Sailor Moon à la Saban: Debunked - An Interview with Rocky Solotoff
By Adam "OMEGA" Arnold
In the December 2000 issue of Animefringe Online Magazine we ran a story chronicling the history of one anime fandom's most mysterious pieces of nostalgia, the legendary live action Sailor Moon clip (see Sailor Moon à la Saban). The article presented, at the time, the most in-depth coverage of all the known facts surrounding the clip's convention screenings, the supposed involvement of Saban, and one of the most anal looks at how the characters actually are in the live action and animated segments.
Since that time Animefringe has had the privilege to speak to a number of otaku who have helped us towards the goal of finding the definitive ‘truth' concerning this clip. It is with great pleasure that Animefringe is proud to present the transcript of a no-holds-bar interview with Toon Makers, Inc.'s president and founder Rocky Solotoff who wrote, directed, and produced the fabled live action Sailor Moon pilot.
The pilot was made in created in late 1993 and was pointed at Saban in hopes of being picked up for airing on FOX in the fall of 1994. Toon Makers was working for Bandai in conjunction with Renaissance Atlantic, but the Japanese were already making so much from the anime that the deal just fell through. The thing is no one other than the companies involved were ever meant to actually see it. In fact, the two minute clip that is plastered all over the Internet is in reality on Toon Makers company reel as a music video.
Animefringe: I want to thank you for allowing Animefringe Online Magazine this opportunity to debunk some of the myths surrounding the live action Sailor Moon clip. Having personally watched the two minute clip so much, I think that the original clip would have made a real fun and original series. But, I think that a lot of peoples lives, including my own, would be vastly different if this pilot had of aired in place of the DiC version. How did Toon Makers get involved in Sailor Moon in the first place?
Rocky Solotoff: Well, we do a lot of work for a company called Renaissance Atlantic and Bandai. So we do a couple of pilots for them every year. And this was the first pilot that we ever did for them which kind of cemented the relationship. So, that's how Toon Makers came to be on the project.
AF: Wow. [laugh] That's uh... I'm without words. Why a live action Sailor Moon mixed with new animation instead of the original anime?
RS: Well, eventually they did use the original anime which was a deal that was struck with Bandai and DiC. But this was a concept created by Renaissance Atlantic which I think you and I are in agreement that would have probably been more successful–at least here in the United States and probably throughout Canada, Europe, and South America.
AF: I agree the live action pilot did have a lot good concepts in it especially some of the vehicles and such. And it would have hit off well with the live action segment that was alive at that time and a lot of girls would have especially tuned in to it just to catch it.
RS: Actually, I wrote the pilot script which was, if you've only seen two minutes–there was an actual pilot [written] with the input from both Bandai and Renaissance. And I think Renaissance and Toon Makers, more than anyone else, really felt that we had something that–at least at the time when that was done–which I guess I have to remember back... we did it in 93... 94... something like that. And we thought we'd pretty much grabbed the gold ring–we thought we had something that would go really well. But, what happened was there was a deal struck for the already completed animated series. So, they didn't want to come out and compete against themselves.
AF: What part did Renaissance Atlantic have in the production?
RS: They have worked for many years with Bandai and they were instrumental in the deal made with Saban to do Power Rangers. We also did a pilot for a television series called DinoZaurs which was 3D and 2D animation which was done in Japan. So we did that. So the relationship that Renaissance has with not only Bandai, but with Saban is the project. They just need for someone to take an idea and run with it.
AF: Yeah, I agree. DinoZaurs was actually pretty good I've seen a lot of the episodes for it. But, back to the Sailor Moon pilot, it was to go on FOX correct?
RS: Well, we created it for Renaissance and I would imagine with there relationship with Saban–and later–slash FOX that that's where they intended it to go. But, with the deal that was struck with the old Sailor Moon anime with DiC, I just think it died on the vine.
AF: Did the old cartoon series She-Ra play any inspirational role in the original animated segment in that two minute clip?
