World War II Netflix series ‘The Liberator’ animated by Atlanta company

Netflix's "The LIberator's" blend of realism and animation was designed by Trioscope Studios in Atlanta.

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Netflix's "The LIberator's" blend of realism and animation was designed by Trioscope Studios in Atlanta.

Trioscope blends live action with animation to make a war movie more financially palatable.

World War II movies tend to be super expensive, involving hundreds of extras, huge vistas and vintage equipment. “Saving Private Ryan” in 1998 expended $70 million. HBO’s ‘Band of Brothers” in 2001 was estimated to have a $125 million budget. In 2017, “Dunkirk” cost more than $100 million.

At first, the History Channel in 2013 initially considered producing an ambitious eight-part miniseries based on Alex Kershaw’s non-fiction book “The Liberator” about Felix Sparks’ 500-day odyssey across Europe in 1944 and 1945. But History ultimately passed because the steep budget ($15 million per hour) was too daunting for a basic cable network of its ilk. Then the project just sat around.

Enter Atlanta-based School of Humans, a company with a hybrid animation technology that could greatly reduce the cost of shooting the film by eliminating extras, tanks, planes and pricey on-location shoots. History felt the animation look wasn’t for them, so Netflix picked up the A&E Studios project.

“The Liberator” debuted last month on Veterans Day in a slimmed-down four-hour version. The executives at School of Humans created a separate company Trioscope Studios to develop the project.

“What we were able to do was give them the ability to tell this story that otherwise would never have seen the light of day,” said Brandon Barr, Trioscope’s chief content officer.

The four-hour series follows Sparks (played by British actor Bradley James) — a humane Army officer of a diverse infantry unit called the Thunderbirds — through a treacherous journey that takes him through multiple countries during the final 17 months of the war, losing a lot of men along the way. The group was a blend of white cowboys, Mexican Americans and Native American soldiers who, as Sparks notes in the series, would have never shared beer together in a bar in America at the time.

L.C. Crowley, Trioscope chief executive officer, said the series has drawn younger viewers: “We wanted the visuals to speak to them. The story looks like the comics and video games they’ve grown up with. It’s not your grandfather’s war movie.”

But as Barr added: “We’ve heard grandparents watching this with their grandchildren. After such a divisive election, this is hopefully something that brings people together and reminds them that there are things holding us together as opposed to tearing us apart.”

Greg Jonkajtys, chief creative officer for Trioscope who directed all four episodes, said the actors are not technically animated or even motion captured. But the backgrounds are largely animated. “It allows a full performance of the actors,” he said. “We use special makeup to make the actors look like illustrations. There is a lot of post-production techniques involved.”

Jonkajtys said many of the scenes were shot like stage plays with live-action scenes split between Poland and Atlanta. The actors donned era-proper uniforms and carried weapons. They sat on real chairs and even rode a jeep around. But battle scenes packed with gunfire, explosions, ponderous tanks and bomb-dropping planes that might have taken a week or two to shoot using traditional methods were finished in a day or two using this technology.

“It’s a much more efficient use of the actors’ time,” Barr said. “It allows them to dive into the performance as opposed to waiting between takes for an entire battle scene to be reset. It feels like black box theater with just the key elements they need to perform.”

To keep the actors in the proper mood, the set included realistic military barracks with period music playing during breaks and cards and games from the 1940s to keep them entertained between takes.

The result, Barr said, hopefully, results in a true emotional connection among the actors as well as the audience.

The series made an effort to find local actors, and one of the top ones cast hails from Atlanta: Jose Miguel Vasquez as the smart, tough-talking Corporal Able Gomez. “I hope our show honors the heroes of WWII that inspired it,” wrote Vasquez on Instagram.

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Jose Miguel Vasquez plays Able Gomez in "The Liberator." NETFLIX

Credit: NETFLIX

Jose Miguel Vasquez plays Able Gomez in "The Liberator." NETFLIX

Credit: NETFLIX

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Jose Miguel Vasquez plays Able Gomez in "The Liberator." NETFLIX

Credit: NETFLIX

Credit: NETFLIX

The series received decent reviews, with a 64 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes among 11 critics. Among viewers who wrote reviews on the website, 73% liked it.

“‘The Liberator’ would not have worked if it wasn’t animated, due to its speechifying corniness. But the fine acting and arresting visual style takes the WWII drama from mundane to at least watchable,” said Joel Keller of Decider.

Caroline Framke of Variety magazine found the storytelling too sprawling and would have been better served to narrow its focus but did like the look, “a striking combination of animation and live-action performance that feels like a graphic novel come to life.”

She noted “the series’ shocking bursts of gunfire, crimson explosions rolling over meadows, sweeping snowy vistas with terrified soldiers dotting the hillside.”

Trioscope, which currently has eight employees in Atlanta, is developing future projects including another one with Netflix but nothing specific they can announce just yet. Jeb Stuart (”Die Hard’), who wrote “The Liberator,’ recently told Variety he would love to work with Trioscope again.

“The low hanging fruit would be something in sci-fi,” Stuart said. “Its ability to capture just about any real scene, it could be a very good format for present-day storytelling.”

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The Trioscope Studios lead executives who created "The Liberator are (L-R) L.C. Crowley (Chief Executive Officer), Brandon Barr (Chief Content Officer), and Greg Jonkajtys (Chief Creative Officer), all founding partners of Trioscope Studios. Photo: TRIOSCOPE

Credit: TRIOSCOPE

The Trioscope Studios lead executives who created "The Liberator are (L-R) L.C. Crowley (Chief Executive Officer), Brandon Barr (Chief Content Officer), and Greg Jonkajtys (Chief Creative Officer), all founding partners of Trioscope Studios. Photo: TRIOSCOPE

Credit: TRIOSCOPE

Combined ShapeCaption
The Trioscope Studios lead executives who created "The Liberator are (L-R) L.C. Crowley (Chief Executive Officer), Brandon Barr (Chief Content Officer), and Greg Jonkajtys (Chief Creative Officer), all founding partners of Trioscope Studios. Photo: TRIOSCOPE

Credit: TRIOSCOPE

Credit: TRIOSCOPE


WHERE TO WATCH

“The Liberator,” available for Netflix subscribers.