"I know what I've seen and I watch what I like."
I've studied film/TV, have done the industry (production, audio, editing, CGI, engineering), and feel I can add some common sense to series creation. HG readers are encouraged to explore what I bring up (as are all others). I'm going to touch on many expressed topics for emphasis & recap. Just so y'all know that I'm not blowing my own horn, nothing I'm saying here is groundbreaking or brand new. What I've seen, I've seen from experience on other's successes and failures. What I say here is just practical common sense that many have already expressed. (And if I'm using it and you're not...)
I would like to say that many have brought out some excellent points, styles, and ideas (pat yourselves on the back). We should commend HG for actually taking interest in our thoughts (as we end up paying their salaries anyway).
As a specific message to HG, I want to STRESS that PLANNING is the key. Again, PLANNING is the key. One more time, PLANNING! And just for those who are hard headed and don't read: PLANNING! I've seen so many good ideas/intentions sent to the septic tank at the last minute that it isn't even funny anymore. This is just common sense and true of ANY industry. Rock the boat ahead of time and fix the leaks now. When it sets out to sea, it will be unsinkable. "Let's not have another disappearance of untested fold engines..."
I really don't consider this dissertation to contain story ideas but something more along the lines of hind sight and "what if". I look at what was done and what could have been done to improve or fix what was already there. I consider this to be a text book writing and should be safe to read by any and all. If something falls under a definition of a story idea, consider it free for use.
"Haven't we not met before?"
Characters are the second most important point in every story. There needs to be solid character development. When everything else is stripped away (including glitzy toys), the series centers on their stories and their lives...not the mecha crated up in the warehouse and not the super ship that can take out an entire armada. Inanimate objects alone are boring. The real interest comes when those characters do wonderful things with the inanimate objects.
Character expansion. Bring out the characters as time permits. Have character interaction within interaction. To reiterate: this is building level up on level upon level... The Lisa Hayes example is a very good one. She started out dense and evolved into an almost different person (in some areas). Looking at her run through the series, we can rock back on the porch swing and say "do you remember when Lisa..." Character evolution is important.
Stereo Types are an absolute necessity in script writing, but these can also kill many promising characters. A character that is overdone is boring and monotonous. We already know what these types of characters will do and how they will act in given situations. There is no guessing, anticipation, or suspense. Carefully mixing (chemistry) stereo types can create a well done, multi-dimensional character personality that can be immediately related to.
Characters against characters to build characteristics. Someone once mentioned that dichotomies can be used to relieve tension and to expand what we know about the characters. The Mobile Battleship Nadesico series is required viewing for this point. Examples to watch for: Yurika (captain) and Akito (lowly flight boy and cook), other flight bunnies (semi-normal) against Izumi (wannabe strange poet flight bunny), bridge bunnies (outgoing, silly) against Ruri (very young, serious almost bridge bunny), tech crew (concerned about the mecha) against flight crew (airiel acrobats), Nergal (the corporation that built the ship) against the crew (who try to do what is right)...and so on. While there are many good push-pull examples in Nadesico, I do not feel the Robotech series should entirely go in that direction (as in, stay serious).
We don't need to see every character in every-single-stinking-episode. Deep Space Nine has done this many times. It breaks continuity and makes one ask, "what good is he here?" This is a serious no-no. Make a solid reason for that character to be there. If characters need air time, put them in the background doing something (keyword: background). That could lead to discussion and interest about what that character is really doing. It becomes a mild form of indirect development, thus achieving a similar purpose. This could also lead into what that character will be doing later in the story when the spot light shifts.
Create a story that revolves around multiple primary characters instead of a story that is about one or two. This way those characters can be remove/killed off/next gen'd and the story can keep going. The replacement characters should not be suddenly introduced. This makes it look like some bum was pulled off the street and given a part. The replacement characters should be introduced as nobodies and allowed to grow. Do not develop a character in such a way that it is obvious that someone else will be removed soon. It is good to have several lesser characters like this in a pool to choose from and to give a sense of randomness. Using this technique a story can go on for a very long time and it appears that it is suppose to flow that way (keyword: flow). It also keeps a few select characters from being overused and unkillable (keywords: overused and unkillable).
Killing major characters can be a momentous story booster. Nobody lives forever. It is unrealistic for some characters to go through some of the things they do and survive. People die in war. It is a simple fact (although depressing). That is one of the major aspects I like about Starship Troopers and Macross Plus.
This needs to be qualified a bit, though. Killing characters should be WARRANTED and JUSTIFIED. Killing too many is depressing. I thought "To The Stars" was a depressing episode. The Bridge Bunnies, Gloval, and the SDF-1 were gone. We also do not want the Star Trek "Red Shirts" or another Tasha Yar. Those are meaningless and give the series an air of stupidity. Babylon 5 and Earth: Final Conflict have done character killing reasonably well.