RS: No, what we did was we tried to Americanize the animation. Which to this day we really are not happy with. We were kind of under a real low budget and a time constraint. So we didn't have time to go back and really massage the animation as we should. It was an attempt to make the characters, basically, more Americanized. So, no She-Ra really didn't get into it. We were looking for something that had kind of a Filmation style to it only for budgetary constants. You know we'd always like to have more money to make it look better, but based on the money that we had and the mandate of coming up with something that had more of an American taste to it is why we created the animation with that look.
AF: That's really interesting because I've read on the Internet that someone really did an in-depth look with comparisons and it really brought in the whole Saban principle into it. It's kind of interesting to hear that it only played a small role.
RS: Oh, believe me, had we had the budget... The original character designs that we created were really nice. The execution that happening in Korea–once again based on time and money–was not our real intent. We weren't really happy with it. But, the pilot was basically a presentation piece. And had it gone to series we would have definitely contracted a better studio and upped the budget per episode so we could do something we were a little happier with.
AF: What role did Allen Hastings, the author of Lightwave, play?
RS: The author of Lightwave...? I don't know an Allen Hastings.
AF: He played the clip at a convention and that's where the original two minute clip got video taped and somehow found it's way onto the Internet.
RS: Wow. Well, to be honest the bulk the CG effects were created on old Toasters from a company I think was called NewTech out of Kansas. We had one scene that was actually done by a CGI in Japan. But, we were using the old Toasters to create the CG effects. I don't believe that Lightwave was used. There is a company in Japan that did some animation–now they may have used Lightwave–but, I wasn't privy to what systems they were using... what programs. But, there was scene done in Japan and it very well could have been Lightwave. Since I don't know what he was showing, I can't say for sure. But, the name Allen Hastings doesn't really ring a bell unless he was working at NewTech at the time.
AF: I believe he did some designs for some the vehicles and such. I believe that's what came out of the convention.
RS: No, all of the... the vehicles?
AF: Uh, like the solar sail-board thing?
RS: No, all of that stuff was created by an artist named Dale Hendrickson.
AF: That's... that really... is very interesting. Kind of debunking that.
RS: Yes, we had specific concept requirements that were given to us by Renaissance Atlantic and the concept of the Sail Board was something that was thrown out to us by Renaissance. I think it might have had something to do with a concept of generating toy sales. The vehicle, to be very politically correct, especially for the time, we had a gal that was in a wheelchair. As they were one of the Sailors and to accommodate that, we had the Sail Boards for the majority of the group, but since she was a girl in a wheelchair, we basically created a flying vehicle that would allow her to do the same things as the other girls, only sitting down. But, those concepts were created by Toon Makers.
AF: That person in the wheelchair, which scout exactly is it? I have this theory that it's Sailor Venus, but a lot of people think it's Sailor Jupiter.
RS: No, it wasn't Jupiter. And to be honest, I'd have to go back and look at it [laughing] to find out who was who. The interest that has been generated on my e-mail as well as my conversation with you is that for some reason or another is that it's been slowing growing. But, the gal that we used is a really talented young actress and for love of Mike I'd have to back into archives to figure out who our cast was. Uh, yeah, it very well could have been. It was a while ago. But, it wasn't Sailor Jupiter.
AF: Ok, good at least I'm partially right. There is a rumor that Sailor Jupiter is the Moon Princess. Is there any credibility to that?
RS: No, the concept here was that Sailor Moon is Sailor Moon–she's the princess.
AF: So all these Sailor Scouts that appear, they correspond to the five original scouts; Moon, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Venus?
AF: Luna is a white cat. What was the decision behind that?
RS: In the original animation there was a white and a black cat. Who, I guess, served as a telepathic link to Sailor Moon's mother. And the reason we put the white cat in the live action, and also in the animation, was that this white cat was sent to earth as pretty much someone who looks over Sailor Moon.
AF: So, witchcraft, or anything like that, didn't have anything to do with the decision to change from a black to a white cat, right?
RS: Well, there was actually a white and a black cat in the original animation and we just chose to use the white cat for the pilot.
AF: That makes sense. Was Tuxedo Mask in the pilot?
RS: Yes, he was.
AF: Yeah, because he didn't make an appearance in the two minute clip. Who was the chief villain?
RS: That's a tough one.
