Preserve Wing Commander Academy!
Confederation spies have located a massive cache of Wing Commander Academy production artwork deep in the wilds of Southern California! There are 30 large boxes of artwork, each containing roughly 1,000 cels and several thousand sketches for a total of (we estimate) about 50,000 distinct pieces of Wing Commander artwork ranging from the cels used to make the show to the sketches and other drawings used to plan out scenes. My objective is to purchase this artwork and produce high resolution scans of ALL of it which will be made freely available to the Wing Commander community!
Where does all that money go?
All of the money will go to the purchase of the artwork. For every $300 donated, we can buy an additional box, up to 30! (The remaining $800 covers GoFundMe’s fee and credit card processing.)
Will you do any other cool things?
That depends on how you define cool! To help promote the crowd funding project (and because I really, really want to) I’ll be streaming live commentary of all thirteen Academy episodes. Once the artwork has been purchased, I’ll stream the initial exploration of each box so that everyone else in the world can see how goofy excited finding a drawing of Admiral Tolwyn’s arm makes me.
Here's me examining the first of the boxes!
Who the heck are you?
My name is Ben Lesnick, and I’m the co-founder of the Wing Commander Combat Information Center (WCNews.com.) We’ve been the community hub for the Wing Commander fandom since 1995 and continue to offer daily updates on the series’ history and fandom. I'm representing WCNews in this project.
A cool battle scene from 'Red and Blue' sketched out!
Have you archived Wing Commander material before?
Heck yes! Part of our raison d’etre is preserving Wing Commander’s history in any way we can. Our team has been responsible for digitizing countless pages of artwork, development docs, correspondence, source code, press, advertising and thousands of hours of video. From the earliest scribbles about ‘Squadron’ to the day-by-day production logs for Wing Commander Prophecy, we’ve worked for over twenty years to make sure the fascinating odds and ends of the game are preserved and available.
Electronic Arts has trusted our team with several projects, including production of the 2003 Gameboy port of Wing Commander Prophecy, the lore and documentation for Wing Commander Arena on Xbox Live Arcade and pitches for over a dozen unproduced games. We’ve also been invited to their offices to digitize and preserve Wing Commander material: in 2009 we spent a full week at EA Mythic in Virginia making sure everything saved from Origin Systems’ closure was permanently preserved! Most recently, I’ve spent nights and weekends working to digitize Chris’ Wing Commander material stored at Cloud Imperium (with his kind blessing), including hundreds of tapes relating to the film and other projects.
We’ve even recovered multiple finished, unreleased Wing Commander products, including the high resolution DVD port of Wing Commander Prophecy, the extended test audience cut of the Wing Commander film, the unreleased HarperCollins novel Pilgrim Truth and a beautiful TCS Tiger Claw cutaway poster. These and many other documents are available at WCNews.com today! (In some limited cases, where documents include budgets or personal details or where final source code is involved, we store material in a non-public archive at EA’s request.)
Blair joins the Marines from 'Glory of Sivar,' the series finale.
Okay, but have you ever archived any Wing Commander ACADEMY material before?
HECK DARN HECK YES! In fact, if you’ve ever watched Wing Commander Academy outside of the original airings (and its short syndication) and the release of the DVD set in 2012 then you’ve watched the off-air dub I recorded in High School!
Over the years, we’ve digitally scanned dozens of backgrounds, scripts, sketches and cels acquired from a variety of sources and have made all available to the public. The series’ creator, Larry Latham, was kind enough to gift us his folder of original sketches which we have online in his memory (Mr. Latham very sadly passed away several years ago.) While we know a lot less about the ‘behind the screens’ of the TV show than we do Origin or Digital Anvil, we’ve learned a whole lot since it appeared back in 1996… and this project will only help us learn more!
Most recently, I happened across (based on a tip from The Fat Man himself and help from my very wonderful in-laws!) a complete Wing Commander Academy storyboard set at a Pasadena antique mall. You can download that, available for the first time today, here .
Cel and background sketch showing Mark Hamill's character, 2nd Lt. Christopher Blair! Hector "Grunt" Paz is in the foreground.
Can you really learn things from animation cels?
YES! Wing Commander historians have a great picture of exactly how the Wing Commander games were made… but very little is known about the details of the animated series, which was produced by Universal through animation studios in Japan and Korea. These will teach us how the show was made (and how shows in general were made back then; the advent of digital animation has rendered huge warehouses of animation cels a thing of the distant past! Wing Commander Academy was one of the last shows of its kind, in that respect.)
More exciting, I think, is what we’ll learn about the Wing Commander universe. Character names, ship names, material cut from episodes or too small to see in detail at 480 lines of resolution. In the storyboard set available above, we learned the names of two transport ships, half a dozen background characters, the proper spelling of a Kilrathi warship AND the classifications of previously unidentified fighters!
