How AVATAR and THE CLONE WARS Influence GREEN LANTERN: TAS

Green Lantern: The Animated Series may be Giancarlo Volpe's first gig as show-runner, but his past work in animation certainly informed how he's building Hal Jordan and company's story and world.

In part one of our career-spanning interview with Volpe, we discussed his love for Green Lantern's deep mythology, and heard about Sinestro's role on the show (and why it was delayed to so late in the season), as well as revealing Ron Perlman as the voice actor portraying Jordan's greatest rival.

Today in part two we turn back the clock to discuss Avatar: The Last Airbender, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and how those two series directly influenced production of Green Lantern from its earliest stages.

Newsarama: Giancarlo, we started talking about the animation process last time. Obviously, Green Lantern: The Animated Series is not your first rodeo where animation is concerned. You had major roles in two other beloved animated series with Avatar: The Last Airbender and Star Wars: The Clone Wars!

Giancarlo Volpe: Yes! 

 

Nrama: So let's talk about Avatar first, simply because I just happen to have finally sat down and marathoned the entire series, so now I'm anxious to talk about it!

What were some of the things you learned working on Avatar that you brought forward into your time here with Green Lantern?

Volpe: Well, Avatar was one of the highlights of my career, in terms of my overall job satisfaction and being excited and proud of what I was doing. I really loved how that show balanced everything in terms of, it had really dire stakes when it needed to, then it had comedy that was totally wacky, then it would turn around and have romance scenes, which isn't very common in animation, especially for "boys action" series.

The heartfelt moments, the characters were all really multi-dimensional. Everything was just so well executed. I hope I don't sound like I'm bragging! (laughs) But what I'm trying to say is that I really thought that the co-creators, Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko got it really right. Also crediting Aaron Ehasz, the head writer on that show. I learned so much by being on that show, and seeing that all the stuff I loved about animation, especially about things like Miyazaki films, we were trying to emulate on Avatar, and seeing that it came together.

 

I always thought, when that show wrapped, if I ever had the chance to do it again, I would. And when I got Green Lantern, that was one of my "manifestos" if you will at the beginning, I told my team "I want this to be Avatar but in space." Now I know that's a tall order to accomplish. It's easy to say that you want to do that, I don't know if we can be quite as amazing as that show was. But that was the direction, if it worked in Avatar I'm telling you that it can work in this universe as well.

Nrama: I think what wound up being my favorite episode of the entire series is one you wrote a segment of, "The Tales of Ba Sing Se." I loved the concept of that episode, doing the individual short stories, taking a breather. That seems like something that would lend itself well to the Green Lantern Corps… 

 

Volpe: Oh yeah! Well especially with the Direct-to-Video films (DTVs) they've been doing that were similar structure.

It's not a bad idea, the only thing that's tricky about that with our show, is that CG has such a stringent count on character models. So we'd have to be smart about how we told short stories, they'd have to involve characters and places that we've already seen. So what would happen if Saint Walker was on the Star Sapphire planet or something like that. Reusing sets and characters we already have, because it'd be really unwieldy to show, say the origins of all the main characters in one episode. We'd have to show these flashbacks with their parents, them younger, their homes and all of that stuff. That could get expensive for us! (laughs)

But it's not a bad idea! That episode of Avatar was a very interesting experiment. From my perspective, when they had the call for that, "who wants to write short stories for an episode?" Aaron Ehasz knew that we had to get to a point where a lot of crap hits the fan in Ba Sing Se. They didn't want it to happen until a certain episode. So, in so many words, the had an episode to kill. They didn't need to move the overall story forward for another episode, they needed for lack of a better word a "filler" episode, but they didn't want it to be a throw-away episode, they wanted it to be something special.

 

 

So they opened it up to the entire crew to help write the short stories. We had production managers, designers and such that chipped in to help write the episode. I co-wrote the Momo segment with storyboard artist Justin Ridge. It was great to see that a lot of people really liked that. They could have easily said "why are we wasting time with this," but it wound up being a gem of an episode. I really liked that.

