Vancouver's Mainframe Entertainment
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Reboot was a show, not only animated with computers, but which actually took place inside a computer. This was a solution based on the earlier restrictions of the medium, since complex details, shadows and lighting required rendering time which the schedules just didn't have. But there was plenty of action, strong, appealing characters and good stories. Reboot was a hit and, as the first completely computer generated television series, resulted in the induction of Mainframe Entertainment into the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

Mainframe then went on to produce Beast Wars (renamed Beasties due to the Canadian aversion to the the word "war" in children's programming). The characters, with names such as Optimal Optimus and Megatron, are organic/mechanical Transformers (based on the Hasbro action toys of the same name) battling for the victory of either good or evil, according to which side they belong. This series has seen much success and continues this season on YTV in Canada and FoxKids in the U.S. as Beast Machines.

In 1998, Mainframe introduced a new series, with more human-like characters called War Planets (again, to protect the innocent, the title in Canada was changed to Shadow Raiders). The story focuses on one man's quest to unite four hostile planets in order to defend themselves from the Beast Planet: a force intent on the annihilation of every lifeform it encounters.

The series, Weird-Ohs, which aired last fall, was an attempt to introduce the squash and stretch of a Tex Avery cartoon into the world of 3D animation. The show introduced a group of suburban skateboarding kids, trying to belong with the cool crowd. "People said (the squash and stretch style) couldn't be done in 3D, so we had to prove them wrong," explains Director of Communications Mairi Welman.

Action Man is Mainframe's latest venture into the sci-fi world of good versus evil. An extreme sports superstar, Alex Mann discovers he has unique powers, but is pursued by a renegade scientist who is out to capture him to use Action Man's powers to take over the world. It is the first Mainframe show to involve motion-capture technology in a big way, and is currently showing on Fox Kids in the U.S. and on YTV in Canada.

Ghosts and goblins fill the screen in Casper's Haunted Christmas. © Harvey Entertainment

Going Long Form
But with seven years of production experience behind them, Mainframe is now ready to "transform" themselves into a feature length production studio. They have three feature films in the works, to be produced for IMAX screens, and this fall, audiences will get to see Casper's Haunted Christmas, the latest in the series of classic Casper movies. Of course, with Mainframe involved, it won't be a mere copy of the ghosts of Casper's past; this version is the first Casper movie to be created exclusively with computer animation.

I spoke with Mairi Welman, Director of Communications, and Owen Hurley, the director of Casper's Haunted Christmas to find out more about this direct-to-video release.

Casper's Haunted Christmas is Mainframe's first "direct-to-video" production and their first collaboration with Harvey Entertainment, the company that brings us the classic characters Richie Rich, Wendy the Witch and Baby Huey. Haunted Christmas is also the first ever all CGI direct-to-video film based on the Casper The Friendly Ghost franchise. There have been several other shows on television and in theatres, the most memorable being Casper, which was produced by Steven Speilberg's Amblin Entertainment in 1995. Mainframe's Casper continues along these lines, with the biggest difference being that there is no live-action; all the characters and locations were created digitally.

Owen Hurley describes the plot: "Casper and his friends get banished to the town of Chris, Massachusetts, 'the most Christmassy town in the world,' where they have until Christmas day to get Casper to scare somebody. If he doesn't do it, the group will be banished to the Dark. They bring in Casper's cousin Spooky, dress him up as Casper and try to get him to get the job done, with hilarious results." The show will be released on video and DVD this fall. The DVD version will have a wide-screen format option and a special, behind the scenes documentary.

Casper was a challenge for Mainframe, which had to have a much more complex look than your average TV show. The company went all out to make the show look as good as it could, since this is a new direction for them. The crew consisted of twenty-six animators working under Hurley. Each animator produced about twenty seconds of animation per week and for Hurley, it was "a labour of love" which required him to practically live at the studio during the production.

Casper's charming presence makes the challenge of creating him worth it. © Harvey Entertainment.

Although Casper's Haunted Christmas was a "service job," funded by Harvey Entertainment, Mainframe had a lot of creative control over the project. "The whole relationship with Harvey was very good," says Welman.

Hurley agrees, "On the creative side, there have never been any disagreements about anything." However, the biggest challenge in working with Harvey, was building the main characters, because, "Harvey knows their ghosts and they've owned them for a long time," states Hurley. "We had the maquettes, the statues that Industrial Light & Magic had made for the 1995 Casper and we modeled off them. They were rejected immediately as being off character, so we then did a lot of tweaking around with them. But overall, in terms of the storyboards and artwork, Harvey was very accepting and it was a great relationship with a lot of mutual trust."

As for audience appeal, Mairi Welman advises that Casper is a film that, "You could take your grandma to see."

Hurley agrees that the project was aimed at a wide audience: "We tried to put enough stuff in there at various levels so that parents aren't going to get bored with it. It's kind of like Reboot in that it works on a lot of levels. There are references to things that kids may not quite understand, but parents will get a kick out of, including a 'Psycho-shower scene.'"


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