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Marvel Knights Animation

Producing Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers

Ruwan Jayatilleke talks about producing Marvel Knights Animation's 'Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers'!

By Ben Morse & Marc Strom

As the producer of previous Marvel Knights Animation series such as "Spider-Woman: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.," "Astonishing X-Men: Gifted" and "Iron Man Extremis," Ruwan Jayatilleke certainly knows a thing or two about adapting a story from the comics page to the animated screen.

Jayatilleke has helped to shepherd these series through their very beginnings to fully finished episodes, and he's looking to give Marvel fans another fresh take on a classic tale with "Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers."

Now, with the first episode becoming available for download on iTunes, Xbox LIVE and PlayStation Network beginning this upcoming Monday, March 28, Marvel.com spoke with Jayatilleke about the process of brigning "Thor & Loki" to animated life.

Screenshot of Thor vs. Loki from Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers

Marvel.com: What was the genesis of this project?

Ruwan Jayatilleke: To be honest, the roots of this project started several years ago when I first started at Marvel. [Current Editor-in-Chief] Axel Alonso dropped off a whole bunch of comics and collections for me. One of those books was Robert Rodi’s and Esad Ribic’s THOR & LOKI: BLOOD BROTHERS--originally entitled LOKI--that Axel edited as Executive Editor. I kept reading it cover to cover several times and kept thinking how brilliantly it was written and visually rendered. And it just stuck with me, over the years.

Having been producer on several Marvel knights Animation projects [such as] "Spider-Woman: Agent of S.WO.R.D.," "Astonishing X-Men: Gifted," and "Iron Man Extremis," I chose "Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers" when I got the green light for a Marvel Knights Animation project to be positioned before the Marvel Studios’ feature film "Thor." I felt Robert’s and Esad’s take on Loki was perfect for the “small screen” and would give hardcore fans and casual ones a chance to immerse themselves in a compelling accessible story with familiar characters.
From there it was business as usual, which means hiring an animation team in Magnetic Dreams Studio; sound, casting, and recording team in James Snyder and Edge Studio; a musical scoring team in Underground Music; and a mixing team in NYAV.

Marvel.com: How and why was Rob Rodi & Esad Ribic’s LOKI series selected to receive the Marvel Knights Animation treatment?

Screenshot of Loki from Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers

Ruwan Jayatilleke: I am fortunate to have a lot of freedom as a producer and picked this project based not only on my respect for what Robert and Esad achieved in THOR & LOKI, but also on the feeling that this story could translate to animation quite well. My confidence in THOR & LOKI is entirely due to all the gifted folks who worked on this project. It was quite amazing to see it all come together from the voice acting to the CGI to the special effects to the music and sound design.

In terms of why, I’ll be honest: I love well-written villains! Complex villains are a huge part of what make good vs. evil super hero stories work and resonate. While I would not term "Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers" a typical super hero tale, I would say Robert and Esad shed a lot of light on Loki and painted him with many colors and textures--not flatly as a bad guy.

Loki has desires, motivations, and faults. He comes off as empathetic and sympathetic. This story effortlessly takes complex themes and ideas and seamlessly weaves them into quite a tragic tale that is Loki’s life and burden. While Loki is taking those who persecuted him to task, he also demonstrates that the conflicts between he and the rest of Asgard are not necessarily black and white--or gray for that matter. His life is colored just as much by his own villainous behavior as by the cruelty of those who are typically lionized as heroes. What one comes to understand throughout the story is that Loki is truly a misunderstood character. And without giving anything away, what Loki learns about his connection to Thor from episode to episode makes this story that much greater and satisfying.

Marvel.com: Going into the project, what did you feel was essential to retain from the original series and where did you know you needed to make alterations to accommodate the shifting media?

Screenshot of Thor from Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers

Ruwan Jayatilleke: All the animation, voice acting, sound design and music that we used were all to serve the story. The essentials to retain were the intentions, values, and tone of the comic book story. I did not want to change the meaning of the story, but I did want to provide the audience with a new and just as compelling way to experience [it].

