Interview with Giancarlo Volpe, Green Lantern: The Animated Series producer

Interview with Giancarlo Volpe, Green Lantern: The Animated Series producer

Catch my earlier sneak preview of the episode, my NYCC interview with Bruce Timm, and look for Katie and Brittany's review later today.

Last week, I chatted with Green Lantern: The Animated Series producer, Giancarlo Volpe (Director/Storyboard Artist, Star Wars: The Clone Wars; Director/ Storyboard Artist, Avatar: The Last Airbender). For ten leisurely minutes, he answered my questions about the show’s visual style, the Green Lantern film, and future episodes.

I’m an old-school Marvel comic book fan. Although I didn’t fully get into Green Lantern and DC Comics until a decade ago, I have fond memories of Hal Jordan and John Stewart as my favorite Green Lanterns growing up. The Super Friends burned Hal Jordan into my mind as the premiere Green Lantern in the '80s, while the Justice League cartoon did the same to me for John Stewart, post-2001. Because of my love of anime, comics, cartoons, manga, and everything geeky in-between, it’s always a pleasure to talk to a producer/writer/director within the paradigm.

Giancarlo was totally affable and open. He easily discussed Green Lantern’s style, the Last Airbender film, and even the cost of CGI. The cartoon is already cool by mixing CGI with Bruce Timm’s stylized 2D 1950s retro feel. However, I wondered if Green Lantern pulled from any other influences like anime. And, the answer is yes. Bruce scoured around for old school science fiction covers to incorporate. And, the directing/animation team always consider anime camera angles.

Although I loved the summer blockbuster, I asked what hardcore Green Lantern fans could expect. If you’re a nay-sayer, don’t worry about saying nay anymore. If you loved the original comic and you enjoy Geoff Johns, you’ll see your favorites in unique ways. Although they slightly re-imagined the characters, Giancarlo believes the cartoon remains faithful to their spirit. While he feels The Last Airbender film dropped a couple things, he feels "there were a lot of parts of the movie that were very successful" and they're trying to stay faithful to the original comic.

Below find the rest of the interview.

I really like the Green Lantern’s animated style. Are there any specific scenes concerning art or writing you’re most proud of creatively in the premiere or any other episodes?

One of the early concepts for the show, like the look of it early on when there was hardly any artwork and we wondered “what’s the show going to look like?” Bruce kept referring to these vintage scifi novel covers. When you look at that stuff, it’s very graphic and stylized. It’s not photo-real like video games are. It’s using very bold shapes. That was one of the challenges to get that happening in a CG environment.

We wanted it to look like a painting, not to be too photo-real. There was a lot of effort put into that. In terms of changing it up even further, it’s actually tougher to do on a CG budget because you don’t really have the luxury. But, we snuck in some little cheats here and there that have helped some. There was a stained-glass mural in an episode that we sort of panned past that helps tell the story. We’re working on something right now that has hieroglyphs on a wall.

Is there anything you learned doing Avatar: The Last Airbender that you want to bring to the Green Lantern? Are there any other visual influences you’d like to incorporate, like anime?

What’s really successful about anime is that it’s much more inspired by photography and cinema. It makes it harder to draw but it looks really good and the cool thing about Green Lantern is that myself, as well as the storyboard artists and designers, all kind of admire that stuff. We like to compose the shots like that. It’s really the same school of film-making. The only difference is we’re trying to fake a camera angle or a wide angle lens or something in a traditionally animated show like Avatar, but we’re actually getting that camera angle because of the virtual 3D space that we have. There’s definitely stuff like that. We bring up anime a lot when we’re talking, especially at storyboard meetings, how to shoot it. I’m a fan of that style of filmmaking. Hopefully, you’ll notice stuff like that when you watch it.

I liked the Green Lantern film, but there weren’t people as crazy as the film. Considering the Last Airbender movie came after the cartoon, but with the Green Lantern we have the cartoon coming after the movie, do you have any words to get fans excited for the cartoon.

