Chris Millar Regenerates the Spiral Zone
Longtime animation fan Chris Millar is the creator of Spiral-Zone.com, an extensive resource for the classic but nearly forgotten 1987 sci-fi series. In December he took it upon himself to make the show available for the first time in decades by releasing Spiral Zone: The Complete DVD Collection. Toon Zone News spoke to Chris Millar via IM about this challenging process.
TOON ZONE NEWS: As you have a dedicated an elaborate fan site to it years after the show faded into obscurity, clearly Spiral Zone left a strong impression on you. What accounts for its enduring appeal?
CHRIS MILLAR: It was the revolutionary storyline: the idea that the bad guys had essentially half the Earth from day one. Also the artwork, the look of the zone bacteria, and the yellow eyes on the zoners. I’d have to say the most interesting thing is that the villain Overlord’s true intention was to end all war and conflict on Earth, which is, ironically, a noble cause. He just went about it in an evil way. Which makes you wonder, today, if someone like Overlord came along, would the nations of the world put their differences aside to stop him?
TZN: I’m not sure the nations of the world today can put aside their differences long enough to decide on an appetizer, but I hope I’m wrong. I suppose Overlord was a more complex villain than was common in animation back in those days.
CM: Or even these days, for that matter. Overlord never set out to kill anyone, just zone them. People got shot all the time, but just stunned, which enabled the show to have action but not be truly “violent.”
TZN: Better than the laughable inaccuracy cheat used on contemporary shows like G.I. Joe I guess. What is your favorite Spiral Zone episode?
|Yet another day Tank wished he’d taken the subway.|
CM: That’s a tough one, but I’d have to say #4 “Mission Into Evil.” The animation in that episode is incredible, and it was one of the few I saw as a kid.
TZN: You said the American toy line, and thus the cartoon, was doomed by poor distribution. Yet you seem to have a very extensive collection of Spiral Zone merchandise. Is there much of a collector’s market for it today?
CM: There is a demand for the Japanese toys because of their reputation for amazing detail. The U.S. Spiral Zone toys aren’t that sought after from what I’ve seen though.
TZN: The bright red and blue color scheme may be a handicap. What is the most prized piece in your Spiral Zone collection?
CM: The Japanese version of the heroes’ Monoseed combat bike, without a doubt. I paid around 0 for it on eBay if I recall correctly. As for the American toys, it’s just great to be able to own the whole set. With a little luck perhaps the release of this DVD set will drive up their auction prices.
|“Big Wheel” was already trademarked.|
TZN: On your site there is an “image album” record with anime style Spiral Zone art. I wonder if a Japanese TV series was planned at some point.
CM: It makes me wonder too, but unfortunately info on the Japanese Spiral Zone is very hard to come by. If I ever get a chance to buy it, I’ll convert the LP to the MP3 format and put it up on the site.
TZN: You certainly went above and beyond the call of duty as a fan to rescue Spiral Zone from a dusty vault for posterity. Can you tell us how that came about?
CM: In early 2005, I got back into my toy collecting addiction and some guy had a complete set of Spiral Zone toys up for auction. I won the auction and noticed that the set came with all the tech files. I thought of how cool it would be to start a dedicated Spiral Zone site and fill in some of the storyline gaps with the tech files. Then I got thinking about how cool it would be for Spiral Zone to get released on DVD and set out on the impossible crusade to make it happen. I hired a copyright/trademark lawyer to let Tonka/Hasbro know how serious I was, but they flat out ignored my phone calls, letters, emails, etc.
|Lethal commandos prefer primary colors.|
All hope was lost until just this past summer when I was contacted via email by Pierre De Celles, the supervising director of Spiral Zone. He was shocked to see the existence of a Spiral Zone site and pleased to learn that others remembered it. He started off by sending me scans of actual animation cels used in the show. Eventually he told me that he had all 65 episodes on tape, recorded directly from the final take film reels. After almost having a heart attack, I begged him to send them to me. I got the tapes about a month ago and I’ve been freakishly busy ever since. It’s an incredible honor, to say the least, to work with Pierre to save Spiral Zone from obscurity.
TZN: So what has it meant to go from fan to DVD producer? I wouldn’t know where to start.
CM: As far as creating the DVDs went, it was quite the job. I’ve had three computers going non-stop. Fortunately I knew I was up to the task because I have a diploma in Multimedia Production and Design.
|So, what do you use for shoulder pad chafing?|
The video capturing (the most important part) was done with the Canopus ADVC-300. I was able to not only capture 100% of the video with no frames lost or sound sync issues, but also enhance the video and sound in areas that needed it.
I did the actual video editing in Adobe Premiere. Since the videos came right from the film reels themselves, I had to go in and chop out the 5 minute gaps where the commercials would go. It was very tedious! I also added a small watermark at the beginning of each episode along with “The Complete DVD Collection” near the end of the intro.
Except for those items, the content is 100% “as is” from the tapes. I even included the production info screen that came before every episode. As a fan, I knew I’d think that was a neat bonus and a good way to show that these episodes were coming almost directly from the original source.
As far as the DVD jackets and disc labels go, they were all designed by me in Photoshop. Once I was done, I sent them off to a local print shop. My girlfriend and I had to physically apply each and every label for the myriad of DVDs that I burned. Not one bit of fun, but keeping the end result in sight kept me going. I had even more ambitious plans to add a DVD booklet, but it would have driven the price of the box set too high.
|read Toon Zone’s review here|
|One day Overlord would have to ask Bandit what he did with all the interrogation subjects’ shirts.|
TZN: Were there any technical issues?
CM: Yes, I ran into many technical problems, but I wouldn’t back down from what had to be done. For example, I had to expand the planned 10 disc set to 14 discs just to make it work without compromising video and sound quality.
TZN: Was the video source material well preserved?
CM: Yes, for the most part. Although some of the later episodes had some odd “yellow spots” on them during certain scenes that were excessively white.
TZN: Did you think about providing episode commentaries yourself?
CM: I did, but since I wasn’t involved with the show originally, I thought I’d be a bit full of myself to do that. I opted for an interview with Pierre De Celles instead which the fans are going to love.
|I bet you can’t watch just one.|
TZN: Commentaries on American anime releases are almost always from people completely unrelated to the original production, so I think you could have gotten away with it. Was De Celles at all bitter about the franchise’s quick death?
CM: Not really, but he was certainly upset about the inconsistency of animation quality throughout the series. Akom in Korea did the good stuff while some smaller Japanese studios did some of the less impressive stuff.
TZN: Akom has built up a pretty solid track record on other series like Batman and X-Men. Are there any other shows you’d be willing to go through all of this again for?
CM: Yes, I’d like to pull another rabbit out of my hat with Dinosaucers.
TZN: I don’t know if I could honestly claim to be as excited about that possibility, but thanks from us few, proud remaining Spiral Zone fans for letting the show see the light of day once more.
CM: It’s been my pleasure, and Spiral Zone fans everywhere can thank Pierre De Celles for giving me the opportunity to make this all happen.
Toon Zone News would like to thank Chris Millar for taking the time to speak with us. Spiral Zone: The Complete DVD Collection is available now exclusively at Spiral-Zone.com, and you can read Toon Zone’s review here.