|That ReBoot takes place
inside a computer, explains [Gavin] Blair, was intended
as a convenient excuse for the look they thought the show
was going to have - squarish, with little dimensional
depth, just like the Money for Nothing video. Such
were the technical boundaries of computer rendering in
1986, when ReBoot was conceived on the proverbial
napkins and beer coasters. Blair explains: "We had
to put ourselves in the shoes of the viewer and ask, 'Why
does it look like this?' Well, it's inside a computer.
'But why are there no shadows?' Um, it's inside a
computer. Then of course, as the technology advanced, the
show started looking the way it does now, all shiny with
rich textures and natural-looking body movements. The
reason for the show taking place in some kind of digital
fairyland became less pressing. But the whole thing had
already been set in motion, and we figured, What the
hell, it's a great idea, let's just go with it."
--Wired Magazine, March 1997
Fast Forward is not only the name of a bad Ninja Turtles spinoff, but the name of a television special that documented how ReBoot was made. It's a good thing it exists, because the show has been shortchanged so often in the DVD department, we'll never get a special bonus feature this nice. Even better: it was made after the first season of the show was completed, and if there's any time I want to find out how they went about creating a CGI series, it's in a time of history when they had to start from scratch and invent everything.
This special was produced back then, but was never released in any form. (It almost aired in England, but was pulled for unknown reasons.) It has only gotten out within the last year, thanks to the easy leaky properties of the Net. And--this might make you tear up a bit--it has "new" animated scenes with Megabyte, voiced by the late great Tony Jay. Last time we'll get anything out of him.
Megabyte is relaxing at Silicon Tor with a cozy recliner and his favorite hacking window. "There's nothing like breaking into the files of the Principle Office," he quips. Then he stumbles upon something he's never found before: some kind of weird energy vortex that takes his browser to a world of "organic lifeforms, how quaint. I seem to have stumbled upon a portal to a parallel universe!" What Megabyte doesn't know is that he's just done what no other person in Mainframe ever managed to do: he's witnessing the Users. Users named Gavin Blair, Ian Pearson, Phil Mitchell and John Grace, but fortunately for Mainframe, Megabyte never identifies them. This is because the special doesn't either.
In every other documentary I've seen, they at least put name labels underneath the people when they're talking, so you know who's who. But not this time. This guy could be Gavin or Ian or Phil, but he is just identified as "Producer."
|ReBoot Creator #1 and ReBoot Creator
#2 explain that they'd been shopping the idea of the show
around for the better part of a decade, though they
explain it in less detail than the Wired quote above due
to time constraints (in this special, the most anyone
gets onscreen to answer a question before the next
jump-cut is about seven seconds).
However, this leads to the best part of the special: a demo reel they used back in 1990 to pitch the series.
The show's creators were actually from England. ReBoot would have been a British program, but the resources to put such a show together weren't there. They chose to set up a computer animation company in Vancouver, BC, where the tax breaks were far more generous. But to afford the several dozen refrigerator-sized Silicon Graphics thingamajigs required to produce CGI at the time, they needed major funding from several different parties--and since nobody had done a TV series entirely on computers before, it was a risky investment for anyone. After much coaxing and massaging, production on ReBoot finally started in 1993 when both Canada's cable kid network YTV and America's ABC both agreed to run the series.
The mechanics of computer animation had to be simplified in some ways in order to deliver the episodes on time, and here's one mechanic that was invented for the show. Each part of a face was controlled by the strings on this screen. Using this program, animating facial expressions and lip-synching recorded dialogue was as simple as pulling those strings, like a marionette.
The special takes a very brisk walk through the production process. True, I know what an animatic is and I know about the rendering process, but I wanted to see that stuff HERE. Most of it is only described by various employees, with a couple of exceptions. We do get to see thirty seconds of the voice actors recording their lines. "Bob," "Dot," "Enzo" and the guy who does all the binomes are in the room. The series went through several Enzos, but I'm told this kid is the original.
There's more fluff in the special
than there should be; half of it is the creative team goofing off
and answering questions like "Do you know any aliens"
(seriously). This being made Up North, they spend their spare
time playing hockey, and they have these nifty custom Viral
(True Trivia: ABC would not allow the word "hockey" to be said on ReBoot because in a few small countries the word meant "excrement.")
They waste more time asking everyone what their favorite character is. Everyone gets at least one mention, even Scuzzy. They spend a lot more effort on that than describing the process of music composition. It comes back to bite them, though. Nobody thinks of Megabyte, and when asked directly, several staff members say "No sir, I don't like him."
That gets Megabyte so steamed up,
he invades their computers and tries to kill the series. (This
would in effect kill him, but viruses aren't supposed to
The staff crush his uprising by...um, playing clips from the game in the pilot episode and pretending to play them. Whatever's cheapest.
Okay, so the special's actually a letdown in many ways, but at least it lets you see how they made the show back then, no matter how briefly. As of this writing, you can still watch the whole shebang on YouTube. When this link disappears, let me know.
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