In a relatively short time in the animation industry, Giancarlo Volpe has made quite an impression. Volpe graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1997 and worked as an animator for video games such as Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, and Pajama Sam and Putt Putt games for Humongous Entertainment. From there, he joined the staff of Fox’s King of the Hill as a storyboard artist, character layout artist, and assistant director. In 2004, he joined the staff of Nickelodeon’s Avatar the Last Airbender, working in a variety of jobs including storyboard artist, writer, character and background designer, and director. He won an Annie Award in 2007 for Best Directing on the season 2 episode “The Drill,” and directed some of season 3’s biggest episodes including part 1 of “Day of Black Sun” and part 2 of the season finale “Sozin’s Comet.” Next, Volpe joined fellow Avatar alum Dave Filoni on Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars, directing several episodes of that series in seasons 1-3.
Volpe’s latest job is at Warner Bros. Animation, producing the studio’s first CGI animated TV series Green Lantern: The Animated Series. On the eve of the series’ sneak preview on Cartoon Network, Toonzone News was able to speak with Giancarlo Volpe over the phone to discuss the foundations of Green Lantern: The Animated Series and where the series will will go from here. This interview will discuss some events in the two-part premiere “Beware My Power” in broad terms, which some may consider spoilers.
TOONZONE NEWS: Your last job was at Lucasfilm on Star Wars: The Clone Wars. How did you get to Warner Brothers Animation from there?
GIANCARLO VOLPE: There’s two sides to that story. One side is that our executive producers Sam Register and Bruce Timm were over here deciding that they wanted to make this Green Lantern show in CG, and realizing that they didn’t really have any CG experience (laughs). They needed someone who could spearhead that project. Meanwhile, in Marin County, I was working at Lucasfilm, and it’s an incredible place to work but my wife and I were getting homesick about L.A., so we started to put the feelers out to see what kind of work was available. A mutual friend of ours, Octavio Rodriguez, had contacted Sam and said, “Hey, there’s this director on Clone Wars that is kind of looking for work,” and it just kind of went from there. They brought me down and interviewed me and I was actually really itching to be sort of a show runner. They liked me for some reason (laughs). I got the gig!
GIANCARLO VOLPE: I wasn’t a huge fan. It’s not that I didn’t like him, but I just didn’t know much about him, and that was one of the things that kind of worried me. It was, “Oh, man, are they sure they got the right guy for the job?” A friend of mine actually recommended that I read a lot of Geoff Johns’ stuff, and that was a really great introductory course because he really kind of started with Hal’s origin, and over the course of all these issues has introduced the color spectrums and all that. It was just such a great crash course in Green Lantern, so a lot of my inspiration for the show comes from that. They’ve been releasing a lot of classic compilations as well, so I’ve been reading a lot of the Silver Age stuff also.
TOONZONE NEWS: Bruce Timm has said that they wanted to make the series more approachable and not really root it very heavily in comic book continuity. Do you think your relative inexperience with Green Lantern was helpful in that regard?
GIANCARLO VOLPE: You could say that for sure. I’m sure that this happens with the superhero feature films as well. I would doubt that every single writer and director on those projects are hardcore fans. If it happens, all the better, but it allows me to approach this stuff with not as much preciousness, so that if a choice needs to be made that’s going to actually streamline or make it more dramatic or make it better for whatever reason, we’ll do that. The one thing that’s been very satisfying for me is that I’ve had really hardcore fans tell me that the show really feels right, and that means a lot to me, because in a best-case world, there would be that synergy. That people would feel like the same Hal Jordan they’re reading in the comics is the same one they’re seeing on the TV, and vice versa. We were really trying to get it right. Also, I think Bruce has done this long enough that he sort of knows that that’s kind of impossible, and it might actually hurt the show if you try to do it too literally.
TOONZONE NEWS: One of the things I was impressed with the premiere was the way it managed to root itself very strongly in the original comic stories, but the scenario ensures that everyone’s on new ground no matter how familiar you are with the comics. Was that something that you really thought about when you were setting up the show? How soon did that decision come about when you were producing it?
