The Dragon Prince is bringing a new animated fantasy adventure to Netflix and it comes with a high pedigree.
The Dragon Prince is co-created by Aaron Ehasz, the lead writer on the beloved animated adventure series Avatar: The Last Airbender. The Dragon Prince is the first major project form his new studio Wonderstorm and it could be just the beginning of a new fantasy epic.
The Dragon Prince is set in the world of Xadia. Xadia has six primal sources of magic: the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, the Sky, the Earth, and the Ocean. Human mages discovered a seventh kind of magic, Dark Magic, which uses living magical creatures as its fuel. This discovery causes a schism between humans and the magical races of Xadia.
The Dragon Prince follows three children from opposing sides of the conflict. Despite their conflicting backgrounds - two of the children are human princes, the other an elven assassin sent to kill them - they decide to work together after discovering a secret that could change everything for Xadia.
ComicBook.com spoke to Ehasz about what fans can expect from The Dragon Prince.
To start at the beginning, can you tell me what the initial thought that grew into The Dragon Prince was? Was it a character? And elevator pitch? A specific idea?
Aaron Ehasz: For us, the first idea was actually about magic and the interplay between a kind of a world with these six kinds of old magic that are arcane and difficult, and then someone creates this new kind of magic that's quick, and dirty, and powerful and that's dark magic. And that idea of what kinds of conflicts that would create within a fantasy world was where we started kinda playing with the world of Xadia and The Dragon Prince. There just happens to be where we were like, "Oh that's interesting." And then we tried to start building some mythology, and some history, and create some characters who would kind of lead us through all that discovery in a charming way.
What can you tell us about the world of Xadia?
AE: I think in some ways Xadia is a classic fantasy world, and story. It has dragons and elves, and spells, and magic items, and conflict, and deep stories, and secrets, and all those things. We wanted to create it in a way that was different from a lot of the more traditional fantasy stories we've seen so far so a lot of them are very white, and very European and so we were hoping to create something that was more diverse and representative and that felt more modern, and more global but was still a classic fantasy story.
The Dragon Prince vs. The Last Airbender
There are some fans coming to The Dragon Prince who know you from your work on Avatar: The Last Airbender. For those Avatar fans, what do you think they will find familiar in The Dragon Prince and what do you think they will find different?
AE: To those people, I would say thank you because those are the people who inspired me and inspired us to try to do something that would be worthy of the kind of engagement and involvement that Avatar inspired. So, first of all, I would say thank you.
In terms of what this world has that's the same I think hopefully there will be some characters that are authentic, and flawed, and funny, and face real problems together and overcome some of them quickly, and overcome some of them slowly.
I hope that they will find adventure, and excitement, and kind of mystical things about the world to ponder and just enjoy their time with these charming people. I hope there's a lot to think about.
I hope they engage us online. One of the great things about now vs. 10 or 12 years ago is we can see how the audience responds and the audience has an opportunity to be a community that engages each other and engages us and we're excited for that conversation.
Speaking of that, it seems like fans began responding basically from the time the first teaser came out. The show hasn't debuted yet and there's already fanart of Callum and Rayla. Were you expecting that kind of response so quickly at all?
AE: Wow we did not. We were delighted and I think the response being so positive and people looking forward to it with that kind of energy already engaging it with art and cosplay has been really delightful. I think it's, to me, it's a credit to some of the amazing artists we have on our team, and designers, and that their work could inspire that kind of thing. And I think there's also a credit to our community team and our head of community who is actively kind reaching out to people who are ready to be a part of a Dragon Prince community and making sure that they know how much we value them and that we want this to be a fun fandom for everyone.
A Vast World
One of the things that struck me about The Dragon Prince is just how large the world feels right from the start. It's split into two halves, but the human side alone has five different kingdoms. How much of this world will we see in the first season?
AE: For the hugeness and detail of the world, I have to credit my co-creator Justin Richmond who is an incredible worldbuilder and thinker about these kinds of details. And so a lot of what the audience will experience, I think, in the first season will be like a taste of the potential, and the fact is that the borders and boundaries of this experience, and of this world, are much further away than the road we're taking right now.
Which is not to say that these nine episodes are not a full experience because we really intended it to be a story that would feel complete and satisfying on its own but the world of Xadia is a place where we do have a lot more story, we have a much bigger set of epic possibilities that we hope to explore if the audience wants it.
A Serialized Story
Having seen the first three episodes, I noticed that they are very serialized. Each one felt like a chapter of a book. Is that pace just for the opening in order to set things up and introduce the audience to the world, or is The Dragon Prince a fully serialized story?
