Comic-Con: AFTER EARTH Panel Shows Training Footage, Concept Art, and the Art of World Building

     July 15, 2012

comic con after earth

M. Night Shyamalan is not a popular director right now, as evidenced by the boos as soon as his name appeared on screen, but the world writer Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli) is building in After Earth might be enough to overcome that.  In Room 6A today a lively panel ensued discussing the film and the heights they hope to reach.  While sometimes they like to usher out big names for these panels, this was strictly the creative talent.  Joining Whitta on stage was cinematographer Peter Suschitzky and writers Robert Greenberger and Michael Freedman.  Also on stage was author and After Earth bible co-creator Peter David and Dynamite comic book illustrator Beni Lobel.  While what was shown might not convince someone, it was enough to shift my interest level to elevated.  Hit the jump to find out more about the reveals and all the work the crew did to give us a fully realized story that isn’t written on the fly.

after-earth-will-smith-imageHitting theaters on June 7th, 2013, After Earth follows Cypher Raige (Will Smith) and his son Kitai (Jaden Smith), who, 1000 years after everyone has left Earth, crash land.  Cypher is injured and has to guide Kitai using navigation as he battles the elements of a very hostile planet.  They started the panel off by showing a lot of concept art alongside a mini documentary about the making of the film.  Some highlights were all the preparation Jaden Smith went through including parkour training and double-blade weapons combat and the concept art.  The scale and size of the film looks impressive, but the depth and detail is what was everyone was really enthusiastic about.

The inspiration partly came from the I Shouldn’t Be Alive TV series, according to Whitta. How these people survived horrendous circumstances and go to their body’s limits.  Initially it was just a crash in the mountain with a father and son team, but Will Smith came up with the idea of setting it 1000 years into the future.  He mentioned how they really “geeked out with the world building” and they would watch shows like Life After People and noting “it’s actually great for the planet.”  The planet really has become an enemy to human life in general.  Whitta also mentioned how cool it was that Will Smith would be helping to give them ideas and would suddenly jump up and start acting out scenes—implying that it helps having a truly talented actor on hand in the pre-production stage.

after-earth-m-night-shyamalan-imageThe film will be shot on digital according to Suschitzky.  Part of that decision was based on the rainy areas of jungle and forest they filmed.  He had to convince Shyamalan but the cinematographer of The Empire Strikes Back likely didn’t have to do much arm twisting.  Also shown off was a history of After Earth montage going back to 1908 to the present of the film.  The long-form sci-fi TV shows bug Peter David, “Because you can tell they are making it up as they go.  *Cough* LOST *Cough* X-FILES *”.

The After Earth bible:

  • Instead of starting at just 1908, the actually went all the way back to 1 billion B.C.
  • 300 pages long.  “Single spaced,” quipped David.
  • Freedman mentioned that they actually worked backwards in time to build it up.

The Raige family has a lot of interesting background, including starting out as a Polish family.  Justification for the Raige name, which is decidedly un-Polish, comes from a story of an Ellis Island immigrant receiving the name of Izzie Hornet after the immigration official didn’t understand the Polish phrase “I can’t hear you.”  Peter David also mentioned how their ideas have started to turn into a reality, “I read a science report.  If things don’t change, by the year 2050, Earth will be on a downhill slide.  Bob, Michael and I were all high fiving.”after-earth-movie-image-jaden-smith

  • The aliens are known as “Skrell”. They have witnessed the humans destroy Earth and aren’t happy that we landed in their neck of the woods on Nova Prime.
  • They were originally called NIMBYs according to Whitta. “Not In My Back Yard.”
  • There will be a prequel novel published by Random House set in a different time.  The Skrell reveal their ultimate weapon here after many failed attempts to scare the humans away.
  • They are also working on six novellas that will be published online.

As the panel began to gear up towards the Q&A, they announced a special prize as fans left after the panel; an exclusive 32-page Comic-Con comic book set around 2037 A.E.  In true Comic-Con fashion, they also decided to entice the fans to ask great questions with… CUPCAKES!  “Totally sucky question, no cupcake for you,” joked Peter David.