GIANCARLO VOLPE: The concept of Frontier Space was kind of already decided when I got brought on. The things that they had worked out when I came over was that they were going to be in Frontier Space and that there would be this Red Lantern attack, and they kind of had a concept drawing of the main characters. So the writer/producer Jim Krieg and I were sitting in a room going, “Well, why are they in Frontier Space? What are they doing there?” That was stuff that we all had to sort of figure out. The other thing I like about Frontier Space is that it explains why a Green Lantern needs a spaceship (laughs), because I know that was sort of a controversial decision. I think when you watch even the first episode, you kind of understand why it was necessary.
TOONZONE NEWS: I really like the spaceship, actually. She’s sort of like the ultimate GPS.
GIANCARLO VOLPE: Yeah, yeah. I really love Aya. It makes me laugh because I just got an iPhone with Siri on it, and it’s like my own personal Aya (laughs). I think they should license our voice actress Grey Delisle to be the voice of Siri (laughter).
TOONZONE NEWS: When and why was the decision made to separate the series from all the other Green Lantern direct-to-video movies or the live-action movie?
GIANCARLO VOLPE: I guess it’s just for the creative freedom. That was kind of Bruce’s call. Obviously, he worked on the direct-to-videos, but he just didn’t want it to be that you had to know that stuff. The irony is that while we were developing season 1 of this show, Emerald Knights was in development and it was actually further along than we were, so there were a couple of story ideas that we pitched that we actually had to change because it was too similar to Emerald Knights. This is one of the dangers when you have multiple products coming up that are involved in the same universe. I did request to read the script for the Green Lantern feature, because I just wanted to see exactly what they were doing. I would say that you could almost say this show hooks up to it with one change, which is that Carol Ferris still doesn’t know Hal is the Green Lantern. It kind of feels like the same world, but it’s clearly not quite the same timeline.
TOONZONE NEWS: One other thing that I noticed is that there’s actually a pretty high body count in the pilot. You kill a Green Lantern right in the first couple of minutes.
GIANCARLO VOLPE: Yeah. (laughs)
GIANCARLO VOLPE: I don’t know if it’s because of Bruce’s reputation or if he’s come to an understanding, but no one ever shot the idea down across the board. Our executive producer, Sam Register, loved the idea. Cartoon Network Standards and Practices didn’t bark about it. For whatever reason, they’ve given us license to have characters die and say the word “kill” and “death” and stuff like that. Obviously, we don’t try to do it gratuitously, but what I think is really valuable with that is that it makes the stakes very real, very fast. Bruce and Jim and I all sort of share the same taste. We didn’t want it to just be a cheesy Saturday morning cartoon feel where it’s like, “Mwah-hah-hah! I’ll get you next time, Green Lantern!” We wanted it to be more gritty, like a lot of the TV shows that are famous right now, like Walking Dead and Lost and Battlestar Galactica. We wanted to have these real stakes so that the villains were genuinely scary and anyone could die if they’re left in a room alone with them.
Obviously, we balance that out. We understand that our core audience is 6 to 11 year olds, so we try to get the jokes in there and keep the storytelling relatively simple so that even a kid can get it, but my goal has always been for the whole family to sit in front of the TV and genuinely enjoy it, not just think of it as babysitter TV.
TOONZONE NEWS: How far along are you with season 1 right now, and how far in advance have you planned beyond that?
GIANCARLO VOLPE: I guess it depends on what you count as a season. They’re saying that 13 episodes are a season. If that’s the case, then we’re looking at lighting for…I think as late as episode 9 or 10, right now. We’re looking at animatics for episode 24, and every episode has been recorded, so we sort of know what the 26 episode arc is for sure. There’s been some talk about what will happen beyond that, but a lot of that depends on if our ratings are good (laughs).
Toonzone News would like to thank Giancarlo Volpe for taking the time to speak with us, and Winson Seto of Warner Bros. Animation PR for setting it up. Green Lantern: The Animated Series will get a special sneak preview on Cartoon Network on Friday, November 11, 2011, at 7:00 PM (6:00 PM Central), with the series currently targeted to begin in February or March 2012. Check out our New York Comic Con 2011 review of the premiere episode and Green Lantern panel coverage. Fans can keep up with Giancarlo Volpe at his weblog at deviantART or via his weblog at deviantART.