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HomeVisual EffectsArea Academy and Past — Filmation’s Saturday Morning VFX – AGRAPHA Productions

Area Academy and Past — Filmation’s Saturday Morning VFX – AGRAPHA Productions

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In 1977 Every thing Modified.

Saying that Star Wars altered leisure and society ceaselessly might not be an exaggeration. It’s exhausting for these not round in 1977 to grasp the numerous impression that the largest blockbuster since JAWS had on society (just like that of the Beatles in 1964). Attributable to its huge success, each science fiction property in growth or that could possibly be revived rapidly obtained the inexperienced gentle, main virtually instantly to a golden age of visible results in motion pictures and TV exhibits. To fill the hole till these new exhibits could possibly be accomplished, outdated sci-fi B-movies performed on TV over the weekend, and traditional movies like Warfare of the Worlds confirmed throughout matinees as an inexpensive technique to occupy kids. They wanted new content material rapidly, and producers didn’t need lumbering males in rubber fits, they wished flashy visible results in outer house, with laser weapons and explosions.

Area 1999, a present concerning the moon hurtled freed from the Earth, was nonetheless on the air, and it had turned up the motion a bit, nevertheless it was extra within the line of older sci-fi content material, like UFO, and a pair of001 A Area Odyssey.  Quark, a main time science fiction comedy sequence with some space-based visible results, premiered proper earlier than the Star Wars launch and was instantly picked up for a sequence. Sadly, episodes wouldn’t begin airing till the next yr. Battlestar Galactica, the property closest to the Star Wars type (and later unsuccessfully sued due to it), additionally made by Star Wars visible results artists didn’t seem till a number of months after Quark went to air. Since Quark was gradual out-of-the-gate, the one sequence in manufacturing able to fill within the Star Wars hole was a Saturday morning youngsters serial referred to as Area Academy.

Area Academy was helmed by manufacturing firm Filmation’s producer Lou Scheimer — who had beforehand produced the Star Trek Animated Sequence — which might have loads of visible results, and subsequently be some of the costly Saturday morning TV exhibits on the time.  Area Academy featured younger cadets on an area station (with laser weapons) led by Jonathan Harris of Misplaced in Area fame. The next yr, the present was renamed and up to date as Jason of Star Command, which was led by James Doohan of Star Trek fame and  conveniently befell on the identical house station.  Each exhibits used music and sound results from The Star Trek Animated Sequence and had very spectacular authentic visible results from a few of the individuals who created Star Wars.  Magazines like Starlog and Unbelievable Movies typically coated the visible results course of for movies and  well-liked sequence like Battlestar Galactica, however had little protection for both of the Filmation exhibits. Within the many years since, only some interviews and DVD commentaries supplied some perception on the present’s visible results, however none of them have been a complete take a look at the visible results work from Filmation on Area Academy, or its subsequent tasks.

That is an try and rectify that.

“Our finances was excessive to start with (reported $150,000 per episode), and we discovered it wasn’t sufficient. Now CBS is paying us virtually twice as a lot as a traditional half-hour Saturday Morning present … They wished us to do the very best SF present we may probably do. The vital factor right here will not be that they’re paying the cash, it’s that it’s being spent on the present.”

-Lou Scheimer [Starlog 10]




Editors notice: This text is assembled analysis from extant interviews and articles of the time, in addition to from more moderen bloggers who cowl part of the story — particularly helpful are the detailed electronic mail exchanges with Chuck Comisky, the documentaries on the Filmation Star CommandArea Academy, and Flash Gordon DVDs, and private electronic mail exchanges with a few of these concerned. Because the report is so scattered, sadly some particulars, and vital particular person’s tales could also be lacking presently. This text can be up to date as new info comes about.  Watch these documentaries from the hyperlinks above, or on the finish of this text.

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The Star Wars Connection

Had Star Wars failed there wouldn’t be the visible results tent-pole image we’ve come to count on lately, and there wouldn’t be a listing of hundreds of artists in the long run credit. Science Fiction movies on the time, particularly these in house, tended to be very high-minded, or campy, and did little box-office, with results made by a couple of. Nonetheless, by combining house fantasy with spectacular spaceships zooming round like Flash Gordon, Star Wars broke box-office data. With success comes notoriety, and individuals who labored on the visible results for the movie have been prompt celebrities.  Nonetheless, within the remaining days of manufacturing earlier than Could 25, 1977, all of those younger visible results artists have been about to lose their jobs.

Fortunately for a few of them, Filmation producer Lou Scheimer had been growing Area Academy for a couple of years (initially pitched to Gene Roddenberry as a Star Trek spinoff), and in early 1977 obtained approval for the sequence. He wanted a visible results staff to finish the work, and on a tip, visited a gaggle of technicians situated close to the Van Nuys airport, as Lou writes:

“Now, for these readers who really feel that we have been driving the wave of Star Wars mania that swept the nation by creating Area Academy, I’ll level out that Star Wars didn’t premiere till Could 25, 1977, and no person knew it was going to be a success. We had already developed and begun creating Area Academy earlier than Luke Skywalker ever took up his lightsaber!