That’s a tricky question. I think that if you like Green Lantern and the characters and the story that Geoff Johns has created – the cartoon is really faithful to that. I hesitate to bash the movie. I feel a sense of comradarie with the director. Green Lantern is a tough story to tell. It’s really quite outlandish if you think about the rules of his powers and the council that he answers to and the fact that they can travel the galaxy in a blink of an eye.

It makes it really hard to put them in a predicament. We spent a lot of times asking ourselves “how are we going to achieve this?” I actually thought that there were a lot of parts of the movie that were very successful. We’re just trying to do what we can to continue the legacy and hopefully get it right.

As far as the Airbender movies, that was a strange experiment. It went down the checklist very well. “Oh! There’s Sokka! There’s Katara …” but it sort of lacked … There’s a trend in Hollywood to push everything very dark in tone and I think that Avatar has very dark moments. It’s also very playful. They didn’t really capture that in the movie at all. I missed it. I didn’t think the characters were very likeable because of that because they just start to become these blank faces that are just reading off exposition.

These are things that are just reflective of my tastes. I think it’s apparent in episodes that I directed on Avatar, it’s also apparent in Green Lantern. You’ll see that we take the stakes very real and we try to make the dilemmas scary and the villains very scary and threatening, but also take time to laugh with these characters and get to know them and get to love them. Does that answer your question?

Yes, definitely. I liked the movie. But it takes place in intergalactic space and it’s difficult for people who aren’t hardcore fans to wrap their heads around it.

Yea, it’s a tough thing to pull off. I can speak from personal experience.

I know that Green Lantern will focus primarily on Hal and you’ll bring in other members. But will we have episodes that focus specifically on John Stewart or Kyle or Guy Gartner and have Hal as a supporting character?  

Well, Hal and Kilowag are very much the main characters for the show, but I’m actually excited about the rest of the earth Green Lanterns. I’d love to get them all in. One of the challenges of doing a show with CG is you have to be very frugal with the characters that you put in the show. It’s actually really expensive: every single prop - every single character actually costs money. We have to roll out the characters really slowly. We all have our wish list of Green Lanterns we’d love to have on the show and Red Lanterns, but we weave it in very patiently.

My stock response is that as long as people watch the show and the show’s a hit, if we get picked up fore more episodes, I’d love to get all of them in at some point.

I’ve heard that you’re going to pull in Carol as Star Sapphire, but which incarnation will we see?  Evil Star Sapphire or Star Sapphire as part of the Star Sapphire corps?

[Laughs] Has that been confirmed that she’s gonna do that?

Let’s put it this way. The first appearance of Star Stapphire is that they’re almost like sirens. They kind of play off your love or, perhaps, your libido, if you will. That’s sort of twisted. I think that story would be an exciting one to tell. We have Carol on the show. It wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to do that. It definitely makes for juicy storytelling to get the Star Sapphires in for that.

You’d have to have a PG-13 rating for that night.

[laughs] Yea, we’ll do the kids version of it.

What else can we expect for the initial six episodes and the finale? And what are some future storylines you hope to pursue in the second season?

It’s a tricky question. We try not to give too many spoilers out so there are surprises. But, the Red Lantern corps is the big threat of season one. And, not unlike Avatar, there are episodes where the heroes are really going face to face with these characters and then there are others where they kind of go on these side missions.

We’ve managed to make it quite diverse in terms of different types of stories and different types of villains. There’s some good stuff in there. We have some beloved Green Lanterns from the comics that we’ve written into the show that the fans will recognize.

We’ve altered their origins out of necessity. I hope fans won’t get too mad at us for doing that, but I hope that they agree the spirit of the character is very much the same. So, keep any eye out for that. There’s also other lantern corp members that may be popping up in ways you might not have expected.

It’s definitely like bird-watching or something for the Green Lantern fans. You’ll watch the show and you’ll be like “Oh wow, I can’t believe they got that in!” So, they should look forward to it.

The Hour-long special event airs Friday, November 11 at 7PM (ET, PT) on Cartoon Network. Also, DC Comics will release Green Lantern: The Animated Series #0 comic book as a companion to the new series, on November 30th.