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NYCC Interview: Erik Henry and Jeff White Talk ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’

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Earlier this month, Percy Jackson and the Olympians demigods at New York Comic Con were treated to exclusive footage from the forthcoming Disney+ series ahead of its December premiere. Fans also heard from some creatives behind the Rick Riordan-based adventure. The electric mood in the room crackled with anticipation like, well, lightning through the air. After the panel, we sat down for a roundtable interview with Erik Henry and Jeff White, VFX supervisors and part of the show’s VFX team, to discuss bringing the world of the bestselling books to life.

In our roundtable interview at NYCC, we discussed what it was like for the team to hear that excited reaction from Sunday’s crowd. We talked about bringing the Minotaur scene to life, including planning such a complex sequence. And we even got some insight into just how they conceptualized some of the water effects that are a big part of Percy’s character.

The interview with Erik Henry & Jeff White on Percy Jackson and the Olympians season 1

[Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. There are mild spoilers ahead for Percy Jackson and the Olympians.]

Interviewer: “I just want to say how awesome was it for you to be in the room with so many people who were just so excited about this project?”

Erik Henry: “Obviously for me, the energy put me at ease, because we folks don’t speak all that often. So that was really energizing. And then at the end, there were people who came up to Jeff and I and just the genuine love for the work, the books and saying, ‘And you guys got it right from what they had seen.’ They felt like the kids looked right, the visual effects were spot on what they expected and hopefully more than that. But that also is like, ‘Whoa, I’m really feeling like this is special.’ So yeah, the crowd was an important part of the success of the day for sure. They made it easy for us.”

Jeff White: “Yeah, I had to record some of the crowd because really I’m just a front person for the hundreds of artists and production folks and everybody that pours their heart into their work and for them to get to see the reception that it gets is amazing. It’s always the fun part of working on a show like this that has such a strong fan base. I really enjoy it.”

On bringing the Minotaur scene to life

Ayla Ruby: “Hi, so I just interviewed you a couple of weeks ago.”

Erik Henry: “I remember you.”

Ayla Ruby: “For another show… So we saw a lot of cool scenes, but we saw the Minotaur scene today and I was wondering if you guys could talk about from a VFX perspective what that looked like, because that was super cool and super intense in the car. What was it like actually planning that and making it look like it looked?”

Erik Henry: “This is, we said a little bit about it in the panel, but I think that the minutes are, because it is so important to everyone, we had to… I don’t know how many discussions we had about the underpants and what happens when they get wet, they’re going to get dirty, are they dirty enough? And then they became too gray and it’s like, “What are we going to be… They’re going to pop out.” So those are the interesting discussions where you turn to your colleagues and say, ‘This is a weird discussion we’re having.'”

Jeff White: “Yeah.”

Erik Henry: “But adding anything to the complexity of it. I mean, Jeff’s team is the one who brought it to screen and there’s some amazing shots. I was asked recently what my favorite shot was and it’s definitely one of the hero moments when the Minotaur, Percy gets on top and snaps the horn off. And then the camera move that we came up with is really dynamic. You move around the face and he’s in pain and so the Minotaur’s mouth opens up as you come by. And then he puts the horn in and as everyone knows who’s read the book, that makes him dissolve, and then Percy falls through it. All of that dynamic work is just beautiful. And ILM’s team headed by Jeff here and Jose [Burgos], is just amazing to me. It’s framed with the tree, and the background, and the moonlight. It’s perfect, it’s a perfect shot.”

Jeff White: “One of the things that I loved about working with Erik, and Jon [Steinberg], and Dan [Shotz] was that there could be a temptation, I think with the fight with the CG creature, where it’s just so fantastic that it starts to not feel real anymore. There’s no stakes and you never feel like there’s any danger. And we spent a lot of time carefully crafting the sequence, so you actually felt like Percy was in real danger. And when the moment happens with his mom, it’s very emotional in the show. So I think that part of it was almost more of a focus than just executing the creature, which I thought in the end made it feel a lot more realistic.”

Percy Jackson and the Olympians Episode 107 (Disney+)
Aryan Simhadri, Leah Sava Jeffries, and Walker Scobell in Percy Jackson and the Olympians Episode 107 (Disney+)

On the water effects with Percy aka Walker Scobell

Interviewer: “So we haven’t gotten to see a lot of it yet, because I know it’s a big reveal in the story, but water is a very important part of Percy’s character. So can you guys tell us a little bit about the water effects that we’re going to see?”