That isn’t to say that we didn’t profit from Star Wars when it got here to manufacturing. A number of of the individuals who labored on Area Academy have been Star Wars veterans, and others have been results designers who had grown up in a submit 2001: A Area Odyssey and Star Trek world. I went out to a little bit place in Van Nuys, and I used to be in search of individuals who may make three-dimensional fashions, as a result of we needed to make some ships. And there was an outfit on the market that had been doing a film in England that was going to be launched afterward that yr… Star Wars! And within the nook of their store was a robotic—R2-D2—and it’s bought cobwebs all over it, and there was C-3PO, and X-Wing fighters, and ships mendacity round everywhere. I assumed these guys have been nuts! I imply, how are you going to try this stuff? So, I employed a bunch of them.

Rob Maine, who ended up being one of many results supervisors, had really talked us into constructing the Academy on an asteroid moderately than an area station. The asteroid was painted Styrofoam, whereas the three geodesic domes have been inverted champagne glasses and the exhaust pipes have been painted cigar tubes. The unique Academy mannequin value about $200 in provides. John Erland, Lorne Peterson, and Paul Huston additionally did fashions for Area Academy, creating the spaceship and the Academy itself in a storage workshop, out of mannequin package components from tanks and different autos.”

-Lou Scheimer [Creating the Filmation Generation]


Lou repeated the identical description in a video interview including extra element to the story: “I employed a bunch of them … by which I imply two.” He employed Lorne Peterson and Jonathan Erland to construct the Area Academy house station mannequin and secondary miniatures. This assembly occurred whereas Star Wars was nonetheless in manufacturing, as Lou mentions within the interview that the 2 have been nonetheless engaged on the fashions for the movie when he got here by.  It’s unclear from obtainable info whether or not Peterson and Erland had completed engaged on Star Wars after they began constructing the Area Academy itself, however the staff already had their very own enterprise, and have been sub-contractors to Star Wars whereas working on-site.

“The fundamental physique of the Academy was in all probability foam and bondo,” recalled Chuck Comisky (Visible Results supervisor for Area Academy) in an electronic mail interview with EJ Small in 1999.  “It weighed about 40 or 50 kilos, was backside mounted, and was about 6 toes throughout at its widest, very finely detailed,”  Lorne additionally constructed the ‘Seeker’ spacecraft for the sequence, based mostly on the design of the Ark II truck (A earlier Eco-themed sci-fi journey, within the guise of Logan’s Run)  that the producers had obtainable and a few kit-bashed components from a NASA Saturn-V rocket mannequin.  The cadets would fly round house for his or her adventures on this ship, which was both shot as a 24-inch mannequin, a roughly 10-inch model (there have been a number of of those from RTV molds), and infrequently cutout images on glass.


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“Certainly one of my recollections from that interval was the necessity to produce a light-weight filter in the back of the [seeker] ship which might be lit very brightly. That meant it could get fairly scorching. So we determined to trend the filter out of a Pyrex stage gentle lens. However Pyrex is extremely exhausting to chop – efficiently.  I went to Judson Stained Glass Studio and so they gave me a crash course in reducing Pyrex.”

-Jonathan Erland [email interview 2023]



The detailed components on the Area Academy mannequin got here from numerous plastic kits and plastic wine glasses, as Lou Scheimer mentions, but in addition disassembled vacuum tubes which had very effective steel bits in them [Erland]. Some items of the Academy miniature additionally resemble stacked paint buckets. On Star Wars, Erland constructed the escape pod miniature utilizing two KFC rooster buckets crammed with polyfoam and stripped of their paper to create the shape. This “paint bucket” form can be seen on the Loss of life Star floor, and is probably going a part of the Area Academy design as a result of low finances for the mannequin. To place the $200 provide finances into perspective: a gallon of gasoline value about 55 cents on the time, which is about ten instances increased as we speak, so the estimated value of supplies is equal now to about $2,000. Chopping corners as a result of low finances, thus utilizing “discovered gadgets” as they’re referred to as, enhanced element.

Ultimately, different alumni from the Star Wars visible results home Industrial Mild and Magic (ILM) joined the manufacturing of this present, together with David Jones, Jonathan Seay, and Paul Huston. Star Wars idea artist Joe Johnston was additionally employed for design work, though he went uncredited [information provided by Jonathan Erland] — a latest public sale of 35mm movie slides that includes behind-the-scenes photos of the manufacturing present Johnston, Dave Jones,  Erland and Peterson engaged on the mannequin.  The idea from lots of the images on this assortment, is that the slides initially belonged to Paul Huston (unverified). As of this second, no manufacturing designs for Area Academy or the Spacecraft are in circulation — which might be pretty to see. These slides additionally reveal Jonathan Erland serving to arrange the shuttle bay miniature for filming — a part of a later second miniature results unit led by Paul Huston, and supervised by the principle visible results staff.

Paul Huston and his staff additionally shot miniature pyrotechnics, principally small gasoline explosions, in a parking zone late one night time.

‘We spent an entire night time on the market with gasoline luggage and electrical expenses doing explosions with high-speed cameras.’ Scheimer reported, nonetheless delighted by the expertise.
-Starlog 10

It wouldn’t be a Star Wars-like present with out them. Huston, Erland, and Peterson labored on the present earlier than returning to Apogee Productions (the previous Industrial Mild & Magic facility) for Battlestar Galactica. Huston grew to become a frequent collaborator with Filmation Productions.