AE: Yes 100%. I think that many years ago one of the nice groundbreaking things that happened at Nickelodeon was that they gave us an opportunity to tell a story that was serialized in addition to kind of feeling episodic and so we kind of got to break ground in that but we were always kind of striking a balance with the needs of a traditional network as well.
Here, Netflix has encouraged us to tell a fully serialized story that is one chapter leading to the next and where the story develops in significant ways every episode and there are real changes and consequences. There's not a real reset from episode to episode. So they really are more chapters than they are episodes in a much bigger story.
Working with Netflix
How else has your experience working with Netflix compared to working at a network, in terms of what kind of content you can create and how you can tell your story?
AE: What's interesting is that I think some of the differences we found at Netflix were actually similarities to Nickelodeon, or Nickelodeon circa 2005 anyway. And our executive at Netflix, Jenna Boyd, is part of that but I think the culture at Netflix too is a very creator driven culture. They are about the content and the creative vision being realized and there's definitely a vibe of "We want to support you, we want you to be able to realize your vision in the way that is best for the audience, and whatever gets us there gets us there." And they gave us notes, and ideas and they definitely contributed to shaping this story but they did it in a way that was always supportive and increasing our freedom rather than restricting us.
The Dragon Prince has a pretty distinct visual style. What were your goals for the show's looks and how did you set about achieving them?
AE: Well some of these are great questions for either our showrunner, Giancarlo Volpe, or our great supervising director at Bardel, Villads Spangsberg, who together were the biggest part of leading the visual vision for the show. The goal was to do something that would be innovative in that it would leverage some of the strengths of pipeline but also kind of feel like that beautiful, traditional animation and style we love, even stuff from Avatar or other Studio Mir projects and stuff like that.
So we wanted to kind of find a hybrid approach that leveraged both. Ultimately we wanted to be able to tell a story that where you could fall in love with these characters, and believe in their emotions, and also laugh at their funny moments but that the story would feel epic, and cinematic, and filmic at the right parts as well and I think that was the intention of the style we're using but there's a lot that's new in our approach. We're still learning from it, and improving it but we're really, really proud of the results so far.
The first three episodes introduce a pretty full cast of characters. Do any stand out as a favorite or one that you think will particularly resonate with viewers?
AE: Wow. So it's very hard to pick because a lot of these characters have come to life in ways that we didn't expect so we knew we wanted them to be complicated and interesting. We have a writing process that's very much you try to create the character in a complicated way and then you let the story lead you to discovering who the character is in a natural way. So in a lot of ways you're almost kind of trying to let go at a certain point and let the character reveal him or herself to you.
If I had to pick a character that still baffles me and is still compelling, and fascinating to me it would be Viren, who is the King's High Mage and has very complicated motives, and he's brought to life by the brilliant actor Jason Simpson who we get in the booth with him and I just can't tell sometimes if this guy if he's our villain or he's our charismatic savior. He's a very complicated, interesting character.
It is interesting you should say Viren and how complex he is. One of the things I noticed is that there is no clear villain in these first few episodes. Was that intentional, to not have an obvious villain and to instead use more complex characters?
AE: Yes and it's funny I've had some conversations with people about things not being so black and white, and everything is a shade of gray, and I do want to say we definitely believe there are shades of gray but a lot of those shades of gray, ultimately they're going to define themselves as more black, or more white. I'm not a moral relativist, I do think at the end of the day there's right and wrong,
By the end of the third episode, the characters are split, with some remaining at the castle and others on the road. Does the series cut back and forth between these groups, or are we now focused on those traveling companions?
AE: We're going to bounce back and forth. These are significant characters so if some of the characters have moved on but the characters that you may have attached to in the first three episodes have stayed in another place, well that's a signal to you that we're gonna go back to that place because the scope of the story will continue to grow over the course of the season, and it'll even continue to grow after that if we keep going.
One of the more fascinating scenes in the first few episodes is when the Moonshadow Elves undergo a kind of bonding ritual. Can you say anything about the ritual's significance and it plays into the story going forward?
AE: Rayla and the other captains perform a ritual where the Moonshadows bond themselves to their task, and to their victims essentially. And I think our intention was to not just have shallow assassins who are just like, "Oh well we're just killers and this is our job." But to say, "Okay, well there's a certain way that they think about this job and this culture and they don't take for granted that they're doing something very severe and serious." But there's also a kind of, as you
The Story Continues...
Are there any last thoughts or teases you'd like to leave fans with?
AE: We're hoping the fandom finds this. Wonderstorm is a new company and The Dragon Prince is our first kind of big, exciting story that we're trying to bring to an audience. We're building a video game at the same time with our partners MWM who are our lead investors helping us realize kind of a big vision, and we hope that Xadia is a place where our audience wants to have some adventures for a long time. We're here for the long run if the audience is.
The Dragon Prince is available to stream now on Netflix.