Erik Bruhwiler full interview from our Subscribathon!

Uploaded by geekandsundry on Apr 19, 2012


FELICIA: Erik, thank you for joining us.
ERIK: My pleasure, Felicia.
FELICIA: Let's talk you and the Dark Horse motion comics.
So can you tell me a little bit about your background for
people who might not be familiar with it?
And how you came to this point where you're making the Dark
Horse motion comics for Geek & Sundry?
ERIK: OK, sure.
I'll try to be brief.
I was in visual effects since 2004 doing compositing, which
is like Photoshop for film.
You bring all of the elements together.
And it's the final process before it goes to screen.

For me, it was a catharsis of being diagnosed with type 2
diabetes, which is adult onset.
I still have insulin.
But my body has built up a tolerance to it.
So it doesn't bring down the blood sugar that well.
FELICIA: Oh my gosh, yeah.
FELICIA: Yeah, it was the same thing.
I go, well, oh, what is this?
Just out of the blue.
And I made a complete diet change.
And kind of I changed everything at that point.
I re-looked at my life and so forth.
And I decided to go into independent producing.
FELICIA: So your health crisis, or health change,
inspired you to change the path of your life?
Why, was it [INAUDIBLE], or what?
ERIK: Yeah, I've been ambitious to be a director
since I was in high school.
And you always see these things ahead of you that make
you think you can't do it.
And at that point I was like, well, what do I have to lose?
I mean, my health is only going to get
worse at this point.
And it can be bad if you don't change your diet.
FELICIA: Absolutely.
ERIK: I decided that, well, now or never.
What have I got to lose?
And so that was all it took.
That was all it took for me to decide to do it.
And so I left the business.
I always knew I had the business to go back to.
I was very good at it.
And people liked me on the team.
FELICIA: You've worked on some huge movies.
Like, you worked on Benjamin Button.
You worked on some just really awesome--
tell the audience some of the huge movies you've worked on.
ERIK: Sure.
Live Free or Die Hard was one of my favorite
ones to work on.
It was a great producing team from the studio.
And I loved working with the visual effects supervisor.
I've worked on quite a few.
I've been out of it for a little bit.
So I haven't really payed that much attention to it.
But let's see, there was--
one my favorites was one of my first ones, was Sky Captain
and the World of Tomorrow.
FELICIA: I was about to say, I say that on your resume.
And I was so thrilled, because I love that movie so much.
I thought it was one of the most visually interesting
movies that, even today, I can't think of another movie
that really struck me as so--
just such a clarity of vision in a way.
It built a world.
ERIK: I agree.
I think Sin City emerged from that, and the movie
FELICIA: Exactly, exactly.
ERIK: And to me, those are comic books, as well as it's
been done, brought to life, with live action and so forth.
And I thought that was really fun.
I did some of the island scenes with the creatures.
And Ray Harryhausen walked in.
I was at Stan Winston's studio.
He's done a lot of creature effects.
And Ray Harryhausen, who animated the
original Clash of theTitans.
FELICIA: Unbelievable.
ERIK: But he walked into the studio.
And I had just been thinking about a year earlier when I
wasn't in visual effects, I want to be in his world.
And less than a year later, I was in his world.
I was like, oh, this is amazing.
So I've really enjoyed doing that.
And leaving it wasn't that easy.
Except that I needed more.
You know, a lot of it is, it's too bright.
It's not enough red.
The challenge had been met, as I felt.
And I wanted to do more.
I wanted to direct and produce.
But I wasn't sure I was going to do that.
I just decided to try.
And within six months, I'd run out of money almost after
leaving my job.
And I really dove in, trying to find out, what should I do?
Reading this 12 hours a day, just online looking for all
And I came across motion comics.
It was a contest by Marvel [INAUDIBLE]
Two days before the deadline I was sick.
But I jumped in.
And it's on my YouTube channel, if
people want to see it.
And it's very rough.
And there's not much there.
But I fell in love with it.
I fell in love with the storytelling aspect of it.
And so I decided, this is what I'm going to do.
I can do it in my home.
It doesn't cost a lot of money.
And I can build something from this.
And I looked at what everyone else did on that contest to
see what am I missing?
You know, I didn't win the contest.
And why did that person win?
And what did they do?
And I saw some facial motion going on.
I was like, oh, that's compelling.
That's what it needs.
So I did tests with that using After Effects software.
That's what all the work is done with.
Fantastic software.
And I accomplished something.
I had compelling acting in a motion comic.
And I did a test with Dark Horse Comics.
I looked at who was out there.
I wasn't really that familiar with the comic companies.