Side Example. Personally, I think Roy Fokker's death could have been handled better. Perhaps doing a crash landing and getting killed in efforts to return to the SDF-1 just after he got nailed (but not in a sense of retreating). That would be consistent with his always bringing back Skull-1 (he won the fight), but this one got him to a point of destruction. Make Skull-1's crash hard enough to realistically kill someone but not so bad as to make it unrepairable so Rick can get it (replace the cockpit module). Also make the damage enough to destroy the ejection system, as all fighter pilots have basic training in ejecting. Have Roy try to eject but have the ejection system explode fusing the canopy to the cockpit. To add emphasis, do some tight editing of Roy calling out Claudia's name, Claudia screaming out Roy's name over the comm channel, then Rick being startled out of his bed by the "knock" on the door. Remember that Roy is an experienced flyer and he should have died doing something he liked most. Dying on the floor over a guitar doesn't seem very honorable when the medical facilities could have saved him. DYRL has it better, although much shorter.
Characters who die shouldn't be brought back to life. Watch the end of the Nadesico series and take notes on the Gekiganger 3 comments.
Naked characters. Don't. My biggest erk with this is Mylene in Macross 7. In the series she was only 14/15 years old. Under most laws in many countries naked children would fall under child pornography. I do not get off on naked cartoon characters and have to wonder about obsessed artists who draw them.
The last character thought: NO MINMEI!!! (note spelling) And if there is going to be vocalized singing, NEW SONGS EVERY SINGING EPISODE. END OF DISCUSSION. WE ARE NOT STUPID ENOUGH TO ACTUALLY BELIEVE "MY TIME TO BE A STAR" IS A NEW SONG EVERY OTHER EPISODE. Macross 7 also pushes this line. The existing songs can be recycled appropriately in the background (keywords: appropriately and background). Macross Plus songs are in the BACKGROUND of Macross 7. These are appropriately done and ties the two together in such a way that it makes us think and realize both are Macross.
"Infinite diversity, infinite combinations."
Story Line/Plot is the most important point any story design. The best stories have the most plausibility. This is a similar concept to mecha design. These stories should have an in-depth, controlled diversity that parallels the character design (keyword: controlled). Given that SciFi and Anime have been around awhile, it is often difficult to come up with fresh ideas that seem truly original. This leads to a question: Why do people stare at clouds? There is infinite diversity hidden inside the known. Many of the better stories do not have to look outward for something new, but rather inward.
This subject needs to be addressed again: PLAN AHEAD. Plan the first season, then plan three more seasons. Afterwards, replan everything and make them fit BEFORE production starts. This tactic lays down a very solid foundation that can have spinoffs (like DS9 and Voyager from Star Trek). The Macross Saga has too many parallels and drops. Those could have been avoided with some foresight.
"People without vision cannot lead."
What's in a name? The name is how it (and possibly others) will be classified for the rest of its (and their) existence. Don't take this lightly.
Robotech 3000. This name reminds me a lot of Titan AE, since Titan is also set in 3000. Let's put some distance between Robotech and Titan. Here is what personally bothers me about looking towards 3000: we do not even have a clue about 1000 years from now. 100 years ago did not even have a clue about now. (Heck, 30 years ago didn't even have a clue about now.) The Titan AE science seems more like 2100 science than 3000 science. This is a negativity that hurts the movie. 3000 sounds like jumping on the bandwagon for all of the 2000 products. This dates the new Robotech project. The end desire is for it to be timeless.
Make the series epic in nature and not episodic. The epic stories typically have fuller character development and do not get locked down into formulas that have to be followed every episode. Epic examples: Macross, Southern Cross, Babylon 5, Earth: Final Conflict, Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles, Space: Above & Beyond, X Files (at least on the season finales). Episodic examples: New Generation (MOSPEADA), Star Trek(s), Earth 2 (gray area for some), Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica (gray area). I hate to say it, but in New Generation, there is a classic Invid battle in almost every episode. I believe the one that really takes the cake, though, is Voltron. A Robeast is destroyed the same way in every episode (Guaranteed!). This gets stupid quickly.
To design an epic series there needs to be vision and that vision needs to be controlled and locked down. Babylon 5 vs. Star Trek can be used as an example. JMS remained in control of the B5 stories and built them up until the very end. Star Trek has a committee of writers. While it is good to have others proof the work, committees tend to make formula episodes (same sequence of events happens every time). Committees tend to kill everything except themselves.
Multi-episode stories. Battlestar Galactica does this giving the series an epic feel. Many times there is just too much information from a single idea to fit into a single episode. If this is the case, then DON'T SMASH IT! A smashed idea ends up being a LOUSY episode. Do NOT do a Star Trek leaving us hanging at the end of a season finale. While this is a method of drawing into the next season, it is a bad method because it essentially tells us the we have to watch the next season. I strongly resent being told what to do. If I watch the next season, I will do so out of desire. Desire is what must be built up in fans. Hatred and resentment is extremely negative and will bring a series to a premature end.
