Included on this week’s Blu-ray release of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the motion comic The Great Calamity, which recounts a meeting between our night stalker-killing Commander-in-Chief and that tragically pickled author Edgar Allan Poe. Spearheading the short is Content Director and Producer Javier Soto.
Soto, whose resume includes working on the DVD features for the works of Guillermo del Toro spoke with us recently about bringing The Great Calamity to life, its origins, and how a fight between Moses and Mothra would go down.
MTV Geek: First off, could you tell us a little about the origins of The Great Calamity?
Javier Soto: The Great Calamity is a story within Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Fox Home Entertainment contacted me about contributing to the BD supplements and I saw a great opportunity in expanding the world of the film via a live-action short where Abraham Lincoln would meet his contemporary (and friend) Edgar Allan Poe. Unfortunately the constraints of time and resources made it impossible to mount a parallel production while the film was shooting. Not wanting this gem of a story to get lost I regrouped and pitched a fully realized animated short as an option, and the studio bit.
I referenced The Animatrix and Gotham Nights when discussing the style of the piece and they loved that I was setting the bar so high.
Geek: Walks us through a little bit of the story…
Soto: From the film we know that vampires are an accepted anomaly in Lincoln’s era, but we are never told how they come to the Americas. Our piece reveals the vampire plague that existed in Eastern Europe and the horrible acts conducted by Elizabeth Bathory. It’s these unnatural crimes by the Blood Countess that spur an uprising in Hungary and light a fire of vampire hunters that spreads throughout Europe.
Geek: You’re serving as the Content Director/Producer. Could you tell our readers what that job description entails?
Soto: My background is in documentary filmmaking. I’ve shot and prepared all Guillermo del Toro’s DVD Documentaries and have served as DVD Producer on the Blu-ray releases of his films. Over the years I’ve begun to test the waters with expanded narrative content. The Great Calamity is my most ambitious endeavor to date. A companion film that required that I write, direct and produce an extension story that had to sit alongside the film that inspired it.
Geek: How familiar were you with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter before taking on this gig?
Soto: Very familiar. I’d read the book and was pleased to hear that Tim Burton had come on board as producer of the film. I thought Timur Bekmambetov was the perfect fit for the project.
Geek: To what extent was the film’s director involved with the production of your work here? Or were you given complete autonomy?
Soto: I was allowed to build an AL:VH companion universe without any limitations. Seth’s original script did a great job of fleshing out the environments established in the book. I read his adaptation and immediately had an idea of what the movie universe felt and looked like. As I was writing the script for our short I was careful not to stray too far from the world he had built. Now having said that our world is a stylized interpretation that takes its cues from the visuals developed by my concept team of artists.
We submitted for approvals at every stage of development. Script, Design, Storyboards etc. The producers of the film and Timur were very supportive and were diligent about providing notes that would “plus” the piece. Timur was especially interested in the look of Lincoln and asked me to make minor adjustments so the audience would immediately recognize the character in our piece as the hero from the film.
Geek: How did your team work on modifying the comic format for a better fit on large screens?
Soto: The Great Calamity is an animated short that feels like a comic book come to life. If you were to park on any frame it would resemble a panel from a beautifully rendered graphic novel. Although it’s being sold as a “Graphic Novel” we created every element used in the animation. It was important for me that we take the original concept of a live-action short and apply it to the animation process. In many ways this looks like the live-action piece I would have shot had the timeline allowed.
Geek: Could you tell us a bit about the animation process?
Soto: Our process began with stylized renderings of Lincoln and Poe. Once their look was signed off on by the filmmakers we crafted maquettes that allowed 3 dimensional looks at our leads. Then the long process of building environments could begin. We employed matte paintings for most backdrops, but I felt Mrs. Sprigg’s (the room where Lincoln and Poe meet) had to be rich and inviting. Everything in that set is 3D and built in Maya. The same program used to create our 3D actors.
From there the process follows a path of Storyboards, Animatic and Animation layout. All these were completed with temp dialogue. Before we could begin animating I had to record the actor’s dialogue so we could match performance and synch. It was in this stage that I discovered new opportunities for the story. There’s actually a clever Easter egg that came from Clifton Collin Jr’s read of the line “The are everywhere, Lincoln.”
Animation took approximately 4 months, which is a quick turnaround for this amount of work, we then polished with color correction sound design and original score.
Geek: Why was this instead of a straight up animated short the best format for the material?
Soto: The piece is actually an animated short. I believe the marketing team at Fox Home Entertainment felt consumers would respond better to “Motion Graphic Novel” because Motion Comics are very popular on DVD releases of this genre of film.
Geek: Finally, if you could have any historical figure fight any classic monster, who and what would they be?
Soto: I like the idea of Mothra fighting Moses from the Old Testament. He seems to have the elements at his beck and call and his experience with (great) swarms of insects would come in handy. It could be epic, but it must be done stop motion like the Harryhausen films I grew up with.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is available now on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD from Twentieth Century Fox.