Lorne Peterson recollects that Lou Scheimer wished to go to them at their store whereas they have been constructing the fashions. Current images present the common-or-garden situation of this storage store, so Erland and Peterson would make up causes for Lou to not drop by, because it was a far cry from the total visible results facility they’d throughout Star Wars. One night (about 10pm recollects Peterson), Lou Scheimer referred to as and mentioned he was within the space, and dropped by.  A white limousine pulled as much as the entrance of Jonathan’s home, and Lou bought out carrying a top quality swimsuit, and adopted by a couple of different folks — together with women in night robes — having simply attended a celebration. In all their finery, at a jumbled storage store, trying on the Area Academy mannequin in manufacturing. It should’ve been fairly an event. [personal discussion with Peterson]

The Grasp of Ceremonies

filmation sa chckComiskySteve Nicolaides employed Chuck Comisky to arrange and manufacturing handle the miniatures,  in addition to act as an assistant to Visible Results Director of Pictures Rob Maine — who had labored with a number of of the unique ILM crew on the 1974 soft-porn VFX extravaganza Flesh Gordon, in addition to the Christian themed Davey and Goliath kids present (an attention-grabbing distinction).  By Chuck’s personal admission, he knew nothing about “particular results,” and assumed it could take them 4 weeks to determine that out — however throughout that point he would receives a commission sufficient cash to get by means of the summer time. Nonetheless, as these weeks went on he rapidly discovered rather a lot about cease movement, and miniature results, “I figured issues out — with numerous assist!”  He ended up staying for the remainder of the sequence, and constructed his profession from there.

Certainly one of Chuck Comisky’s first contributions to the manufacturing was to assist construct convincing star fields, at an inexpensive value,  however the work had already began. With no entry to movement management tools or an optical printer (nor the finances to ship the work elsewhere), they used commonplace movie compositing strategies as a substitute. The staff needed to end all of the photographs on one strip of authentic movie, and develop the outcome. Douglas Trumbull had not too long ago used a miniature entrance display screen projector (bounced off a half-silvered mirror in entrance of the lens) and a reflective display screen made from Scotchlite materials (like a reflective street signal) to composite a number of layers of beforehand photographed planets and star fields in a single move of the digicam for his low finances movie Silent Working. This method, additionally well-liked in cease movement animation, was favored by Rob Maine, who deliberate to make use of cease movement animation to maneuver the spacecraft, and its lighting alongside wood tracks, one inch at a time, in entrance of the projected star fields.

The outcomes have been lower than passable, and sadly a bit gradual — the type of delay one can’t afford on a weekly tv sequence.  Chuck seen that the pictures appeared gentle or solid misaligned shadows on the display screen when the mannequin was too near the digicam. One other approach acquainted to cease movement artists, and seen within the sequence Area 1999 (which was nonetheless on the air till November of that yr), was to layer a number of exposures over black backgrounds and punctiliously plot the place empty house was left so as to add different stars and planets.  Chuck proposed utilizing black Duvetyn and Christmas lights on the rear of the stage to signify the celebs. With this, they may shoot a number of exposures, and break up screens with minimal digicam motion to cover the helps underneath the miniatures.  He despatched an assistant to buy as many clear Christmas lights as potential (regardless of it being July – or August) and hung them on the stage. Every bulb was painted black and the information have been scraped off with a razor blade at totally different sizes to create a sensible star subject — or lifelike sufficient for a most tv decision of 555 traces. The ‘low-tech’ method delivered good trying work in much less time.

The Christmas gentle star subject wires are clearly seen on this picture from 1977 of Jonathan Erland, Lorne Petersen, and Paul Huston with the Area Academy and Seeker mannequin spacecraft.

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Amid fantasies of a science-fiction world stand the creators-model makers Paul Huston, Jonathan Erland and Lorne Peterson, toes solidly on the bottom in a Los Angeles studio, what they and their collectors did for the present hit film, “Star Wars,” they’re doing for an upcoming kids’s TV program, “Area Academy.” The particular results seen are the spaceship, “The Seeker,” at left, and the house academy advanced on an asteroid within the background, July 26, 1977. (AP Photograph/George Brich)



With no optical printer, and low finances, there was no chance of utilizing a touring matte course of like blue display screen to composite the pictures. Moreover, since they have been utilizing movie, digital composite processes like these used on Land of the Misplaced weren’t obtainable to them.  A number of passes on the identical strip of movie was the very best method.

“On all mannequin photographs, the digicam is stationary (normally locked off on a ‘Western’ dolly). The fashions are rod-mounted on a carriage, normally backside mounted, however not at all times. The star subject (see earlier remark) is ‘sensible’. The fashions and lights (outriggered to the carriage and on curler stands) transfer.  A big glass pane is positioned in entrance of the digicam. The trail of the mannequin is tracked (tilting the digicam to lose straight line strikes). Black photographic tape is affixed to the glass in order that every little thing beneath the bottom a part of the mannequin (normally the rod mount) is blacked out because it strikes throughout body. We then shoot this ‘first move’ solely exposing the mannequin and background  that’s above this ‘tape matte’ on the glass.  The movie is then reversed to the beginning mark.  The tape on the glass is reversed; taken off and re-affixed to the higher space of glass blocking any ‘double-exposure’ from the ‘first move.’ We then {photograph} the decrease portion of the shot (usually the star subject) for this second move.  All of our photographs constructed upon this precept. The complexity grew to as many as 18 to twenty passes on a single piece of unfavourable, every move rigorously choreographed and tape-masked on this trend. On some photographs we initiated digicam strikes.”

-Chuck Comisky [email interview by EJ Small.]