AF: Was it Queen Beryl like in the anime or was it someone new?
RS: Yes, and the only person I can remember because Sailor Moon's mother and Queen Beryl were played by Adrian Barbo. That's the only person in the cast that I can actually remember their name.
AF: That's pretty bad. [laughs]
RS: Well, it was a long time ago, ah? [laughs] But, I can tell you that the black girl, Sailor Mars–it might have been Sailor Mars, I forget–went on and had a part in the movie Starship Troopers. I just remember looking at her and going, ‘oh yeah, we hired her at one point.'
AF: Yeah, that's another one of the mysteries. I always wondered why you choose do different ethnical backgrounds for the characters.
RS: Well, we were, you know, not exactly leading edge at the time. But, we did want to have a nice balance to be able to expand our audience. And in anime they very rarely portray anybody of color. And that's what anime does is they are looking for a world-wide market. So, even Asian characters aren't really portrayed as Asian. So, we decided to, kind of, update the idea and make it as politically correct and diverse as possible. And that's why we even brought in one of the sailors as paraplegic.
AF: That's a really interesting concept and Power Rangers touched on a lot of those worldly environmental issues as well. To begin to wrap things up. Bandai holds the rights to the live action Sailor Moon musicals known as SeraMyu. And I read that Bandai may authorize that this clip and trailer be released in the future. In your opinion, what's the chance of this happening?
RS: Well, no one has spoken to us about that. And since we retain the original materials. Well, they probably talked to us because we do have... Well, I take that back. I think we returned most of the original materials and we have cloned copies of them. So, if they choose to do that, that would be terrific. It would be great. I would love for this to be rekindled. I think we missed a very good opportunity to have something that, I think, would be very appealing–we thought it was at the time and we honestly thought that there was a real good chance of this having a lot more play than the anime version because it [had] a look and style that was something a little bit different. It was a la Power Rangers. But, then again instead of ‘morphing'–which we were told to get away from that word. Ah, but changing from like here on earth and they would go and fight ‘evil' in an animated world. So there was, I don't know if you ever saw it–I don't what was in the clip you saw, but there was this great sequence where the girls changed over from their live action personas to their being animated characters. And I think that would... well it sure would have sold a lot of toys.
AF: I agree. The clip that I saw was basically two minutes and was set to some type of theme song. I've tried to decipher the lyrics but I can't because of the quality of the tape.
RS: We had a new song written for the opening titles and within the bodies of the pilot there was actually a music video.
AF: That's probably what I have seen then... the music video, because it has a number of clips of the girls dancing in the halls with the wheel chairs, and ‘morphing'... ah, changing into animation and going off and fighting in outer space on the Sail Boards.
RS: The feeling that the anime clip that your looking at if it's two minutes long might have been in our production reel to show them what we've done. So, that's where it may have come from. Because, hell, like any company looking for work, we send those little hummers out like popcorn. But, the actual pilot that was done belongs to Renaissance Atlantic and Bandai and that's probably why that's never been released. I think there was a guy on set and I forget where he came from, I don't know what company he was connected to, but he actually did a video of the ‘Making of' while we where producing this. And I've had people that have given us a call regarding well if there is a making of there must be an of... you see the ‘of' [laughs]. And you know, it's one of those things where Toon Makers is an animation studio that's basically work for heir and when we do work for people, once we turn it over, we're done with it.
AF: It's ironic how the clip has gained such urban legend proportions on the net.
RS: I understand that. The same day you e-mailed me, I got an e-mail from someone else.
AF: I believe that that person was on the Pretty Soldier Mailing List and we were having a flame war at the exact same time about this clip... And I e-mailed you because some other people had tipped me off on the actual new address of Toon Makers because it had changed since the clip was shown.
RS: Well, the reason they have that address... and now the mystery is solved. The reason they have the old Chandler address is because whoever pulled the clip, pulled it off of one our demo tapes.
AF: Moving away from the clip. Are there any projects that you are working on right now that we should look forward to?