I knew Marvel, I knew DC.
And I didn't really want to get into those
machines, so to speak.
They're like studios.
And I wanted to be a little more independent.
And Dark Horse seemed like the way to go.
I liked their comics.
I liked what they were doing.
And so I did a test targeted at them using
once of their comics.
I just downloaded some images from their website.
And it got to Mike Richardson, the president, and he liked
what he saw so he said, let's do business together.
FELICIA: Yeah, when I was on the panel, I actually
did not know this.
And that's why I was excited for you to
be a guest on there.
Because I added the Dark Horse comics to the slate because it
just was a random good timing that they were working with
you on the motion comic technology.
Because they had been thinking about jumping in.
But they didn't feel like it was really done in a way that
they wanted to get their name behind.
And the fact that they worked with you from a YouTube video
that you sent them is so impressive to me.
Because now we're funding the whole thing through this new
YouTube channel.
So it's kind of cool that you took a leap of faith.
And then now we have your show--
thank goodness-- on our channel.
And I'm so excited for people to see what
you've done with it.
Because really, the nuances and the kind of things you
bring to life in the motion comic is very unique.
ERIK: Thank you.
I appreciate that.
I really enjoyed doing it.
I love bringing them all together and seeing them.
Yeah, I did the sound design as well.
And on The Secret, I did the music composing using just
simple software.
And I'm no musician.
But The Secret is horror movie, tonal kind of stuff.
And it seemed like a great fit with Mike.
But also, I started following Dark Horse on Twitter.
And I dove in, who is Dark Horse.
I need to understand who these people are.
I'm doing business with them.
And through them, I found you as well two years ago.
So for me, it's kind of a circle thing as well.
Because suddenly, Felicia Day wants to do motion comics.
And I was like, wow.
It's the same-- for me, it was very similar to Ray
Harryhausen walking into the room.
Well, you know, it's similar how--
you think about, what you focus on.
Somehow if you say that focused, it
comes back to you again.
FELICIA: I think it's cool in that it can be rare to happen.
But I think it happens more often in this new media world
where the barriers are a little bit lower.
And we're all kind of experimenting in a way.
And I mean, as people saw, a lot of people who worked for
us used be our interns.
And we're all just kind of scrapping it together and
trying to make the best thing.
But we're creating from a very organic place.
So that you were able to start from scratch, in a way, just
like you were starting your life to start to figure out
motion comics in a different way.
And you weren't trying to please somebody who had this
other presupposition in their mind.
ERIK: Exactly, exactly.
And for me, what drove me through-- because it wasn't
obvious I was going to succeed.

I keep improving.
So from what people have seen in The
Secret I think is fantastic.
But I've improved it since then.
I saw The Umbrella Academy.
And The Secret was the first thing you made.
And that's going to be rolling out Monday, Tuesday,
Wednesday, Thursday.
It's four part.
And then Friday, we'll have a little interview thing with
you and Mike about the insight into it.
But I've seen some of the subsequent
things that you've done.
Like, you see a little bit of The Umbrella Academy and some
other bigger titles.
It is, it's fantastic to have an audience that will be along
with you, in a way, as you grow.
And you grow with them.
And I'm super excited about people seeing not only The
Secret but all the things to come.
Because we have some amazing titles, too.
ERIK: Yeah.
So I'm working on Hellboy right now.
And I'm really having a good time with that.
So to me, it's incredible opportunities to work with
these properties, with these creators, and these stories.
And I'm starting from that very powerful and strong place
and being able to bring them to life with this technology
and these techniques.
And it's all working out very well.
I think we can do much better.
And the people, their response to it on your channel is going
to determine whether or not we will.
FELICIA: Yeah, it's true.
I'm not just trying to ask for subscribers for no reason.
The more subscribers we get, the more we get picked up for
another year.
So your support means a lot to us.
And hopefully tomorrow, as we dazzle you with our new shows,
you'll want to spread word and get people to subscribe and
watch all of our videos.
I personally have 100% faith in every
single show we're doing.
And I know that even though we're doing things that
traditional media probably wouldn't fund, I feel like the
audience wants things that they're not getting now.
And that's why this initiative is so cool, is that we're able
to go to people like you who are doing things differently
and being like, hey, let's try this out.
I think that people will love this.
So yeah, that's why we're asking you to hashtag and all
that stuff, is because not only are we helping
[INAUDIBLE], but the channel will succeed or not based on
how viewers like it.
So I'm pretty excited.
Tell me some of the other titles you're working on.
Obviously Hellboy, which is very cool.
And is there one that you're particularly excited about?
Like, were you a fan of the comic beforehand?
