Late Night with Space Ghost

DESIGNefx combines animation and live action in new talk show on Cartoon Network

By Raymond Ecke

ATLANTA--David Letterman and Jay Leno should watch their step, for another challenger has entered the late-night wars.

Space Ghost: Coast To Coast, a new talk show that features an animated host and band interacting with live action guests, premieres April 15 at 11 p.m. on the Cartoon Network.

The show stars Space Ghost, an animated superhero who has been resurrected from the '60s Hanna-Barbera show bearing the same title. In that show, Space Ghost, with the help of two teens, Jan and Jace, and a monkey named Blip, set out to save the galaxy.

Now with the help of post house DESIGNefx here, Space Ghost can be found once a week behind a desk interviewing such celebrities as infomercial guru Susan Powter, the group the Bee Gees, and former Gilligan's Island cast members Bob Denver (Gilligan), Russell Johnson (the professor) and Dawn Wells (Mary Ann).

"Space Ghost has conquered everyone, and now he's decided to throw his hat into the battle for late night," said senior producer Keith Crofford. "He was your typical superhero, out to save the world, straight as an arrow but now he's out of his element hosting a talk show and dealing with Hollywood personalities."

Set on Ghost Planet, Space Ghost sits behind a traditional talk show desk, which is actually part of a five-foot long miniature set. The animated host is composited into the set using DESIGNefx's Quantel Harry suite.

Across from him is his bandleader, archenemy Zorak. Moltar, another enemy, directs the show.

Meanwhile the live action guests are seen on a television monitor that hangs above a chair next to the host's desk. This format not only makes the integration of live action and animation easier to pull off, but also allows the show's producers to go to the guests rather then have them actually come to the show.

Since the Cartoon Network is part of the Ted Turner's cable conglomeration, Space Ghost: Coast To Coast utilizes many of CNN's local bureaus as studios to tape the celebrity interviews.

To put each show together takes, on average, about a month from start to finish. The process begins with the show's writers thinking of questions for the scheduled guests, then taping the interview with the celebrity.

Since the animation is done in post, guests are interviewed only by the voice of Space Ghost heard via a phone line that is patched through to the studio. Occasionally, as was the case when they interviewed talk show czar Joe Franklin, the network hired an actor to dress as Space Ghost and ask the questions off camera.

"We decide who we want to talk to and hopefully convince them to be on, which was a challenge because up to now we didn't have anything to show them in terms of a concept. They're just talking to this disembodied voice," explained Crofford.

While most of the guests seemed to have fun with the format, some appeared to be a little confused. He noted two interviews, one with the Bee Gees and another with Russell Johnson, during which the performers looked as though they were unsure of how the interview would be used in the end.

But when it came time to do the post, very little new animation was created.

DESIGNefx animator C. Martin Croker, who also designed the set and creates several voices for the show, hand drew several traditional talk show poses for Space Ghost. For example, Croker used cel animation to create the image of Space Ghost tapping index cards on the edge of his desk, as would a typical late night talk show host. However, the majority of Space Ghost's mannerisms are culled from the old cartoon.

"All of the close-ups of him speaking were pulled from the original show," Croker said. "Using the Quantel Harry we basically did a straight rotoscope and lifted him right out of the cartoon and put him behind a desk."

Croker, a traditionalist about cartoon animation, didn't want to use any technology to do the animation because he knew the difference between the old footage and the new computer animation would be too stark.

"I wanted to do stuff that you couldn't tell was new," Croker said, adding that he wanted to stay true to Alex Toth, cartoon cult hero and designer of Space Ghost's original look.

"Alex Toth was really great at designing a complex shape with one line. He creates a natural 3-D effect which is simple and minimal," Croker explained. "I had to re-school myself in 'Tothism' because for the past few years I have been doing mostly funny animal stuff and hadn't thought about superhero art since I was in high school. Trying to do justice to Alex Toth was my greatest challenge."

Croker added that if the show goes past the initial 10 episodes ordered by the Cartoon Network they may do more original animation.

Originally published in the April 15, 1994 issue of "Shoot" magazine.

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