The Butt-Ugly Martians are about to invade Earth and the World Wide Web simultaneously. Paul Younghusband investigates this strategys development and implementation process.
The year is 2053. Im grey and old (or possibly baldbut definitely old) and enjoying my retirement. But my afternoons spent reminiscing of the "olden days" when 3D animation was all done by people (and not killer robots) are about to be interrupted. Thats right -- the Martians are coming!
The Evil Emperor Bog has decided to invade earth, and he has sent teenage aliens B. Bop-A-Luna, 2-T Fru-T, Doo-Wah-Diddy and their robot canine, Dog, to take over our humble little planet. Unfortunately, theres a slight problem. The youthful Martians have no real intentions of enslaving the human race -- they have a far stronger desire to experience Earth's pop culture...things like root beer floats and Britney Spears CDs. And when they discover that Earth is even better than they thought, they decide to stay and protect our planet from the evil scum of the universe.
As youve probably guessed by now this isnt a premonition of the future -- its a description of Just Entertainment, Mike Young Productions and DCDC Studios latest action/adventure/comedy 3D animated television show Butt-Ugly Martians. The first 26 episode series is a U.K./U.S. co-production, and it will air in the U.K. on CITV in January 2001. But as I discovered, the Butt-Ugly Martians arent just invading our television screens (oh yeah, and our planet), but theyre also taking over the World Wide Web too.
A New Twist
Most TV shows have promotional Websites -- they can play an integral role in attracting viewers and providing information about the show -- but the producers of Butt-Ugly Martians took a different approach. "From the beginning of the creative process, we developed the television series with a strong Internet component in mind," says Wilf Shorrocks, CEO and founder of Just Group. "Kids are far too savvy today to be satisfied with a traditional promotional Website. Its easy to get their attention but producers must push the boundaries and explore new territory to ensure that we keep their attention -- and thats exactly what we promise to do with Butt-Ugly Martians, both literally and figuratively speaking!"
So the producers of Butt-Ugly Martians developed their Website side-by-side with the television show. This means that the online presence is not just a promotion of the TV show, its an extension of it. And as Bill Schultz, producer of Butt-Ugly Martians explains: "Todays kids familiarity, if not fascination, with the Web makes the reference points in the show that much more relatable. In addition, the series is very high-tech in look and feel, with numerous space-age characters, gadgets and vehicles -- all very consistent with the high-tech aspect of the Internet."
But how did the creators create a Web presence that raises the bar and truly is an extension of the TV show? Were constantly being told that everything starts with the story, and in this case, that couldnt be truer. "We write each show to integrate some kind of unique Web-related storyline into each episode," states Bill Schultz. "And were constantly traveling between outer space and cyber space in our minds in order to provide maximum entertainment value to both the viewing audience and the Web visitor," adds Wilf Shorrocks. This means that Web visitors will have a reason to watch the TV show, and TV viewers will have a reason to visit the Website. It isnt TV show and Website integration, but more a mutually beneficial coexistence -- they work together in a fun and entertaining way.
Co-Habitation In Action
Take the television show, for example. When the Butt-Ugly Martians decide to stay on Earth they turn Zapz, an abandoned Laser tag emporium, into their home base on Earth. And in cyberspace, youll find that Zapz also represents the Web environment for the Butt-Ugly Martians Website. Web surfers can play a variety of arcade games similar to those on the TV show and in doing so can score "Martian points." Butt-Ugly Martians very own technical officer, 2-T Fru-T acts as Webmaster for the site, and also as a tour guide. 2-T gives commentary and advice as Web browsers plough through the site unscrambling words and definitions in the Gibberish Decoding System, playing cool games and solving puzzles.
When the Butt-Ugly Martians team stay on Earth they befriend three human teenagers -- Mike, Angela and Cedric. In their adventures they defend their human friends from more evil invaders, not eliminate them as promised to Bog. So they end up making phony videotapes of themselves destroying Earth and taking human children as prisoners, which they send back to Emperor Bog as progress reports. On the Website, one of the teens, Cedric, hosts a section of the site where visitors can trade in their Martian points for movies, images, audio, wallpaper, screensavers and merchandise.
And as if that isnt an exciting enough crusade, the Butt-Ugly Martians also have to steer clear of Stoat Muldoon, a zealot who hunts aliens and has his own cult cable show, Stoat Muldoon, Alien Hunter, where each week he investigates sightings of suspicious extraterrestrials. Stoat is a crazy adventure-driven character. This show within the show also has its own real Website to accompany it. Web surfers can learn more about Stoats mission, access secret files about the Butt-Ugly Martians and other aliens, read transcripts of online chats with Stoat and see previews of his upcoming TV shows.
The Butt-Ugly Martians Web presence is innovative, creative and entertaining. Later in the year, original Webisodes of Butt-Ugly Martians will be a regular feature on the site, and if the TV show is as superb as it looks and sounds, they should be a huge hit. The 3D animated series features some top voice talent: Emmy Award-winning Rob Paulsen (The Mask), TV star Charlie Schlatter (Diagnosis Murder) and Jess Harnell (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) play the aliens, with Rugrats Kath Soucie, Disney Channel on-air host Ogie Banks and Emmy-Award winner Robert Stack (The Untouchables, Unsolved Mysteries) portraying the earthling youngsters.
Wilf Shorrocks admits that, "This might all seem alien at first, but I suggest everyone get their butts in gear now before it really gets ugly this fall!"
Paul Younghusband is editor-in-chief of Visual Magic Magazine, a publication focusing on the 3D graphics and digital effects industries.