There have been no laptop controls on any of the fashions or their mounting rods.  If components of the miniatures have been motorized, these switches have been flipped by a number of folks based mostly on a system of verbal counts [Comisky]. Initially the setup used commonplace wheeled dollies restricted by wood tracks, however these have been later changed with a correct steel monitor.

“We began with a wood monitor after which upgraded to at least one with metal rails and ball bearing pillow blocks similar to ILM’s. We used electrical motors working “wild” at first after which upgraded to pulse motors. We ran the heartbeat motors with a easy management field that managed pace and variety of pulses. The digicam platform on the monitor was the one factor that was motorized after I was there. I believe Jim Villeaux could have added to the system after I left … though we used many alternative digicam and mannequin setups, the principle configuration was to have the fashions and mannequin lights mounted on the monitor and the digicam stationary. So the fashions moved on the monitor in the direction of or away from the digicam. The star subject on the far wall thus stayed stationary as if the celebs have been at nice distances. I used to be reminded of this by the images of the Mitchell digicam mounted on the dolly. Fairly totally different from the ILM method!”

-Paul Huston [Email interview 2023]

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In a video interview, for the Sense Of Scale Documentary, Dave Jones shares a couple of further particulars on the ad-hoc strategies the staff used:

“I used to be referred to as in as a result of I knew a few of the folks that have been beginning to do the miniatures … On Area Academy we didn’t have all of the finances, that meant we didn’t have movement management, for one factor. We had one individual set it up after which he bought off to a different present … we made our personal poor man’s movement management. It was enjoyable! You have been artistic. You bought paid virtually nothing and also you didn’t have anyone over your shoulder … you needed to suppose in your toes and provide you with methods to get stuff performed with what you had ….That stuff actually would get the juices flowing and also you’d be stunned what you would do with a digicam, some Slo-Syn motors, and Variacs … easy stuff.”

-Dave Jones [ Sense Of Scale]

Underneath Chuck’s administration, the Area Academy staff produced a complete of 256 visible results photographs in 17 weeks (utilizing $90,000 of the full finances), which together with all of the challenges of constructing the power, and working a number of levels in the identical warehouse because the dwell motion pictures.

Area Academy gallery beneath:

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Jason of Star Command – Conserving it going.

Area Academy was renewed for a second season, however seemingly failed to satisfy the viewers expectations for motion, resulting in the creation of Jason of Star Command, which required extra visible results photographs. The brand new present used the identical units and miniatures as Area Academy, with further miniatures being created to signify the brand new villains and Jason’s ship, the StarFire. Very like the primary season, it was the costliest Saturday morning present on the time, largely on account of its visible results finances.

The massive house vessel for the villain Dragos, the Dragonship, was equally constructed on an asteroid, very similar to the Area Academy — however with large articulated arms, making it appear like a threatening weight lifter. The house fighters for the Dragos ship have been un-manned drones, and appear to have been cobbled collectively from numerous components of a Saturn V rocket with dynamic engine lights for impact. Equipment-bashed spacecraft like this are at all times a deal with for interest modelers to recreate, and they’re comparatively low cost to provide.

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Throughout this season, the staff acquired a movement management system, enabling them to repeat digicam strikes, however nonetheless no optical printer. This allowed for extra dynamic fly-bys and layered digicam strikes with touring mattes.  One explicit shot of the Dragos drone craft launching, drops from the touchdown bay like a NASA check airplane [link], passes by means of full shadow, and emerges into gentle earlier than participating its engines — leading to a dramatic piece of motion, particularly for a Saturday Morning child present.

biPackMagFilming visible results for Star Command used the identical digicam system from Area Academy — a Mitchell commonplace 35mm digicam, however now with a bi-pack journal — bought from a navy surplus retailer in Hollywood by Paul Huston, principally changing the digicam owned by Rob Maine.

“It was a little bit store… he dealt primarily in navy surplus digicam gear…. He had numerous Mitchells. I used to be nervous that there may be some bother with them and I spent a very long time trying until I discovered two that have been clear as new. I believe I irritated the heck out of the man. After which I wormed him down on the value. Candy cameras … we by no means had a single drawback with them.  The animator Rob [Maine] had a Mitchell excessive pace that he paid like 5 instances as a lot as the full value of the 2 surplus cameras.  It was a magnificence.”

-Paul Huston [email interview 2013]


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The multi-pass compositing strategies utilized in Area Academy have been enhanced with the brand new movement management digicam setup. The manufacturing staff used the digicam to create holdout mattes for the spacecraft and added further parts similar to sharper star fields and glowing lights by sandwiching the mattes with a bi-pack journal. Bi-pack magazines permit a second piece of movie, which has been pre-exposed on excessive distinction movie inventory, to maneuver by means of the publicity gate involved with the principle movie strip. This permits the staff to regulate what components of the unique unfavourable are uncovered.

“The Filmation results unit make use of a pc managed digicam — a system which has change into very widespread for the reason that creation of Star Wars. They will produce their very own touring mattes within the digicam, all throughout the house of a day. The essence of the system lies within the functionality of the digicam to repeat strikes precisely. For instance, on the primary move, a hold-back matte is produced by loading the digicam with a black and white unfavourable and photographing the mannequin towards a black background. The mannequin is overexposed in order that it seems as a strong black picture towards a transparent subject. This piece of movie will function the touring matte or masks. A second move by means of the digicam exposes the mannequin correctly on colour unfavourable inventory. The black-and-white unfavourable is processed in home after which, when dry, bi-packed with the uncovered, however undeveloped colour unfavourable of the mannequin. The black and white masks is positioned on high of the colour unfavourable and run by means of the digicam whereas exposing the movie to a star subject. On this approach, the celebs are recorded solely on the background and never on high of the picture of the fashions, for the reason that black picture of the mannequin on the black-and-white unfavourable as masking out simply that portion of the body.”