Recap episodes. DON'T EVEN. Recap episodes waste our time and tell us what we already know (insulting). Production always falls behind schedule. It is a simple fact of life. PLAN now and prepare something along the way so when that time comes it isn't a big deal and there is a good episode (a parallel historical maybe?). I tolerate Gloval's Report and Dana's Story because they are Robotech and do add a little insight. The Roughnecks have 2 reports and 1 flashback that I cannot stand (throw in one Star Trek TNG, also).
Unseen on known stories. Do a "history of" to fill in the gaps. Babylon 5 did this. Possible topics could be: first contact with the Flower of Life (Invid), Zor stealing the Flower, Zentraedi uprisings, sub-stories within Robotech series timeline, the Sentinels adventures afterwards, and so on. NO TIME TRAVELING. NO GUIDED TOURS. Don't insult us. Show something we don't already know.
Out of order airing: DON'T EVEN. Roughnecks did this and it confused.
A good episode/story can be watched over and over and over again without inducing dementia. In fact, if it is done properly, most will want to watch it again. This follows the line of building layer upon layer in the story for texture (Roughnecks get better about this towards the end). One sees something new each time viewed. This concept is true for any media: if the second viewing brings boredom or vomiting, send it back until it is fixed.
"To the stars."
I've heard this far too many times: "We have to satisfy everyone with this series to make the most money! We must compromise!" Whoever says this should be dragged out into the street and shot on sight. Pick a target audience level that is complicated enough to keep the interest of the older levels, but at the same time keep the base elements low enough for the attention span of younger viewers. Remember that all the little kids want to grow up quickly and be just like the big kids. Children also understand more than we give them credit for (some operate computers better than adults). I also don't think I could find any kid who has an interest in Robotech who would turn down a Valkyrie. Let them halfway watch the episode then go buy the cool toys (marketing).
The Macross series is not targeted directly at kids, but a little higher. We see elements in it that not only appeal to little kids but also to big kids.
"When people think, they feel intelligent."
Time Setting. Place the story in the future (of course) but not too far into the future. IMHO, Robotech 3000 is way to far ahead. Read the argument about the name. The story shouldn't be too close into the future because 1984 has passed, 1999 has passed, and 2001 will soon pass and society isn't entirely as it was envisioned (although close in certain aspects). Perhaps 100 years into the future from the last episode would be a logical starting point and would be far enough ahead to break off immediate ties with the existing crew to start fresh. This would not be so far ahead as to avoid total separation and alienation from the original series, though. Pieces could be filled in accordingly (hint, hint). I hate to say it, but the vision would be something along the lines of Robotech: The Next Generation.
Closure on the original Robotech series, part 1. This is a touchy topic and will most likely stay that way. Remember that all people cannot be satisfied no matter what. People have a tendency to not like not knowing. Make low key references to the previous series in the new series. This should never happen in the first few episodes! This could potentially anchor the new series and make it more solid. Do not run these references into the ground. Leave a little longing for more (carrot in front of the rabbit). Examples could be like: Bernard Command Center, Fokker Space Station, The Lang Institute of Robotechnology, a statue of Rick and Lisa Hunter pointing to the stars, and a YF-21 pedastaled in front of a test flight center. Briefly mention history weaved in line with the story (keyword: in line), but have it so it does not break the new continuity. Breaking continuity is an absolute no-no. The people who want to know what happened (us) will see these and will quickly catch on (and maybe watch the episode a second time). The new watchers will get plugs for the original series and might just get curious (if the it is done correctly). Do not make another "Dana's Story", though.
Closure on the original Robotech series, part 2. I'll say this ahead of time: this is not something for the start of the new series. This is more of something for the dead time between the first and second seasons. Babylon 5 did something interesting at the end of Season 4 and the beginning of Season 5. Two episodes were produced (one episode length, one movie length) tying down the story of the first four seasons. These episodes are somewhat unique because they are not recap episodes with a little filler in between. These episodes actually jump into the story in different time lines as the story is happening. This is not just telling an existing story like so many recap episodes do. This is inside the story. These episodes show a little of what we already know for establishment, then go off on a new tangent explaining the information so many of us are longing for. If the new series is done properly (as in Closure 1, keyword: properly), this could generate a large interest among the new Robotech fans (and large interest is money).
Don't explain every-single-stinking-detail in the first episode. Explain enough to make the episode work then spread the rest across the remaining episodes. This builds anticipation and gives something to look forward to. Nadesico does this in its own way. Remember that the true function of the Robotech series is to make investors money. It is highly desirable to draw the audience through the series (carrot in front of the rabbit). Not knowing everything also makes us think more. It is a great conversation piece for message boards, also.
Everything's already been done. Not really, but a lot of it has. Take the story and tell it from a different perspective. Everyone will see the same story differently. Work off of that. The X Files and Space: Above and Beyond has done this from time to time.