A Hellcat V from the pilot, "Red and Blue."
Don’t you work on Star Citizen?
I do, but I want to stress that this project is completely separate from my work on Chris Roberts’ NEXT great space adventure. I do not represent Cloud Imperium Games or any of its subsidiaries. I’m not stupid enough to think that folks won’t be looking at this on account of my being part of an amazing community, but I’d encourage you to only back if you’re interested in a whole lot of Wing Commander art and not because you’re helping out the Star Citizen guy!
What are you going to do with all the art?
After the art has been scanned, I’d like to give it away to somewhere that will preserve it! There’s a Ben Lesnick collection at the University of Texas at Austin where I’ve donated a lot of physical Wing Commander documentation over the years… I know that their gaming budget has been cut, but if they are interested they would be my first choice for 35 donated boxes of Wing Commander art.
Will I be able to access the material once it’s digitized?
How soon will the scans be available?
I expect that the animators’ sketches (which, to me, are the most interesting because they’ve never been seen before!) can be scanned pretty quickly; I hope to have a first archive of them within two months of the transfer. I expect the animation cels will take a bit longer, since they have to be scanned individually and on a larger format scanner. (I also want to be sure to research cel preservation!)
What is an animation cel?
Back in the day, cartoons were made by painting characters on see-through sheets. These sheets would be layered on top of a painted background and swapped around in order to create the illusion of movement. In a sense, the cels are the ‘source code’ that a cartoon episode is made of (and looking closely at them, and the sketches and drawings that lead to them, will let us do everything from see new details to create high resolution images of ships and characters.
Sorry, Alexis! (For the record, she is onboard and totally excited about this little adventure. I have a good wife!)
How else can I help?
They also serve, those who help haul boxes and boxes of animation cels around! If you’re in the Southern California area (or want to visit) you’re more than welcome to help move the purchased cels (fingers crossed) and then help with the scanning. (One of my personal challenges is that I don’t see well enough to drive; I can’t thank Disco Lando enough for driving me around on this adventure. Outside help is always wonderful!)
Your expertise is also welcome! I have a lot of experience with Wing Commander, but I’m an amateur archivist. If you know scanners, if you know cels, if you know digital storage and preservation, I’d love to chat with you.
What are the dangers of this project?
The biggest danger is that we WON’T hit the goal and some cels won’t be included.
The second biggest danger is that no library will want to store the physical artwork and I will be stuck owning way, way too much Wing Commander artwork for the rest of my life. Worse things have happened! (Should this occur, I will split the load with the rest of the WCNews staff.)
I will also warn here that because my real life job can become very busy, it may take months or more to finish scanning all of these cels.
Each box contains dozens of these packets; each packet contains a single sequence from an episode!
Do you own Wing Commander Academy?
NO! The Wing Commander IP is owned by Electronic Arts. Extant Wing Commander Academy footage is owned by Universal Pictures, and distribution rights are currently held by VEI. I do not represent any of these organizations, and they have no stake in this crowd fund.
Why should I give you money, anyway?
Frankly, there’s no reason you should. I am someone who tries to be a good egg and who is very passionate about this one peculiar thing. Neither of these things means I’m entitled to $9,800! I will appreciate every donation more than you can know, but I don’t feel I deserve or should expect anything.
Did I mention there would be cool spaceships?
Here’s a Periscope Ali and I recorded when we got the news: https://www.periscope.tv/w/1OdKrNmmbPXKX/card#
What’s next? We’re going to pick up the boxes on SATURDAY! That’s this Saturday, November 5th. We’ll be renting a cargo van and convoy-ing to Orange County in the morning to pick up the boxes… and we’ll share the entire experience via Periscope.
But a whole lot of you have rewards that are due, too! If you picked up something I have right now (like the various props and manuals) I’ll be in touch shortly to confirm your mailing address. If you wanted a ship drawing and listed the ship you want in your request, it’s in progress now… and if not, I’ll be contacting you to find out what I should draw! I’ll start scheduling Skype calls next weekend for anyone who backed at that level; I’m eager to talk to folks who made this possible! Anything that requires the work we’re doing (the scans and the updated episode DVD) will be a few months… but it’ll be worthwhile!
Thank you so much, again… I can’t believe this has all happened, and I can’t wait to explore those boxes. And to bring you all along for the ride!
I’m sorry for the lack of updates these past few days; Ali and I have been trading the CitizenCon cold back and forth and have been worn down to the bone recently. We’ll be back to Periscope to celebrate as soon as we’ve shaken this thing!
Of course the big news is….