-Starlog: Particular Results Quantity 01


filmation js lasersTo generate the matte move, the spacecraft could be coated in white tape and shot with high-contrast black and white RAR movie (Fast-access Recording inventory) within the journal, with numerous gentle on the mannequin to over-expose it. This picture could be developed within the facility utilizing a Kodak Prostar automated movie processing machine (the Kodak Prostar is an automatic movie processing system initially designed for black and white microfilm — Here’s a nice web site that exhibits the method of utilizing an outdated Prostar  movement image movie course of, wherein the developed movie comes out dry, and is rapidly useable) after which threaded into the bi-pack journal with the undeveloped colour move shot taken earlier, as talked about within the Starlog article. Nonetheless, as reported by Pat Sweeney, the tape barely modified the dimensions of the mannequin, inflicting the mattes to not at all times match completely and create “matte traces” — a supply of frustration for Lou Scheimer — and all of the work re-done from scratch. Some photographs required as much as 15 layers of double publicity, relying on the motion. Lasers and lightweight results have been additionally added to the ships utilizing back-lit animation and rigged lighting results on every mannequin. [source: 8111 podcast]


“I believe Jason of Star Command units a report for heaviest matte traces in historical past … it’s wonderful it really works in any respect!”

-Paul Huston [email interview 2013]

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The visible results crew grew in dimension to satisfy the rising calls for and included a number of individuals who later joined the ILM crew in San Rafael, CA, similar to Ease Owyeung (who made fashions), Jim Veilleux, Mike McCalister, Diana Wooten, and Pat Sweeney. Pat began out on the present as a manufacturing assistant and, with such a small crew, typically helped out on stage and discovered his craft. Jim Veilleux, now the director of miniature pictures for the sequence (Mike McCalister additionally will get this credit score at instances), employed Pat Sweeney for manufacturing assist. Pat spent the primary season of Jason of Star Command studying the craft of visible results. [source: 8111 podcast]

Chuck Comisky shares a humorous anecdote about creating the visible results for Jason of Star Command. After engaged on Area Academy, the visible results staff unionized (a part of the ballooning finances to make sure), which meant Chuck, as administration, was not in a position to work straight on the photographs. At one level, the Director of Miniature Pictures (whose identify Comisky doesn’t point out within the story) was spending numerous time testing, however not producing photographs. Comisky then arrange a miniature unit on the principle set and introduced that, as a result of tight schedule, he must begin taking pictures miniature results with the primary unit. Underneath union guidelines, the visible results DP’s identify could be within the credit for these photographs. Because of this ruse, the principle VFX unit rapidly produced the ultimate photographs.

As an apart (and never about visible results) it’s value noting that the costume for the lead actress of the Star Command sequence bears a placing resemblance to an idea designed for Princess Leia in Star Wars by Ralph McQuarrie.  It’s unclear whether or not McQuarrie’s authentic design for the Princess Leia costume was printed on the time or if Jason of Star Command‘s costume designer had entry to it by means of different means. What higher technique to get the Star Wars really feel, then to repeat its unused ideas straight and rent its visible results folks?


Movement Management

Most articles point out laptop managed cameras for productions on this timeframe, and there was not a full understanding by writers on the time to correctly specific how the system labored. Jonathan Erland explains:

“There are a number of references to laptop movement management within the Star Wars period.  That is in error.  The Star Wars period movement management of Al Miller (developer of the system for ILM) was able to recording and repeating movement on tape, however there was no laptop concerned. One needed to drive the digicam one monitor at a time for a complete of eight tracks … Pc movement management needed to look forward to the Apple II and Paul Johnson.  We have been effectively into Star Trek: The Movement Image (1979) and the early movement management, whereas great, was really fairly tedious. Making a change in a digicam transfer meant re-recording that whole monitor. With the Apple and Paul’s software program it was potential to design the digicam transfer straight by way of the pc and make modifications simply the place they have been wanted. It sped up the method and facilitated rather more refinement. Each Paul and Al Miller bought an Academy Scientific and Engineering Award for movement management. Paul and Al joined to kind Lynx Robotics, considerably enhancing movement management.”

-Jonathan Erland [email interview].


[The system was not computer] programmable … however with care and utilizing the heartbeat motors the strikes have been roughly repeatable, and keep in mind these have been house ships towards black with a background star subject burned in on a second move utilizing the unlit ship as a maintain out — tolerances have been fairly massive …  I do know [Jim Villeaux] bought a ProStar machine [after I left] and so they have been bi-packing mattes.”

-Paul Huston [email interview 2013]


Cease Movement Monsters

Throughout this time, Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion Sinbad movies have been nonetheless being proven in theaters and the not too long ago cancelled Land of the Misplaced, that includes stop-motion dinosaurs, was well-liked amongst kids. There actually have been only a few methods to create fantastical creatures on the time, and this was the very best. Whereas Area Academy featured some stop-motion creatures, believed to have been animated by Rob Maine, there have been much more in Star Command.

