Sam Liu:Crisis on Two Earths -
The Big Kahuna Comic Book News, Movies

When you’re dealing with a story so huge that it spans multiple
Earths, it’s sometimes a good idea to arm yourself with multiple
directors – as did the production team behind Justice League: Crisis
on Two Earths, an all-new DC Universe Animated Original PG-13 Movie
from Warner Premiere, DC Comics and Warner Bros. Animation.

Lauren Montgomery and Sam Liu, the animation directors of the past
three DC Universe films, have combined their talents to bring Justice
League: Crisis on Two Earths to the screen as a blockbuster tale of
super heroes and super villains engaged in the ultimate battle of
parallel worlds and, through a diabolical plan launched by Owlman,
puts the balance of all existence in peril.

Montgomery has been an active member of the directing team behind
several of the DCU films, initially guiding the middle section of
Superman Doomsday before accepting the sole directorial role for both
Wonder Woman and Green Lantern: First Flight. After directing several
Hulk and Thor ventures for rival Marvel, Liu made his long-form
directorial debut for the DCU series on Superman/Batman: Public
Enemies.

As the film’s lead characters are armed with similar talents while
coming from distinctly different perspectives, the same can be said of
the two directors of Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. Both
Montgomery and Liu are relatively soft-spoken individuals, yet both
are opinionated in their approach to animation, diligent in their work
ethic, and dedicated to achieving the best possible outcome. Over the
course of making the film, they came to learn a great deal about the
other’s vision, and the result is even greater than the sum of their
talents.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is an original story from
award-winning animation/comics writer Dwayne McDuffie (Justice
League). Bruce Timm (Superman Doomsday) is executive producer. The
full-length animated film will be distributed by Warner Home Video on
February 23, 2010 as a Special Edition 2-disc version on DVD and
Blu-Ray™ Hi-Def, as well as single disc DVD, and On Demand and
Download.

Montgomery and Liu paused from their current DCU projects (shhh … it’s
a secret) to discuss their thoughts on the creation of Justice League:
Crisis on Two Earths. FYI: The interviews were conducted separately.
Montgomery’s answers are listed first because, well, decorum dictates
that ladies go first …

QUESTION:
How did you two go about co-directing Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths?

LAUREN MONTGOMERY:
We kind of just went over the whole film together and it was really
good to get two different points of view as a check and balance for
each other. If we disagreed, we found compromises that would work. If
one of us felt strongly about something, we just traded off – Sam
would take a sequence he felt strongly about, then I’d take one I
wanted. But for the most part, we agreed. We both work in such
different ways, it was interesting to see how someone else works and
learn from it.

SAM LIU:
We went through the film front to back, and if we ran into a problem
or an area where either of us had an issue, usually where we thought
it could be stronger or could be playing better, we usually solved it
right on the spot. If we got to a section that was requiring a lot
more revisions, one of us would jump on it and the other would move
the rest of the film forward until we hit another rough spot. So that
was our process.

QUESTION:
What have you learned from each other?

LAUREN MONTGOMERY:
Sam breaks things down a lot, he’s very analytical. I tend not to. He
spends a lot of time thinking about the story and getting into all the
nooks and crannies of it, and I like to work with the general story.
He’ll read the whole book, I’ll read the back of the book. I try to
get the emotional points down so people can understand them, but Sam
will go even deeper to use shots and set-ups to drive the point home,
sometimes metaphorically. He thinks harder than I do.

SAM LIU:
Our processes are very different. I like getting into a script and
breaking things down. Maybe I don’t have the best ideas, but I’m
pretty good at recognizing where things are needed. I really liked the
back and forth process (with Lauren), talking about ideas and batting
it back and forth to find a good solution. Lauren is more instinctual,
she works more from the gut. And I think she works off reaction rather
than an intellectual breakdown. I’m the other way by process. But I do
feel like sometimes I over-analyze things, when sometimes it’s almost
like the emotional flow of the movie is good enough. Lauren gets that.
Sometimes logic can be bypassed if the scene is engaging enough, or
interesting enough. It’ll bridge gaps and you don’t need to
analytically fix all those gaps.

QUESTION:
What do you think you might have taught each other?

LAUREN MONTGOMERY:
I think Sam stresses out slightly less when I’m around. He stresses
and I don’t. I think I calm him down a little bit. But when he’s
alone, he stresses out just as much. Hopefully I helped with that.

