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Jennifer Coyle sends 'Spectacular Spider-Man' to therapy

By Rob M. Worley     May 30, 2008

Jennifer Coyle has literally worn her love of Spider-Man for much of her adolescent and adult life – she went so far as to paint a huge Spidey on the back of her motorcycle jacket in her days growing up in Rolling Hills and at Cal State Long Beach.

Today, she paints the web-slinger on a much broader canvas – as one of the directors on 'The Spectacular Spider-Man,' CW4Kids' hit Saturday morning television series. Coyle's second episode of the series' first season -- "Group Therapy" – premieres this Saturday, May 31 at 10:00 a.m. ET/PT.

Coyle got her start in the animation industry as a storyboard artist on on television series like "Men in Black," "What's New, Scooby-Doo?" "Tom and Jerry Tales," "As Told By Ginger," "King of the Hill" and on both "The Wild Thornberries" series and film. She also storyboarded on the "Hellboy" animated films, which brought her to the attention of "The Spectacular Spider-Man" producer/supervising director Victor Cook.

She moved up to the director's chair on "Slacker Cats" and the direct-to-DVD "Scooby-Doo, Pirates Ahoy!" before taking the helm  on Spider-Man episodes. She is also directing on "The Good Family" this summer.

Coyle stole a few moments from the busy Spider-Man production schedule – she's completing her fourth episode for season two – to discuss this weekend's unveiling of The Sinister Six in the all-new episode, "Group Therapy."

Question: It's hard enough bringing one villain to full-blown animated life in an episode. How did you approach positioning six on-screen?

Jennifer Coyle: Well, all things being equal, six is tougher than one – but it does make it interesting. When you're doing fight scenes with that many characters, you really need to focus on the choreography. You have to make sure the action stays clear, quick and interesting, and you have to focus on moments to highlight each of the characters.

Question: Without offering any crucial spoilers, is there a scene or moment in the episode that you're particularly proud of?

Jennifer Coyle: I thought our big action sequences really utilized the environments well – in both Times Square and in Central Park. Those two environments gave us plenty of room to work, and allowed us to get very cinematic in the direction. We were able to incorporate a lot of iconic looks, like the big screen in Times Square and a bridge in Central Park – and really use them within the action.

All six of those villains are really spectacular in their own way – and using those locations gave us enough room to show what they do best. Vulture can fly, Doc Ock can move freely with those great arms, Rhino can use his full strength -- he actually punches a hole in the bridge. Every villain gets to do something that they do best, and Spider-Man has the space to do his thing and turn it on them.

With Spider-Man, it's a constant struggle to keep raising the bar on his action sequences – he has to be honest to his character, and you can't have him just talking and making jokes. The action has to top what you've done before. But with those locations and all six of the villains, we were able to amp it up.

Question: All of these villains have appeared in previous episodes. Did the lack of normally-required exposition allow more freedom for a fairly action-packed episode?

Jennifer Coyle: We didn't have to spend any time at all – you know who they are and what they want, and that they're going to cause trouble. It was exciting on a number of levels – because it's the first time they're all together, and because it sets the groundwork for a lot of the episodes in the future.

Question: In directing "Reactions," you introduced Doc Ock to the series – and now you set the tone for many future episodes by revealing Doc Ock as the leader of The Sinister Six. What attracts you to Doc Ock?

Jennifer Coyle: Oh how I love him. Every director is only as good as their artists – we don't do these shows by ourselves – and I had some stellar board talent on the "Group Therapy" episode in Kevin Altieri and Joaquim Dos Santos. They deserve a lot of the credit for bringing Doc Ock to life.

Doc Ock is so much fun. The character design is so good, and I enjoy drawing him on a very basic level. I think everybody identifies with him on some level – he's a good guy who has worked hard his whole life, and he's been pushed to the point that he's not coming back. You can easily understand the pathos … and now he's really become a bad guy. You can do just about anything with that character – those arms are amazing, and the timing has been really good for this show, so much so that I think you feel the impact of those arms.

I think I've had him in almost every episode I've directed – so now he's like an old friend. I think I've got a bad boyfriend thing going on here. He's caused me so much pain, I think I might actually like him.

Question: You've directed two episodes in the opening season of "The Spectacular Spider-Man," and you're working on your fourth for the second season. What is that makes directing Spider-Man enjoyable for you?

Jennifer Coyle: Spider-Man offer me the best of all worlds – it's comedy and cartoony and zany, there's great acting and amazing action. We push him in a squash and stretch way, and yet there's plenty of room for acting goodness – with all the high school intrigue – and there's obviously enough scope for quite a lot of action. So I get everything I like right here in one show.

Question: You are the only female director on this series thus far – and one of the few females directing super hero/action-oriented animation. Do you see growing opportunities for female directors in the animated world and, particularly, in the fanboy arena?

Jennifer Coyle: I just had those sentiments confirmed a few weeks ago – I met a woman director at Disney, and she said she didn't know of another female directing action adventure. I know of Lauren Montgomery (Superman Doomsday), but that's about it.

When you take a look around, it is kind of a man's world, and I think it speaks highly of Mr. Victor Cook that he'd give me an opportunity to do this. I work with a lot of amazing, talented people who have always overlooked the fact that I'm a girl, so it's nice. I don't feel oppressed.

I know that being a woman, I do bring some different perspectives – I think the big difference comes in the acting, because I know that's where I tend to make a lot of notes. I love the nuances of animation acting. Just today, we were posing a sequence where we're knocking the cheerleaders down a few notches. I don't think a lot of men pay as much attention to the politics of relationships when they're posing out these high school scenes, but that was what honestly attracted me to the Spider-Man comics in the first place. I read a lot of comics in high school and college, and I always liked Spider-Man because of all the angst – it wasn't just a straight up fight.

I think this series has a lot of heart. They've really pushed that aspect of the series and made it accessible for girls – and the ratings have reflected that. Here's this oppressed kid, dealing with everything regular high school kids do, all the while having to take care of his Aunt May, and the having the burden of being who he is when he pulls on the mask. That's always been a factor in how readable the Spider-Man stories have been for girls. It's not like we girls don't appreciate a good ass-kicking from time to time, but the thing that attracts me to the story is that it's got heart as well.

Question: Who or what inspired you to direct animation ... and was working with super heroes always part of your goal?

Jennifer Coyle: I always wanted to do comic books, but I had the classic, clichéd lecture from a teacher that I'd never make a living working in comics. Back then, I didn't realize that my love of comics could transition to animation, and that I could actually make a living in animation.

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