Stephen Czerkas and Jim Aupperle, recent off their work on the unbiased movie Planet of the Dinosaurs, have been liable for creating all the stop-motion monsters for the present. They heard by means of the Hollywood grapevine about Jason of Star Command, and assembled a demo reel, which they performed for Lou Scheimer.  He employed them virtually instantly.

Stephen sculpted many of the creatures, however an insect-like monster, that performs in each episode’s title sequence stays one in all Jim Aupperle’s all-time favorites to this present day.  A long time earlier, Cease movement fashions have been constructed layer by layer with cotton and liquid latex, however advances in supplies from the make-up world discovered their approach into the cease movement subject as effectively. Creatures for Jason of Star Command have been sculpted in clay over steel skeletons, from which molds have been made. With the clay eliminated, these molds have been injected with foam latex which was cured across the steel skeletons in an oven. The creatures have been animated one body at a time over miniature units, or black backgrounds as wanted, with each artists splitting the animation duties. [DieCast movie Podcast].
Here’s a hyperlink to a web page devoted to a few of Stephen’s work on the present.

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There have been two strategies used to composite the stop-motion creatures into the dwell motion scenes, as no optical printer was obtainable. Miniature rear display screen projection, and entrance display screen projection — the latter being usually brighter — additionally identified within the business as “Course of Projection.”  A extra superior technique utilizing both of those strategies, is commonly referred to as “Dynamation,” which was pioneered (and trademarked) by Ray Harryhausen.

The Dynamation-style course of entails projecting beforehand shot dwell motion footage on a semi-translucent display screen (for rear projection), or a glass beaded, retro-reflective display screen (for entrance projection) behind the mannequin one body at a time, after which layering a second publicity excessive to put the creature within the scene.  The mannequin is positioned such that the underside half of the shot will be masked off — as much as the creature’s toes — just like the strategy for taking pictures spacecraft in Area Academy mentioned earlier. Each the partially uncovered movie within the digicam, and the projected footage are then rewound to the place to begin, the masking reversed, and the underside half of the shot uncovered one body at a time into the clear space of the movie. The staff used a projector initially constructed for the 1941 movie Citizen Kane for this goal, and primarily sandwiched their fashions into the dwell motion footage.

For the second season of Star Command, the staff was employed full-time, masking all of the cease movement, but in addition placing collectively different photographs the place spacecraft wanted to be in the identical body with actors. They’d arrange the scenes equally to their cease movement composites, and likewise add what are referred to as “results parts,” similar to laser beams. In scenes the place laser beams flashed throughout these scenes, Aupperle would use skinny steel rods painted crimson, shot out of focus, which have been lined as much as pyrotechnic sparks filmed with the dwell motion footage.  He animated these parts in reverse by reducing off sections of the steel rods, advancing the projector, and reducing off the following part. These have been possible double uncovered into the body. [DieCast movie Podcast]

A visible evaluation of the creatures seems to be as if a few of the fashions from Planet of the Dinosaurs may have been cannibalized and modified for the sequence. On the very least they’re the identical type and sculpting strategies of the artist. Re-using components of armatures and different creatures was commonplace on the time to save lots of finances, however that they did so is mere conjecture at this level.

The visible results for Area Academy, and Jason of Star Command, in some ways have been an amalgam of strategies from the total breadth of filmmaking as much as that time, There was monetary effectivity within the tried-and-true strategies, which have been solely enhanced by new know-how.

“…We labored there for 2 years.  That was the very best skilled time Jim and I had.  It was a cheerful crew, and we had numerous management over what we did and the way we did it.”

-Stephen Czerkas [My Life With the Dinosaurs]

Jason of Star Command Behind the Scenes gallery beneath, together with numerous photos from the Filmation demo reel on the time (from Peter noble).

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Flash Gordon — Pushing the envelope

After the top of Jason of Star Command, Filmation Productions created an animated sequence based mostly on The Adventures of Flash Gordon. The success of their earlier Star Trek: The Animated Sequence (1974) and Tarzan Lord of the Jungle (1976), led the producers to consider that creating fantastical worlds by means of animation was less expensive than constructing them in actual life — because the earlier work on Area Academy, and Star Command illustrate. The ballooning budgets of Area Academy and Jason of Star Command predicted that making a Flash Gordon dwell motion movie would have value $30 million to provide. (the dwell motion Dino Delaurentis Flash Gordon reportedly value $35 million)

The unique idea for the present was a TV film for prime time, nevertheless it was later modified to a sequence of Saturday morning episodes. To attraction to the Star Wars viewers, the setting was modified to outer house and references to World Warfare II have been eliminated. Using animation allowed for the inclusion of fantastical parts similar to dinosaurs, robots, and otherworldly creatures, giving the sequence a robust science fiction journey really feel.


Robert “Bob” Kline, the storyboard supervisor on the Filmation Flash Gordon movie, mentioned the manufacturing course of was divided into three levels acquainted to animation manufacturing: script, storyboard — the place the story was refined — and animation route. There have been 25 sequences within the first few episodes, and one in all them featured dinosaur-like creatures based mostly on these in Disney’s Fantasi
. Kline felt the unique sketch creatures have been too docile and wished to make the movie creatures extra dynamic. [Source]


Flash Gordon positively improved the capabilities of this studio and expanded its technological know-how,” says Bob Kline. “We didn’t do something actually modern so far as the business is worried, however when it comes to Filmation I believe we found on our personal simply what we may do. We utilized backside lighting, which is the type of factor that you just see in Bob Abel commercials fairly a bit, however which we hadn’t used very a lot earlier than Flash. We used moire patterns to realize ray results and the vitality display screen behind Ming’s throne. All these forms of issues have been experiments that paid off.”