RS: Uh, yeah, actually. We are doing a couple of things for FOX right now and unfortunately I can't really tell you what they are because we work for them and we have to leave that kind of up to their publicity department. But, we're into 50 episodes of another Japanese acquisition. That we are working on right now. And we've done a pilot on a second one, actually we are in the middle of a pilot of the second one. Yeah, we are working away. Anime has become our specialty. We're originally a feature house, but as the work begins to diminish for original animation and television's eating up all the anime. That's basically what we're doing a lot of. We call it ADR work or Additional Dialogue Recording, where we reedit Japanese television. It's kind of like Mystery Science Theater 3000. We have writers sit around and we kind of look at the work and put our own words and music to it. We have couple of things like that. They'll be out probably starting... I thing we strip the first show in September.
AF: Well, we'll be looking forward to it. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
RS: No, except, gosh, I'm really that there are people out there feel the way that we do. That this was a missed opportunity. And if there's enough people out there you can't tell that since Sailor Moon has acquired a very small audience outside of the anime community. Because here in Los Angeles, I think Sailor Moon was shown at like 6:30 on one of the independent stations. It never really hit what we call prime time television for children. It never let up or followed Power Rangers. It just wasn't thrown into the mainstream. It was something that replaced the Farm Report in the morning. We are hoping that there is enough of an audience out there that feels that this is a good idea. We can always go back to it. The same people who own the properties own the properties today. And if they feel it is something that should be rekindled, even for a niche audience, it would be fun to do. We thought it was a fun idea at the beginning and after all these years we still think it's a great idea.
AF: I agree as well. It was a really fun clip to watch and I enjoyed dissecting it, very anally, scene by scene, clip by clip.
RS: Oh, you should see the whole thing.
AF: I'd really like to one day. Maybe we'll see a release for it.
RS: It would be nice. Well, for those of us who do it on a daily basis, we really aren't aware all that much about the people who actually watch it and the fan base that obviously we have. It would be nice if we could hear from that fan base a little more often. It could be the tiny difference between a show getting on the air and off only because the networks are only looking at these tiny little percentage points. And if there were enough people who are older than 12-years old, which is the buying market. Most networks are looking for people between 6 and 12 because are the people that actually watch television either at 6:30 in the morning or at 3 O'clock in the afternoon. And if the networks knew that there was an older audience out there that appreciates the work the sponsors would look at it differently and I'm sure the networks would to. And for the people who actually produce it, we would like to elevate the audience–just a tiny little bit so we could capture those what they call it in the business, ‘tweens'. People between 12 and 20.
AF: And DragonBall Z and the Toonami shows, which are coming under fire right now due to the AOL/Warner acquisition, they've helped increase that teen audience as well.
RS: Well, in my personal opinion is that when Wile E. Coyote steped in front of the moving train, I never really thought I could step in front of a moving train either. But, standards and practices which works very hard to make sure that networks and companies don't come under lawsuits... It's kind of taken a lot away from what it is that we can produce and unfortunately there's some great stuff for people that are old enough to understand that if they stand moving train–they'll get killed! We can't really touch that because it's an animation–a cartoon basically–we have to worry about children just watching cartoons. And because of that it's very difficult for us to creat something as much as the Japanese do it where anime is considered as the same thing as a regular movie. We're kind of stuck and it's a tough thing.
AF: We'll that about covers it. I want to thank you allowing me conduct this interview.
RS: Adam, it was actually nice to reminisce about something that was so long ago. [...] Oh, congratulations on finding something that was like a jewel in the mud. [laughs]
AF: I've covered a lot of other things [...] and I've tired to just stick to the even ground and help people realize that they should get past their past grievances and try it out. And look at it with eyes unclouded.
RS: Well, the networks really respond to mail and sometimes they don't even realize there is an audience out there. The last pilot I did for an animation was actually shown to an audience between 6 and 11. But, you have to remember that the Warner Bros animation that we watched on television–or saw as a cartoon feature between two double features–was created for adults and unfortunately we grew up looking at that stuff and we appreciated what it was and as I said before nobody jumped off a cliff just because Wile E. Coyote did it. I honestly think we can elevate animation and bring things in that as long as we don't show anybody getting their head cut off we can go with it. So you never can tell.
AF: I agree. Thank you for your time.