  • “Are we going to meet other people after crash landing?”  “At one point, there were treasure hunters.  But they went away from that.  Will didn’t like that idea,” says Whitta.
  • Another fan asked whether we would see how the planet devolved after the humans left. Not really, “Because they left earth,” says Peter David.  “The idea is that earth has been condemned.  The first time anyone has been back,” says Whitta.
  • “Are there any other civilizations besides the Skrell?”  “We do not see them in the first film,” says Peter David.  But maybe in the novels, he added.  They wrote them into the bible a bit.
  • After a small fan with a platypus hat on asked a question, Peter David asks how many fans of Phineas and Ferb there were and a bunch of cheers broke out.  “Phineas and Ferb will be doing a guest appearance in the fifth movie,” joked David.
  • One question asked how much work they put into the production.  “You don’t have to do much production in Utah to make it look like an alien planet,” says Whitta.  A lot of fabric and canopy tents.  Looks very colonial.  It also makes a positive ecological statement.  They’ve chosen to have what they have instead of incredibly advanced technology killing the planet again, according to Freedman.after-earth-will-smith-image
  • “Did M. Night choose y’all?  And will there be a twist?”  Night came on after Greg wrote the first draft, then they wrote together.  Will and Night were friends for a while because of their Philly connection.
  • “Is there an overlord a bit who oversees the entire universe to keep from continuity stuff.”  Yes, there is, says Peter David.  Overbrook is the head.  Robert, Peter David, and Michael are the big writers of the world.
  • There is another family that is in opposition with the Raiges. Will and Kaleb really wanted that aspect, according to Peter David.
  • “Will the movie sequel be the prequel?”  “We could make lots of prequels. The reason is all that stuff is going to be prequels is because the movie hasn’t come out yet. The movie is the intro to Will and Jaden’s characters,” responded Peter David.
  • Will Smith didn’t really want to play the father at first.  But Jaden was always the son.  Will eventually was convinced by the script after lots of drafts.  “It wasn’t right in the first draft,” added Whitta.
  • “What makes this film different in the visuals?  Because we’ve seen aliens, planets, and others.”  “Everything has been done before. But the difference? It will be up on the screen,” says Peter David.  “I’ve never seen a cockpit that looks like this,” says Whitta.  Greg also mentions how they shot it on locations versus Avatar, because that was CG, and this is not.
  • Right before the fan retrieved his final cupcake, Whitta chimed in; “But you’ve seen cupcakes like this before. Why would you want one?”  The crowd went wild with laughter.

Catch up on all of our continuing Comic-Con coverage here.

  • ISeemToBeAVerb

    Not expecting much from this. Night lost his mojo years ago.

    It would be nice to be surprised though.

  • ISeemToBeAVerb

    And ‘Cypher Raige’?!? Was the intention to come up with the cheesiest character name they could?

    • will

      Seriously, that name never fails to make me smile. The prefix title “Legendary General” didn’t help things either. It’s like Shyamalan wants his critics to laugh at him.

      • charles

        He didn’t come up with the name. Why don’t you ask if Gary Whitta want’s people to laugh at him? Or Will Smith?

    • Peter David

      Why Cypher Raige? Because Verbal Kint was taken.

      Seriously, this endless crabbing about the name is ridiculous. Just as with other characters who have unusual names, you’ll get used to it quickly, just as you did with so many others.



    shamalamadingdong didn’t write this, just directed…he didn’t come up with the names of the characters nor the specifics of the story.

  • AR3246

    Well he had Avatar: The Last Airbender technically written, storyboarded, animated and for all other intents and purposes served up to him on a silver platter so all he had to do was film it with people and he still managed to destroy the entire essence of it.

  • Tim

    The people who booed him are a bunch nerdy low-lifes. He IS a great director that has made some of my favorite movies. The only people who notice this type of stuff are internet fanboys (including the author).

    • Tim

      I apologize for the author comment, but M. Night is still a brilliant director.

    • Tim

      I apologize for being mean to anyone.

  • Gui

    I definitely agree with Tims comment. M. Night is a fantastic filmmaker, and has made some classic films, with some fine, often career best performances from the likes of Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson. The worlds he creates and the attention to detail is awe-inspiring.

  • Edward

    People these days have short memories. Shyamalan made one of the great horror movies with The Sixth Sense, one of the great superhero movies with Unbreakable, one of the great sci-fi movies with Signs, and a great love story/art-movie with The Village. He really shouldn’t have to keep proving himself, but unless every new movie competes with The Sixth Sense critically and commercially (an impossible ask) it just re-enforces the populist idea that he’s the next Uwe Boll. Yeah, TLA was a failure of an adaptation, and The Happening was an experiment that doesn’t work at all, but even at his craziest and least accessible, like Lady in the Water, his work is just beautiful to look at. His framing of shots, use of colour and lighting, his set-pieces and the way he creates atmosphere and suspense is always top-notch. If you like his earlier movies you should still have faith that he can make a great movie again. If you never liked his movies even when they were popular, then the films just aren’t for you. No need to be disrespectful about it.

  • ar3246

    He deserves the boos for The Happening and The Last Airbender.

  • Jeremy

    I think the “Greg” you refer to in your article at several points is supposed to “Gary”

    Gary Whitta. Not Greg Whitta.

  • Tony

    I am a big fan of this group of writers. The Smith are good actors and even though it is “cool” to hate M. Night I like him as a director. I still remember how I felt the first time I saw the scene in Unbreakable where the son is pointing the gun at Bruce Willis’ character in the kitchen. I am looking forward to this series.

  • Pingback: Universe-Building With Your After Earth Hosts, Will Smith and M. Night Shyamalan – Wired News | CelebriBuzz()

  • Bill Graham

    I’m not sure what gave any of the readers the idea that I don’t kike Shymalan. If he gets booed, I’m going to mention that in a panel recap.

    Many apologies to Gary Whitta for messing up his name in the second half of this article.

    And for the record, instill actively love THE VILLAGE

  • Bill Graham

    I still*

  • Pingback: AFTER EARTH: set photos «()

  • Pingback: Comic-Con Panel Recaps()

  • Pingback: AFTER EARTH Viral Teaser()