Batman: The Animated Series
Original Television Soundtrack — Volume 4
Original Television Soundtrack — Volume 4
La-La Land Records / Warner Bros., 2016
Thanks in part to the breakthrough success of The Simpsons (and the significant production savings that came with using overseas animation houses), the 1990s was a golden age for television animation. More and more animated shows premiered in prime time, and even the weekday afterschool schedule was suddenly crowded with cartoons, each looking to break free from the kids-only pigeonhole of the Saturday Morning template. Batman: The Animated Series debuted on the Fox Kids Network in 1994, determined to make full use of the larger storytelling canvas such industry changes allowed.
While the show's shadowy “dark deco” designs would be familiar to audiences newly acquainted with the character from director Tim Burton's two Batman films, the series also struck an immediate chord with both critics and longtime Bat-fans for its surprisingly subtle and sophisticated approach to storytelling. This extended to the overall sound of the show, which sought to create an almost cinematic aural experience from three central components: strong vocal performances from a wide range of guest stars, sound design that favored realism, and finally, individual episode scores that deliberately echoed the brooding and suspenseful orchestral music of Hollywood’s film noir period.
Composer Danny Elfman, who’d written the scores for Burton’s two Batman films, had returned to compose the animated series theme, but it was a team of two dozen different composers, each working under the steady musical direction of the late Shirley Walker (1945-2006), who would together shape the identity of the show’s impressive soundscape through its 65 episodes.
Over the past few years, La-La Land Records has released a series of albums (shown above) featuring a combined ten discs and nearly thirteen hours of music from the show. This fourth volume was to be the last installment, and while I hadn’t designed those earlier CDs, the design of this final set would need fit smoothly and seamlessly alongside those previous three.
Beginning with the cover.... Since the three previous CDs had already run through much of the key iconic imagery from the show for their covers, something fresh yet dynamic was needed for Volume 4. However, the stills and artwork made available by Warner Bros. for this project were quite episode-specific and, let's say, less polished than the previous covers. Simply watch one of the original episodes—none of which are available in high-definition—and hit the pause button on your remote and you'll get the picture (and it's pretty much the exact picture).
Fortunately, we did have access to scans of some of the animated cels from the Warner Bros. Studio Store. These numbered reproduction cels were highly-priced and marketed exclusively to collectors and fans. Each was pretty spectacular (see examples from the store catalog below), but there was only one that featured a solo portrait of Batman that was in keeping with those three earlier albums.
In order to effectively reproduce the cel artwork for our new CD cover, some digital surgery was needed. The printed image was 20 years old after all and had suffered some ink erosion, leaving the image somewhat washed out. As was done for a similar project (see link), the central image of Batman leaping would be redrawn in Adobe Illustrator, preserving the background art.
Similar restoration work was needed for the two disc labels, which needed to mirror the previous ten discs and feature a character model from the series. In this case, shots of villains Talia al Ghul and the Mad Hatter needed to be sourced from printed magazine articles, where both were printed so small on the page that the halftone pattern was enlarged and highly visible. Both were redrawn in vector form (see insets below).
The image used on the CD inlay will be easily recognized by fans of the show, as it was featured prominently in the opening titles. The original artwork was only slightly scuffed, but showed a heavy pattern of dust specks—unsurprising, given that the image, like most backgrounds from the show, was painted on black illustration paper. Only minor retouching was needed to correct. Since a sliver of the inlay artwork would be visible beside the cover when assembled, I also swapped the background for the same red sky as the cover artwork.