Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future

by Marc Shapiro, STARLOG #128 (Used without Permission)

Gary Goddard is a miser when it comes to ideas. Just because he has used something once is no reason to expect that the producer/director and all-around creative whiz will sling it out into the hinterlands for the masses to use and abuse. And so, when a stint creating the 2010 attraction for the Universal Studio Tours brought Goddard in contact with the process called Digital Animation in 1983, it should come as no surprise that he took the nugget and filed it away for future reference.

Fast forward to 1985.

"I was playing around with an idea about a futuristic hi-tech warrior called 'Maneuvers'," recalled Goddard, "and I began to think about all the great live-action shows like Sky King and Fury that I used to watch when I was growing up. Then, I thought about the digital animation work I had done on the 2010 attraction and came up with the idea of combining live action and digital animation."

Goddard took that hodgepodge of notions, translated them into the basic story outline for Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future and took the entire package to Mattel Toys, which, flush with the success of their toy tie-in to Goddard's feature film Masters of the Universe (STARLOG #122), was attempting to launch their own TV production company, MTS Entertainment.

This love match resulted in Mattel footing the bill for the first 22 episodes of Captain Power, which went into production June 8, 1987.

"Unfortunately, having the Mattel tie-in has worked against the show in the sense that syndicators have assumed that it is only something for kids," explains Goddard from the comfort of hi Hollywood production office. "This show was definitely created with an older audience in mind. I'm not saying Captain Power is not for kids. What I am saying is that it's not just for kids."

Anybody who is concerned with monitoring their children's viewing habits and/or willing to get up very early Saturday or Sunday morning (when Captain Power primarily airs) will quickly get Goddard's drift.

For Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future (currently in production on its second season of half-hour episodes) leans toward the adult. The series takes place on Earth in the year 2147. It is seven years after The Metal Wars, a battle between man and machine that was won by machines. Under the leadership of the evil Lord Dread and his army of energy-created creatures, the BioDread Empire is attempting to enslave the last surviving pockets of humanity. But from the ashes of The Metal Wars has risen Captain Jonathan Power and a plucky band of warriors dubbed "The Soldiers of the Future" who, with the aid of specially designed powersuits and armor systems, wage a constant battle against the forces of Dread in hopes of someday returning humanity to its rightful station.


Captain Power, which stars Tim Dunigan (Power), Peter MacNeill (Hawk), Sven-Ole Thorsen (Tank), Maurice Dean Wint (Scout), Jessica Steen (Pilot) and David Hemblen (Lord Dread), also appears to be on the hi-tech cutting edge.

There's Goddard's baby, digital animation, as well as a series of computer- created creatures whose roster includes Soaron, Blastarr and, most recently, Zenon.

But the deciding factor in Captain Power being considered far more advanced than the glut of kiddie flop is the introduction of interactive toys (marketed by Mattel, of course) which allow the viewer to hook into and do battle with those dreaded Dreads.

It was this latter element that made Goddard and co-conspirators Doug Netter and Anthony Christopher a bit uneasy during their discussion with Mattel.

"We knew there would be toys based on the Captain Power human characters and that was fine," says Goddard, "but it did bother us that the interactive toys -- specifically, the PowerJet XT-7 and the Phantom Striker -- would be so closely tied to the show. But we liked the idea of being on the cutting edge of new technology and of having the series work in a way that would reflect the technological advances without interfering with the storytelling."

Challenge accepted and met, if the first episodes -- the series premiered September 19 -- are any indication.

"This is pretty ambitious stuff for a kid's show," says a semi-sarcastic Goddard. "There is an overview story that continues to grow and expand as the series progresses. Each episode tells a story but each story is part of the ongoing Captain Power saga.

"There's a wide spectrum of human emotion on display in this show. There have been hints of romance, violence, the sense of loss; it's all here. We are working, storywise, on a bleak canvas. But we're working very hard, within the context of a science fiction adventure series, to present adult themes and to emphasize human qualities," says Goddard.

But for all those noble sentiments, Captain Power, to the public at large, is perceived as just another excuse to sell toys. It is a notion that rubs story editor Larry DiTillio the wrong way.

"We're not writing stories with the idea of turning each episode of Captain Power into a video game," declares DiTillio. But DiTillio, a first season staff writer who became story editor when J. Michael Straczynski (STARLOG #111) left the position for a similar post with the revived Twilight Zone, claimed that ramrodding the script side of Captain Power hasn't been easy.

"This show has definitely not made my life easier," chuckles DiTillio. "This is not just another kid's cartoon show. The writing is always to an adult level. There is the interactivity which has been centered mainly in the battle sequences but we aren't in a position of having to write X amount of animation and interactivity into each episode. I want to make it very clear that around here, we're working for the story."

