Long before YouTube, Social Media, Zoom calls, Google, or basically the internet as we know it, the computer held endless possibilities. For one particular group of creative individuals, the computer offered both the inspiration for an imagined world of mythical guardians defending an elaborate setting known to its inhabitants as Mainframe from diabolical viruses named Megabyte and Hexadecimal, but also the physical capability to bring those stories to life for millions of kids and families to enjoy.
In 1994, ReBoot, the first full-length, fully CGI-animated series would debut and change the entertainment landscape forever. Over the course of four seasons spanning 48 episodes, a toy line, a video game, and a 2018 live action/CGI hybrid Netflix revival, ReBoot would bring with it not only groundbreaking technology, otherworldly artistry, and imaginative storytelling, it would build a lasting legacy among industry insiders and create lifelong fans.
I had the chance to ask questions of several of those responsible for making the pioneering cartoon including creators, producers, writers, animators, and voice actors. This is the story of bringing ReBoot to life, the creative and technological hurdles involved, and the legacy of the beloved show from those who made it, in their own words.
The Oral History of ReBoot as Told by:
“I come from the Net. Systems, people, cities to this place: Mainframe.” – Bob, Guardian (ReBoot)
PHIL MITCHELL (Co-creator, CG supervisor): I fell in love with animation from a really early age. I wanted originally to be a painter, but despite two years of training and having some work exhibited around the country, I realized that I was not really cut out for it, so I switched to the idea of becoming a graphic designer. I became friends with Gavin whilst we studied graphic design together at Leicester Poly from 1981 to 1984, where we both ended up taking animation as our specializations in our second years.
I dove into some really early vector computer graphics after my internship, and determined that this was what I wanted to do, even though the industry was still in its infancy. I think Gav felt the same way. After graduation, Gav went to work with Ian at Rushes, and I followed to London, working first at Electronic Arts [One of three computer animation studios in London at the time, not the video game company].
GAVIN BLAIR (Co-creator, writer, supervising animator): My first job after graduating college was as a film runner at a company in London called Rushes Postproduction. This is where I first met Ian Pearson, who had recently joined the company to run their brand-spanking-new computer graphics department. I’d joined the company to become a film editor but when Ian discovered I was an animator and a graphic designer, he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I became his assistant/trainee. The first job we did together was the Dire Straits ‘Money for Nothing’ video. Needless to say, that put us on the map and launched my career as a 3D animator.
Immediately—like, that night—after we finished Dire Straits we were in the pub having a relaxing drink as a reward for all our hard work, and Ian said “You know, we could do a TV show like that.” I told him he was insane and that “like that” had almost killed us, but he didn’t drop the idea even when we sobered up, so we carried on with our day jobs while slowly pushing our idea forward.
When we’d set out the bones of the idea—heroes, villains, some world concepts, et cetera—we asked John Grace to join the team. John had been one of my lecturers at college. He was also a writer and animator who had successfully put a kids’ TV show on air back in the day, a stop-frame animated show called Portland Bill, so he had lots of valuable experience.
PHIL MITCHELL: Gav and Ian, of course, made the ground-breaking ‘Money for Nothing’ Dire Straits music video for Steve Barron. I was working at Snapper for Matt Forrest—a great experience where I learned a ton. Ian became aware of the work that I was doing, and I would see them both at their local. Ian approached me and offered me a job with him and Gav at the Mill, the first all-digital facility, designed by Ian and his partner Chris Roff.
GAVIN BLAIR: The three of us [Blair, Pearson, and Grace] pushed the idea along some more, and a while later Phil Mitchell joined the team. Phil and I were at college together, under John, and he was also an excellent animator, a very creative sort, and an all-round good egg. And that was the four creators, collectively known as “The Hub”.
PHIL MITCHELL: Ian and Gav were the ReBoot originals. I was offered partnership in 1990, I think, but Ian and Gav had worked on tests, character development, and planning for maybe eight years before I joined. Others—Steve Barron, Brendan McCarthy to name two—were also involved in the initial inspiration and concept development for the show. By the time I was involved, the major concepts and ideas were already in place.
CHRISTOPHER BROUGH (Producer, Founding CEO of Mainframe) – I’ve made a lot of hits up until this point, and one of the biggest hits was this talking teddy bear thing called Teddy Ruxpin, which made the cover of Time magazine and all sorts of craziness. That show was the first show that Jim Henson agreed to accept under Henson International television, distribute worldwide, he had never taken on someone else’s show before. But we had a pretty good relationship, and the show was a hit. And he liked me and he liked the show and so I developed a relationship with Jim and his CEO, a guy called Peter Orton, who later became a best friend over the years.