SAM LIU:
I don’t think I taught her anything (he laughs). She’s a free-flowing,
shoot-from-the-hip kind of person, and I’m kind of an angster – I
nitpick things. I like getting into the story, and from there some
things do need working out – things related to the emotional journey
of a character that need to be highlighted or punctuated to set
something up for later. I’m a stickler for things like that. And I
think she saw those things.

I do stress, though – and there are times when I’m freaking out about
something and she puts me at total ease. And then there’s times when
I’m freaking out and she’s fighting me on it, and it makes it worse. I
think we’re both control freaks in our own way, it’s just a difference
in approach. I fixate on a lot of things, and she thinks things are
just good enough, so let’s move on. We have an innate concept about
the overall picture, but she focuses more on the acting and poses and
timing and movement, and I think more on structure. I guess there’s a
good balance.

QUESTION:
Do you have a favorite scene in Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths?

LAUREN MONTGOMERY:
There’s a fight between Wonder Woman and Olympia that I thought was
really beautifully animated. That’s always fun to watch. It was
boarded well, but the overseas animators took the drawings from the
boards and really plussed it out. I think they just enjoy animating
girl fights overseas because those scenes always come back looking
good.

SAM LIU:
More than one scene, I like the overall relatability of the Justice
League characters. There was great character interaction. When I watch
movies, I like something that has an emotional connection, and this
film definitely does.

Specifically, I think the spectacle of these evenly matched supers
fighting was really cool. Superman versus Ultraman. Flash fighting
someone equally as fast. Strengths against strengths. Jay Oliva
boarded the last fight sequence and the Superwoman-Wonder Woman fight
is great. They’re both strong, super powerful women and I think it was
brutal enough as is, but the way Jay made Wonder Woman use the lasso
to slam Superwoman to the ground is pretty amazing.

The battle between Owlman and Batman is awesome, too, because it’s
sort of this weird intellectual standoff. Owlman is so far into his
psychosis as to how the universe operates, it’s very existential. His
concept is crazy, but the way he reasons out the technology of how
things work and the way he thinks, it gave us great room to improvise
Batman’s reaction. And then when they actually fight, it’s brutal.
They do these gadget fights, sort of a modern ninja battle. The sound
effects on the planet, the colors, the way it’s animated, it all works
really well. And James Woods’ voice is perfect – most of the Crime
Syndicate is very thuggish, they’re all about stealing money. But
Owlman has created the ultimate plan to annihilate everybody, and
James Woods does this great build-up. It’s great acting. He plays
Owlman as a little bit off and kind of creepy, but not sinister
creepy. His cadence is great, and his voice is almost charming in a
way. It was a good mix of all the things I thought we’d have a problem
with if we went too far one way or the other. It’s a great, tight
sequence and I’m very happy the way it all came together.

QUESTION:
What were the challenges of directing this film?

LAUREN MONTGOMERY:
It was a challenge because we had a really large cast of characters –
lots of main characters – and they all needed a decent amount of
screen time. Both the good guys and the bad. We had to make sure the
audience got to know each of those characters and make sure they had a
presence in the film that was important, and that was a challenge.

SAM LIU:
Definitely the size of the cast and how to give enough screen time to
everyone. At one point, Green Lantern was a little light on having
enough important things to do. We needed to add a bit for Lex Luthor,
too, and I still don’t think we did enough. We added a fight to show
that Lex can fight, too, and tried to beef him up a bit. But there
just wasn’t enough screen time to accommodate everyone.

QUESTION:
Do you have a favorite character?

LAUREN MONTGOMERY:
Superwoman … just because she’s so wrong. She’s a bully, but she’s got
the muscle to back it up. She’s everything you shouldn’t be, but is
fun to work with.

QUESTION:
What skills you learned or developed on past projects were you able to
apply to this film?

LAUREN MONTGOMERY:
We had the same animation studio that did Wonder Woman, so we were
able to draw from the work done on Wonder Woman and improve on that.
Overall, the animation was good in Wonder Woman, but there was some
poor stuff, too. I think they really improved – they saw what we
responded to in Wonder Woman and they tried to do what they knew we
liked, and it was good.

SAM LIU:
I think, this whole process was better for me this time, especially
working with Bruce (Timm) and Lauren. I was able to let go a little
bit and not have to over-think things, and still know that things
would work out. I generally stress over everything until the very last
minute. With Lauren, I sort of learned that you can say “that’s
enough” and move on to the next thing. I appreciate Lauren and her
patience, and that we’re still friends. In the end, you take care of
the important things and everything will work out.

