Green Lantern: The Animated Series premieres Friday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. on Cartoon Network, a special one-hour sneak peek before the show makes its proper debut in spring 2012. Newsarama talked to producer Giancarlo Volpe — a veteran of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Avatar: The Last Airbender — about what comic book fans can expect from the show, the first CGI-animated series based on a DC comic book.
Newsarama: Giancarlo, you've worked on plenty of different animated series, but Green Lantern: The Animated Series is your first one that's strictly comic book-based. Were you pretty well versed in the medium, or did this project require some amount of research?
Giancarlo Volpe: A little bit of both. I was really into comics when I was younger — early teens. My brother and I used to collect comics, and we would share them with each other so we could save on spending. [Laughs.]
I kind of lost track of it over the years; I'm not sure why. In recent years, especially with all these superhero movies are coming out, it's really hit that nostalgia for me. I wasn't the biggest Green Lantern fan. To be honest, I didn't know a lot. Thankfully, a friend of mine told me, if you're going to read Green Lantern, read the Geoff Johns stuff. So I ordered all of those graphic novels on Amazon and kind of caught up. It was actually really cool because of the way he sort of started with Hal's origin, and then introduced all this color spectrum stuff. It was such a great introductory course to Green Lantern. I feel like a lot of what I get inspiration from is from those books.
Nrama: And very direct inspiration, it seems, as the Red Lanterns — who have only been around in the comic books for about four years — are the main villains for the first season. What motivated that decision?
Volpe: I guess that partially had something to do with the fact that Geoff Johns is so involved with DC creative right now. When I was brought on for this project, it was already sort of decided that it would be Red Lanterns, but I wouldn't be if surprised if Geoff maybe made that suggestion. I actually really kind of believe in keeping it modern and keeping it current. If we would have gotten a little too nostalgic, then I think that the show would have contradicted the comics, or felt like a different world. The ideal is that kids will watch the show and see Atrocitus and Zilius Zox as Red Lanterns, and Kilowog as a green, and hopefully fall in love with them, and then they can go to the comics and see further adventures — and vice versa.
Nrama: On the subject of brand consistency, how much effort was made to keep things cohesive between this series and the live-action Green Lantern film released this past summer?
Volpe: I got to read the script for the Green Lantern feature, and that was about it. It's not like we were on the phone with each other once a week. That's the level of hooking up that we could do. I think probably one of the most obvious — and this isn't a huge spoiler — differences between our show and the movie is that in the movie, Carol Ferris finds out that Hal Jordan is the Green Lantern, whereas in ours she doesn't know. So that alone sort of breaks any continuity.At the same time, it does feature Kilowog, it features the Guardians, it features Carol Ferris. Hal is a test pilot on Earth. It does feel like the same world. So if anyone did watch the movie and wanted more, the show sort of takes the baton, but just takes it in a much more sci-fi level. It's more in space than it is on Earth.
Nrama: What's the typical breakdown, then, of space versus Earth scenes for the series?
Volpe: I think Bruce [Timm] was really pushing for that. He's been doing the superhero stuff for so long that he was kind of tired of Gotham and Metropolis and all that stuff, and was like, "Man, I just want to be on crazy planets where trees are purple and upside down." The funny thing is that I was doing that for three years on Clone Wars, so for me I was a little bit like, "Oh, more space exploration, I guess." [Laughs.]
It's actually really fun. It's very liberating; you can do anything within the budget. Like 95 percent of it takes place in space. We wanted to set up Hal as a human like any of us, who just happens to get whisked away on this much bigger universe and existence.
Nrama: So did the large amount of space scenes affect the decision to make this the first CGI-animated series based on a DC comic book?
Volpe: There's this misunderstand on the Internet that CG is less expensive than traditional, and that's actually really not the case at all. CG is actually — I would say, ballpark, twice as expensive as traditional. It's quite an investment and a commitment to decide to do a show in CG. But the beauty of CG was obviously that you can get very dynamic lighting, and you can get very dynamic camera angles, and I think that lighting and camera angles can really make a sci-fi show soar.
One of the challenges, though, is that in CG you actually have to be very prudent with how many models you build. Every character, every set, every prop is money. We have to kind of tell these stories very economically, which is one of the Catch-22s — the very nature of the show is that they go planet to planet and explore these entirely different civilizations, entirely different species, and so every time that happens we have to create this new set, this new planet, and this new species. It can be challenging, for sure.
Nrama: Given that, can viewers expect to see the rest of the color spectrum beyond Green and Red Lanterns at some point?
Volpe: To me, just the fact that if you make a show about Green Lanterns, and you say there are Red Lanterns, even a five-year-old kid would go, "Well, are there Blue Lanterns?" It just seems like a natural question people would ask.
That stuff gets weaved in. Sinestro is a little bit of a tricky thing because we were asked not to use him very much at the time we were developing the show, because at that time his destiny wasn't completely decided in how they wanted to play him in the future. Now that I've seen it, and the final scene is pretty obvious what's going to happen to with him — that may give us some license in the future to get him.
Nrama: What about the other human Green Lanterns — Kyle Rayner, Guy Gardner and John Stewart?
Volpe: Someone asked me that at Comic-Con, and my response was basically, "As long as the show is a hit, and it keeps going, sure." I would imagine we would have to at some point.
With the CG restrictions, we have this very short wishlist of who we actually bring onto the show. We can't just load it up with every human Green Lantern — but we would like to. And I understand that everyone has their favorite. It's definitely on our radar.
Nrama: It seems like a natural thing to incorporate, especially given how John Stewart was the main Green Lantern in the Justice League cartoon.
Volpe: Yeah. Even Bruce has a particular affinity for John Stewart. It could happen.
Nrama: Wanted to ask about voice acting a little bit — Josh Keaton is Hal Jordan, who is known to comic book fans as Peter Parker in Spectacular Spider-Man. What made him right for the role?
Volpe: When we were auditioning it wasn't really going across our minds, "Do we want Spider-Man to play Green Lantern?" Honestly, the audition was just like anything else, where we're just trying people out, and seeing who gets the jokes, who delivers them naturally, who gets the subtle stuff that's going on in the writing the best, who sounds likeable.
Josh just really stood out. I would say that the biggest difference between Peter Parker and Hal Jordan is that if Peter Parker is sort of a nerd, Hal Jordan is kind of a jock. Josh does both well. I've come to know him a lot better over the year, and he's got both sides of him. He's got this geeky side to him that really likes superhero stuff, but he's also sort of got a little bit of this charming cockiness to him. I think that comes through. I like that there's a little bit of vulnerability in his delivery, he's not totally cocky, he's not just one-note. He's very well-rounded.
Nrama: Then there's Tom Kenny as Zilius Zox. What's he bringing to that character?
Volpe: Obviously, he's famous for being SpongeBob, and Zilius Zox is almost sort of an Evil SpongeBob in a weird way. They have almost the same body type.
What I love about Tom Kenny is that he's just so diverse. If you've got him in the booth, you don't have just one character, you've got a lot. Anytime we have random alien or random Green Lanterns, it's fun to ask, "Hey, Tom, can you come up with something for this guy?" He also has a way of adding just that little bit of charisma to even the most despicable characters.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!