Javier Soto has been working with Guillermo del Toro for nearly 10 year, providing documentaries and other content for his Blu-ray/DVD releases. For Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Soto took his work to the next level, creating an animated graphic novel-style short, titled The Great Calamity. I recently had a chance to speak with Javier Soto, who told me about his career with del Toro and the challenges of creating this short film:

For readers who are unfamiliar with your work, can you tell us about your projects for Guillermo del Toro?

Javier Soto: By trade, I'm a documentarian. My working relationship is really with Guillermo del Toro and I've been working with him for close to 10 years, providing the supplements for his DVD's/Blu-rays. We stuck up a working relationship that's become a friendship over the years, and I'm most proud of the fact that I've been able to learn from him. I'm also really proud that I've been able to provide a window into his creative process. From the relationship with Guillermo, other filmmakers have approached me to work on special features, including Predators for Robert Rodriguez.

With my supplements, I always try to expand the walls of the world that these filmmakers are building and my work on Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the next level of that. We created a pocket universe of the film that expands what is done in the film, without encroaching on what they are telling.

How did you go from creating documentaries to working on fully animated shorts? Was this something you were always interested in?

Javier Soto: For me, it has always been about pushing the format as Blu-ray and downloads have been more of a part of the film's release. There came a point in my career where I felt that so many people were interested in getting more from the movie after the theatrical release. This is something I've been pitching on other projects and we started doing on Guillermo's movies with motion comics. That slowly evolved into a fully rendered animated piece that works as a standalone and as an expansion to the movie universe.

Since you were working on a companion piece to the movie, did you creative control on the project or was this overseen by Timur Bekmambetov?

Javier Soto: Yeah, that's the beauty of something like this and I was given the opportunity to see it all the way through. I initially pitched a live action short that would tell this same story. Edgar Allan Poe was in the original book, but didn't exist in the screenplay and I saw it as a very crucial relationship. We wanted to restore that element with the animated piece, so I adapted that moment from the book so that it didn't rely on earlier meetings in the story. We knew we wanted to tell the story of vampires getting pushed out of Europe, because it's such a crucial part of that universe.

Did any specific animated films inspire the direction you took with this project??

Javier Soto: For me, the model was always The Animatrix and Gotham Knight. They work really well on their own, but when viewed in conjunction with the films, it added another dimension to the theatrical release.

Can you tell me the art style for this film and walk me through the process of bringing the art to life?

Javier Soto: The look of the animated piece needed to have a very graphic approach. We were anchoring ourselves to the book more than the film, because we were working on our piece while they were shooting the film. It's only eight minutes, but it took us a year and a half to get this piece together.

For the art style, I didn't want smooth surfaces and wanted to make it look like it was hand tooled. Really, it all started with the concepts and I sought out comic book and contemporary artists. I had people develop looks for Lincoln, Poe, and secondary characters and it came down to a young contemporary artist from Ottawa. He had done some Civil War portraits I liked and they had a unique line quality. Everyone really liked his looks for Lincoln and Poe, and my goal was to retain that look for the animation.

Usually, when you look at animation it has smooth surfaces and a polished look. It was very hard to maintain that graphic line quality and I'm extremely proud that we were able to accomplish it, given the time and budget we had. I think it looks unlike anything you see on Blu-rays/DVD's these days. I love that you call it an art style, because it feels like you can park on any frame of the piece and it looks like a page out of a graphic novel.

Once we developed the look, we had the long road toward building the universe. Art direction was the next step and we had all of these jumps in times to new locations that required a unique look. The bulk of the characters are all 3D builds that were created in Maya, and rigged and animated.

Toward the end, it wasn't looking quite right. The animation was great, but the line quality wasn't there and was smooth like Toy Story. We brought back the Canadian artist who did the concepts and had him hand draw layers of line detail that we wrapped onto the 3D figures. In many ways it's an old school approach, but brings a new look to this kind of animation.

With the animated short out of the way, what have you been working on lately? Have you been with Guillermo del Toro for Pacific Rim?

Javier Soto:  Yeah, I'm continuing my relationship with Guillermo and am working on Pacific Rim, which is due out next summer. Now that we've developed this style of animation, we're looking into taking other characters and putting together a feature length film that will have these characters. I think it's a little early to talk about it now, but hopefully we'll have more to say early next year.


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is now available on Blu-ray/DVD and the short is included as a special feature. For more information on the release, visit: http://dailydead.com/abraham-lincoln-vampire-hunter-blu-raydvd-release-details-and-cover-art/

A number of apps and a graphic novel for the movie have also recently been released. You can check them out at: