SDCC 09: Disney's New PRINCE (of Persia)

Jake Gyllenhaal as the Prince

The Comic-Con International: San Diego Prince of Persia panel was moderated by Nachie Castro, editor of the Disney book group, and attended by Prince of Persia game franchise creator and graphic novel writer, Jordan Mechner, and a team of all-star artists including Cameron Stewart, Bernard Chang, Tommy Lee Edwards and anthology cover artist Todd McFarlane. The anthology will be released next April, and will serve as a prequel to the hotly anticipated Jerry Bruckheimer helmed, Jake Gyllenhaal starring likely-to-be- blockbuster Prince of Persia film coming next Memorial day.

Due to being doubled booked, the panel began with Todd McFarlane. Some process photos of McFarlane as he worked on the cover, revealing the B&W cover art, to full color render were shown.

Castro asked McFarlane if there were any specific thematic points he strove for in the cover image.

McFarlane: “We’re always trying things with licensed stuff. But here we’re really introducing people to the character, so I didn’t want to assume previous knowledge of the character. I decided to show his fearlessness in battle. In covers, you’re trying to tell as much story as you can, and so that was the impetus of the cover design. Instead of, as I said, assuming knowledge of the character or world.”

Castro, worried he was asking too geeky of a question, asked if the blades at the forefront where meant to be evocative of the spike-pits of the early games?

McFarlane didn’t want to be too wink-wink nudge nudge, agreed it was a little nod to that. With so many characters, it’s easy to muddy image. McFarlane’s favorite covers are simple, direct character shots. From a distance, clustered character shots can be tough to read. But with the spears, it created the illusion of even more characters.

Mechner enjoyed how it played up the larger than life aspects of the world. As the first exposure to world of these characters, he’s pleased with the image.

McFarlane teased at some big images of the movie, and stressed that they’d try and get to some of that same imagery in the comic.

Chang chimed in that he’s biting that image for a scene in his story, and, like any Prince of Persia fan, loves the spike pit, promising some homages.

Castro gave an accout of his own history with the game, starting with what he saw on his Apple 2C 19 years ago to now, showing off old 8-bit graphic slides. This led to a reveal poster of Gyllenhaal as the Prince of Persia himself. Someone joked that the 8-bit image is proably pre-vis film.

The film is out next Memorial Day 2010, and this anthology takes place before the film starts. While it isn’t a direct prequel, with anything like a cliffhanger to movie, it does seek to enrich and expand on the world of the film. It’s part of a new initiative of movie agreements to really play in the world of some Disney film worlds, and if successful, could lead to more, similar ventures.

Mechner expressed his excitement in revisiting the property after years, first on the games, and then on the screenplay. Part of the fun of a new story is the challenge of setting up the world of the movie, as distinct from the games. The Prince of Persia mythology has always changed, and even been contradictory. With this comic, he’s seeking to stake out the territory of the movie, without giving the film away. It’s an intro, but also hopefully something that will stick around with the world after. It includes nods to some of the original games for old fans, too.

McFarlane weighed in that Jerry Bruckhiemer’s producing the movie too. He was clearly looking for his next Pirates of the Carribean, so this is a big production, big budget, one of those kinds of movies.

Castro added that it’s going to blow everybody away, even from just prelims.

Diving into the book- it’s basically 5 chapters, each by one of these artists set in the world of the movie.

Cameron Stewart’s chapter has a story dealing directly with the Prince, and a slide showed some in progress work. Some of the chapters will deal with peripheral characters, however.

Mechner talked about the influences of the property, Scheherazade and The Tales of 1000 Nights, as often "tales within tales." The varied artists played into that. Each story is of someone pulled before a judge, proclaiming their crimes, so this will be telling 5 tales nested within 6th tale, with each person telling their story, defending themselves, akin to Rashamon. Multi-perspective is part of the allure of the GN format, the panelists said, as it allows for unreliable narrators, that can’t be done in film.

McFarlane left for Image’s panel, but before he went, told an annectote:  “Jake Glynnhal, for everyone who saw 300, dude’s in fantastic shape. My wife, always a big fan, said he went from handsome to stud. I think divorce papers are in order now. He’s acting the part, but he looks the part. It’s superheroic. He was bigger than his stunt doubles. We’ll have the toys, too!”

The panel went on, Cameron Stewart told the story of his early memories of the game. When he was a kid, he was dying for the game on his birthday. A month before his birthday, he suspected his mom had gotten it for him. He ransacked her bedroom, and she had it! He wanted to play, but it was shrink wrapped, so he used a razor blade, opened the game stealthily, and played it. But then he had to hide it. So he superglued it closed, so she wouldn’t know. The day of Stewart’s birthday, he open it, but had already been playing it, so it ruined his birthday. But he still rememberes it was an awesome game!

Stewart: “That didn’t really help me draw… but it’s a good story. Playing the most recent game gave me the scope and feel I needed for this game. Everything’s huge! I like, in drawing, that there are worlds that extend beyond the picture in the panel. “

Bernard Chang’s tale will be one of Dastan himself, and Tommy Lee Edwards’ is one of Tamina, the princess who runs around with Prince during film. She’s the keeper of the sands.