Step to the side. Although rare, a series can build up tension to a level that is too high. Sometimes it is appropriate to have a "slightly off" episode for a breather. Star Trek TNG: Lower Decks is one of these episodes that just details the daily life on a starship. It uses unknown characters (and a red shirt) that sometimes interact with the regular crew for establishment. These episodes are good for building/solidifying a story foundation and filling in the gaps.
Break predictability. Don't be totally unpredictable, though, as this is predictable. Make sure the story leads up to the unpredictability and whatever happens is supported by the story in a unique way. "I never saw that coming" is a sign of good planning and writing. We were given a flow chart in one of my film classes detailing the plot of the 1950's and 1960's SciFi movies. I about died of laughter when I proved it 95% correct from my own viewings. One of the better stories that breaks predictabilty is the Thomas Crown Affair. This movie preys off of the bored rich boy with too much money stereotype. I never figured on Crown putting back the painting, especially by the method he used.
The stories should deal with relevant issues of the day as these tend to interest us the most. The story should not seem cheesy or preachy, though. Be sure that the issue does not directly call attention to itself. While I enjoy Star Trek 4, "let's go save the whales" is a bit to obvious and tends to insult the average intelligence (never talk down to the audience).
Shades of gray. Some would argue that issues of old are black and white. Some yes, some no. Most issues of today fall somewhere in between. The importance is to build conflict from each side of the argument so each side could be in the right. This is a spark that gets us thinking. Nadesico did this towards the end of the series with the "Who are we fighting for?" sequence. Could it be for Earth, Nergal, Jovians, or just ourselves...who is right?
Stretching it out. Comedy shouldn't have a spotlight in Robotech, but this principle is worth mentioning. Paul Reiser, in his series Mad About You, will stretch a joke out along the whole episode. The construct is to build level up on level, doing a touch, touch, hit, touch, hit type of sequence. The thing that makes it appealing is that the situation and setting is different each time shedding new light on the same joke.
Breaking tension: the "wow" statement. Building tension, anticipation, excitement, whatever is obviously one of the ways to draw in the audience. Building level upon level just increases the effect. One of the best examples I've seen is in Babylon 5 with the destruction of the first White Star. To set the stage, there is parallel editing among three stories: Sheridan's love message to Delenn (his sensitive side, please don't die), the Shadow armada around the station (please don't destroy us), and Sheridan on Za'Ha'Dum (his warrior side, he's going to be captured and killed). Any of these by itself could be quite gripping, but all three together made the story totally absorbing. At the end we discover two warheads are missing from the station and are aboard the White Star. I never saw a suicide run coming nor destroying the prototype super ship. The White Star crashes through the Shadow city dome, explodes, Sheridan jumps into a bottomless pit, Anna Sheridan fries, Morden gets crispy, the Shadows shriek and disappear as their city dies, Garibaldi gets kidnapped, and Delenn cries. Wow...talk about some talent...and they haven't wasted any time setting the new stage for the next episodes at the same time.
Quiet tension. Slow silence can be more stressful than a full action sequence. My favorite example of this is in Aliens. The marines are making their way into the central complex after it has been secured. There is no music and they are all walking as quiet and carefully as they can (except Paul Reiser as Burke). Some of the danger from the aliens is explained earlier in the movie, but most of it comes from what we already know from the first, Alien. The first movie defines that the aliens can come out quickly and from anywhere. Aliens builds on that with the careful movement, but no aliens are found, just face huggers. Things are still quiet, there is no background music, tensions are dropped a bit, and Burke sticks his face right up to the clear canister in a close up shot. Needless to say I've always enjoyed turning from the screen and watching my classmates/colleagues view this sequence as they always jump. My former classmates have seen this movie many times, know what to expect, and still jump. This is real talent.
Quiet building moments. Building a story entirely through action becomes formula work and boring. There are justified times (keyword: justified) when sitting back and just talking can be used to develop characters' softer sides and to fill in story gaps. A couple of Robotech examples are Rick and Lisa trapped (walled) in the depths of the SDF-1 during one of the combat sequences and A Rainy Night. Another well done example is in Stargate SG-1 with the death of Apophes. Each SG-1 team member has something against the false god (as defined in previous episodes) and each has a couple of minutes alone with him to express their dislike and longing for his suffering. When the crux of the moment hits with his death, there is an odd sense of sorrow for their mortal enemy that has harmed them so.
"There can be only one."
Continuity and true canon has spawned many holy wars (series, books, RPGs...). The problem is that each side is correct in their own universe (remember the shades of gray?). With proper planning and control there is absolutely no reason for fractures to happen. Don't induce a split between the "red cardboard hats" and "blue cardboard hats" when they were suppose to be "green cardboard hats".
"To say something without saying anything at all."