Anyway, I migrated to DIC, where I brought a number of shows with me from the Henson group that are looking for North American co-producers. During this time. A guy by the name of Steve Baron who is a very famous director—English—that had done Ninja Turtles and a lot of huge commercials out of London, was approached by four guys, all of which worked in a post-production house in England called the Mill, which was sort of a high-end post house that did a lot of special effects and things, which—just as a sidebar—was funded by the band U2.
GAVIN BLAIR: Once we had a creative package we were happy with, we approached Limelight to be our production partner. This was Steve Barron’s company, who we did Dire Straits for. They liked us and our idea and they brought in Chris Brough to act as Producer and teach us crazy nerds “how TV works, kid.”
CHRISTOPHER BROUGH: So, I met these four guys, right? They called themselves “The Hub.” Three of them were employees at this post production house and they had cobbled together this this idea about creating a television series that basically emanated from being inside a computer. It was kind of… the ideas were somewhat sparse, but I loved the idea. I just thought this is so cool, because this is something that was…I mean, I’ve seen Tron, Okay? But that didn’t really touch my core of emotional excitement. I sort of made a deal with Steve, I said, but the guys have to approve me because I don’t want to work with people where there’s a disconnect, because I’m pretty passionate about the creatives.
I went back to England, and [The Hub and I] had another dinner. And they kind of said, “Steve says you’re the perfect producer for us all. What do you think?” I said, “Well, the show needs work.” And I felt kind of a stiffening at the table. I’ve made a lot of TV shows for kids, and this is a kids’ show. I said, “We can sell it, but we’re gonna need some more characters. You’re gonna need to put a kid in it.” That later became Enzo. “You got to put a dog in it.” I mean, I’d worked for years at Hanna-Barbera, and I worked directly with Joe Barbera. So, you know, I’ve been at his side for years, sort of learning his end of the pitch and knowing what worked in a formula that the networks would embrace. They sort of warmed up after a while. I mean, they were fairly strong-minded gents, but I liked them.
GAVIN BLAIR: [Brough] brought in LA writers to help guide us—which we fought every step of the way, but the show improved with every creative battle—and we went through a couple of rounds of concept tests and then, finally, Ian took the plunge on our collective behalf to try and sell the show to a US network.
PHIL MITCHELL: Ian and I moved to LA in early 1992, I think, and worked at Steve Barron’s Limelight in LA for 6 months on pre-production development before driving up the Pacific Coast Highway to Vancouver, where Gav joined us.
GAVIN BLAIR: It’s important to note that it took about 7 years to get from Dire Straits to this point. Ian quit his job (we’d all had day jobs this whole time) and flew to LA. He spent about a year there all told, sometimes living on Chris Brough’s couch, working out of the Limelight LA office, doing the pop video for Def Leppard’s ‘Let’s Get Rocked’, finalizing the character designs with Brendan McCarthy, and pounding the pavement with Chris from Network to Network until finally ABC took a chance and agreed to back the show.
CHRISTOPHER BROUGH: I first went into Fox that was run by my old boss at Hanna Barbera, Margaret Loesch, who was now president of Fox Kids. They initially were interested, but then I think it scared them because—just so you understand something—when we were pitching ReBoot, the longest piece of computer animation ever made, was done by Softimage as a sort of short that was two and a half minutes long. And what we’re proposing was delivering 24 minutes a week of full computer animation, it had never, ever been done! So, I made the deal with ABC, who I had done a lot of business with in the past, so they all knew me.
GAVIN BLAIR: Backed by ABC we all quit our day jobs and three of us—Ian, Phil and myself—relocated to Vancouver, BC, Canada to make the show. Initially we were “ReBoot, Inc.” or something along those lines—Mainframe would come later, when we started producing other shows as well as ReBoot. Working out of a hotel suite (no, really) we cast a net for animators while building our 3D models and sets. Once we began hiring people, we took on a small office in the Gastown area of Vancouver.
CHRISTOPHER BROUGH: The only way we could possibly do the show was we recognize two things. One, the Canadian dollar was cheap, like 65 cents on the dollar. And there was about a 30% rebate in production, tax credits and such. So, if you do the math, you’re making money. You’re making short, about 50 cents on the dollar. And we didn’t know how much the show was going to cost because we were trying to create the technology.