Chang: “For me, I used to be a Disney Imagineer, with a degree in architecture, so I’m psyched for things like the spike pit. I look forward to the depth of world in this. It's a lot of fun to illustrate the run-through of this rich world and environment."

Tommy Lee Edwards had already started research of old time Persia and Iran, and the film, enjoying how rich in architecture and culture it all is. He added that it’s great to draw something other than New York City.

Edwards stressed that locations were his biggest draw. His favorite part of a project is always the beginning, research stage of the places. He couldn’t stop researching Iran’s history.

He wanted to make sure he did enough research to do the scenery justice. Not just architecture but landscape, with the sands and everything. "It couldn’t be more difficult!" he said. He added that there’s little harder to draw than guys on horses, but that it will be an awesome challenge.

Mechner joked that he can’t draw a horse, so he got these guys to.

Edwards, who lives in North Carolina, is happy to go look at horses for research, not just Wolverine in Manhattan. It’s a great new challenge.

Castro asked Mechner about the specifics of Prince Dastan, and how he would be different from previous princes?

Jordan Mechner: “The prince has never had a name, it’s always been a mystery. In the Sands of Time game we hint he has a family, but they just turn to sand monsters. For the movie, we had to make him a living person with backstory, but still iconic hero. But in the movie, we’re right there with him. For the GN, we’re playing with a question: who is this guy? Of the five character chapters of this anthology, Dastan is not one of them. He’s referred to, talked about, but a great mystery preserved. We’ll be ready to meet him for real in the movie."

At this point the two artists working on the book not at the panel were revealed, with Niko Henrichon painted pages shown. His story will tell of the villains, and where they’re coming from.

David Lopez will tell the tale of the ones who assist the prince, Ceso, how he meets the movie’s traveling companion. We see them in trouble, fitting, as there’s plenty of trouble in the movie.

Here there was a sneak peak at the motion poster for the movie. Castro teased that there would be more motion annoucments to come, but then went on to show an animated runthrough of McFarlane’s poster come to life. All the creators were excited at the possibility of bringing the art to life in new ways.

While the Prince of Persia Anthology is the focus of the team, a partial animatic of each story will be released online. The collection itself will be out in April 2010.

This begun the Q&A portion of the panel.

Bernard Chang asked for a show of hands on who has played a Prince of Persia game, and when all were raised, he reiterated how excited he was for the spike pit.

A fan asked Mechner about the orgins of the project as a movie. He said that he’d wanted to write screenplays after his senior year of college, but got a great idea for an Apple 2 game before the platform went away. He got the game done, but never got to his movies.

Someone asked how he’d met with Bruckheimer to get the film started.

Mechner had always dreamt of the project as a film, citing the early inspiration of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pirates of the Carribean as an influence on the Sands of Time game. So after Sands of Time in 2003, he went to LA, with the property shaped as movie pitch, to Disney, who liked the pitch, but only would do it with someone like Bruckheimer. Which, he was told, actually meant Jerry Bruckheimer himself. He pitched to Bruckheimer’s studio, who liked it. They were in business, and only 6 years later, it’s coming out.

A fan asked about any other GNs from Disney. Castro showed, from Disney Press group, Wonderland, formely of Slave Labor Graphics; the world of Alice from the perspective of other characters.

He expressed his excitement that the company could work with those on the panel, doing stuff they hadn’t done in comics before.

From Disney Hyperion, another division, Grown Ups are Dumb was shown, from Alexa Kitchen.

They also discussed licensed books from BOOM!, like The Incredibles and The Muppet Show, both of which had new ongoings announced at other panels at SDCC.

Someone asked about a Sands of Time movie tie-in game, and the panel insisted there was nothing to announce so far.

How much would it be like the video game, a fan asked, and would there be elements of the game's story within?

It will be inspired by the games at large, but mostly the Sands of Time. Expect elements, characters from the game, but it will be its own story. The game was crafted to be a fun playable story, and the movie will have its own narrative, as a big fun summer movie.

Tom Fowler will be drawing the larger framing sequence.

The OGN book will be 120 pages, with both HC and paperback editions.

Stewart was attracted to book as it wasn’t “some micro-managed movie thing, with studios making sure it looked just like Jake Gyllnhaal.” When Castro promised free reign for each story and each artist, the project became interesting. There will be real openness to interpretation. The goal is to set this apart from typical adaptations; keep it very tied to the movie, but its own story as well.

Chang expressed his excitement that they’ve got "the real writer writing it!" The source of the franchise at the head for the graphic novel creates a "very rewarding, exciting" experience.

Edwards likes anthologies as a reader, as he feels he's getting his money’s worth. There’s something in there for everybody.  There are often scripts for 22 page stories that could be done in 5 pages, but this is the reverse, trying to fit full stories in smaller pagecounts, and a really fun challenge of fitting in as much cool story as they can.

Jordan was thrilled that after the teams of thousands required to make a game, or a movie, with this it’s just he and these guys, with a lightness and freedom that is really different from massive team efforts.

Asked about  the :01 Prince of Persia book released last year, he called it “its own thing, not tied to the movie, or game.” He didn’t write it, but this will be its own thing, more directly tied to games and movie’s universe.

With this, Castro closed with the final point, this will be a 120 paperback graphic novel, with a price point of $9.99.

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