July 3, 2012: Exclusive - Robb Pratt Talks "Superman Classic" & "Bizarro Classic"

The Superman Super Site recently had the opportunity to talk with veteran animator Robb Pratt about his two original animated shorts, "Superman Classic" and "Bizarro Classic" which debuted yesterday.

In the following exclusive interview, Pratt talks about such topics as his childhood desires to be an animator, working for Walt Disney Animation Studios and his inspirations for creating the animated shorts based on the Man of Steel.

SuperSite: When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist/animator and what inspired you pursue it as a career?
Pratt: I knew very young that not only did I love drawing, but seeing the drawings move and combining it with sound and paintings just seemed like magic to me. Even in kindergarten, I was telling my friends that I was going to be an animator when I grew up! I loved the classic Looney Tunes shorts and the Fleischer Popeye's, as well as the old Tom & Jerry's and that was just IT for me!. Growing up in North Hollywood, California, I remember whenever my family and I would drive by the Disney Studio in Burbank, I knew that I wanted to work there someday.

SuperSite: You have worked on many animated films for Walt Disney Animation Studios including Pocahontas, Hercules, Tarzan and Fantasia 2000. What has been your favorite project and why?
Pratt: Regardless of how any of the projects came out, they were always a thrill to be on because I totally believed in them while I was working on them. Also, at Disney, each project always had animation superstars that I idolized, so it was a pretty amazing experience. I'd have to say that my favorite, though, was animating Kerchack on "Tarzan". The studio made a deal with the local zoo, so for a couple months leading up to production we could go there to study the gorillas and draw them. It really felt like all those old-timey Disney documentaries that showed the classic animators study deer for "Bambi" or elephants for "Dumbo". It gave me this sense that I was carrying on this wonderful Disney tradition.

SuperSite: In 2011, you put together a wonderful animated short entitled "Superman Classic". What were your inspirations & reasons for creating a short based on the Man of Steel?
Pratt: To say that I am an avid Superman fan is a gross understatement! It's an obsession that, well, I'd be embarrasssed if you knew just how deep it went! Because I'm so close to this character, it's often a frustrating experience for me to watch any movies or shows because I always think of how I would like to do it. Sure, there are things I love in pretty much every incarnation of him, but then things I'm not crazy about. I felt that if I were to ever do it, I could combine all the things I love together, like the Fleischer art style, but with the Christopher Reeve take on Clark, and so on. I had a period of time about a year and a half ago that it looked like I might be unemployed, or maybe a better way to look at it, "inbetween jobs", so I figured I wouldn't waste any of this downtime, but instaed be productive with it. I figured I'd wake up every morning like I would if I had a job, and start working on my own version of Superman! Fortunately, I never did get laid off at work, but once I started running with the concept, I had to see it through! It was just so fun!

SuperSite: Former "Adventures of Superboy" actor, John Haymes Newton and his wife Jennifer provided the voices of Superman & Lois Lane in the animated short. What led to your decision to cast them in their respective roles and how did they react when initially asked to voice the characters?
Pratt: Right about the time I was just describing, I ran into John and Jennifer at a Halloween kids' gathering. I recongnized John and elbowed my wife saying "That guy played "Superboy"! I went up to him and introduced myself, asking if I could get a picture with him, and we immediately hit it off and became good friends! When I started to conceptualize my short, I had John and Jennifer over to my house and pitched them the idea. Before I could even ask, John offered to voice it and that sealed the deal! I got lucky to get Jennifer in it, too, because I think she's the obsolute perfect Lois Lane!

SuperSite: "Superman Classic" has received overwhelming critical acclaim and positive reviews. Did you expect that type of reaction and were you at all worried about how the animated short would be received?
Pratt: Whenever you display your art, you fantasize that people will embrace it, but after laboring over it for months it was nerve-wrecking to finally post it. I remember being up late that night, thinking "this has been just for me and my close friends and now the WHOLE WORLD can see it!" I'm not ashamed to admit that I downed a big glass of vodka just to knock me out so I could get some sleep, but that only worked for a couple of hours! By six in the morning, I woke up and dashed to the computer. It's hard to descrie the feelings I had when I saw the first few comments and they were all so positive! It's one of the greatest feelings I've had in my whole life, and it makes me want to make more to get that feeling back again once in a while.

SuperSite: As a follow-up, you have just debuted another animated short entitled "Bizarro Classic". Was it your initial plan to do another short?
Pratt: I didn't intend to make another one. I felt that it was A LOT of work, but it was a good portfolio piece that may someday get me more work. If I was going to work that hard again, I should probably put it into another thing to showcase other skills that I may have. Flash Gordon comes to mind. I think I have a very clear vision of what I'd do with that character, so I thought maybe I'd do that next. I even have a design that I'm happy with. Then, I saw the wonderful adulation I got from "Superman Classic" and thought I'd love to see one of the classic villains in that Fleischer-style setting, since the Fleischer shorts don't have any supervillains (the concept of a supervillain had not yet been invented).

SuperSite: With all the various villains in the Superman rogues gallery, what led to your decision to focus the new animated short on Bizarro this time?
Pratt: I love Bizarro because I think he's been underused. He was so popular in the 1960s that he had his own title, but he's not been in any of the movies. Whenever he's been animated, it's always been in limited form for TV, and I wanted to animate all those cracks in his face with the old squash and stretch technique. I also wanted to show him as something more of a threat to Superman, and not the clunky, silly Bizarro that was on Saturday morning shows. It's great to combine one's passions as I had in making "Superman Classic". Not only do I love Superman, but I love art deco buildings and old cars and old music, so that was a way of combining everything that I think is cool. Well, although I'm not much of a horror fan, I do love zombies! So making Bizarro like a creepy, zombie version of Superman sounded very appealing to me.

SuperSite: Your rendition of Superman in both "Superman Classic" and "Bizarro Classic" features a mix of traits from various actors who have portrayed the Man of Steel over the years. Which actor(s) are your favorites and your greatest inspiration when creating the two animated shorts?
Pratt: I think George Reeves made a fantastic Superman. He was so charismatic and confident, and a real slice of mid-century America. Nothing comes even close to Christopher Reeve's Clark Kent. He really embodied the concept of the empowered nerd that for me, is the basis of the entire superhero idea. If I were to do a whole series of Superman, I'd use Clark as the comedy relief, and Superman for the action/adventure. He'd barey speak in my version, and be more of a mysterious good guy that shows up and saves the day, then flies away without getting attention. I love his costume, but it is a bit silly (although I would never change it!) and it's made for ACTION. He should never stand around in it making speeches - it's then that the costume looks silly. It looks fine when it's in action.

SuperSite: From initial idea to final product, how long did the process take in creating "Superman Classic" and "Bizarro Classic" and can fans expect to see another original animated short in the future?
Pratt: Each one took about a year because I work full time and am a family man. I try not to let it interrupt my time with my wife or kids, so I only work on it late at night when everyone is sleeping. That means for the year I'm only getting 4 or 5 hours of sleep each night, and right now after just finishing up on "Bizarro", I'm EXHUASTED! Everyone's responce to "Bizarro Classic" has been extremely positive, so it would be fun to do more, so long as I can make it different (yet the same) as the other two. There are people that I would love to have work on it with me to be sure that the next one is new and exciting, and if that could come together, that would keep me engaged.

SuperSite: Thank you for your time in participating in this interview. Both of your animated shorts are truly a feast for the eyes and a wonderful entry into the animation universe of Superman!
Pratt: Thank you! It's always a pleasure to talk about Superman!

View Pratt's latest animated short, "Bizarro Classic" at YouTube.com.