There is a tone of desperation in DiTillio's voice as he defends the writing integrity of Captain Power. It's a desperation resulting from dealing with cliche story submissions that have come streaming in amid the confusion about how childlike or adult Captain Power is. "People are coming in with the same old stories," DiTillio laments. "I'm getting Star Trek, Star Wars and Terminator. If I wanted another Terminator, I would call James Cameron.

"This show doesn't need stories involving fleets of trucks. With our budget, we're lucky if we can afford one truck. This show is about human characters and how they relate to each other and their environment. It isn't about blasting away at robots."

Not all of it. Goddard breaks the show does to approximate 30 seconds of interactivity and two minutes of computer animation per episode. Much of the animation, done in post-production, is handled by the fledgling Canadian group ARCCA. ARCCA spokesman Bob Robbins explains how the computer-animated creatures are blended believably with live action. "First, we build a computer model of the character which is then composited in with the live-action characters, settings and miniatures. Then, we'll run through the episode to make sure the timing of the scene matches the live action of the computer-generated character."

Goddard notes that the interactive element of the Captain Power series is built upon a light connection between the jet gun and an energy panel inside Dread's army of robots.

"When a battle is initiated on the show," he says, "the energy panel is activated. When your jet toy is turned on, it reads the signal being given off and you move your jet to lock onto the signal and fire a beam of light at the source. But, when you do that, you also become a target for the robots to fire at. You start out with five points built into the system. Your goal is to hit enough of the robots to acquire 25 points. On the other hand, if the bad guys hit you and take your points away, your jet cockpit opens and ejects your pilot.

"It all sounds pretty complex," observes Goddard, "but it's not."


Designing many of the mechanical effects housed on Power's three massive soundstages is FX pro Robert (Cocoon) Short. The hardware side of Captain Power was completely planned out but, according to co-producer Anthony Christopher, mating live action with computer animation and interactivity did turn into a science project.

"We had some problems with Canadian directors in getting them to understand how to direct live action so that it could later fit with the computer animation," Christopher explains. Christopher, who ultimately directed the action sequences for the first eight episodes, claims that much of the early filming had the Captain Power people more or less feeling their way.

"Directing this show was definitely different," he says. "We weren't completely familiar with the interactive properties and how the live action would relate to it in the finished product. The biggest problem we had was with the robots. In most action shows, you can film fight sequences in quick cuts. But because of the interactive elements, we had to figure ways of having the robots enter the screen and not just stand there waiting to be hit. And uppermost in our minds was the fact that not every viewer would be pointing a jet gun at the screen. We had to make sure that the show also stood on its own without the gaming effect. And, for the most part, I think we have."

Goddard offers that his relationship with Mattel has been good and that he has taken a hard line in defending his creation from overt commercial attack.

"They're footing the bill so, of course, we listen to any comments they care to make," says Goddard. "But we've developed the characters and the story. They are putting out character dolls and different Captain Power-related toys (many of which will not appear in the show) and for the most part, I believe they're satisfied. We told them in the beginning that we only had a certain amount of time to tell the story and that didn't allow time for parading their products in and out of scenes."

However, Goddard says that the ambitious nature of what he describes as his "mini-Star Wars" has caused Mattel some headaches. Goddard, without giving particulars, claims that the final episode of Captain Power's first season will end with the death of one of the regular characters and the destruction of a major bit of machinery being marketed as a toy. "They definitely were not thrilled with that," says Goddard. "But I managed to placate Mattel by saying that other characters would be introduced in the second season."

Hints of a second season leads Goddard to talk at length about what is to come. The Soldiers of the Future will spend much of the second season on the run in strange lands, marshalling new forces for a major assault on the BioDread Empire. Lord Dread will undergo a mysterious transformation. The story possibilities, claims Goddard, are endless.

"The current storyline has been plotted out to last a projected three seasons [an estimated 65 episodes]. If, for some reason, the interest was not there, we could play around wih the story and bring things to a conclusion in two seasons," he says. "On the other hand, just because one storyline ends, doesn't mean another couldn't begin. I wouldn't be opposed to that, as long as the show's realistic high quality remained."

And realistic is a watchword that Goddard insists, in the case of Captain Power, is not wasted on the young.

"Kids today are more sophisticated. You're looking at a generation that has been weaned on Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark and any number of fairly realistic TV shows. They know when something rings true and when it doesn't. Our audience will accept the more realistic approach we're bringing to Captain Power."

Goddard ultimately sees Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future as a Doctor Who-type show "where things will constantly flip-flop." But while he concedes the creative minds behind the show are hellbent on avoiding cliches, he recognizes that some just can't be avoided.

"We have the good guys and the bad guys and they fight," concludes Gary Goddard, "and you can expect, for the most part, that the good guys will win. But when the good guys in Captain Power win, it will sometimes be at a great cost."