And you were like, oh my God, I get animate this one.
ERIK: Well, I have to be honest, I was not--
I liked comic books.
And I have friends who are big collectors.
But I like motion.
I'm a visual guy.
So I was frustrated reading comic books.
I wanted to see them come to life.
So that's why this is a perfect opportunity for me.
I enjoyed the Hellboy movies.
I'm a movie fan.
I love the movies.
And to get to create a Hellboy from this comic, which is
Hellboy: The Fury, which is the death of Hellboy.
It's a very Shakespearean aspect to Hellboy that I'm
gaining by diving in.
It's amazing what's happening to me and my appreciation of
comics as I do this.
Because I truly have to get inside the story in order to
do it justice.
And when I do that, I'm finding all of the weird
nuances of the stories and characters that I'm sure you
have experiences with when you take on in
acting, taking on a character.
That you bring them to life.
So you discover all of these in between places and
understandings that you don't necessarily do when you'd
looked at it from a surface.
So I read comics differently now.
FELICIA: You know, I've done, like, 10 issues
of The Guild comic.
And the first one was the hardest thing I ever wrote,
because I never was a visual thinker before.
And that's why, personally-- and I know this is sacrilege
to says this, guys--
but I enjoy reading comics digitally.
Because it forces me, as a novel reader--
I speed read, so I read, like, a novel a night, man.
I mean, it's not like Pride and Prejudice.
But I love to read.
So I speed read.
And I never taught myself how to read comics properly until
I was forced to slow down and look at it panel to panel.
And I think that's something that we don't appreciate if
you're coming at it from a different point.
And that's why I hope that we make more
comic fans in general.
Because I think the motion comic animates it, but also
slows down the storytelling so you appreciate how a comic is
told panel to panel.
And you're kind of hybridizing it in a motion way.
Where people will be like, hey, I want to go buy a
Hellboy comic.
Because I want to see where those characters go.
But it might connect more with people who aren't used to
reading comics.
And that's kind of my ulterior hope.
ERIK: No, I agree.
I think it will.
And I'm discovering things about the panels, the details
inside them, that even when I first read them when I was
about to begin working on them, I didn't notice.
But as I get into it, I have to figure out
what to do with them.
And I see the detail the artists and the
writers put into it.
And so, yeah, my appreciation grows with that.
FELICIA: Now, when you are doing a title, do you put it
into a bigger context?
Do you read, like, 50 issues of Hellboy?
Or do you at least read synopses of
everything they've done?
Or do you just focus on the work and making that as vivid
as possible?
Because there's almost an argument for both things.
You don't want to be so inside that you're not speaking to a
broader audience.
But at the same time, you want to make sure that fans are
satisfied with the way that Hellboy is
coming to life, right?
ERIK: I agree.
We do have limitations in this format.
And it's from budget and so forth.
We're doing the best we can within that.
I think we're doing great for what it is.
FELICIA: Yeah, I'm excited.
ERIK: I think I'm in the middle of what you described.
I try to understand the world that the creators are making--
especially if it's more than just a one-off, which is what
we're doing--
by reading at least a few.
And I'm very quick at doing that,
understanding that world.
I think that's one of my advantages.
I was very good with directors and visual effect supervisors
because I could pick up on what the film was about.
With a lot of the choices they made about corrections in what
we were doing in visual effects is how
it serves the story.
So I had to understand the broader story, what was taking
place there.
And so, yeah, I want to understand the story, but also
talk to the creators.
And I found that I have connected with what they did
before I even talked to them.
Because they say, yeah, that's it.
That's it.
And make sure I confirm a few things.
So talking to Mike Mignola, we both agreed it's a
Shakespearean feel, a little more weight.
Even though he's got these comical aspects of Hellboy, if
you lose that weight, it seems a little trivial.
And I think he's got some powerful things happening in
the story that I'm doing the best to bring out.
But we'll see if the audience agrees.
But I'm really loving doing it.
FELICIA: Well, you'll get the gamut of everything.
But I'm sure, having seen your work, people are
going to love it.
We have some people asking, "What would you advise for a
writer with a new anti-hero story line?" Are you a writer?
Or do you notice something that is, writing-wise, easier
or translates better from comics to motion comics, or
anything like that, as far as writing goes?
ERIK: One pet peeve I have about comics, and I think it's
part of the format, it's narration, what they call
captioning, I guess.
In screenplay, as I went to become an independent
producer, I studied screenplay writing.
And I helped someone write one.
So whether or not I can write one, I believe I have a lot of
understanding about them.
And you don't want a narrator unless you really design it
well, that somebody's doing voice over work.
