From the very beginning, Sandy
Frank envisioned selling Science Ninja Team Gatchaman as
an outer space adventure. Yet the makeup of the Japanese original clearly showed Gatchaman took place mostly on Earth. The Ninja team's brief forays into outer space were confined to locations very close to Earth.
The Japanese series also included a
great deal of action-style violence that would not be allowed
to play on an American children's television program. While it
wasn't filled with the "rivers of blood" that some have
claimed, the show was unquestionably intense. People were shot
at, they got punched and kicked and they often died on camera in blistering explosion sequences.
When Jameson Brewer and his writers
got the chance to view a few of the films, they knew some major
editing was going to have to be done. The violent
content actually played in their favor though, since it would have to
be excised, it would make adding new scenes that emphasized an
outer space angle much simpler.
Sandy Frank had confidence
in the property and okayed the time-consuming and expensive changes
that were required to get the series on American TV. To get the pilot done, Jameson Brewer hired
a few friends and acquaintances that he knew would be able to
turn the project around quickly and accurately.
Brewer came up with the
basic idea and design for 7-Zark-7. It was his thought to add this
little R2-D2-like character to act as a focal point and narrator
for the series. He would stay in his control room in G-Force's
base, Center Neptune, watching the action and dispatching the
team as needed. Pilot Producer/Director Alan Dinehart asked his
friend, Hanna-Barbera character designer Alex Toth to create a
model for the new character. Toth titled this model "Zark V,"
which quickly became 7-Zark-7.
For the animation tasks, Brewer
went to David Hanson who owned Gallerie International Films in
North Hollywood, California. Hanson was a friend of his from years
earlier when they both worked on the live action The Addams
Family TV show. Gallerie had recently changed its name from
Levitow/Hanson Films, which Hanson had co-founded with animator Abe Levitow
in 1972. The studio was responsible for a great deal of TV commercial
animation as well as a handful of TV specials like B.C., The First
The task of animating the few
sequences for Battle of the Planets was nothing more than
a one-shot job at this point. Working from Toth's model and a
few they did themselves, like 7-Zark-7's Center Neptune interior
environment, Gallerie went to work. The whole thing amounted to
only a couple minutes of footage for the lone pilot episode and
it was not a great challenge for the studio. They were able to
complete the work quickly, easily and economically. Animation
work was reportedly done by Emil Carle who worked on 7-Zark-7,
and Thomas Wogatzke, who created the pilot's title logo.
Once the animation was completed,
it was sent to C&D Productions in Hollywood for the xerography
(adding the black lines to individual animation cels) and cel
painting. Photography on the completed cel work was done by Take
One Studios, also in Hollywood. The entire process of creating the new animation for
the pilot took approximately three weeks.
Once the pilot was sold to buyers
a few months down the road, then the real work had to begin. Brewer
suggested taking the series work back to Gallerie International
since they worked out so well on the first episode. Everyone agreed
and Gallerie got the job. This was a fortunate thing too, since
at that point Gallerie was relying on Battle
of the Planets to keep the little company's doors open.
Further review of the Gatchaman
films showed that there was going to be a lot more footage needed
than was done for the pilot. Some of the earliest work on the
Battle of the Planets series was the animation for several
"stock" scenes that could be pulled up and altered slightly
whenever they were needed. It may not seem like it, but
every episode of Battle of the Planets had to have some
amount of new animation done. Even though these stock sequences
were done up, they only accounted for the main animation in a
given scene. Mouth movements would always need to be created to
fit the individual episode's dialogue and once in a while the
stock was customized to fit something different that had to happen.