Erik Henry: “Let’s see. Jeff, I’ll let you handle his first foray into it, which is…”

Jeff White: “In the bathroom scene?”

Erik Henry: “Oh, yeah, I guess…”

Jeff White: “We have so many.”

Erik Henry: “No, I’m thinking the one that we did see with Nancy Bobofit. (Olivea Morton)

Jeff White: “Yeah, the first time you start to get a hint of who Percy is that scene with Nancy and it’s very subtle and I don’t know if you saw it in the clip there. But when Percy approaches her, there’s actually water tentacles that grab her from the back and we kept it intentionally, they look exactly the same as all the rest of the water from the fountain. Which actually we had to recreate the met fountains and we learned a lot about them. They go through a substantial amount of water, they’re able to pump through those things. So the fact that we were able to recreate it on our set was really phenomenal.”

Erik Henry: Joel [Cheyne] and the special effects team, what went into making that fountain is a stunning achievement as he told us. And we had to shrink it a little bit because it didn’t quite… The actual one is so big that we had to shrink it to make it fit on the volume.”

Jeff White: “And I think the actual one was $50 million, so that would’ve used up almost our entire production budget for visual effects. So you have to make some cheats. But I think throughout, we always tried to… Anytime you do magic, it’s quite tough. It can be a lot of exploration. How do we make this feel natural? And I think that’s where we just had a lot of back-and-forth discussions in terms of how Percy starts to harness the power of the water. And it builds over the course of the show, so that you get to the point where you feel like, yes, that’s one of his powers, but it doesn’t look like a weird mystical thing. It still feels very grounded.”

On creativity when drawing from Rick Riordan’s rich source material

Interviewer: “How much room was there for, this is going to sound ridiculous, but actual creativity? Because you have the source material that you’re drawing all this inspiration from, and then you have these Greek figures and creatures that people already have an idea of what they should look like, like the Minotaur, Medusa. So how much freedom did you guys have in creating them for the audience to experience live action for some for the first time?”

Jeff White: “Yeah, so much. That’s the hard part is you have amazing source material on the page, but it’s still like, “But what does that look like in real life?” And I think the Minotaur is a good example where it was just one illustrator that came up with the idea of using a Brahman bull as a way to shift Minotaur into a little bit of a different language. They have those floppy ears that hang down, right? So it’s part of how do we make this thing scary and a threat to Percy but not so scary that all the kids go screaming from the room.”

Erik Henry: “And give a character.”

Jeff White: “And give a character.”

Erik Henry: Jon and Dan were really keen to have it have a backstory Like okay, so it’s got pierced ears, someone did that. It did it so that it seems like it’s more like a badass. And those are the things that John and Dan are so helpful because they have a take. They are not those kinds of showrunners who just say, “I don’t know.” Very specific and they always have some reference, some point of reference where you can go, “Oh, like this wrestler.” Pull up a picture. And so yeah, creativity comes from sitting with those two for 10 minutes and all of a sudden you’re riffing on ideas. And it’s where we came up with the fact that it wasn’t going to run when it’s standing on two legs, because it just is more threatening if it’s on all fours running at you like a steam train. And then yeah, when it stands up, that’s more combat mode and swinging and grabbing happens when that’s going on, he pulled Sally up and finally crushes her.”

How to watch Percy Jackson and the Olympians

Percy Jackson and the Olympians will premiere on Disney+ on December 20, 2023. If you’re a demigod resident of Earth who can’t wait until then, tide yourself over with a visit to Brian Kitson’s guide to the world of Percy Jackson. 

For all our past NYCC coverage, including more Percy Jackson interviews coming this week, check out the NYCC tag.

NYCC Interview: Percy Jackson and the Olympians Dabn Hennah & Tish Monaghan

Percy Jackson NYCC interview

NYCC Interview: Percy Jackson and the Olympians Director James Bobin

Percy Jackson NYCC interview

Book Review: ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Chalice of the Gods’ by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson Chalice of the Gods Banner

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Ayla Ruby

I am a writer and interviewer based somewhere in the Alpha Quadrant. I love all things nerdy - but Star Trek and Spiderman have special places in my heart. Find me at @TulinWrites on Twitter. And visit my other website for more reviews and interviews:

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