BACKSTAGE - INTERVIEW - GIANCARLO VOLPE
The World's Finest caught up with Producer Giancarlo Volpe to discuss the long-awaited return of Green Lantern: The Animated Series to Cartoon Network. After netting nearly 2 million viewers with the one-hour Green Lantern: The Animated Series - "Beware My Power" special event last November, the acclaimed animated series is back, airing Saturdays at 10am (ET/PT) beginning March 3rd, 2012 as part of the DC Nation programming block on Cartoon Network. In the following interview, Volpe delves into the production aspect of Green Lantern: The Animated Series and why it's so crucial for fans to tune in every week for the adventures of the Emerald Knight!
The World's Finest: Green Lantern: The Animated Series returns March 3rd, 2012 to Cartoon Network, airing Saturday mornings at 10am (ET). What are your thoughts on the timeslot? How does the 10am timeslot affect the show, which has a TV-PG rating?
Giancarlo Volpe: I think the time slot is cool, that's when I used to watch cartoons when I was a kid. Besides, there doesn't seem to be a lot of new stuff to watch nowadays on Saturday morning. Maybe we can restart an old trend.
As far as affecting the series, no one has at any point said "Um, you can't do that anymore now that we're a Saturday morning cartoon". So it really shouldn't change the story at all. We did have to tone down the designs for one of the Star Sapphires, but that was long before anyone knew what time the show would air. I think [Broadcast Standard & Practices] thought she was too naked.
WF: Green Lantern: The Animated Series returns with a special two-week re-airing of the first two episodes. For those who have already watched these episodes, via the November special, any reason why they should tune back in? Can we expect any additional material for these two airings – be it a complete show intro, scenes added back in (as some were trimmed from the hour presentation from November), etc?
GV: Okay, I'm not sure about this one, but I believe you'll see the full intro to the show - which is about 20 seconds long - and perhaps the return of a few missing shots which appeared at the NY Comic Con screening. However, I'm not making any promises. It would be just as easy for Cartoon Network to fill that extra time with more "Level Up" commercials instead.
WF: Young Justice suffered through some unfortunate scheduling issues during its first season. How prepared are you and the show’s staff to make Green Lantern: The Animated Series is delivered on a consistent basis, with as little breaks as possible? And how important is a regular, consistent schedule to the show’s ratings?
GV: I'm not sure why that happened to Young Justice, but hopefully with the DC Nation block they'll be on more regularly from here on out. We've got quite a few episodes in the can, so if there's a break in the schedule it won't be because we weren't done in time. In fact, everyone should come over to WB right now, and I"ll play you the first ten in a marathon session. As (our writer-producer) Jim Krieg would put it, it'll be the best five hours of Green Lantern since the Filmation version.
I'm not sure if I can announce the full air dates, but I have seen the list and I was very pleased to see how regular it was. I don't know a lot about ratings and generating a following, but I would imagine it would only help the show if the fans knew exactly when to tune in every week. By the way, does anyone really carry a Nielsen ratings box? I looked up how to get one on the web, and they basically said "Don't call us, we'll call you." What is this, Men In Black? They also said you have to wait for someone with a Nielsen box to die first, and then it will choose the next worthy viewer.
WF: How important is it for fans to tune in to Green Lantern: The Animated Series each Saturday morning, or even watch/download through official sites likes Cartoon Network.com or iTunes? How much does pirating a show such as this hurt the chances of it getting renewed, etc.?
GV: It's very simple - if the network doesn't think the ratings are high enough, they'll cancel the show. It doesn't help that the big wigs are already jittery because the Green Lantern movie didn't turn a profit.
Think of watching Green Lantern: The Animated Series as casting a vote for something you believe in. If you really like what you see, buy it on iTunes. I'm serious. By the way, if you watch it from a torrent, that doesn't count - not to the executives that call the shots, anyway. I'm not saying this cause I stand to make any extra money from this, cause I won't. All I want is to keep making episodes. The fate of the show is honestly now in the public's hands.
If you really want to support the cause, go to your local toy store and buy up all the Green Lantern toys that are in the clearance bins. That'll show the man!
WF: As a semi-follow-up to the previous questions, some fans have criticized the early timeslot of the show on Saturday, given the recent trend of DC shows airing on Friday or Saturday nights. Why is the a Saturday morning slot a positive (besides, 10am isn’t that early anyways)? Do you have thoughts on the timeslot?
