Ultraman Rising Creators Talk About Bringing Their Superhero to Life The Global Tofay

Ultraman Rising Creators Talk About Bringing Their Superhero to Life The Global Tofay Global Today

American-born superheroes have dominated the worldwide box office — especially recently, most notably in the form of the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe. But of course, Batman, Superman and their well-known cohorts don’t have a monopoly on the superhero genre.

One of the most popular and top-selling characters in Asia, and indeed the entire world, is Ultraman. Birthed in 1966 as part of a Japanese television series, the character is part of a technologically advanced race of aliens, originally nearly identical to humans, who have evolved into powerful protectors against kaiju and other destructive forces. Its influence has informed various other comic book and science-fiction franchises, but the new animated movie Ultraman: Rising brings this character to life in a way never quite done before for English-speaking audiences.

With Tokyo under siege from rising monster attacks, baseball star Ken Sato (voiced by Christopher Sean) reluctantly returns home to take on the inherited mantle of Ultraman and protect his homeland. But the titanic superhero meets his match when an encounter goes sideways and an 11-meter-tall, fire-breathing baby kaiju imprints upon Ken, believing him to be her parent.

As dogged reporter Ami Wakita (voiced by Julia Harriman) works to get a big story, Ken must rise above his ego, reconnect with his semi-estranged father Professor Sato (voiced by Gedde Watanabe), and balance playing baseball and unexpected parenthood, all while protecting the baby from malevolent forces bent on exploiting her for their own dark plans.

During a recent virtual press conference, Ultraman: Rising director and co-writer Shannon Tindle, co-director John Aoshima, and aforementioned voice actor Sean took the time to answer questions from journalists about their movie, its visual style, the legacy of the character of Ultraman, and more. Excerpted below are some of their answers, edited for both clarity and length.

 

Question: What is the biggest challenge when creating an original story with a character that’s been around for more than 60 years?

Shannon Tindle: So, what’s interesting is I actually came up with this idea in 2001, and it wasn’t an Ultraman film. It was inspired by Ultraman, but I just wanted to tell a story that could be as global [and] connect with as many people as possible. And then once we started working with Netflix and they gave us the opportunity to work with Tsuburaya and make it an Ultraman film, the goal still remained: let’s make this a film that plays to as many people as possible.

You don’t have to know Ultraman coming into it. I don’t want people to have to do homework before they go into it. I don’t mind questions, but I don’t want them to be asking questions so that they’re losing the plot or they’re missing out on the character. So that was one of the bigger challenges on the film, finding that balance between [giving] the audience just enough so they can understand who Ultraman is as a character and what he represents, but really more who Ken Sato is as a person.

Question: The animation style seems to pull from a number of different sources. How important was it to create your own visual look while still incorporating or honoring elements that have been part of Ultraman since the 1960s?

Shannon Tindle: So I always knew that I wanted, when it became an Ultraman film, to use the classic red and silver colors. That was a very calculated decision, because I knew even if you didn’t know who Ultraman was, you might have seen that image of that character. So I thought that would be a shorthand to convey, “Oh, that’s kind of recognizable to me.” When we started to work with our production designer, Marcos Mateu Mestre, and our art director, Sunmin Inn, we knew that we wanted a bold look.

For years in animation, we’ve been wanting to do things that are a little bit more stylized. I’m really good friends with Peter Ramsey and Phil Lord and those guys on Spider-Verse, and what they were able to do and the success that film had gave us the license to be able to push our style too. But we wanted to pull from sources like manga and anime — elements that began in Japan but have now become this big global thing that everybody can relate to.

We never wanted style to step on character or story. That was our biggest rule — it can look cool, but it has to only enhance story.

Question: Following up on that, we have to talk about the visual effects and working with Industrial Light & Magic. How was working with them?

