Avengers Assemble season 2, 2014-15

It’s hard to describe what a rush it was to make this series during the ascendency of the MCU. I’ve worked on plenty of shows that were tied to well-known IP (Ghostbusters, Godzilla, Batman, etc.) but nothing compared to this. Our renewal after season 1 seemed to be effortless. Marvel Animation Studio wasn’t part of Marvel Studios then, and wasn’t funded by film revenue, but our show was seen as a placeholder that kept the brand alive between movie releases. A very specific kind of advertising. And it felt like this was going to go on for quite a while.

The MCU was in Phase 2 at the time, back when they were only releasing two movies a year. The two that came out while we worked on our second season were Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. The second Avengers film wouldn’t be out until the year after that, but this placed no limitations on us since we weren’t tied to that continuity. This was the season of the Squadron Supreme, Thanos, the infinity stones, AND Ultron, in addition to other villains destined for the big screen, so we had a LOT to chew on.

I continued as an episodic director, but this season I got the odd-numbered episodes instead of the evens. The other season 1 director, my lifetime pal Jeff Allen, moved up a notch to Supervising Director and would stay in that position all the way through the end of the series. Replacing him to direct the even-numbered episodes was Phil Pignotti, who jumped over from Ultimate Spider-Man. Also in production at the time was season 2 of Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.

For the second year running, my storyboard team was based off-site at Atomic Cartoons in Vancouver. We’d endured a lot of rollercoaster moments on season 1 that galvanized a solid and reliable core group. More artists came on board, but – predictably – some weren’t prepared for the demands. Vancouver has a lot of animation talent, but the bulk of what they produce there is preschool shows. Very different from cinematic storytelling with multi-layered fight choreography. I thanked my lucky stars every day for that core group. The show would have been impossible to make without them.

We also made a technical shift on the software side. Whereas all our storyboards for season 1 were drawn in Photoshop, we now made the transition to a platform called Storyboard Pro. I resisted this strongly throughout season 1, since jumping from one moving train to another would have made a hard show even harder, but the short break between seasons gave me time to assimilate. Once we made the change, there was no turning back. Now I can’t imagine a better tool for this job.

Here’s the first thing I ever drew in Storyboard Pro, a 30-second test board with all seven Avengers:

The biggest advantage Storyboard Pro gave us was the ability to time out our own shots and make instant animatics. Animatics were a fairly new production tool when I got started in 1996; our hundreds of storyboards would be scanned into Photoshop and imported into Adobe Premiere, then combined with sound files to make a rough version of a TV show. As you can imagine, file sizes and processing speed were critical factors. It wasn’t uncommon to spend an entire day editing a single act of a show (averaging 7 minutes of screen time) where a significant percentage of our time was spent watching progress bars fill up.

Things got better as computers got faster, but they got WAAAAY better with Storyboard Pro. Now we could do in seconds what used to take hours. Of course, as our capabilities improved, production demands got heavier, always keeping the treadmill running at top speed. Inevitably, some artists would stumble and go flying off. The ones who kept getting back on were in the game for the long haul.

As I became more proficient in Storyboard Pro and all the promises of digital drawing finally started to pay off, it occurred to me that my enormous undertaking in 2000 and 2001 to make my own Grease Monkey cartoons would require far less time and effort today. But then I’d probably end up working even harder to make my own feature film. Instead, I used Storyboard Pro to make the animated chapters in Pitsberg. I’m very interested to see where I can apply it next.

Avengers Assemble season 2 ran for 26 episodes. Storyboards were produced from December 2013 to November 2014. The season aired (in a somewhat haphazard schedule) from September 2014 to September 2015. It subsequently came out on Blu-ray and can now be seen on Vudu, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus.

Wikipedia page
Wikipedia episode list
Avengers Assemble Wiki

Episodes I directed

1. The Arsenal

Lured around the world by the mysterious “Arsenal” project, the Avengers learn there’s a villain in their midst a thousand times more dangerous than the Cabal ever was.

“Arsenal” was a robot built by Howard Stark as a birthday present for his son. Since it was built in the 50s/60s for a child, I suggested it should be a thick, rounded design like TikTok from Oz instead of a spindly, multi-eyed insectoid. But I was overruled. This episode ended with the debut of our Thanos, and my directive to the storyboard team was to think of him as Raoh, the uber-villain of Fist of the North Star. Then I learned none of them had ever seen Fist of the North Star. From that moment on, they were dead to me. (JK)

See it here

3. Valhalla Can Wait

Loki tricks Hulk and Thor into a battle and they are transported to Valhalla to find out who is the strongest, once and for all!

This episode featured the debut of Hela, long before she turned up in Ragnarok. Needless to say, we tried to move her giant headpiece as little as possible whenever she was on screen. Another challenge was to design just enough skeletal soldiers to copy/paste into an army without you noticing. I took the initiative to design the giant skeleton myself and was flabbergasted when it sailed through without a single note. Sometimes that happens.

See it here

5. Beneath the Surface

Black Widow and Hawkeye board a cruise ship on a spy mission and are drawn into a battle between Attuma and Atlantis.

This script was quite a bait-and-switch. At first it felt kinda small and tame and then – suddenly – BAM! It’s an undersea monster movie with Atlanteans! It was a lot of fun to have Giganto in an episode (a relic from a very early Fantastic Four comic), though the animators could never quite figure out how many teeth to give him. I was glad to hear Attuma’s voice actor return to the role. He genuinely doesn’t sound like any other villain on TV.