Don't make the characters say frivolous things. I'm ready to punch through a wall if I hear "Oh Rick" one more time. Sometimes the most powerful statements are statements that are not spoken at all (remember Taarna in Heavy Metal?).
Design the story around what the characters do best. A pilot does not make a good systems administrator, but a separate combo of Dyson and Yang work very well in a YF-19 against Sharon.
Good Example: Guld and the Ghost X9 Battle. This is built up very well across all of the Macross Plus episodes. Guld is introduced as a crack test pilot who has strong affections for Myung. Sharon is developed into the ultimate idol singer who wants everyone to fulfill their ultimate desire and die. Sharon captures Myung and manipulates the Ghost X9. Guld desires to protect Myung and fights the Ghost X9. Guld dies destroying the Ghost X9 protecting Myung. Guld wins, Sharon wins (well, sort of, on both accounts, in a way).
"I could destroy you with a mere press of a button."
Technology is not the story, people are. People interacting with the technology make the story. Recall the early episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Just about all of them ended by pressing a button (many still do). "Our technology will save us!" No, it will not. The people operating it will triumph by ingenuity. Technological artifacts can be characters, though. The original Enterprise is portrayed in that light.
Technobabble. No one ever needs to start down this road. Enough said.
Technology is not all powerful. This severely limits the story by eliminating possible conflict. If there is a fight, why not use last episode's technology? It worked then, why not now? There should always be limits (even to fold engines and Macross Cannons). Stay out of time travel. It will end up like: "Well, we screwed up...Let's go slingshot around a star and just undo it...we're sooo haaapppyyy!"
Indestructibility. Nothing lasts forever. This is a known fact that is constantly forgotten. It is established that Valkyries are designed from super strength materials, can crash through buildings, and take punches. My biggest gripe is Basara's VF-19 in Macross 7. It seems to survive constant missile barrages where there are no pinpoint barriers when all the other mechs explode. This destroys the illusion of reality. Missiles are designed to penetrate. I've been on a video shoot where a couple of missiles were fired in the distance and this concept was explained to me. Armor piercing missiles are designed to compress their shrapnel and force it through a tiny little hole dicing up the soft things inside.
Do not introduce and use new technology in the same episode. Every time Star Trek comes up with something that sounds funny, I know I will not see it in another episode. This destroys believability. Casually lead in new technology and artifacts an episode or few before it is really used. This demonstrates planning by something not suddenly popping into existence. "Push the Magic Button" syndrome must be avoided at all cost.
When showing off technology, don't leave it empty too "oooh" and "ahhh" over. This makes boring video and leads to "what's the point?" There are very few instances where this should be done. Have characters progressing the story and leave the rest visibly in the background. Make technology commonplace as it truly is within the reality of the story. The Roughnecks series has broken this a time or two with drop ship launching. There is no doubt that these shots are required to establish location and future action. These shots could have been broken up where there is a shot of the drop ship being prep'd at the hanger door, an interior shot of the Roughnecks discussing something, Ibanez's voice is heard over the background intercom, then there is a lurch as the drop ship is released. To make things commonplace, the Roughnecks keep talking through it like nothing happened. How about a real life example with us and cars? We do not slowly approach the car looking at all the angles, fondle the dash, turn the ignition, rev the engine a few times, slowly shift into gear, then drive off. We identify, strap in, and go.
"What's the point?"
Stay out of the metaphysical. Every time an episode tries to go into the metaphysical, I bet money that it is going to get goofy. Voyager tries to break science in a new way every episode. While reaching beyond is good, doing it every episode gets old. End of the Circle: While I haven't read it, I've heard about it. I shouldn't even have to comment on it. Macross 7 lost it in episode 27, Rainbow Colored Sound Energy. Part of the draw of the Macross series is its believability and tangibility.
Wasting time and unnecessary explanations. This is the fastest way to bore the audience. I hate to admit it, but Macross 7: The Galaxy is Calling Me does this in some places. It comes back to say "What's the point?" It also tries to explain sound energy again on a first grade level. Don't explain what the audience already knows or can easily figure out. It's insulting.
Compressed time. Do not compress a story down just to make the run length shorter. The Nadesico: Prince Of Darkness movie feels like this. The cut timing is all off. There is a time for tight editing and there is a time for loose editing. Know the story well enough to know when to use each.
Red shirts & red shirt mechs. Star Trek: The Original Series brought around the term "red shirts". The writers needed a way to increase the level of suspense and drama, so they created characters who are everybody's best friend for an episode, then get killed ruthlessly. Macross 7 does the same thing. We have: VF-1 Valkyrie (Macross), VF-4 Lightning (Flashback 2012), VAF-6 Alpha (New Generation), VF-11 Cannon Fodder (Macross 7)... The more advanced mecha seem to survive just fine, but not the VF-11's (to qualify: except for Dokker's red shirt newby's in the VF-19's). This breaks believabilty in the story. Where also do the extra pilots and planes come from towards the end of the Macross 7 series?
