At this year’s New York Comic Con, the creators of the upcoming Percy Jackson show on Disney Plus once again had a comforting reminder for fans of the book series: unlike the infamous 2011 movie, author Rick Riordan and his wife Becky were heavily involved in the production from the very beginning.
“Right from the beginning, this has been as much about a partnership, a collaboration, a relationship to make sure that everyone who comes to work on the show knows this is a family business,” said executive producer and showrunner John Steinberg. “This is a story that was hatched from a very personal place. As big as it is and as complicated and as many moving pieces… that’s always where its heart is going to be.”
“John and I got to sit with Rick and Becky and just be in a bubble,” said executive producer Dan Shotz. “We got to build this with the guy. He was part of the entire process. He was with us in the writer’s room, in casting, on set. Becky and Rick moved up there for most of the season, in Vancouver. It was a real pleasure and it just made a huge difference.”
All of the panelists in attendance were excited about nailing the little details of the show. Production designer Dan Hannah spoke to making the world of Camp Half-Blood real and exciting (“It was a fun place to hang out,” added director James Bobin) and most importantly real for the cast of the show.
“We were able to put it together as something you could go and experience. Especially for our actors, it was critical to take them into the world,” explained Hannah.
Meanwhile, in order to get the iconic Camp Half-Blood orange just right, costume designer Trish Monoghan says that the wardrobe department tried out 20 different shades of orange in pre-production.
“We had to find a shirt that would work outside in the sunlight, under a gray sky, in a forest, in an interior shot as well,” she explained. “We had to end up dyeing over 350 T-shirts in basically almost like a witch’s cauldron… you could only fit 19 t-shirts at a time.”
And after dyeing those shirts in batches of 19, there was the screen printing process to put the logo onto the shirts, and then washing them again. Monaghan and her team were so committed to getting all the little details right, they also individualized the shirts depending on which cabin the camper wearing them belonged to. The Ares campers, for instance, had T-shirts that were a little roughed up, since those campers would be getting into brawls. The Hephaestus kids, meanwhile, had ripped sleeves and dirtier fabric from working on the forge.
Those attending the panel were also treated to three separate clips from the show (the last introduced by Riordan himself). The first was the first seven minutes of the show, which basically is the first part of the book come to life, right down to Percy’s distinct narration. As Walker Scolbell narrates, there are flashbacks of young Percy and the mythological creatures he saw growing up, including a pegasus on the roof of a New York building. He then meets Grover, as played by Aryan Simhardi, and the two bond over a card game featuring mythological creatures.
Coming to present day, Percy and his classmates stand in the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a field trip, while Mr. Brunner (Glynn Turman) gives them an assignment. There’s another flashback, as Percy looks up at a statue of Perseus and remembers his mother (Virginia Kull) telling him about the Greek hero. It snaps back to modern day, as Nancy, one of Percy’s most frequent school bullies, teases him; after breaking the tip of his pencil, Percy comes face-to-face with the formidable Mrs. Dowd, who admonishes him. Mr. Brunner hands him a pen — yes, the pen that will become his trusty sword Riptide. The scene switches to Grover and Percy eating lunch outside the Met, talking about the best way to deal with bullies. After Nancy throws a piece of cheese at Grover, Percy stands up and walks over to her and before he even does anything, she falls back into a fountain.
The second scene was a tense car chase scene. Grover sits in the back and tries to explain to Percy about all the monsters he’s been seeing, while Percy’s mom, Sally, drives the car. They end up being chased by a minotaur — a monster that presented a particular challenge to the VFX designers, one that they were very excited to pull off.
“We needed to make sure that [the minotaur] was appropriately scary, but not too scary,” said VFX supervisor Erik Henry. “You can’t be that scary with underpants,” he added, in reference to the minotaur’s tighty-whities.
“We decided to have the minotaur run on all fours as it’s attacking. For us, for me, seeing a bull come at you running on all fours running, is scary.”
The last scene shown at the panel was some footage of the high-stakes capture the flag game that the campers play. Since these campers are all demigods training to be heroes, they play capture the flag with swords, lances, and other weapons (no maiming allowed, though!). After some intense group fighting, a camper tells his teammate that Percy and Annabeth have a plan. The footage then cuts to Percy flossing — as in, the Fortnite dance, not the dental treatment — on a rock, alone. He proceeds to take a piss, pet a lizard, then lay down on a log… before being ambushed by Ares camp leader Clarisse (Dior Goodjohn) and her cronies.
Clarisse is a fierce foe, a true child of the god of war, and she’s determined to get revenge on Percy. But even though it’s four against one, Percy manages to hold his own as Clarisse chases him down to a river. He snaps her special electric spear, just in time for his team to capture the flag. As he stumbles backwards, Annabeth (Leah Jeffries) reveals that she was invisibly waiting next to him the whole time. He asks why and she proceeds to push him into the water, which immediately begins to heal his wounds… dun-dun-dun.
All three scenes shown feel directly lifted from the pages of the book, in a very deliberate and loving way. But as Steinberg, Shotz, and the rest of the team behind the show said, being faithful to the books is only one part of the job.
“I think you have two responsibilities,” explained Steinberg. “I think one of them is to try to make sure that if you love these books and if they occupy a very special place in your childhood, in your heart, in your adulthood, you’re going to get what you came from. And you’re going to get to see the things you spent so much time only imagining. At the same time, if that’s all you get […] we didn’t quite do our jobs. So the challenge is how do I surprise you in a way that feels so organic to the rest of the story that it could’ve been there the whole time? I think that is a thing you cannot undertake without Rick or Becky.”