Men in Black, 1997

By complete accident I wound up having an odd, sporadic history with the Men in Black franchise when it became the only IP that I encountered in both my comic book and animation careers.

It started out as a comic book created by Lowell Cunningham and published by Aircel, which was acquired by Malibu Comics. Only six issues were ever made, but it somehow got a movie deal despite its brevity. I did no work on the comics, but I was employed by Malibu during that time. The movie deal was made after I left in 1994. But I was definitely “on site” when it was a thing.

At the end of 1996 I landed my first job on an animation crew: storyboarding Extreme Ghostbusters at Sony Animation Studio. That’s what we called our home base, but technically it was Adelaide Productions, the TV animation division of Sony Pictures Television. They were new to the game, but already had a growing slate of shows derived from Columbia movies. Ghostbusters was just one of them. Others included Jumanji, Starship Troopers, Godzilla and…Men in Black.

The first MiB movie had been shot by this time and was in post production. We all got to see it early at a Sony screening room (on a workday!) when the word came down that our studio was going to do an animated series. A few key people from the Ghostbusters design team were drafted into service, but the rest of us stayed put as they set up shop in a nearby building. For the first time, I felt what it was like to be in a thriving, vibrant animation studio with a lot of energy behind it. And before long, I would be given the opportunity to contribute.

In early ’97, the exec producer of Ghostbusters (Richard Raynis) asked everyone on the storyboard team to submit ideas for shots that could go into our opening title. It was a slow day for me, so I started knocking them out, one after another. The stack I submitted was larger than everyone else’s put together, so before I knew what was happening, I was shaking hands with Richard and working directly with him to make the Ghostbusters opening (see it here).

When the time came for Men in Black, he skipped the formalities and called me right in. Working on episodes, even directing them, is one thing. Creating the opening title is quite another. You have the honor of crafting a signature piece that represents the entire series and gets circulated for promotional purposes. The animation budget is higher, so it often looks better than the series itself.

If you’ve ever been watching a cartoon and noticed some less-than-stellar animation in it, or something that looked like a mistake and wondered if the makers were blind or ambivalent, I can tell you categorically that they were not. They simply lacked the resources to get that thing fixed. If you want to see what’s really in our heads while we’re making a show, look at the opening title. It’s the only time we get everything on our wish list.

For this one, Richard took visual inspiration from two sources, Peter Chung’s wildly inventive Aeon Flux (1991-95) and a Spanish comic artist named Miguelanxo Prado, who had already done a round of character design. On the audio side, they were trying to land the rights to the 1970 rock classic Spirit in the Sky, which would have been super cool, but I’m guessing it was too expensive, because the next thing I heard was that Composer Jim Latham would write it. For my money, this was the right choice. Once you hear what Jim did, you don’t forget it. Even if you get hit with a flashy-thing.

As I remember it, this project was a dream from start to finish. Richard gave me some shot ideas, I ran with them, and pretty much nailed it with very little struggle or revision. Mr. Prado refined my storyboards in his own drawing style and animation was done in Japan by a studio called Mook. A few weeks later, I joined Richard in a video editing session to watch it come out the other end. And that was that. Back to Ghostbusting (though we would do this all over again the following year for Godzilla).

Afterward, any time I was asked what I’d worked on, eyes often lit up when I listed the MiB opening title. More than one viewer said it was the coolest opening they’d ever seen. I will go as far as to say it’s the coolest opening I ever worked on.

See the finished title on Youtube here

(Storyboards shown below)

The TV series lasted four seasons (53 episodes), airing on Kids’ WB from October 1997 to June 2001. Some episodes made it to home video and Youtube, and can now be found streaming on Crackle (seasons 1 & 2) and Fubo (seasons 3 & 4).


First episode on Youtube

Streaming hub on Justwatch

IMDb page

Wikipedia page on the comics

Wikipedia page on the series

Episode list on Wikipedia

Review video

This entry was posted in TV Cartoons

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