Regular series animation was again
handled by Emil Carle, who was listed as the Production Manager
on the series. He had previously worked at Hanna-Barbera and then
spent some time as a freelance animator. Eventually he went to
work at Gallerie International Films and was brought in by David
Hanson as lead animator for Battle of the Planets. Perhaps
"lead animator" is a bit misleading because by all accounts
he was one of only three people who animated for Battle of
the Planets. Carle was assisted at Gallerie by Harold Johns,
who was listed as the series' Animation Supervisor. Finally, Jameson Brewer actually touched up some of the animation himself when he found something lacking. Aside
from these men, no others were known to have had a hand in the 7-Zark-7/G-Force
While Gallerie busied themselves with the 7-Zark-7 sequences and others
like G-Force in their ready room, on 7-Zark-7's monitors
and miscellaneous shots like rockets taking off, Brewer turned to another company to provide specialized outer space stock shots. For those he went to the Fritz Miller Company, a specialized effects
studio that was capable of creating the more detailed starfields and space imagery he was looking
for. Fritz Miller completed the antimation of various nebulae, planets, flight sequences and other original
outer space footage.
The studios used for ink and paint
and photography of the Gallerie footage are unknown (The Fritz
Miller Company footage was all completed in-house). They may have
been the same ones used for the pilot, but no surviving records
indicate this for certain. All of the new animation was captured on 16mm film stock.
The G-Force team in uniform as animated in America
There are times where a viewer
can tell two distinct styles of animation at work. For instance,
Mark appears differently in the times he comes into 7-Zark-7's Think
Tank, or 7- Zark-7's cape is animated differently when he flies.
This was because, as mentioned earlier, Jameson Brewer was not always happy with the work
he got back from Gallerie. Brewer recalled they were constantly
under pressure to finish episodes and he would frequently
get sequences to check over that he was unhappy with. If there
was time and he was particularly upset with a sequence, Brewer
would reanimate scenes himself. This accounts for some of the
differences in appearance 7-Zark-7 had over the course of Battle
of the Planets.
Even casual viewers could notice
that 7-Zark-7 changed over the course of the show.
From his original pilot episode look, the first change was the alteration of
the details on his chest. After that, he was given a sweater
which he wore exclusively in his own Ready Room. Following that,
he received the ability to fly by flapping his cape and finally
he got a yellow helmet with a transparent visor, somewhat similar
to the G-Force versions. His environments expanded a bit too when
he received his own Ready Room where he could take breaks. To
get from his Ready Room to the Think Tank he used an often-seen
glass tube elevator. 1-Rover-1,
a companion robot dog, was also added fairly early in the run
of the series.
The G-Force team in civilian clothes as animated in America
For those curious, there were
twenty-five sequences animated by the Fritz Miller company. The
rest of the original animation done at Gallerie International included thirteen Ready Room sequences, nineteen 7-Zark-7
sequences and an additional six 7-Zark-7 and Rover sequences that
could be used as partial stock. Many of these shots could be divided
into separate segments and zoomed/panned in any desired manner
to create the impression of a unique shot for the episode in which
it was used. Take for example the final 7-Zark-7 sequence, its
official description reads: "Zark and Rover two-shot, Rover
looks at Zark, Mark and Princess enter, Princess kisses Zark."
That sequence alone could account for up to four distinct pieces
of animation that could be broken up as needed or simply allowed
to play straight through.
As mentioned earlier, these sequences
needed customizing with new mouth movements meaning the stock animation would
then need to be reanimated and re-photographed. So a series of backgrounds and previously painted cels would simply have new mouth movement cels laid over top and re-photographed. Having as much
stock on hand as possible as a base ended up saving the production
staff a lot of time.
Overall, the new animation was seen as a weak point. It didn't match the Japanese footage
at all and youngsters could easily tell something was up - even
if they didn't quite know what it was. Had the production crew
had a little more time, or if the animation tasks had gone to
a different studio, things may have turned out differently. But this shouldn't take away
from the achievements that the Battle of the Planets staff
accomplished. They were able to convincingly turn Gatchaman
into an outer space adventure, and that aspect at least was probably
never questioned by its young audience.
Special thanks to head writer Jameson Brewer, producer Sandy Frank, supervising editor Franklin Cofod and Kenneth Urheim for their invaluable
information and assistance.