And the comics I prefer are the ones
that don't have narration.
It's all characters.
They can read very quickly.
But for me, it's a little bit of a cheat if you do
Because you're explaining with words rather than letting the
design itself.
And I look at the comics as a design.
I do a little motion graphics as well.
Which is you get panels from a designer.
And then as an administrator, you bring them to life.
And so I'd look at the panels of a comic
book as a story design.
This is a story design.
And I'm trying to bring that to life.

After reading some screenplays and looking at the movies, I'm
amazed at how much the screenplay is actually
translated to the screen.
It really is the DNA of a movie.
And so if the screenplay is lacking, they can only rescue
so much through the whole process of getting it to the
screen, and so [INAUDIBLE].
FELICIA: So we had a question from Andrew Gleeson.
"Will the motion comics be older titles Or will they be
original?" I believe that all the titles that we've picked
are meant to be, like, an introduction of a
lot of these worlds.
So they're existing titles.
But the way that they're brought to life
is completely new.
And I think if you've seen the average motion comic, I think
that the way that we're doing them is actually better.
I'm just gonna say it right now.
Whatever, it's better.
So I'm pretty excited.
So what is going to be the title after The Secret?
Do you know?
I think it's Umbrella Academy.
ERIK: Yes, I believe it's Umbrella Academy.
I'm very excited about that one.
FELICIA: Yeah, I am too.
ERIK: I think they're all different.
And I tried to find the core value of each one
and bring that out.
And after that comes House of Night.
FELICIA: Oh, yes.
I'm very excited about that, actually.
Because I'm not familiar with that comic.
And yet, when I looked at the log line for it, and I started
reading through it, I was like, oh my
gosh, I love this comic.
Especially since it feels very fresh right
now with the vampires.
I'm sorry.
I'm just trying to get more.
If you guys have questions, please #geekandsundry.

So Erik, are you doing a lot of this by yourself?
As an independent producer doing this whole web series,
have you learned to put on different hats?
You know, you work at a studio system.
It's huge.
And now you're having to learn a lot more skills.
Do you enjoy that?
How has that transition been to having to cover everything?
ERIK: Wow.

I do enjoy it.
But it's insanely challenging.
And thanks--
I've been listening to you, watching you as I work all
day, learning a lot from you, to talking to your writers and
other people.
And we were just talking.
I'm sorry, I didn't get his name.
I came in late.
The software writer, the game writer.
Oh, yeah, Greg.
ERIK: Yes, Greg.
And you were mentioning family.
And that's the same thing.
I am hours a day.
And if I didn't have a family supporting me,
I wouldn't be eating.
And I couldn't get it done.
So that support is there.
But yes, different hats.
I think what really attracted me to the motion comics part
of it was I could bring everything.
So I could bring the sound.
And it's the day and age we live in.
So I'm scoring these with powerful music from a software
called SmartSound, which allows me to really score
these in an amazing way that I just found as I was beginning
this project.
And I don't know if I would have been able to do this
without this project.
FELICIA: Oh, that's coo.
Where did you find the software?
ERIK: I don't know.
I'm so unconnected out there.
It came in front of me, right?
FELICIA: Yeah, absolutely.
ERIK: So I said, what is this?
And I looked at it and looked at it.
And I said, is this for real or is this
too good to be true?
If it's too good to be true, it can't be.
And I looked and I looked.
And I said, oh my God.
It does this.
And I got it.
And so everyone is like, wow, I love the music.
And I'm like, me too, thank you.
FELICIA: Yeah, it was very good.
I mean, The Secret, I think it adds a lot.
ERIK: Well, that's a different story.
That one I did a little earlier.
I did all that music by myself with GarageBand.
FELICIA: That's crazy.
ERIK: So that was new for me.
But I had these interests off and on.
I took acting lessons three times,
three days, three lessons.
I dipped into everything.
I've been in sound design off and on for 10 years.
And that's why this worked out for me.
It all came together in one thing.
And I was like, oh, this is perfect for me.
But the producing, and the managing the business, and all
of that, I hope to get more people to help.
I have hired some more people for this project.
FELICIA: That's great, yeah.
ERIK: I couldn't take it all on all by myself.
FELICIA: It's definitely a situation where, like, me and
Kim have always done everything.
And then along the line were like, OK, we
have to delegate that.
I mean, the first thing we ever hired is accounting, a
professional bookkeeper.
And then we went through four of them, because the rates did
not make them good when we hired them.
Cory has a question about Umbrella Academy.
Which I don't know enough about to know if this is a
good question or not to ask.
"Are you going to animate Dallas as well or just
Apocalypse Suite?" I don't know if that means--
ERIK: Neither.
