(ABC, March 1-April 13, 1996)
Greengrass Productions, Inc., The Hypernauts Production Company, Inc.
Heidi Lucas – Noriko “Max” Matsuda
Marc Brandon Daniel – Ricardo “Sharkey” Alvarez
Carrie Dobro – Kulai
Lewis Arquette – Horton
Ron Campbell – Paiyin
Evan Brainard – The Gloose
Tony Jay – Opening narration
Babylon 5 was a hit, due to equal parts the writing and planning by creator J. Michael Straczynski, the phenomenal cast, and the remarkable visual effects that won Foundation Imaging an Emmy Award. Foundation co-founder Ron Thornton had worked with Straczynski before on the previous series Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future and convinced him that doing CGI over traditional models would aid in keeping production costs low.
|The Hypernauts' mech suits.|
However, Babylon was largely set in a singular location as an additional method to keep costs down. Thornton wanted to really show what visual effects could accomplish on television and decided to come up with his own show with a much grander scope. He also wanted to make something for the kids’ market more akin to the type of shows he grew up loving, rather than the mindless stock-footage laden fare he found on television at the time. Thornton partnered with Babylon 5 executive producer Douglas Netter and created a 3-minute demo reel which secured them a spot on the ABC network. Finally, he recruited Christy Marx to develop the show’s bible and flesh out his concepts, having worked with her previously on Captain Power and Babylon.
The resulting show was Hypernauts. Three cadets (cut down from five by network request) from the Academy of Galactic Exploration who are sent on a disciplinary mission. They ended up lost in a hyper bubble (aka hyperspace) and landed in an unfamiliar part of the galaxy. They want to go home, but are unable to do so without allowing the sinister warlike race known as the Triiad to follow them. The Triiad’s sole desire was to wipe out intelligent races and raze conquered planets for the material to create new war machines and automated self-replicating factor ships called “Makers.” Their greatest asset was their anonymity; nobody knew who or what the Triiad was, nor found any reason to believe they existed until it was too late.
|Our heroes: Ace, Kulai, Sharkey and Max.|
The Hypernauts were comprised of Russel “Ace” Antonov (Glenn Herman), an ace pilot in either a ship or their mech suits, who was being punished for using the simulation trainer to play war games; Noriko “Max” Matsuda (Heidi Lucas), the team medic who joined against the wishes and beliefs of her people, the isolationist and xenophobic Caduceus Enclave, and was punished for making unauthorized calls to her sister; and Ricardo “Sharkey” Alvarez (Marc Brandon Daniel), the engineer and computer technician that suffered from claustrophobia due to childhood trauma, who was being punished for hacking the Academy’s mainframe. They took up residence in an abandoned space station, Star Ranger 7, which was occupied by the onboard computer AI, Horton (Lewis Arquette).
|The Gloose, part puppet, part CGI.|
The Hypernauts met and befriended Kulai (Carrie Dobro, who appeared on Babylon), the last spiritual leader (or “Chalim”) from the planet Pryus. The spiritual leaders of her race are long-lived (centuries) and are necessary for the psychic bond that united all Pryans to keep the members of the race strong, healthy and able to procreate. She used her long life of experience to help mentor and guide The Hypernauts in their conflict with the Triiad. They also adopted a three-legged alien they found on a decimated planet, The Gloose (operated by Evan Brainard). Their primary foe was Paiyin (Ron Campbell), a Pryan who joined forces with the Triiad and led to the destruction of their home world.
|The evil Paiyin.|
Hypernauts (known as Voyager in Japan) debuted on ABC mid-season on March 1, 1996. The series had a tremendous sci-fi pedigree behind it as the members of the crew were plucked from various franchises in the genre, including many from Babylon. Brainard designed a simplified mechanism for Gloose’s head motions based on the ones he utilized for the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park (this ate up a huge chunk of the show’s budget, but they felt it was worth the investment). In keeping with the intention of the show’s creation, a great number of the sets were CGI along with the machinery. A typical episode could have upwards of 100 effects shots--nearly as much as a feature-length movie. Along with Marx, writers for the show included Katherine Lawrence, Larry DiTillio, Richard Mueller, Len Wein, J. Larry Carroll, David Bennett Carren, and Star Trek veteran D.C. Fontana, with music composed by Christopher Franke. The special make-up effects were designed by Optic Nerve Studios (now Alchemy Studios).
|The cast with developer Christy Marx.|
Once the season was wrapped, pre-production work began on a second season that would never be. Despite all the cast and crew’s efforts to make a quality show that didn’t talk down to their intended audience simply because it was on Saturday morning, the show’s days were ultimately numbered from the outset. When it was set to air, Disney had just finalized its purchase of ABC and would soon begin purging all of the content not from the studio off of the network. Ultimately, ABC decided to speed things along by ending the show before the final five episodes were aired. Interestingly enough, The Disney Channel would air several episodes edited together into a single movie for a time. The largely-forgotten series has only seen several VHS releases outside of the United States from Von VPS Video. It also received a nomination for the Writers Guild of America Award for Lawrence’s script.
|The Triiad attacks.|
Despite changing the look of sci-fi forever and making Lightwave 3D an industry standard throughout the 1990s, Foundation found itself in dire straits when Netter started his own effects company, Netter Digital Entertainment, and convinced the Babylon production that they could do their effects cheaper using the same equipment and techniques. Foundation was ousted for Babylon’s final two seasons, films and spin-off series, Crusade. Fortunately, Foundation was able to secure a spot working on Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. With the end of Crusade, Netter attempted to stay afloat working on the animated series Dan Dare, Max Steel and Robotech 3000, but ended up folding in 2000 and replaced by Foundation in a bit of karmic irony. Unfortunately, Foundation found themselves out of business as well the following year.