-Starlog 42

Flash Gordon used back-lit animation for results (backside lighting talked about above), a method well-liked in Japanese anime, and the principle animation was produced utilizing rotoscoping, a course of the place footage of actors in movement is traced. Filmation had beforehand used rotoscoping for Star Trek and Tarzan, and a few of the motion footage from these exhibits was even reused or redrawn for the present sequence. Using rotoscoping allowed the present to be performed cheaply, whereas back-lit animation enhanced the manufacturing worth.

Hand drawn animation was an business commonplace approach, however the firm was in a position to leverage its current tools and crew left over from Star Command, to create spaceships for the science fiction sequence, however with a twist.

“We shot intensive live-action footage of human actors for rotoscoping, in order that the human animation would have fluidity. One of many ladies we filmed was Don Christensen’s secretary,’ Karen, who was each excellent at working in gradual movement for rotoscoping, and likewise a superb stomach dancer. For some motive, we by no means had any issues getting male artists to work on footage of the Flash Gordon ladies!

Past that, we additionally developed clay fashions and maquettes of the characters, ships, and creatures. The fashions of the ships—labored on by John Grusd and Paul Huston—have been painted white and coated in skinny black traces, then filmed in live-action with a computerized digicam. The movie negatives have been then printed as cels, creating “constructive” variations of the ships for the animators to make use of. … This was primarily the nascent starting of the type of CGI motion-capture know-how now utilized in characteristic movies as we speak… and we have been pioneers of the approach on Flash Gordon!”

-Lou Scheimer [Creating the Filmation Generation]


Disney 101
Disney animators utilizing fashions with black traces for autos on 101 Dalmatians. The outcomes have been xeroxed on to animation cels for colour within the remaining movie.

Disney animators had beforehand used an analogous technique for advanced autos on the movie 101 Dalmatians. To save lots of prices, they created cardboard miniatures of autos coated in black traces and xeroxed these photos onto animation cels. This allowed them to keep away from the time-consuming technique of drawing the car body by body and making an attempt to resolve perspective of their head. The approach on this occasion, was up to date by the Flash Gordon staff utilizing a multi-axis movement management digicam and miniatures to shoot parts that may be exhausting to animate by hand. Don Christensen, in Future Life Journal identified that the approach was not far faraway from Disney’s work with Xerography: “No rotoscoping can be needed right here, as a result of the frames can be blown as much as change into the drawings able to obtain paint.”

Starlog Journal summarized the work, increasing on Lou Scheimer’s feedback:

“Three-dimensional clay fashions have been made from the precept characters — so three-dimensional views of them could possibly be achieved by any of the quite a few animators. Rotoscoping — tracing outlines from live-action footage onto animation cells — has been utilized in key scenes all through, lending uncommon subtlety to sure human actions. Disney, and different studios concerned in so-called full animation, check animation sequences in pencil previous to committing them to cells and paint; at this check stage, corrections in motion, expression, and many others., are made. Sometimes, this stage has not been obtainable to Filmation and others in TV animation. It’s too time consuming. However Filmation has a brand new videotape system that allows prompt replay of pencil checks, and this method was used extensively on Flash Gordon.

Probably probably the most modern system, although, is the one which was used for animating spaceships. A motion-control digicam set-up (just like the one utilized in Star Wars and most movies since) was used to {photograph} absolutely constructed miniatures of the ships and plane. These fashions have been white with black grid traces, and have been photographed towards a black background. Just like the X-wings and TIE fighters in Star Wars, the Flash Gordon ships zoom towards and away from the digicam, financial institution, roll, flip, and many others., — carry out wild actions that may be all however inconceivable to animate from scratch.

An surprising plus arose from that spaceship system: It was found that with using the motion-control digicam, lengthy dollies and zooms could possibly be added to parts of painted scenes. In a single excellent sequence, Earth grows menacingly massive within the sky past the towers of Ming’s Metropolis on Mongo, because the planets rush collectively on a collision course. The planets have been cut-out work mounted on the motion-control monitor. This, and different strategies, lend the movie a multi-plane look, although no multi-plane tools was used.”

-Starlog 27

To save lots of prices, Flash Gordon typically re-used animation from different Filmation animated sequence.  The place they re-traced the unique footage, or re-drew the cels is unknown. As proven right here, frames from Filmation’s Tarzan sequence have been re-used as the premise for animations within the TV pilot model of Flash Gordon.  Re-using animation cels over totally different backgrounds was additionally fairly widespread — particularly with spaceship photographs, in an try and preserve the finances underneath management.


Star Wars had a major impression on the leisure business, influencing not solely different movies and tv exhibits, but in addition the very exhibits that impressed it.  The Flash Gordon franchise, whose Nineteen Thirties serials served as an inspiration for Star Wars, was influenced by the recognition of the latter and ended up resembling it in some ways. The Adventures of Flash Gordon foreshadowed the digital age of visible results, as new know-how allowed for limitless management over the atmosphere, spacecraft and character animation.