PHIL MITCHELL: We worked out of hotel suites whilst getting our footing, identifying premises and testing technology [Softimage] for production. Our first office was in the East End of Vancouver—beautiful by day, a little rougher by night—but we eventually settled into our offices on West 7th in Kitsilano to really begin production on the series.
GAVIN BLAIR: Pre-production was a mountain of work. We had to build an entire city, all the sets, all the characters. We had to work out how to make them move and talk, how to streamline production for the timely creation of multiple episodes, how to put the shows together, finish them off, get them out the door.
“It’s one of those resume items that you’re proud of.” – Jono Howard
LANE RAICHERT (Story editor, writer): I was told that the team had toiled on the first few scripts for months, but that they were struggling to get them over the finish line to “Final,” when all parties sign off on a script to okay it into production. I had a few happy years under my belt collaborating smoothly on multiple series with ABC, helmed at the time by Jennie Trias. Jennie told me that she thought I might be a good fit for this cool new science fiction project. She kept asking me if they had called me yet. The production studio, Limelight, eventually relented to Jennie’s suggestions to give me a try.
I inherited a development bible and a few scripts, which were, in my opinion, almost entirely there. I met with all three parties separately—most, but not all of the creators at The Hub, the production company Limelight, and the network ABC—to find out what their concerns were and what was most important to each of them. I synthesized all of our mutual ideas into a slightly tweaked version of the existing show to the team, everybody signed off on it, and within weeks we had 3 final scripts. I was hired on as story editor.
MARK HOFFMEIER (Writer): I was brought onto ReBoot by my friend, Lane Raichert. In animation production, the story editor is the head writer and sometimes the producer. Lane and I had met and become friends at Hanna-Barbera where he was a writer and producer and I was working in publicity while doing stand-up comedy and also writing “spec,” or sample, scripts. I think Lane knew I’d do a good job with this show and thought I would enjoy it. Also, it was based in the world of computers and Lane knew I was into that.
JONO HOWARD (Writer): I had the amazing pleasure of beginning my entire writing career on ReBoot. It was the first show I got paid to write on and I was able to join right at the beginning. I had been hanging out with a local company in Vancouver called Digital Alchemy, founded by some guys who were into this new thing called computer animation. Jimmy Hayward, a friend who worked there, got hired at Mainframe. I asked Jimmy to get me a copy of the show bible, which he did. I read it and wrote a spec script titled “The Great Brain Robbery.” I gave it Jimmy who, in turn, gave it to one of the show heads who promptly threw it in his trash can. Jimmy waited until the unnamed fellow left his office, retrieved it from the trash can, and gave it to Lane, who must have liked it. Jimmy went on to work at Pixar and co-direct Horton Hears a Who! Jimmy, wherever you are…I owe you one.
MICHAEL BENYAER (Voice Actor, “Bob”): I had done G.I. Joe. I was cast in another show called The Hurricanes, I was doing another show called Exo-Squad, this is about maybe ‘93. I think I was still in University. I was doing all this as I was getting an education because I was trying to make something of myself, when casting director Doug Parker said we’re finally going to do the ReBoot auditions.
I remember going into legendary recording studio GGRP. There was a promotional video playing on a large screen and it was an early version of ReBoot. There was a voice on it saying, “I’m Bob” and it was a guy, a young guy, who sounded so much like me that I kind of joked to Doug “Is that me?” For a second I was like, “I don’t remember recording that.” I auditioned for all the characters. You know, I wanted to be Cecil, I wanted to be whatever. They responded to me doing kind of a Michael J. Fox kind-of-Spider-Man thing, which was a young guy thrust into something that he was not prepared for.
SHARON ALEXANDER (Voice Actor, “AndrAia”): I became involved with ReBoot by happenstance! I am friends with Garry Chalk and he was working on ReBoot. He voiced Slash and Turbo. One day he mentioned to me that Mainframe was recasting the role of AndrAia [Andrea Libman voiced young AndrAIa]. The reason for the recast, is the character—along with Enzo/Matrix—was growing up. Garry helped me learn the differences between voice acting and live action, as I had only ever done TV and film prior. It was a lengthy casting process, but eventually I was cast! So proud to have my first animation gig be on such a ground breaking show.