Shannon Tindle: I had worked with ILM on a series I did for Netflix called Lost Ollie, specifically with their London and Vancouver teams. And I became really good friends with Hayden Jones, our visual effects supervisor, on that show, and now on this film. And Stef Drury, too, who’s a producer there. So while we were developing the film, our producer Tom Knott said, “Do you think we could get them to do another animated film?” So when they were out on a business trip, we brought them into the office, and showed them all this artwork to kinda seduce them to do this new thing that was gonna be very different from Ollie, which was a live-action hybrid show.

They loved the artwork. And I knew from working with those guys that they could handle it, that they could figure it out. And they’re big nerds too. Hayden, you know, we’d make references to comics and he knew exactly what we were talking about. So from that point on they were engaged, really from the beginning, to help us try and create something that was a combination of [different inspirations].

You know, nothing is original. But bringing things in where it gives a little bit more of that graphic experience when you read a comic or when you watch an anime done, a hand-drawn film, and finding that balance. And again, we had the same philosophy there: style in service of story, never working against it.

Question: Christopher, what was your relationship with the character before coming onto this? And what was your approach in bringing Ken and Ultraman to life, particularly through your eyes?

Christopher Sean: For me, as a kid, when I was in Japan at my grandparents’ place, I’d see Ultraman on television. So I was very familiar with the franchise at a very young age, ad I would go to the omatsuris and I’d get the Ultraman mask and walk around on the streets of Japan. So it was incredible to be able to portray such an iconic character.

For me, it’s just the biggest honor, because my mom is a Japanese immigrant from the Kanagawa Prefecture in Yugawara, and my family’s all from there. To play such an iconic Japanese superhero… I was nervous that I couldn’t do enough. So I hired a tutor for two years to learn Japanese and study and learn about all the different iterations of Ultraman, and the kaiju.

But the other part of my approach really was to lean on the genius of the entire team: Shannon, John, and (producers) Lisa (Poole) and Tom (Knott). They really knew this character through and through. So I had a lot of things to pull from in my own life, experiences like being a stepfather and becoming a father to new kids. And being alienated, being half-Japanese and half-white and kinda not really fitting in either culture — that is very Ken Sato-like. So there was a lot that I could pull from. But again, I leaned on these giants, and the geniuses that they are. They really directed me throughout the process, and it was very collaborative.

Question: How would you describe Ultraman’s journey and character arc in this film?

Christopher Sean: It was incredible. I mean, it’s an extremely relatable story. Understanding parental bonds and intergenerational relationships — and then also facing fear. In life you’re gonna face fear, and having the courage to stand up when you’re facing those obstacles and learn about who you are as a person [is important].

I think Ken deals with a lot of that throughout the story. You’ll notice he grows from a very selfish person to extremely selfless person who’s willing to give his own life for those he loves. And when you can start to share the love that he has for himself — because he’s got a huge ego — but when he can start to share that love with those around you, I think that’s when you start to understand what life is.

Question: In Japanese pop culture, baseball, anime and manga are equally as important as Ultraman. For the film, did you reference in particular baseball anime in manga? For example, have you seen Samurai Giants or Kyojin no Hoshi?

Shannon Tindle: Yeah, I have the full collection of Kyojin no Hoshi, and we would pull those frames for style, really more [when] we wanted stylized motion blur. We didn’t want it to look like a traditional motion blur, so we could look at that. But yeah, the games in those comics play more like action scenes. So we definitely had some reference from other references too, because it’s the Yomiuri Giants. So Kyojin no Hoshi is one of those you have to reference.

John Aoshima: Yeah, I grew up watching Kyojin no Hoshi in Japan. And talking about Japanese anime or manga and sports, they know how to dramatize sports really well — like, those close-ups and how fast that ball’s coming. It’s just so dramatized, you just go, “Oh, my gosh!”

Shannon Tindle: And even like ping-pong. Ping-pong in manga is like insane.

John Aoshima: They can dramatize cooking too! But anyways, yeah, we took all those influences and applied them to the film.

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