"We are not called to be average."
One of the most widely known recognitions of Robotech is the technology. Anyone who knows of Robotech knows of Variable Fighters. It's almost a trademark, and an important one at that.
Whatever the designers come up with, it needs to be plausible. One of the things that amazes me the most is the believability in some of the designs, which leads to an internal fascination. This is the key spark that needs to be captured and reproduced for a series. It is this fascination that leads to creativity and inspiration.
Make a purpose for the equipment and have mechs with a solid science behind them. I hate it when something transforms for no reason at all to do something it could have done in the original form. Don't go overboard on streamlining or making designs too boxy. Match the technology to the race, of course.
Some of my personal favorites:
* The SDF-1, a functioning city within a starship. It is kind of a home on the move with a really big cannon.
* The dockable Alpha & Beta fighters with a Cyclone inside. This is an efficient design for long range & up close, scouting, and to continue or escape fighting.
* The Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles personalized Jump Jets. This idea is straight out of the 1950's, but it has been done in a credible way with realistic motion and control. Take notice that these are not in every episode, thus not being run into the ground.
* Inside the cockpits. This comes back to the detail and control of the mecha. I am impressed with the Macross Plus YF-19 (displays wraps around the cabin) and YF-21 (XRay, IR, superimposed hands and feet over the wings and thrusters, vectored thrust). Remember that these are the things that video games are made of (planning for the future).
* Directional thrusters for space flight and folding wings. All parts of mecha should move in some way. Make it full motion as it really would be.
"We sell the illusion of reality."
This will always be a heated topic. Again, there is no pleasing everyone. Original cell type animation would be most welcomed by us because we are used to it, but what about the rest of the audience? This is an expensive and slow way to go. Can the budget really support cell? What will get taken away from in the rest of the budget? Where is the balance?
Totally realistic CGI on the other end can be just as bad. I've done CGI before and realism is no simple task. Good computer artists are down right expensive. Something like this would be very close to a real life movie. Are we ready for a real Robotech?
The most effective solution is an Anime/CGI hybrid (cell splicing). There needs to be some kind of transition between the old and the new. There could be a high shock value if the new is totally realistic CGI. I for one am not ready for that. The hybrid solution would be a cost effective stepping stone to pave the way for more realistic CGI episodes with a budget (do you remember the future?). Motion capture (Roughnecks, preferred method) will probably be used for realism and speed of production (and computers do keep getting faster). The CGI hybrid idea would also be more forgiving on the "deforming" methods used in traditional cell (we have to have our Macross Cannons).
Anime vs. Cartoon. In my book, there is no comparison. Robotech is and always should be Anime. Cartoon is Disney and is for little kids. Anime has evolved into a style all its own and contains that "something extra" that stimulates so many. What is that something extra? Much of it is hard to define in a short method, but basically: off angle camera shots, wide angle close ups, very fluidic motion, compression and expansion of time, foreground isolation, eccentric characters, honor, sappy love scenes, tight action sequences, incredible weapons, deformation, massive destruction, and Tokyo being destroyed in every episode.
Can CGI be Anime? Of course, but remember that CGI is in its infancy compared to all of the other methods. It may not be appropriate for everything, but in time, it will grow to be very large. Anime is a style that is predominately locked into cell but can be other mediums. Some may debate, but The Matrix is a form of real life Anime (as the directors are Anime fans).
Construction. Scenes and characters need to be visually stimulating, unique, and not overused (no kidding?). Typically this means that the images need to contain more information than the average brain can keep up with. This gives the illusion of reality instead of a drawing. Since the brain has trouble keeping up with the imagery, the audience will desire to see some parts again just out of curiosity.
Design. Keep designs realistic. These are the most believable (wow, imagine that). Believability in a story is extremely important. Too many questions to ask: Are the walkways too big? What about wall and ceiling design? Is the machinery really needed? Should movement take that long? Should this thing move? Is that color right? Should this thing glow? Is the ship too small/large? Should that display be 2D or holographic? How much space would those computers really take up? What about their weight? Is that character too small/large? What about skin color? Should a pale white character come from a sun planet? What about hair length? Or hair at all? Hair styles? Glasses? What about character strength and muscles? How many legs should that character have? What about clothing? Should the babe from the ice planet wear nothing but a bikini in cold space throughout the entire series? Are those collars too big? But shouldn't 1970's collars be burned and buried? What about the buttons? What about the pockets? What will this character carry? Will the ice planet babe in the bikini be able to carry that? Wow, she hides it unbelievably well. Will this character need gloves, elbow pads, and knee pads? What about footwear? The MOSPEADA body armor feet were huge; should this character have those?
The best way to design is to make pieces of it in real life and see how that looks. This could also be planning for an uncertain future... As a child I used to watch the Thundar The Barbarian cartoon Saturday mornings. One day they showed a promotional for something they were doing and real live characters dressed in costumes appeared. I remember being shocked as a little kid because they looked so silly. I watched the cartoon again paying attention to design and was shocked twice because that was their real designs. I just couldn't see it. Don't repeat that mistake.