See it here

7. The Age of Tony Stark

The Time Stone becomes attached to Tony Stark’s arc reactor, causing him to age backward as it pulls in dinosaurs and other dangers into present day New York!

I designed the insane, scribbly graphic Red Skull etches onto the wall of his cell. During the time it took to create it, I felt just as insane. We got to draw lots of dinosaurs and robots for this episode, deliver a legitimately creepy Red Skull, and revive the 1960s “spiky mask” Iron Man suit for the child-size Tony Stark (I’m pretty sure it was my idea).

See it here

9. The Dark Avengers

In an alternate world created by the Reality Stone, the Avengers discover that they are the villains and the Squadron Supreme are the heroes!

What if The Avengers, but evil? Famed marvel writer Len Wein wrote the script, which was pretty cool. His was one of the names I grew up reading. This was the first episode to include all the members of the Squadron Supreme, originally created as Marvel’s parody of DC’s Justice League. Easter eggs: the “evil Avenjet” was a reuse of the Quinjet from Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Avengers Tower was located in a corner of Central Park and we used the real street-level plaza in the design. I went there a few years later and it felt like revisiting a movie set where we’d shot a fight scene.

See it here

11. Downgraded

Stranded in a dangerous realm where his tech doesn’t work, Falcon must prove to himself and Hawkeye that he is still a hero, even without all his technology.

This was kind of a wacky one. It put Falcon and Hawkeye in a no-tech world where Hawkeye thrived but Falcon’s wings didn’t. It’s always a challenge when writers want us to engineer high-tech devices out of natural materials. It often feels like they’re suddenly writing for Bugs Bunny. On the other hand, the ongoing Thor vs. Hulk thumb war gag was genius. Staging that and designing the castle in Vanaheim were my high points on this one.

See it here

13. Thanos Triumphant

The Avengers try to stop Thanos after he collects all five of the Infinity Stones, planning to wield his power over the Universe.

Four full years before Infinity War, we did our own Thanos showdown over the completed Infinity Gauntlet. The biggest challenge – as with most episodes – was to get the whole thing into 22 minutes. All five stones and all seven Avengers had to get their moment. This Thanos didn’t really have a master plan, so we didn’t have to spend any screen time explaining that. On the other hand…we brought in Ultron. A year before Age of Ultron.

See it here

15. Avengers Disassembled

Ultron resurfaces to take control of both the Adaptoid and Avengers Tower, leading to the destruction of the Avengers as we know them.

This was one of my favorite episodes of the season; the Avengers have started to fracture, and Spider-Man is hired to replace Cap. We imported the character from Ultimate Spider-Man along with the visual gags that were a trademark of that show. This gave me the chance to land a lifetime goal: putting the Space Battleship Yamato in one of my own cartoons. Shown above is my storyboard version and what ultimately ended up on screen. (Much less actionable.) Other fun: reusing multiple Iron Man armor designs from elsewhere in the Marvel universe.

See it here

17. Secret Avengers

The Avengers have broken up with Captain America leading half the group into a deep-cover mission that takes them all the way into Siberia, home of the Winter Guard!

Team-on-team episodes were always the hardest. Everyone needs a moment to shine, and the more characters you add the tighter those moments become. But the entire goal of making an Avengers cartoon was to get as many heroes and villains on screen as possible. More merchandisable characters equals more merchandising. And bringing the Winter Guard to life was pretty cool. Oh, also, the episode after this one was our version of Civil War, two years before THAT movie arrived.

See it here

19. The New Guy

When Ant-Man joins the Avengers, Hawkeye trains him on Monster Island – unaware that Red Skull is there, planning to cloak himself using Doramammu’s powers!

Ant-Man! A whole year before his movie debut! I don’t remember exactly how we got access to the costume design, since we didn’t really have a working relationship with the movie side. Most of this episode was spent on Monster Island, which satisfied another life goal from childhood when I used to draw my own Godzilla comics. And I almost forgot to mention Fin Fang Foom. They actually paid me for this.

See it here

21. Spectrums

Ant-Man begins to atone for his criminal past by bringing his former allies to justice. His quest for redemption leads the team to an epic battle with Squadron Supreme’s Dr. Spectrum.

Many episodes were written with a “prelude” sequence before the main one. This prelude included a villain named Whirlwind, who was in the very first Avengers comic book I ever read. The main villain was Doctor Spectrum, Marvel’s version of Green Lantern. The script gave him a wide range of energy attacks, all of which required designing. As the director, it was up to me to figure out what they’d look like. (You can see them in the “effects design” gallery at the end of this page.)

See it here

23. Avengers’ Last Stand

The Avengers are challenged by the fully formed and incredibly powerful Squadron Supreme for a battle that will end with only one team as the victor.

This episode was the first of TWO big showdowns that had been building up for the entire season. Here, the Squadron Supreme attacked the Avengers en masse in a battle for world domination. It was another team-on-team show, so the writers kept it manageable by splitting them up into smaller groups as early as possible. Of course, they all had to come back together at the end. This was the first of a two-parter, which meant the other director (Phil Pignotti) got the tougher half.

See it here

25. New Frontiers

When an alien race begs the Avengers to save them from mysterious invaders, the team discovers Thanos is plundering their planet.

Again, this was the first of a 2-parter (this time it was the Thanos showdown). It mainly took place on another planet, and since the design team was overloaded with other episodes, I got to invent almost everything in it. It featured the first on-screen appearance of the Black Order (not to be seen in a movie until 2017) and lots of sci-fi elements. It was exactly the kind of show I was born to make, so it became my favorite episode of the season.

See it here

Here’s more of my design work from across multiple seasons of Avengers Assemble…

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