BACKSTAGE - INTERVIEW - GIANCARLO VOLPE
The name Giancarlo Volpe is familiar to animation fans young and old. Producer, Director, Writer, Character Designer, Volpe has lent his talents to a myriad of projects. His name can be seen on the classic King of the Hill animated series, fan-favorite Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the action-drama Star Wars: Clone Wars, to name but a few. Now he's working side-by side with animation legend Bruce Timm as Showrunner for the latest DC Comics-inspired project Green Lantern: The Animation Series. Volpe shares a few secrets and tells a few stories behind the new CGI action-adventure Green Lantern: The Animated Series...
The World's Finest: First off – you must be pleased with the feedback for the Green Lantern special aired earlier this month on Cartoon Network. Thoughts on the good word of mouth it received? Are you pleased that fans and critics are happy with it?
Giancarlo Volpe: The reviews have really blown us away. Of course we all set out to make something good. I’m sure every film-maker / showrunner has the same aspirations, but not everyone succeeds. You hope you’re making the right calls. Hopefully the positive reviews are a sign we’re on the right track.
The only drawback is that now we’ve got to live up to the high bar we set for ourselves. Not every GL episode has quite the scope that those first two do, but I can confidently say the tone, character interaction, and storytelling is all pretty consistent throughout the series. If you liked the first two episode, hopefully you’ll really like what else we’re cooking.
WF: Now, you’re the showrunner for the series. Can you break down what your duties are and how they may compare to the likes of producer Bruce Timm? How are you enjoying working on this DC Comics series, especially one focused on the very-popular Green Lantern?
GV: I basically touch every single stage of production, from the very beginning when we’re in the writing room staring at a blank dry-erase board, all the way to approving the final picture before it’s delivered to Cartoon Network. It’s a lot of work.
The basic template for my job is that I have a big meeting before and after every stage of the process. For example, our writer producer Jim Krieg and I will break every story with the writer for that episode. When the script is done, there’ll be several rounds of notes. The same goes for storyboarding. I’ll meet with our directors Sam Liu and Rick Morales and talk about things we’d like to see, specific moods or timing to certain scenes, etc. They have their teams draw it out, then there’s a few rounds of revisions. The same goes for animation and lighting, only in those cases I’m conveying my direction to the overseas studio. We use a Flip cam and film tons of video, either for animation reference or just instructional messages (Note: We do not use motion capture on this show). The idea is to make it seem like I’m in the room guiding them, like I would work with any other member of the crew.
Bruce’s role is a lot like mine, but because he’s busy with the DTV’s and other projects, it’s just a little more spaced out. Jim and I pitch every story to him. That gives him a chance to spot any story problems or make suggestions to plus things. He does the same for animatics. He’s very involved with the post process, ie, approving final lighting, cutting episodes to time and guiding the sound mixes. I’ve learned a lot about the post process while working with him.
One thing Bruce is still heavily involved with is design. Hardly any drawing or painting gets approved without him signing off. You can tell it still means a lot to him.
For your second part of the question, I love working on this show! The irony is that working on a DC property, or Green Lantern specifically was not something I was aspiring to do. As a kid, the Richard Donner Superman movies made a huge impact on me. I used to watch “Superfiends” and collect comics as well. But for whatever reason I moved away from that stuff as I got older. The recent surge of Hollywood super hero movies has gotten me excited again. It’s also been a pleasure reading Geoff Johns’ books for inspiration for show material. He gives us a lot to work with.
WF: You mentioned that a few snippets here and there from the Green Lantern special were cut for time so it can fit in with the DC Nation block. Will a lot of upcoming episodes need to be trimmed, or is this the exception? And how...intrusive (for a lack of better word – I don’t mean to imply anything negative here)...will the DC Nation block be on the show’s running time?
GV: All TV shows have to be cut to time, it’s a part of the process. Usually trimming the fat only makes the show stronger. So as long as we go into the editing room knowing what our final run time is supposed to be, we can make it work beautifully.
When it gets awkward is when you finish cutting an episode and have to go back to cut even more out. In your mind you’ve declared that you’ve got the thing down to the bare minimum. It’s a lot more painful to take away even more.
Fortunately the first two episodes took the biggest hit. Now that we know the exact number to shoot for, it shouldn’t be a problem in the future. We hope.
WF: Fans were initially skeptical of the CGI use in the series but, after seeing the special, have warmed up to it. Do you think this series would’ve worked in regular 2D animation, or does the 3D give it an edge? Why?
GV: Coming from a 2D background, I’m 100% sure it could have been animated traditionally, especially with WB’s track record. It would have been cheaper to make, plus without the shackles of CG restraints we would have had a lot more characters in the show.
That having been said, there are lots of benefits to CG, however. It’s easier to achieve much more active camera moves and dynamic lighting. As Bruce put it, this is the first time in over 20 years at WB he’s worked with full animation (ie, animated on 1’s, which is normally unheard of on TV shows). We’re getting very subtle and specific expressions that normally just aren’t possible on a TV budget. I think the viewers will continue to be surprised by the performances.
WF: So, how deep are you into production of the series? A couple episode titles – “Razer’s Edge” and “The Enemy of My Ally” – have already been revealed, which gives the impression that production is moving along swiftly and (hopefully) problem-free.
GV: At the time of this interview I’m reviewing the animatic for episode 26. It’s the grand finale to the second season, or “back 13” of the initial GL order. We’re looking at animation as far in as episode 13. Everything is looking better with each episode. And our composer Freddie Wiederman is knocking the scores out of the park. It’s coming together really nicely.
As far as your episode titles are concerned, only believe half of what you read on the internet.
WF: Who do think will be the break-out fan-favorite characters for the first season/26 episodes of Green Lantern? Why? Who can we expect to see pop-up?
GV:Is it cheesy to say all the characters will be fan favorites? I really think we’ve got a strong cast on this show - not just with the voice acting but in the character types they portray. They’re all interesting personalities, and all different. I love watching them interact with each other.
I would imagine that (our red lantern) Razer and (the ship’s artificial intelligence) Aya will be the break-out characters. Because they’re completely original, no one really knows what their back stories are or their destinies will be. It gives us lots of freedom to run wild, as opposed to feeling obligated to stay faithful to a pre-existing character from the books.
WF: To wrap things up, care to drop any hints about what we can expect when the show returns in early 2012?
GV: I can't really give away too much, but I’ll give you some bullet points:
-Prepare for a pretty consistent death count in the first 6 episodes
-Episode 7 is very intense and is a great “tent pole” event for the first 13
-You will meet more Green Lanterns than just Hal and Kilowog
-You’ll meet more Red Lanterns than Atrocitus, Razer, and Zox
-There’ll be at least one other “lantern color” some where in the first 13 besides red and green
WF: Lastly, How do you feel about Green Lantern: The Animated Series being nominated for a 2011 Annie Award in both best music and best general television program?
GV: It’s awesome! I can’t believe we’re getting recognized with only two episodes released. I really admire the Annie Awards because fellow animators decide who gets the prize. It’s one thing when your mom tells you she likes your show. But when it’s industry people, who are all really talented and all create work that inspires us, it means a whole other level of flattery.
Our composer Freddie really deserves the nomination. Wait till you hear some of the stuff that’s coming up in future episodes. He really takes the emotion to another level. We’re very lucky to have him.
"Green Lantern: The Animated Series" returns to Cartoon Network in 2012 with all-new episodes!