Interview with Jay Oliva

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Last October, I wrote a film review for Red Dirt Report, it was a review of Part One of the animated version of Frank Miller’s iconic Dark Knight Returns story.

This past January, the 2nd part to that great film was released and it was just as awe-inspiring and amazing as the first part was.

Recently I had the chance to do an interview (via e-mail) with the direct of the film, Jay Oliva. Jay has directed other animated projects such as Young Justice and Next Avengers and was the storyboard artist/supervisor on other projects such as Jackie Chan Adventures, The Batman, Teen Titans, Justice League, Ben 10, Superman/Doomsday, Hulk Vs, Batman: Brave and the Bold, Green Lantern: First Flight, Batman: Under the Red Hood, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights. I could go on. Point being, Jay has done a lot of great work.

Here is the content of that interview that was conducted with him:

1. How did you first get into drawing?

I first started drawing when I was maybe four years old. I did not really get serious until I was in high school. It was the 90s so comic books were the big thing. I used to copy my favorite animated cartoons as well as comic book artists. it was really just for fun and something to do when I was bored. I never intended to pursue art as a career. I jus sort of fell into it.

2. What artists/writers first inspired you?

I’ve had a lot of influences over the years. In terms of art, i would say that Otomo’s “Akira” played a pivotal role in my artistic development. After him., I was influenced by a lot of the big artists during the 90s like Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee. Around the same time, I discovered Bruce Timm’s Batman the Animated Series and I was so hooked with the simplicity and elegance of the design and how well it moved on-screen.

3. Who are your favorite characters to work with?

It’s funny when I look back at my career, I’ve worked on so many iconic characters in both DC and Marvel universes. I don’t think I have a particular preference, It all depends on the story I want to tell. Action wise, I think Batman has a great cinematic feel with James Bond-like gadgets as well as martial arts fight scenes. Plus since he’s just a regular guy, and not some super powered alien or metahuman, the drama of his overcoming extraordinary situations can be really compelling. I think I’ve made it sound that Batman is my pick but I’ve done some great stuff with Spiderman, Wolverine, Wonder Woman, Flash, Iron Man, Doctor Strange.. oh and Superman too! For me, it’s not about the crazy action scenes but what the conflict is rooted in and what is the overall theme of the film. I think the best movies are the ones that have a lot of cool moments and action but also have a powerful message or theme at the root of it all.

4. Who are your favorite artists/writers to work with?

I’ve collaborated with a lot of amazing artists in the past. Of course I have to mention Bruce Timm and James Tucker. These two guys have such a great history of amazing work that working on projects with them has been a great learning experience. One of my favorite designers I’ve worked with would have to be Phil Bourassa. His sensitivity to design is very close to my own and we both have a lot of the same influences. It’s really great to collaborate with him and I’m vey fortunate that he’s also a good friend of mine! Last but not least, I have to mention Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos. It’s funny that at one point of my career I’ve had a hand in helping to train these two amazing artists and I’m so proud of where their careers have taken them. Working with them is eye opening since they love to push what has become the norm in animation nowadays and because of this, it has inspired me to strive for the same kind of level in my own work.

5. Do you have a favorite series that you have worked on?

What’s funny is that I think my work on “My Friends Tigger and Pooh” was some of my best stuff. No action really but I really sharpened my acting chops on that show. Plus everyone on the production was great and I had a really fun time working on the show. On the other hand, I have a very special spot in my heart for the work I did when I was on the MYP “He-man and the Masters of the Universe” It has to be one of THE hardest shows I’ve worked on but I learned a lot directing on the show as well as working with a great bunch of artists.

6. Are there any characters that you have never worked on that you would really like to?

I find that it’s the story that I’m most attracted to. The characters are really secondary and if the characters happen to be fan favorites then that’s just a plus for me! oSometimes I pick projects just because I’ve never done a certain character before. In fact I remember I accepted work on “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” because I had never done a Doctor Doom fight sequence and I wanted the challenge of coming up with something cool.

So who would I like to do? Deadman would be cool and I would love to do a Punisher storyline based on the original mini series. The Punisher War Journal story with Wolverine would be pretty bad ass to translate. Hell, if the story was right, I’d love to do a Power Man and Iron Fist story. I think the list would go on and on.

7. How did you get involved with The Dark Knight Returns project?

I was Directing on the first season of “Young Justice” when they asked me to take over Directing on Part 1. I think I still had one and a half episodes left to do so it was hard to leave but DKR is a project that you don’t say no to.

8. What was it like to bring Frank Miller’s work to life?

It was a dream come true but at the same time terrifying because so many people have those books in their head and that no matter how faithful I was, it would NEVER be exactly what they saw when they first read the graphic novels. So I decided early on to bring to screen what my own experience was when I read those books back in the 80s. I was eleven at the time and it really changed the way I saw Batman and even comics in general. It was a crazy year for me since I read DKR and Watchmen all at the same time and I didn’t know comic books could tell these kind of stories! So translating Frank’s work was a labor of love for me because I wanted to bring to the screen the wonder, amazement, and shock of the original source material the way I experienced it oh so long ago.

9. Do you have any other projects coming up?

I have quite a bit of projects coming up. In terms of Directing, my next film, ‘Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox” comes out in July. I have a couple more movies after that but of course I can’t talk about them right now.

I also helped Zack Snyder storyboard “Man of Steel” out June 14th as well as the sequel to 300 called “300:Rise of an Empire”. I’m currently splitting my time between live action films and animation.

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