"Dylan Dog: Dead of Night," the Platinum Studios-produced adaptation of the popular Italian horror comic about a paranormal private investigator, marks the live-action debut for director Kevin Munroe, who made his mark in 2007 with the animated "TMNT." Despite the obvious differences between the two forms of filmmaking, Munroe found they also share plenty of similarities.
"Lighting is always a pain in the ass," he said with a laugh during CBR's visit to the movie's New Orleans set. "Here, it takes three hours to light something, and we decide not to do it. In CGI, it's like, 'Well, I have ten lights in the scene, [and] I can't afford to render that because that just ups the render time."
Munroe also found he enjoyed getting to interact directly with the cast, which includes Brandon Routh, who plays Dylan, and co-stars Sam Huntington and Anita Briem. "It's much more intimate," he said. "You can sit down with Brandon or Sam or Anita and craft a really cool performance." In animation, a similar discussion might involve a voice actor and a team of animators, often in separate locations and months apart. "When [an animated performance works], it works really well," Munroe added, "but this is really neat."
Munroe first encountered Dylan Dog when Dark Horse published a collection of the comic stories. "I knew it was big, but I had no idea how big it was," the director recalled. Now cognizant of the fan base, he respects the balance the movie must strike between life-long fans and film-goers new to the concept. "That doesn't mean it's going to be cheaper or more crass than the comic," he said. "At the same time, you have to make [the concept] work for a movie."
The film follows a despondent Dog as a new case brings him out of semi-retirement in New Orleans. "We meet Dylan when he's trying to get out of the game. [Our story] is all about him getting back into it," Munroe explained. "It's a way to do a great origin story without having to show how he got into this world." While it may seem like a departure from the character's comic book roots, the director and his star made the effort to keep the premise true to the popular paranormal investigator. In the movie, Dylan will have an "arc that's believable" with a tone similar to that of "Men in Black," casting the fantastic in a grounded context and finding the humor (or horror) in what emerges from the blending. "The whole movie is a really cool kitbash of my favorite things," the director said. "It's a really fun buddy action movie that just happens to take place in the world of horror icons. If the movie's done right, you'll walk out of the theater going, 'Oh, at that hot dog stand -- that's where zombies work.'"
Munroe told CBR he enjoyed grounding the movie's monsters in realistic settings. Citing the tendency of zombies in the Dylan Dog universe to avoid eating people so that they may retain their sense of self-awareness, the director provided an example of the sort of question the movie deals with: "If you were a zombie that could not eat human flesh, how would you survive?" Indeed, there is a scene in the movie that answers that question, and the same sort of approach was taken when fleshing out the film's vampire culture and werewolf families. "I like the idea of generations and how things change," he said. "That feels real. That was a way in for me."
One of the ways in which Munroe roots the horror aspects in the real world is through his use of practical effects. "It feels tangible," he said, referring to the in-camera tricks and creature suit that turned actor Brian Steele into a Super Zombie on the day of our visit. "That's the thing that amazes me: You get guys like Brian in the costume, and they're just on fire."
However, while practical effects are often thrilling to witness, they can also be time consuming to execute. "There's been a few things where we realized it's going to be easier to do this [in post-production]," Munroe explained. "At the same time, any time we've done anything with CGI, it seems like there's so much work in that as well." During filming, the decision between going practical or CGI for certain shots was akin to coming to a "fork in the road," with the schedule often being the deciding factor.
Another major "fork" was the decision to move Dylan from his traditional London stomping grounds to New Orleans. "If there's one city in the states that most mimics that [foreign] setting, it's New Orleans," the director said. "You can't pass New York off for that. There's so much European influence here."
Since the change of scenery is an overt element of the story, Munroe was quick to point out that Dylan's comic adventures are considered part of the film's backstory. "We're not saying that he never lived in London, we're not saying that he won't ever go back there," he said. "He's lived all those adventures." Also, the key aspects of Dylan's personality remain, no matter where the movie's story takes him. That includes Dylan's dry humor, which, Munroe was quick to point out, Routh proved to be quite good at.
Ultimately, whether making a live-action film or an animated feature, the considerations of audiences, budget and the production schedule hold true. "You're trying to tell a story, you're trying to shoot it as excitingly as possible and make it look really cool," Munroe said. "Whether or not you're drawing it or directing actors."
"Dylan Dog: Dead of Night" opens on April 29