GV: I know where the fans are coming from. I'd probably be saying the same thing if I were them. An early timeslot suggests that the show will be "kiddy-fied". This comes from the myth that animation is just for kids and the only hope of it breaking that pattern is by increasing the violence or making the subject matter more racy or gritty - ie, "warranting" a prime time slot. Trust me, I've been battling this stigma my whole career.
You have to know that my approach to making shows (a lot like Bruce [Timm]'s) is to make shows with mass appeal. The goal is to tell a very intelligent, well thought out story that holds up for adults, and then sprinkle in comedy here and there for the kids. You also have to tone down sex and violence so it's safe for a 5 year old, of course.
I think where a lot of action shows can go wrong is they approach it from the complete opposite vantage point: They make a frivolous, goofy story that they think kids will like, then try to sprinkle in an occasional grown up joke or reference to "wink" at the adults. The problem with that thinking is that if the show is crap, the parents you're catering to won't even be in the room to hear your lame 80's pop culture joke.
WF: 26 episodes of Green Lantern: The Animated Series was ordered by Cartoon Network. Will the first season consist of 26 episodes, or will the network be dividing that 26 order into two 13-episode seasons? Do you plan out story-arcs according to the episode order given?
GV: It's broken up into two 13 episode story arcs. There will be a summer break between season 1 and season 2. I hesitate to say anything more at the risk of giving away who wins. But I'll give you this - season two is all about Actrocitus being bored cause there's no more Guardians to slaughter.
WF: How does working with CGI animation, as opposed to 2D, change the production of an episode. Are the same basic steps followed, or does animating the show in CG change things up a little?
GV: CG is harder because it requires a lot more steps to the process. It's also about twice as expensive as 2D. The process does begin, just like a 2d show, with hand drawn designs and storyboards. The hard part is following up after that - we have to check models, layout, animation, and lighting on a daily basis. It's a little more like working on a feature. Except for the salary.
WF: Continuing, is there any difficulty in adapting 2D model sheets, character designs, etc., into a 3D realm? Are there new things to consider when you’re designing a Green Lantern, or a new planet to visit? Are there new aspects of the character to consider (such as size, weight, how a 2D design would look in 3D and what would need to be changed to make it work)?
GV: That's a lot of technical questions that could take me pages to answer! I'll try to condense it though:
CG can be great because you can get a lot more subtle acting and movement than you can in 2d, at least on a television budget. But that can backfire as well. It becomes more painfully obvious if something isn't quite right. So we have to call a lot of retakes to make sure it works. In a lot of cases, because of the speed of a TV schedule, you have to just live with the flaws.
Here's another point I'm compelled to make - if you read through a script of Green Lantern: The Animated Series (or any CG production), every single noun has to be made into a CG model. Every person, place, or thing. This includes design, modeling, texturing, and rigging. Every single noun. It makes my head hurt just typing that.
WF: And now, the $1,000,000 question – why do you think CG is the right way to go for Green Lantern: The Animated Series? What do you have to say to those who have written off the show because it is in CG?
GV: Obviously everyone is entitled to their opinion. If they really hate CG animation I can't make them like it. You have to remember that I came up in this business as a 2D animator. It still makes me laugh that I'm seen as a "CG guy" now. Bruce [Timm] and I both love traditional animation. We love to draw. That's what got us into this business in the first place.
But that having been said, I really think the style of the show will win people over. There's a cleanness to Bruce's design aesthetic that will make the show stand out in a sea of gritty, overly textured video game looks out there. Not that I think that style is bad, but just that everyone is doing it. That's what made Batman the Animated Series stand out back in the day. Bruce reminded me that even then, everyone hated the sneak peeks of Batman: The Animated Series before it came out. Then they watched the first episode and all their reservations went away.
WF: Alright, as we wrap this up...Green Lantern: The Animated Series returns March 3rd, 2012 to Cartoon Network. Can you tell us why we should tune in each Saturday morning? Convince the masses!
GV: Green Lantern: The Animated Series is just a really great story with equal parts emotion, comedy, drama, and action. I'm really proud of it, and a lot of care was put into making it appeal to both hard core Green Lantern fans and the general public alike. There's a lot of love and hard work on the screen. If you liked the first two, watch the rest. I promise if you catch the first ten episodes of season one, the two part season finale will blow your mind. And if you like what you see, it's important that you support the show, or 26 episodes will be all you'll get.
"Green Lantern: The Animated Series" airs Saturdays at 10am (ET/PT) as part of DC Nation on Cartoon Network!