… WE DID IT! The campaign has passed $9,000, which means that we will preserve all thirty boxes! The remaining $800 (now less than $600!) covers GoFundMe’s fees and the credit card processing. Once we hit that, I will lock the whole thing to stop folks from sending money that wouldn’t go to the animation sale. No surprise stretch goals here! :)
As I write this, at 4 AM on a Tuesday, I can’t quite hit upon the words to thank you all. The list of donors is incredible, and I want to hug each and everyone one of you… I see co-workers, old friends, complete strangers… a community. Thank you for supporting my passion.
I love you all, and am so excited to get started on the FUN part of this adventure. Which we will, of course, also be sharing with you! I have learned that there is nothing more satisfying than being known for what you love; thank you all for letting me do something I love that I could never have made happen otherwise.
I’ve started the arrangements for the great box pickup, which currently looks to be scheduled for the weekend of November 5th. We are going to either rent a small truck or head out convoy style… and we’ll Periscope through that process when it happens! I’ll update with more details once times and locations are locked down, in case anyone in the area wants to come along.
In addition to everyone who backed the project and everyone who shared the link, I want to add a special thank you to Batgirl, Sophiegirl and the entire team at INN. They were all kind enough to host me on their shows talking about this project, and even put up with an eight hour marathon of commentary on the show itself! (I’ll post the link to that once they have it up.)
I’ll be back with a bigger update soon, answering some of the WCA questions that have been sent the last few days. Stay tuned, the most exciting part comes next!
WHAT A DAY yesterday! We cleared NINE boxes and as of this morning are just a few dollars from hitting #10 and being a third of the way through this. Ali and I recorded a Periscope to thank everyone last night, and it does include the promised dancing:
If we can hit ten boxes today, we’ll Periscope again! If you can think of any more exciting ways to thank everyone making this possible, please just say the word.
As mentioned in the video, I’ve added some addition rewards, most of which are kind suggestions from supporters.
$50 30 Minute Skype Call with Me – I had two requests for this. I promise, I am not very exciting! But if you want to chat with me on Skype and also help preserve some artwork, I’m not going to say no. Calls will need to evenings and weekends Pacific time.
$300 Academy DVD with Updated Soundtracks – The folks at VEI were kind enough to provide a case of Wing Commander Academy DVDs, and our own Aaron Dunbar is working to update the audio tracks on the first several episodes to fix the sound volume issues! We’ll include the updated episodes on a DVD-R alongside the commercial discs.
$500 STAR SOLDIER – The rarest Wing Commander manual! I have four copies left from E3 in 2007, where Electronic Arts printed them to promote Wing Commander Arena. This full-color manual is one of the last pieces of Wing Commander canon produced and it’s really, really cool.
$2500 Lend a Paw! – A real live (not live) Kilrathi paw, used in the production of Wing Commander III! This prop is one of my prized possessions, and I’m hoping someone out there will give it a good home in the service of preserving this artwork.
I am also thinking about offering my Wing Commander III/IV flight suit, which is my single favorite piece of Wing Commander memorabilia. I would offer that at the $5000 level if it makes sure this happens. Please let me know if you’re interested; it’d be a hard call, but I’d rather see this artwork saved!
Well, that’s it for today’s update! If we hit $3,000 today, Ali and I will Periscope again tonight and share some more art. And if we hit $3300, I’ll draw three of my favorite spaceships live!
TOMORROW, October 20, happens to be an important one for Wing Commander Academy: it’s the annual Kilrathi Sivar-Eshrad ceremony! If you’re familiar with Wing Commander lore, it’s the yearly ceremony in which the Kilrathi convert an entire planet to their religion in the name of their war goddess, Sivar… it was the basis for Secret Missions 2 AND the series finale of Academy, which took place at the 2654 Sivar-Eshrad ceremony on Dolos. I’ll post some more about the lore and the history of that event tomorrow! Glory to Sivar!
I've added a few reward options for folks interested in such things, and would love to know what else people might want to see! For $25 I will send you one of my awful drawings (possibly with a terrible pun) and for $200 my brother has volunteered to put everything we scan on a bluray for you! I also added a piece from my collection, a set of the prop patches they wear in Wing Commander IV. It's a part of history and picking it up would help out this project tremendously!
If you backed earlier and want some specific reward that was added later, just drop me a line and I'll make sure you're included!
07 The community knows you are passionate about this project. We have all enjoyed Wing Commander in the past, and will assuredly enjoy it in the future. I am just glad I can help preserve it with someone I know will take good care of it. Tom_Neverwinter
Oh man. I love this series and have a "coughbootlegcough" dvd set from a long time ago. I would love to see this series remastered. I want to share the wing commander world with my son.
Do you plan to redo the series with this scans as a full HD version (or even 4k) of it? I mean the original drawings can be easily scanned in 4k and then put back together to the shows and dubed with the original soundtrack? Is there any plan on this? Or will the scans be available makeing that possible for others to do so?
Scanning 30 boxes of animation cells!? You're a MUCH braver man than I! Good luck! --Denis