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Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles (R:STC)

R:STC is an innovative animated TV series which represents a unique achievement in CGI produced on a television budget. We're talking Aliens vs. Predator meets Reboot, a hard to describe sort of show that has to be seen to be believed.

A. Because it's the premise for the animated TV Series.
B. Because it's a darn good book.
But keep in mind that the director of the 1997 movie had little or no respect for Heinlein's vision or intent.

First things first: Starship Troopers was a novel written by Robert A. Heinlein in 1959. Paul Verhoeven tried to adapt the novel into a movie in 1997. Two years later, Sony tried to spin a television series off the movie called Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles (also known as Starship Troopers: The Series).

People who were familiar with the novel were generally disappointed with the movie. People who fell in love with the movie first and read the novel later weren't as impressed with the book. Then Roughnecks came along and invented a happy medium between the two. Roughnecks had it all -- state-of-the-art 3D animation, highly detailed conceptual design, incredible art direction, plus great scripts that not only adapted the novel well but explored the universe Heinlein had created in greater detail. Unfortunately, Roughnecks also had a lousy time slot between five and six in the morning on the BKN Network. The show inspired a small and devoted following online, but simply aired too early in the morning to ever attract a huge ratings audience.

Which is a shame, because Roughnecks was easily one of the most ambitious animation projects ever produced for American television. Each planetary campaign introduced a new environment for the Troopers to explore (water worlds, desert planets, tangled jungles, ice asteroids, not to mention the Bug homeworld and good ol' Earth). Due to the nature of the 3-D animation medium, the individual episodes were "shot" and edited much more like movies than cartoons (multiple camera angles, moody atmospheric lighting effects, rich surface textures, smooth camera pans and zooms, etc.) The directors and animators of the show certainly pushed the envelope of the 3-D animation technology available at the time and did their best to take full advantage of the 3-D medium.

As if that weren't enough, the overall writing quality of the show was also a cut above the average "kid-vid." The writers of this show knew what anime fans have known all along, which is that episodic storytelling allows for much deeper character interaction than the average stand-alone movie, and that it doesn't matter whether the characters are cartoons or not. People will keep tuning in to see what happens to the characters they care about, and the writing team for Roughnecks kept giving us plenty of reasons to care. Some characters even get wounded and have to sit out a few episodes. It's never quite clear which troops will live to tell the tale, and in fact one of the main characters dies near the end of the series. Better still, the remaining Troopers are given two final episodes to come to terms with the loss of their teammate. Again, not your average kiddy fare.

The first episode of R:STC originally aired on August 30, 1999 and proceeded to be shown in rotations of the first eight completed episodes, two rendered by Flat Earth Productions (eps 12-13) and six by Foundation Imaging (eps 1-5,7). Flat Earth Productions apparently had a falling out with Sony, the owner and creator of the show, and Foundation Imaging picked up the slack just in time for the BKN Network's fall lineup. But then BKN sold part of its distribution to the Sci-Fi Channel without Sony's permission, hence Sci-Fi was forced to pull R:STC from its schedule indefinitely. BKN decided to air additional episodes as they were completed (i.e. completely out of order with numerous repeats), but several FOX and WB stations still dropped the show from their winter schedules. This means that R:STC episodes were aired only on syndicated BKN affiliate stations until the Sci-Fi channel picked it up again February 21st, 2000. Even then, the airing schedule left much to be desired, but at least you could get the show if you had extended cable TV.

Sony originally planned to make 40 episodes, but as of this writing, episodes 133, 138, 139, and 140 were scrapped due to limitations in the production schedule (i.e. they ran out of money). These last few episodes were scripted, the voice work was recorded, the scripts were storyboarded, but the shows were NEVER ANIMATED (and likely never will be). Instead, four "Clip Shows" which rehash footage from previous episodes were produced as substitutions for the four "missing" episodes. So technically, 40 episodes were completed, but the over-all story arc of the first season was never resolved. Which is a crying shame since it was such a great series! Roughnecks could have gone on for two more seasons, easily. Nowadays we are only left with fan-fiction to fill the void.

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Click here for the complete story of The R:STC Debacle. This article explains how Sony and BKN both managed to make a mess of things.

Click below for in-depth articles on how the show is made:

The Making of Starship Troopers Chronicles (text only)

Is it Real, or is it Lightwave? (text only)

There probably won't be a second season of Roughnecks, but don't take my word for it, read up on what Paul Bryant (co-founder of Foundation Imaging) had to say about it:

Mr. Hook's Report From 3D-Con (May 2000)

If you want the definitive report on what was supposed to take place in the last three episodes that were scrapped, you definitely want to read:

Babydoc's Report From ComiCon (August 2000)

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