Audacity. Not just his favorite word, but the way he depicts himself. Roger Kupelian is a man who has the audacity to believe. His biggest belief is the vision he sees in the work which he creates. Being a visual effects creator requires more than just a technological know-how; it demands inspiration, creativity and determination. Roger, fortunately, possesses all of the above and so much more.
His noted work dates back to 1996 when he worked on the children’s classic Space Jam, starring Michael Jordan and the entire Looney Tunes animated cast. Throughout the years he has continued to work on countless classic major motion pictures including Flags of Our Fathers, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Chronicles of Riddick, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and most recently Terminator:Salvation. His most prominent work to date is the Academy Award winning The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
If pictures can speak a thousand words, then Kupelian’s digital artistry is as compelling as ever. Each “painting” speaks volumes of his love of artistic imagery. However, it is his muse that is most moving. With his incredibly talented wife, costume designer Alina Khanjian, and his adorable daughter Lilly, it is no surprise that he constructs his imagery with a great deal of emotion. He says that his greatest inspirations come from the moments when he experiences true beauty. For example, in discussing his inspiration for Honking Antelope, an animated music video for Serj Tankian’s (System of A Downs) solo album, Elect the Dead, Kupelian responded; “That had Lilly written all over it. Alina gave birth right before we started working on the video and many of the symbols in it were inspired by that experience.”
Kupelian’s great loves include comic books and his love of words. He also loves history and mythology, and can captivate his audience by retelling the history of Armenia and the Armenians with animated passion. The listener will become enthralled with the story because of how Kupelian reflects pride in his heritage and points out all the wonderful aspects that we normally don’t dwell on. His love of his Armenian heritage was the driving force in creating Dark Forest in the Mountians, his first documentary about the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan for the Nagorno-Karabakh territory. He visited Karabakh during the trying days of battle and filmed the fighters, doctors and nurses that were engrossed in the cause. He went back 10 years later to find the same people and see where they were and how their lives progressed since those tough times, which resulted in Hands and a Homeland.
His love of history was also the spark in his new and upcoming project East of Byzantium: (EOB). A great saga franchise that covers from the 3rd to the 5th centuries A.D, EOB is the story of how exiles and renegades defied the two greatest superpowers of the ancient world, in a bloody and epic struggle that resulted in the formation of the first Christian nation and, it is not a stretch to argue, changed the course of Western Civilization itself. The first part of the saga, Fugitives and Warriors, deals with St. Gregory, Tiridates and the rebirth of Armenia and the second Warriors and Saints, tells of Avarayr and how the women resisted and defended their country after their outnumbered men were killed on the fields of battle.
One of the most drawing pieces of East of Byzantium is Kupelian’s attention to the role of women, in Armenian history in particular; “Armenian women possess a strength within them that’s a force to be reckoned with. My hope is that Armenian women today would continue embracing that strength,” Kupelian reflected, on why this element of the saga was important. “It’s a reminder of the empowerment that led to the first treaty of cultural tolerance from an Empire to a state, as these women were instrumental in forcing the Persian empire to halt its oppression of Armenian identity and see them as allies again.”
Although East of Byzantium’s final format is under negotiation, it hasn’t stopped Kupelian from putting together enticing teasers on the films website along with a great story line and synopsis, and a list of all the main characters. In fact, one of his main characters, the Legendary Pagan high priest of Armenia, Artzan, is played by none other than the multitalented Vahe Berberian. While Berberian is known in the community for his more comedic work, he takes a very different role in Kupelian’s project. The part called for a more serious and darker edge. “Vahé and I had discussed this character unceasingly, and although we did not have a scene planned for that particular shoot day, Vahé improvised it no less than four times. The crew was glued to their places. To this day the most hardened Hollywood executive finds it an intense and moving scene [as Artzan admonishes his Pagan troops to resist the Christian army led by Gregory].” One thing is for certain, East of Byzantium does not shy from controversy and is intent on revitalizing the myths of the Armenian culture. “This has a very different intention than making a documentary just for Glendale and Yerevan”, Kupelian emphasizes. “This is entertainment and as such you take certain liberties. You have to get your audience’s attention. And your audience has to be as large and universal as possible.”
With his combined appreciation for history and sequential art, it makes sense why Vartan Mamigonian is Kupelian’s choice as a central character for the upcoming Warriors and Saints graphic novel, even while the cinematic versions are being negotiated. “In all of history and literature we often hear about brave warriors and heroes, such as Hercules, who are portrayed larger than life. The Armenian people, however, have many just as amazing, if not a larger than life hero as well”. To Kupelian, Vartan is more than a warrior. His story and the stories of those around him held deeper meaning and commitment to one’s inner identity.
Within his ‘Vartanverse’ he hopes to share the stories that have deep value for him, and do this across cultural lines. He feels Vartan’s story of courage and heroism would fascinate audiences across all ethnicities, as well as give them key parts of Armenian history. His devotion to the project remains steadfast, even though he is currently working on a number of other projects including the television hit Flash Forward and Tim Burton’s Alice. Being a perfectionist, Kupelian will settle only for the best for his Graphic Novel’s creation, so it is expected to see something spectacular in the making. The best part is that he will be capturing his audience in a very visual and unique manner. (Having had a sneak peak myself, I was literally on the edge of my seat, waiting impatiently to see how the story would turn out and what was to come. I’m sure his fans would agree, what is yet to come will be as captivating as ever.)
Do visit his websites at www.EastofByzantium.com and www.FugitiveStudios.com and see the wonderful teasers as well as his repertoire of work for yourself. A FaceBook page for Vartan Mamigonian also has periodic cool updates.