Interview: Aron Warner discusses Shrek and his new comic book, Pariah
Aron J. Warner has been helping to entertain millions for over two decades. As a graduate of the UCLA Film School, Warner has been a part of such classic films like Ghoulies, Highlander II, Independence Day, Alien Resurrection, and Antz. His greatest contribution to popular culture has been as the voice for Big Bad Wolf in the Shrek franchise. Warner is currently in the process of wrapping live production on a 3-D Cirque du Soleil Project with James Cameron, and is beginning to delve into the world of comics.
Aron Warner’s company Strange Weather Films has recently announced that they’re developing a new CG feature on Dark Horse’s popular graphic novel series, Beasts of Burden. Warner has also developed his own comic book series called Pariah. To be published by Sea Lion Books, Pariah takes readers to the year 2025 and follows the plight of a unique group of teenagers who have rapidly developed intelligence beyond genius levels as the side effect of an experimental in vitro genetic medicine. When the teens are framed for a deadly virus that leaks into the atmosphere, these modern day pariah’s must band together to fight for social justice.
You can learn more about Aron Warner’s Pariah from his homepage here.
Nicholas Yanes: You’ve been a creative force in Hollywood for years. When did you know that you wanted to make a career in the entertainment industry? On this note, what were some of the key steps you took to get your foot in the door?
Aron Warner: I was studying psychobiology at UC Santa Cruz with the goal of going into research. Film to me was a pipe dream and I never thought it was practical to pursue it (but psychobiology was???). Still, I applied to UCLA film school and figured if I could get in it would get me moving in the right direction. When I got out of school, I started a series of jobs that seemed specifically designed to get you to quit and go into another line of work. I guess when people saw that wasn’t going to happen, I started to move up in the production ranks – starting as a production assistant, coordinator, production manager, etc.
Yanes: You worked on Shrek, which is one of the most successful film franchises of all time. Through being a producer, executive producer and voice actor in that series, what were some of the things you learned that you wished you would have known ahead of time? For instance, did you learn how to work within a budget better? Or did you learn how to better manage distinct creative personalities?
Warner: Everything I learned about being a creative producer I learned on Shrek. Prior to that I was only peripherally “allowed” to be part of the creative process. There’s this huge chasm that separates “physical” production people from “creative” producers. Jeffrey Katzenberg who runs Dreamworks, has been an incredible mentor. He has an innate sense of story and hopefully some of that washed off on me. I also learned how to be inclusive – how to work with a big group of creative people and get the best out of them without having blood shed.
Yanes: Pariah is a great series that could have worked a movie, television, or videogame series. What was it about this concept that you felt would work best as a comic book series? Given that you’ve had such a great career in film, how was working in comics different for you?
Warner: I wanted to do something on my own. Granted, Phil Gelatt is writing and Brett Weldele is drawing, but the story is from me and it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I didn’t want to wait for financing and I didn’t want a lot of other voices involved. It feels really good to be able to do something so unencumbered. Plus, once I saw Brett’s work, I fell in love with the idea of what this would look like drawn.
Yanes: The reason why the main characters in Pariah are super smart is due to the side effects from medical cures. Are you at all hoping that your series might inspire readers to learn more about how medical science is affecting them daily?
Warner: Yes – but mostly to be aware and in awe of science, and how little we know about everything. Many of the “facts” we live with turn out not to be true at all. We know so little and every time a discovery is made a window is opened. Why isn’t scientific research a priority? Why isn’t knowledge something we continue to pursue every day? Why are people so ready to settle on lies or half-truths? See, I get really pissy about all this stuff.
Yanes: There is a great legacy of works dealings with young people who are somehow enhanced and struggling to change the status quo. Besides modern science, what were some of the fictional and non-fictional stories that influenced the creation of Pariah?
Warner: My absolute favorite comic growing up was Fantastic Four. It seemed to have a little more science behind it so it felt more real to me. I love the superhero and mutant stuff, but it feels more like fantasy than sci-fi to me. I wanted to ground Pariah as much as possible. I’ve also read a lot of Colin Wilson’s stuff – he approaches all the subjects I’ve always obsessed over – aliens, ufo’s, supernatural – and he looks at them all from a historical, scientific and psychological perspective.
Yanes: Pariah has mainly received positive reviews. With such positive feedback, what are some of the long term plans for Pariah fans can look forward to? Specifically, are there plans for a second volume of Pariah?
Warner: We have three sets of four issues planned. Phil and I know where we’re going to end and mostly how we’re getting there. We’re leaving it at a place that will allow a lot of possibilities….
Yanes: Outside of Pariah, what are some other projects you are working on that your fans can look forward to?
Warner: This year we have the Cirque Du Soleil film coming out. It’s mind blowing and sort of experimental – and the coolest thing about it is that it shows what REAL HUMANS can do with their bodies. When absolutely anything is possible in movies because of CG, we’re starting to lose a sense of real danger or urgency. We had a great time with the Cirque artists – they’re so fearless and graceful. Unlike us. Andrew also directed MR. PIP – a film set and shot in Bougainville, New Guinea and based on a book by the same name. It’s a world we never would have otherwise seen with a story that can’t help but move you, scare you and entertain you, no matter how much of a cynical bastard you are.
We have a ton of stuff in development. Since I love science fiction, we’ll always have a couple of those in the pipe. But, I’m not going to give away any more of our secrets.
You can learn more about Pariah by reading some previews here.
You can also check out what other books Pariah’s publisher, Sea Lion Books, has produced here.