Keep it fresh and distinguished. Make a solid look that distinguishes itself from the other wannabe's, yet is still Robotech. This may be going out on a limb, but try shooting the new series in a mild aspect wide screen. Robotech was a first in the United States and so it should be a first again for the world. I know of no series being shot in wide screen, so it would definitely get some recognition. HDTV and wide screen TVs are coming and are already hear in some areas (although slow). What better way to actively pioneer the new format than with Robotech? I've heard rumors that Babylon 5 was actually shot in wide screen preparing for the future. There will be some who will reject anything except 4:3. Unfortunately, this is to be expected. Some people cannot let go of the past as newer and better technology squashes it.
CGI & video creation in general. Watch the scene forwards, backwards, from a distance, close up, upside down/rotated, negative video, with and without sound. Watch it alone and watch it in a crowd. The mind is a tricky little critter and will compensate for and hide a problem. Only watching it differently will the problem be "re-exposed". Watch someone else's animation that is known to be good, then compare it. Wait a week and watch it again. A good scene will stand the test of time. If it does not, redo it.
Don't reuse footage. The brain recognizes these shots and immediately flags them as being cheep. This is a very unconscious negative response that can kill a series. If anyone insists on reusing footage, they should be forced to watch Robotech: The Untold Story until they submit.
"There is a difference in walking the edge and pushing the wall over."
The Robotech Saga does have a basis in music. Some of this has been done very well, a lot of it not. Some people have sworn a blood vengeance against Macek just because of the convulsions caused by a certain female vocalist. These mistakes must never be repeated.
Music, both diegetic and nondiegetic, plays an extremely important part in the flow and emotional control of an episode. Most do not realize the impact until they have seen and heard something that is truly a marvel (Macross Plus, recent episodes of Stargate SG-1). The sound track should form into the episode, and each will be different. Do not have some Pop song blast out of nowhere just because of a cultural fascination with the style. This is stupid. Everything should have its place.
Do not be stingy with music quality. I consider the Sentinels soundtrack to be weak because of the wimpy sounding synthesizer (opening of the Roughnecks is similar). To the credit of the composer, the Sentinels sound track is really well done, but it needs an orchestra (if one blasts it in a car with the windows down and feels silly, it is no good). This should be simple to do given its adequate layering. Layering is an important design topic (key point: build the complex from the simple and leave holes in the sound where appropriate). Slight detail within detail establishes depth. A good mixdown will not have the layers conflict and will produce something aurally wonderful. Good examples are Information High (heavy techno) and Torch Song (minimalist layering, appropriate tempo) from Macross Plus. As a rule of thumb, if a person listens to the same song over and over and over and over for hours and ends up like Guld just before he dies, it needs to be redone.
The New Series. Keep with the classical Robotech theme but do new orchestration of it. This builds ties to the original series but makes it new and fresh for the up and coming series. Stick with the classical orchestral sound and stay away from synthesizers. Synthesizers really date a piece and can sound stupid years later when things evolve. Orchestral music is typically considered timeless as it has been around awhile. Be careful for music like Battle Beyond the Stars, though.
Composers, writers, and artists work close together. Come up with the idea for the scene. Compose the music to the idea and lock down certain things (rhythm). Shoot for the music readjusting the story along the way. Recompose the music to final product.
Don't play a theme just because a character suddenly comes out or a fight starts. This gets stupid and initiates the Robotech Pavlov response: foaming at the mouth and vomiting.
Beware the Pop. Robotech has always had some form of Pop music in it. Pop music by definition (Popular) is not timeless. Popularity shifts from one thing to another almost daily. Don't play with fire unless you are willing to get burned (by many others who are more than willing). "Stage lights flashing, the feeling smashing, my heart and soul belong to you. And I'm here now singing, all bells are ringing, my dream has finally come true..." I could recite more from memory, but I won't for sanity's sake.
Macross Plus, good points and bad points. The music of Sharon Apple is merged in beautifully with the movie. Not once did I wonder why one of her songs was playing. The sound tracks are a little different, though. They start out as the normal songs, but more often jump into something those art bums perpetually stuck in college would produce (I've known a few). Bad Dog is an example of an entire song like that. I realize there is a point to push for to the cutting edge, but if one pushes to hard, it falls over and the illusion is destroyed. Needless to say, this is bad. Create the music for the target audience. If something is deemed bad, distance it for survival. This is true for diegetic and nondiegetic music.
Techno music should be given the same warning as Pop music. The best example I can think of is the Lost In Space movie. A lot of the techno is well done, but some of it is too far out there. Many, like me, grew up watching old Lost In Space reruns, and some grew up watching the original thing. Does this music hit the target (and new) audience?
