Matthew Braga has written up a rather comprehensive article on the history of not only the beginnings of ReBoot, but of the “Pearson/Blair/Mitchell-era” of Mainframe Entertainment. Below is an excerpt. Click here to read the whole article.
With the techniques and processes that the team behind ReBoot were pioneering, a 3D animated series could be made in less time, and with fewer resources, than the traditional hand-drawn animation that dominated movie theatres and television screens. Computer scripts and render farms would do all of the heavy lifting that rooms of human animators once did. And because everything was digital — mere files on a disk — those assets could be reused effortlessly to make commercials, movies, toys, and games. Think Dot on a lunchbox, flying through the city, or Megabyte’s lair on a lampshade.
Even Pixar, which released Toy Story in 1996 to universal acclaim, would be no match for Mainframe’s efficiency. Where Pixar took years to produce just 81 minutes of footage, the ReBoot team was determined to produce the same amount in a matter of weeks.
The message was clear: Mainframe was going to be the biggest animation company in the world — the Pixar of the North — and ReBoot was just the start.
ReBoot’s influence is everywhere if you know where to look. In the early to mid-1990s, while Disney was in the midst of its hand-drawn animated renaissance — with movies such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King enjoying blockbuster success — the first generations of computer artists were getting their start. ReBoot was one of the few productions where forward-looking animators and artists could learn to work with computers outside of school. Star Wars, Harry Potter, Finding Nemo, Shrek — all were made with the help of ReBoot alumni.
ReBoot was the brainchild of Ian Pearson, a talented animator and bullheaded Geordie from Northern England who spent the early 1980s in the UK making corporate logos fly around a screen. Neon-tinted wireframes and hard-edged shapes were what passed for groundbreaking stuff. But Pearson had grander aspirations. “He knew what was possible, even if he didn’t necessarily know how to do it,” said Chris Welman, a software developer in ReBoot’s earliest days, and later the company’s vice president and chief technology officer. “He had a good visual eye. He could look at a model and tell the guy who built it what was wrong with it and why it wasn’t beautiful.”
In 1984, Pearson worked with music director Steve Barron on the visual effects for Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing,” the first music video made with computer graphics. Instead of blocky logos, it featured blocky humans, but the result was good enough that Pearson figured there was potential to do a whole show. Given the state of most computer graphics at the time — primitive, flatly shaded, crude — he came up with a clever conceit. The show would take place in a computer, thereby eliminating the expectation that it had to look remotely realistic.
Pearson’s assistant on “Money for Nothing” was a fellow animator, a jolly, denim-clad man in round glasses named Gavin Blair. Over the span of nearly a decade, the two tossed the concept for their computer-generated show back and forth, and started to assemble a team. Blair roped in John Grace, his former animation lecturer, who made a stop-motion animated television show called Portland Bill in 1983. They brought on Phil Mitchell, an ex-classmate of Blair’s and a gifted animator in his own right who had grown tired of working on commercials. He was a mountain of a man who listened to death metal at his desk while he worked. Collectively, they were known as The Hub.