QUESTION:
So, are you happy being an animation director?

LAUREN MONTGOMERY:
It’s never been an easy job. It can be draining. But it’s still a
really fun job. I mean, we get to work on great stories with iconic
characters. I know people who would kill to work on Batman and
Superman. When you think of it that way – well, if I weren’t working
in this job, I’d definitely want to. A little bit of the excitement is
taken off because I’ve done it so many times, but it’s still a really
cool thing to do.

SAM LIU:
I love doing long-form animation. I’ve been offered to go back to TV
series, but I like this better. Direct-to-videos are hard – you have a
short amount of time to create a world from the ground up every time
and, once it’s done, it goes on the shelf and you move on – but I’m so
glad I don’t have to deal with BSP (Broadcast, Standards & Practices –
the network’s content watchdogs). What I love most is that you get to
tell stories people can love, you can have emotional pain and great
action, and you get to work with things that are too adult for
children’s broadcasting. That’s the stuff that I like – telling full
stories. So I’m very happy.

QUESTION:
What’s your favorite part of the job?

LAUREN MONTGOMERY:
The best part is when you see the film start to come back (from
overseas animation studios) and it’s looking good. That’s a really
nice part. When you see it coming together to be something good,
that’s very satisfying. You know all your hard work has paid off.

SAM LIU:
I think it has to be working with the story and the characters. I love
the development of the characters and how they fit into the story,
helping their growth, even if it’s subtle or small. I like finding the
core of what our story is about and trying to push that story. I think
most of the time it’s about the characters and their conflicts in the
beginning, and how they resolve those conflicts. On this film, we were
able to do that a lot even after production had been underway –
particularly with Batman’s motivation, and showing why it was
important for him to stay behind and get Watchtower online. Superman
believes one thing; Batman has a different opinion. It’s a conflict,
and it pays off later.

QUESTION:
You’ve been living with this film for well over a year. Can you still
watch and enjoy it?

LAUREN MONTGOMERY:
I enjoy it most with a new audience. You get to see their reactions,
and it makes me look at it in a new light. I enjoy watching all of our
movies, which is a good thing – it’s nice to be able to watch what
you’ve done and feel good about it.

SAM LIU:
It’s hard sometimes, because when you’re making a movie, there’s so
many things you want and wish for, and you still tend to see the
things that are missing. In this case, I’m comfortable watching
because there are so many things that were done right. I’m not
comfortable watching some of my older stuff. But this is one of the
best movies I’ve ever worked on, and it’s very satisfying. I think
there’s the right amount of action, good conflict, good closure, and
intelligent characters. They’re not just one-dimensional characters.
So it’s satisfying to watch.

QUESTION:
What’s the DC Universe film you hope to direct some day?

LAUREN MONTGOMERY:
I want that Aquaman project, but I doubt we’ll every make it.

SAM LIU:
I’d love to do Sandman from the Vertigo line. I don’t know what kind
of story that would be, but I’d love to work with Neil Gaiman because
I really loved those comics.

QUESTION:
Now that you can see the final product, how do the voices match their
animated characters?

LAUREN MONTGOMERY:
Gina Torres and James Woods are probably my favorites. Everybody loves
Owlman. He’s such a unique character. Gina is really good as
Superwoman – she has this strong, seductive, confident voice, and it
makes you fear and respect her. Mark Harmon is really good as
Superman. At first I was worried because I thought his age might come
through, but his voice really works well. It’s funny because when we
started watching the voice with the animation, it struck us how you
could hear little tones of George Newbern and Tim Daly – two of our
regular Supermans – in his voice, which is pretty cool.

SAM LIU:
I really liked Mark Harmon – he’s got a gentle streak and it goes
really well with the strength of his voice. When he was in the
recording booth, I thought he might be too gentle, but it works even
in the scenes where he has to be more assertive or powerful. I think
it works really well because it never crosses that line of him being
mean or not genuine or sneaky. It’s very pure, just as Superman should
be.

I also thought Josh Keaton did a great job as Flash. He’s hilarious.
So much of these movies are based on the acting, and Josh really sold
it. The chemistry between characters was good, too. James Woods and
Gina Torres have this strange relationship, and their acting makes
them real characters. They really engaged their personalities. That’s
what good actors do. The voices in this cast really flesh out the
characters and give them texture.

For more information, images and updates, please visit the film’s
official website at www.JUSTICELEAGUECRISIS.com.

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