Flash Gordon gallery beneath:

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Threading the Tapestry

As unimportant as a sequence of Saturday Morning youngsters exhibits from the Nineteen Seventies could appear, these exhibits crammed a necessity within the international demand for extra content material like Star Wars, and so they impressed many up and coming artists. The artists who constructed the visuals for that movie stored on working, and the impression of their careers is critical. Listed here are a couple of examples:

After finishing work on Jason of Star Command, Chuck Comisky used his experience to assist set up a visible results division for Roger Corman’s movie Battle Past the Stars. Corman approached a number of corporations to deal with the visible results, however all of them requested budgets of over $2 million. Because of this, he determined to create his personal in-house visible results staff and employed Comisky particularly due to his work on Star Command. Comisky and his staff used cost-saving strategies similar to movement management cameras and a number of passes on a single piece of movie  — the strategies he discovered at Filmation.

Pat Sweeney and Rob Maine have been additionally concerned within the visible results mission for Battle Past the Stars. Sweeney (though solely introduced on throughout Star Command) later grew to become a visible results Director of Pictures at Corman’s, and went on to a number of main visible results movies, together with the Star Wars Prequels at ILM. Maine continued to work in animation and pictures all through his profession, with one in all his final movies being Planet of the Dino-Knights (1995).

“I consider [Dino-Knights] was one of many final dinosaur movies to make use of stop-motion shot on 35mm movie utilizing my 1928 Mitchell digicam.”

-Rob Maine [source DinoFilms website]

Chuck Comisky later employed a younger filmmaker named James Cameron, who rapidly rose by means of the ranks on the firm. Comisky went on to work on the final of the large stereo-3D motion pictures of that period, JAWS 3D, which sadly confronted quite a few manufacturing points and carried out poorly. Nonetheless, Comisky and Cameron continued to collaborate on numerous stereo-3D tasks, whereas pioneering digicam programs with Vince Tempo.  Comisky was the stereo-3D specialist for one of many largest Visible results movies of all time,  Avatar (2009) — which actually fulfilled the dream of absolutely digital movie manufacturing, undeterred by bodily limitation that Filmation’s later work on Flash Gordon foreshadowed.

The New World Photos Visible Results Division, which was arrange by Comisky closed in 1983, however went on to create notable visible results for Escape From New York and introduce James Cameron to Robert and Dennis Skotak, who obtained a number of oscars and nominations for his or her work on Aliens, The Abyss, and Terminator 2.  These accomplishments are solely a small indication of Filmation’s oblique impression.

Lorne Peterson and Jonathan Erland, the primary two visible results artists employed for Area Academy, went on to have profitable careers within the business. Peterson and Erland’s personal firm, was left behind as Lorne moved north to San Francisco with ILM, and Jonathan stayed to assist kind Apogee Productions. Each artists contributed to quite a few award-winning movies and are identified for constructing beautiful miniatures and growing new visible results strategies whereas successful Oscars and scientific engineering awards for the work.

Paul Huston, the longest-serving artist on Filmation’s Visible Results staff, from Area Academy by means of Flash Gordon, initially labored within the ILM artwork division earlier than transitioning to the mannequin store on Star Wars. He has a expertise for the visible results strategies used at Filmation and constantly pushed their work to new heights on small budgets. Huston additionally labored with Apogee on Battlestar Galactica and finally moved north for The Empire Strikes Again. He spent over 40 years at ILM, and whereas within the matte division, invented new methods of constructing photo-real environments for exhibits similar to Willow, The Phantom Menace, and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchises to call a couple of. Huston’s contributions to the visible results business are important in each sensible and digital eras — successful a number of Emmy and Visible Results society awards within the course of. He reduce his tooth on Star Wars, and refined his craft at Filmation.

“It jogs my memory that Grant McCune as soon as mentioned that a very powerful high quality for somebody working in visible results was … Chutzpah.”

-Paul Huston [email interview 2013]

Though “simply the following job” for a lot of of those artists,  their work on the manufacturing of Area Academy and different exhibits of the time are seedlings to a few of the most profitable blockbusters in historical past — although little is written about it. There are possible many tales surrounding this manufacturing, and that is solely a small instance of the work performed on a seemingly glamorous, although honestly tiny finances.

Earlier than the discharge of Star Wars, the idea of being a visible results artist as a profession was unimaginable. Nonetheless, after the movie’s success, the skilled visible results business was born and supplied a path for a lot of aspiring artists. Through the disco period hundreds of viewers tuned in to Filmation’s Saturday morning and primetime exhibits, not for the characters, however for the modern and visually placing results that have been held collectively by a story. These exhibits proceed to encourage many within the visible results business to this present day.

Star Wars modified leisure and society ceaselessly, Saturday morning ‘child exhibits’ stored us alive in-between.

Thanks Lou Scheimer!




Video Galleries

There isn’t any higher technique to recognize all this work than watching it.  Beneath is a hyperlink to a number of movies from the sequence you may watch.

Beneath are the unique documentaries from the Filmation DVD’s




Here’s a Fb video posted by Peter Noble of the FILMATION Jason of Star Command Visible Results reel.  It’s very thorough in case you can see it.

It is a compilation of VFX from Jason of Star Command lifted from the episodes:

An episode of Flash Gordon that is filled with visible results work.



Our honest gratitude to Peter Noble for offering photos that accompany this text from the slide assortment he acquired not too long ago, and a particular results reel from the Filmation staff.  He’s on Twitter @PeterNoble

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