Happy fight music vs. serious fight music. Listening to sound tracks separately from the movie is an interesting experience. Many times the violent battle scenes have happy fight music under them. While strange, this often works but should be used carefully. Music sets the unconscious tone of a scene and can easily manipulate it.
Desperation. Watch Titan AE. Those who know what they are looking for will almost be able to sense the crew being laid off one at a time. The music from that movie wants you to like it (along with the visuals). Don't tell me what to like and hate. Don't insult me. I'll make my own decisions.
If in doubt, go with simplicity. This the easiest and usually cheapest way to get through something.
Characters singing. If they aren't suppose to, don't. Macross 7 did this with a couple of characters and some Protodeviln. I howled and cried out in pain. The voices could have been much better (and the voice actors can do it). When I was little GI Joe did that once. It scarred me for life. The only instance I sort of accept is from Nadesico. The ones who were suppose to sing good, did. The ones who were suppose to sing bad, did. Everything kept its natural order. Yurika sang the closing credits song in that episode. That seemed out of place (kept expecting titles to go by), but I guess it is acceptable given the environment of Nadesico and that her voice actress really does sing the closing credits.
For Further Listening: Last of the Mohicans, Water World, Galaxy Quest, Stargate, Highlander, Aliens, The Abyss. Each of these has its own characteristics. Some are majestic, interrogative, happy, sad, forceful, and plain. Some overlap and use different methods for the same result. All of these sound tracks have a full sound to them (as in the full audio spectrum is appropriately used). 15 years ago budgeting a small orchestra may have been difficult, but now it should not be. Sometimes it is not even necessary. A Celtic flute and a couple of background instruments has produced some of the best quite music I've ever heard. Mylene's solo at the end of episode 26, Death Match at Planet Lux also falls into this category.
-=SALES & MARKETING=-
"But wait, there's more! For a limited time..."
I hate to say this, but if there's no hype, nobody will know about it. Robotech must be saturated across the planet for maximum returns.
Sales and marketing people must be watched closely. I've eaten these people for breakfast in my days of doing tech support (enterprise network level, not any of this "my mouse won't move"). They promise the world but deliver a sour pickle. If this becomes the case, they will be barbecued by many.
Obviously start with small and cheap then expand. Most who follow Robotech are already on the Internet. Make use of it. Robotech.com is the first start. Offer large desktop wallpapers and screen burners from the site (they must look good, similar to posters). This is near free advertising. Do not put dates or "coming soon" on the imagery. This locks it into a specific time frame which is undesirable. Just put in the URL and let the web designers handle the rest. Web is a dynamic format designed to handle change. These are just teasers.
Other visuals. People like to see trailers of what is to come. Put out some unclassified clips for download and make them a decent resolution. A lot of solid feedback can result from this.
Unofficial web sites, mailing lists, and news groups can handle secondary news distribution. Just make sure the announcements get to them and there's a URL for more information back to the web site.
Eventually notifications will have to be scaled up as the production approaches the air date. From there the normal advertising channels can be used.
Toys. Many of us want to own the mecha after we see it on screen. It is just part of the internal fascination. Make the products durable as some of mine have broken (and they mostly sit on the shelf as trophies). Keep the products reasonably priced for proliferation. Having the product is another type of advertising and the goal is saturation. Keep the price within the commoner's reach and for those overseas.
Motivation. Offer sales the force variable commissions and the crew stock options. These are the people doing the production and building the company. The better they do, the more money they bring in, the bigger the company gets. Greed is an effective motivator.
Reality. The first series run won't cover initial production costs. This should already be known and realized. If not, replace those in charge (NOW AND NOT LATER). This is why the production must produce a demand as syndication value is very important.
"No one ever said it was easy."
Do not repeat aspects of the following: Macross 2 (wannabe DYRL, beaten into the ground), Sentinels (low budget implementation, but good promise), Voltron 3D (my dead dog could do better 3D), original Voltron (one dead Robeast per episode, guaranteed!), early Star Trek: The Next Generation & Voyager (lousy acting and stories, "talk funny and push button to end"), Aliens 3 (how could such dimwittedness follow the first two awesome movies?), TV shows produced by William Shatner (how dare you make me mention these here). Learn from these mistakes as others have and money is in the bank!
"Those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them." --The Robotech Curse
"Change is inevitable. Adapt or die." --The Robotech Curse
"You are entering an area adjacent to a location, an area of sights and sounds. There might be scary managers or a funhouse mirror. You are entering: The Production Door." --The Robotech Curse
This is a call to excellence. Establish a budget that can support a good level of detail. Push the investors a little (and don't anyone dare plan for budget cuts like in Southern Cross). This model is sure to work if properly implemented (and it has been proven many times...like I said, nothing new). This will take time and effort to produce. No slackers here. Good things come to those who work hard. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. I want to see Robotech return with Macross Cannons blazing and wouldn't mind seeing HG prosper in the process. :)