You know, I have to apologize.
I forgot the name.
I'm going through so many here.
I could do a quick check.
FELICIA: OK, so it's a different title?
ERIK: Yeah, it's a different title.
It's a one-off.
I think it was a free comic book dating from 2007.
FELICIA: Oh, OK, cool.
FELICIA: I'm thinking it was the introduction.
FELICIA: Yeah, we were trying to pick titles that if you did
not know the comic, then you can get drawn in to it.
But also, you're living in Portland, right?
I'm actually in Los Angeles.
FELICIA: Oh, you're in LA?
ERIK: Yes.
FELICIA: I didn't know that.
Oh, OK.
But you're with Dark Horse, who's in Portland.
And how do you find working with the voice actors?
Do you direct them?
Or how does that work?
ERIK: Yeah, I direct them.
I had to connect.
That I didn't know.
And it's actually a studio in Albany.
And I connected through a friend who I was doing the
screenplay writing with whose dad does voice over work.
And I was like, can you suggest somebody?
And luckily, they sent me to Cotton HIll, which is in
Albany, New York.
And Margherita Petti Krug there has helped me cast.
FELICIA: That's great.
FELICIA: And that was ever since The Secret.
And I direct over the phone.
FELICIA: That's great.
That's a lot of voice over, though.
When I did Tallis for Dragon Age, Caroline was in Edmonton.
And she would dial in.
So that's not very unusual at all to dial in.
It's amazing that it can work out.
And I mean, to me, it's just amazing how much I
can do from one chair.
Is there one of the comics that you've had, particularly?
Somebody asked--
oh, it's Kayla Stewart. "Question for Erik.
What was the hardest comic to bring to life so far?"
ERIK: I'm only just beginning.
So I don't know yet.

I've done four so far.
And the hardest one was actually House of Night.
FELICIA: Really?
ERIK: These are technical issues.
I think more can be done.
I have to admit, more can be done with these.
I'm doing the best I can with the limitations I have.
But they wear so many clothes.
So just walking, I've got to move all these pieces to make
it look like they're walking together and moving together.
He's got a mustache.
The character as a mustache he has to talk through.
More work for lip sync and so forth.
And it's beautiful art.
And it's got these magical effects.
And animals.
Animals are very difficult.
FELICIA: Oh, really?
Why is that?
Because of the eyes or what?
ERIK: More legs.
FELICIA: Oh, that's twice the work.
ERIK: And they move a particular way.
You have to understand how they move to make it work.
There are some scenes that won't work as well as others.
We're starting with flat art.
And we're what I call dimensionalizing it.
And there's a lot of technical challenges there.
And with animals, they're very dimensional.
A person is almost flat to the screen.
An animal goes back in this 3D space.
So there are a lot of challenges.
FELICIA: It's interesting to see, because motion comics,
quite frankly, are not very mainstream.
I don't think the average person has
seen a motion comic.
And I think the ones that are out there now are very
And it's not like there's a way to do motion comics.
And I think a lot of people expect animation.
And they don't understand the process of animation is so
completely different.
So what you're doing is you're making animating these comics
scalable in a way.
I mean, one person is doing this versus, like, a staff of
hundreds if you were doing a cartoon or something.
But this is allowing us to really bring that comic to
life in a way that's hugely faithful, versus changing it
all up the way that animation does as a
completely different product.
What we're doing is celebrating comics as a
two-dimensional art form.
And now you're bringing that to life in a way.
ERIK: Exactly.
I think the strength of motion comics is you're starting with
this great art.
Whereas, you see animations--
aside from something like Pixar, where
they're $150 million--
it's a very limited look to the art.
And we're breaking up the process.
A simple list of the process is break apart the images, rig
the images, and then move the images.
And so I have other people break them apart.
I have other people rig them.
And me and someone else who's helping are moving them.
And then the sound and all that stuff
gets applied on top.
FELICIA: Yeah, cool.
Well, let me see if we have any other questions.
And if we do not--
Well, Dan Young asked, "Are you using something like Final
Cut Pro or After Effects?" But you said you're still using
After Effects, right?
ERIK: Yes.
After Effects is very powerful.
I'm amazed.
It gets better every year.
And even over the last year, it's got new things that are
helping me make them better.
FELICIA: Thank you very much, Erik.
ERIK: Oh, thank you, Felicia.
I enjoyed this.
FELICIA: Yeah, thank you.
And thanks for sharing your art with the world.
ERIK: Thank you.
I appreciate it.
FELICIA: People will love it.
OK, bye-bye.
ERIK: Bye.