I don’t think my thought process was to eliminate things from Robert and Esad’s work. It was more about what could be translated, magnified, and amplified with animation, CGI, 3D models, environmental effects, voice acting, sound design, musical score, etc. Of course, what works in comics [doesn't always] work in animation, so certain transitions, certain action sequences, subtleties, and beats would not work without changing or tweaking them a bit. It’s a balance between choosing what to animate fully versus using more subtle techniques. I always felt that going crazy with CGI and special effects would change the meaning of a scene, moment, or dialogue because it would be too much visual flair and not enough [emphasis] on serving the story. The choices we did make to amplify, change, etc. the story were purely to make sure that the animation worked story-wise. All the essentials from the comic book story are there, but at the same time there is new visual content throughout. Again, it’s a fine balance that we as the creative team walked very carefully.

Marvel.com: How was Magnetic Dreams selected as the animation team? What do they do well and bring to the table?

Ruwan Jayatilleke: Magnetic Dreams was chosen based on the phenomenal job that they did on the "Iron Man Extremis" animated series last year. Beyond being a cool and genuinely awesome team of talented folks, it’s fairly obvious that they love and respect comic books, bring great storytelling chops to the table, and are quite adept at innovating within the storytelling and animation space. Joel Gibbs and Mark Cowart, the directors of "Thor & Loki," and Mike Halsey, co-owner of Magnetic Dreams, just bring a wealth of experience and energy to every deliverable of the project whether it be a full episode, a trailer, or something as granular as front and end credits.

Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers

Marvel.com: Once you had the source material and animation studio, what were the next steps in getting this project made?

Ruwan Jayatilleke: Bringing in the voice casting and sound producer James Snyder as well as Edge Studio to run the casting and recording as well as Underground Music to develop the epic and fantastic musical score for each episode and trailer was key. One thing to remember is that the actors were cast and recorded as the animation was developed; in some cases the voice sessions were completed way ahead of the time.

Marvel.com: How long start to finish has this project taken?

Ruwan Jayatilleke: About six months from actual production to final episode. Seems like a long time, but not really when you consider this project is made up of over an hour of animation; and six months really is not that much time considering all the moving parts.

Marvel.com: What were the most challenging aspects of creating "Blood Brothers"?

Ruwan Jayatilleke: To be honest, matching the high standards that Robert and Esad established in the comic book series and making sure we were delivering a new and unique experience to this story. Collectively as a team--the animators, the sound team, and the music team--meeting their own expectations, in terms of final product. The amazing thing here is that the end product is far greater in value than a simple sum of individual creative efforts. That’s true collaboration--all of us making sacrifices for the greater good and entertainment value of the story. Of course, with all the new techniques at our disposal in terms of taking Marvel Knights Animation to the next level, it was important to know when to go all out and when to pull back because less is truly more in key story moments. And our intended goal is always to deliver the best piece of content that can be created from the source materials and give “traditional animation” a run for its money!

Marvel.com: What was most rewarding about working on this?

Ruwan Jayatilleke: To be working with such a brilliant group of people on such a smart, sharp, and gripping story. And the chance to build a piece of entertainment that feels like a small independent film with epic moments and action, and yet still works as episodic content. Reaching the finish line on this project was/is quite sweet.

Marvel.com: Specifically, how do you describe your role in the process?

Ruwan Jayatilleke: As producer, I lead the project from beginning to end. I am the creative voice for Marvel, hiring all the creative teams, communicating my initial vision to the respective teams in terms of animation, voice acting, and sound/music, keeping the project moving, and of course, troubleshooting any big issues and small issues that pop up. The basic duties are reviewing and commenting on minor and major stages of the project from animatics to casting sessions to recording sessions to musical direction to the intermediate stage of the animation to the final composited episode. Because I have such collaborative relationships with the creative teams, most of my time was spent talking through the project with them, encouraging all the great work that they did, and figuring out when to step in and make changes and then when to hang back and trust in the team’s decisions.

Marvel.com: What chord do you hope "Blood Brothers" will strike with fans? What impression will they be left with of these characters and this work?

Ruwan Jayatilleke: I do believe that "Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers" will challenge certain assumptions that fans make about the characters in Asgard as well as giving them an immersive entertainment experience that further demonstrates that Marvel Knights Animation is stepping up the production value and draw of these projects.

Loki will definitely impress them in this story, and impress upon them the idea that everything is not as it seems or will turn out the way that it’s supposed to, and that he as a character is as essential to Thor as Thor is essential to him. While the trickster god’s biggest tricks often involve some malevolent plot, the biggest trick here could be that he’s finally fooled himself. But fans will need to watch the story from start to finish and decide that for themselves.

Stay tuned to Marvel.com for even more on "Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers," and download the trailer now for FREE on iTunes and XBox Live with the first episode available for download beginning March 28!

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