Nrama: Now of course, moving into Star Wars: The Clone Wars, seems like a little more of a direct influence on Green Lantern, being both CG and in space…

Volpe: Yeah, definitely.

Nrama: Do you think it was an essential step to prepare you for show running a series, especially a CG one?

Volpe: Yeah, it had a huge part in actually getting me the job on Green Lantern, that I had worked on CG before, where Warner Bros really hasn't, especially for television. So they were looking for someone with CG experience plus directing experience, which fit my résumé really well. The fact that it takes place in space was really a coincidence.

I always joked that I left Star Wars to make just another version of Star Wars! (laughs) When you think about the Jedi Order and the Green Lantern Corps they are very similar, in terms of policing the galaxy and all of that stuff.

Nrama: And Sinestro goes down the path of fear and evil and winds up using the reverse version of their "force" of power… 

Volpe: (laughs) Yeah! Yeah, and even the fact that we used the Red Lanterns, the Green Lanterns had their green power and the Red Lanterns had red, just like Jedi vs. Sith lightsabers. There were so many parallels I was almost reluctant, thinking, "Why am I leaving Star Wars to do another version of it?"

But writer/producer Jim Krieg is a huge Star Trek fan, so one of the things we did, we intentionally drew more from Star Trek story and character-wise to separate ourselves from Star Wars. That's why you get some of the Trek templates with some of our main characters, and even some of the stories we tell. 

 

Nrama: What about some of the actual themes you dealt with on Clone Wars? In the first three seasons already there were a lot of mature themes and darkness and focus on, for lack of a better term, the "villains," since they're not necessarily all villains. Is that all stuff you see parallels with in Green Lantern, or that you're trying to have parallels with?

Volpe: Well, yeah. I do fundamentally believe that, kind of based on what you just said, that there are no true villains. I liked that, for example, Atrocitus is sympathetic once you've heard his story. I think that you could go to a prison today and if you really talk to a Death Row Inmate there's a possibility you could feel bad - or sympathize with a guy when you find out what happened in his life that caused him to commit that heinous crime.

I think that it's very useful fuel for storytelling to understand and relate to the villain. I think that if you do it right, you can make the characters sympathetic, which makes it harder to decide how things will unfold.

If you tell everything from a very childish standpoint of "good guys must stop bad guys," that's fine, but I like hearing the fans struggle with "well who's right in this situation? The Guardians really did destroy Atrocitus's home world. How does Hal Jordan make peace with that? Is it wrong for him to just beat up Atrocitus and throw him in jail?" So I was proud that we were able to weave that sort of stuff in, in the same way that Clone Wars has done that. They did it in a pretty crazy way where entire episodes, even entire trilogies of episodes would focus on the villains! (laughs) 

 

Nrama: Well you worked a lot with the Nightsisters right?

Volpe: Yes, I did. That was one of the last things I did before I left. I did the Nightsisters trilogy, well part 1 and 3 of that, Kyle Dunlevy did the middle one.

 

It was fun to show the fall of Asajj Ventress and how she rejects her apprenticeship with Count Dooku and goes to do her own thing. That was cool. Supervising Director Dave Filoni, it always bugged him, as well as other Star Wars fans and the crew, that characters like Asajj Ventress existed in the comics and the cartoon and stuff like that, but there was no mention of her in the movies. So we were always trying to figure out how to cover that or explain that. I felt like that Nightsisters trilogy was a great step in the right direction for that. yes, she was Dooku's secret apprentice for awhile, but they had that falling out and things changed. So, it'll be interesting to see what else happens with that dynamic on The Clone Wars.

Nrama: Are you still watching the show then?

Volpe: I am actually a bit behind! I have been watching though, I'm about 8 episodes behind right now, so maybe they've shown a bit more with that, I don't really know!

Come back Friday January 18, 2013 for the final part of our interview with Giancarlo Volpe as he discusses the origins of Aya, the use and portrayal of Red Lanterns, and hints at what (and who) we'll be seeing the rest of the season on Green Lantern: The Animated Series!

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