Creating a New Format
“Doing something for the first time is bloody hard work and not for the faint of heart!” – Gavin Blair
CHRISTOPHER BROUGH: All the shorts that were done with CG at the time, were either dancing lights, which was ILM or Pixar, and like a piano or a toaster. I mean, these were all inanimate objects that couldn’t have facial expression, because no one had created that yet.
We were trying to figure out how to do it. We’re trying to figure out the technology. Today a standard gaming PC that you may spend $3-$4,000 on had the computing power of something that would cost you more like $400,000, the early ‘90s.
LANE RAICHERT: While the production team was waiting for proper offices, they were working out of hotel rooms in Vancouver. One of my favorite memories was seeing these high end $250,000 purple Silicon Graphics workstations parked atop these cheap little hotel tables, barely wide enough to hold them.
PHIL MITCHELL: The animation software was Softimage running on Silicon Graphics workstations. This initially covered everything from modelling to rendering. The Softimage renderer was eventually replaced with Mental Image’s Mental Ray, going from scanline to ray traced rendering. Offline editing was done using Avid editing systems, one per episode.
Online post was edited with an Abekas A84 Digital editing switcher, with a deck of D1 digital video tape machines, Abekas disk recorders and required Barco broadcast monitors. I can’t remember audio mixing, but this predated Pro Tools. All animation and recording was done at 25 frames per second, PAL format, as this converted to NTSC cleanly and was the required broadcast standard for a number of countries at the time.
JONO HOWARD: I do remember that the big issue with the first episode was rendering. It was taking days, weeks, months(?) to render out scenes. Seems there was some panic about delivering the first episode. but they did it.
CHRISTOPHER BROUGH: The challenges were pretty simple. No one had ever had that amount of data, networked into servers. We had so much data, but no one knew what to do with. Just to give you an idea of the first year that Mainframe was in production, we recorded in excess of 17,000 crashes.
GAVIN BLAIR The first episode produced, “Racing the Clock,” including the mammoth pre-production, took about 9 months to make. For full production we aimed at a slightly more realistic 8-week turnaround. It was bloody hard in the beginning—we were working 24-7, sleeping under the desk, all that good stuff.
LANE RAICHERT: In traditional 2D animation, every single 2D background painting costs money. In CGI, Scene cuts have to be carefully rationed out otherwise you just plain run out of money. But in 3D, backgrounds are amortized better, because moving the camera takes way less time than making an entire new painting from scratch. This is all obvious now, but back then, for us non-digital production writers at the time, being able to move the camera like on a live set versus the Vaudeville style left-right stage work was liberating to say the least.
Pulling off a big technical innovation like that, blazing so much new ground in such a short amount of time is a testament to the production team’s industry and talent. Especially when you see how much new material was in every single episode—new costumes, new backgrounds, new animations, new props, new textures, new tech, changing every week—it was massively ambitious.
MICHAEL BENYAER: It took so long to do the show, because they were basically creating a new format. I think it was a year, maybe even a year and half, from beginning of recording until the first episode aired, and in that time, I graduated University, and had moved to Los Angeles to voice “Hadji” on The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest.
JONO HOWARD: I think everybody had the sense that history was being made and new ground was being broken. People were excited about it and excited to be involved. Personally, I was stoked because it was right up my alley. I had gotten into electronic music in the early ‘90s and computer animation was an element of that scene. This was right around the time of movies like Lawnmower Man and Beyond the Mind’s Eye. We were seeing the first hints of what computer animation could do and be.
GAVIN BLAIR: When [ABC] saw that first episode, they were over the moon. I know it looks crude and ropey in 2020, but back then, it had never been done. It was entirely new. Everyone we showed it to was absolutely gobsmacked. And all the folks we’d arm-wrestled and argued and nearly come to blows with during production—the “that’s not how we do things in traditional animation” folks—every one of them shook our hands and said “you were right – this isn’t traditional animation, is it?”
SHARON ALEXANDER: They did what no one had ever done before. Creating an entire TV show inside a computer, completely with CGI. Absolutely groundbreaking. The writing had appeal to kids and adults alike. It was clever, not just flash. It was funny, and it was just plain ol’ great TV—And that’s on top of the technology.
PHIL MITCHELL: Proudest moment had to be seeing the first episode on air with my mum and dad in the UK. I think they finally understood better what I was doing working half-way around the world from home in the UK!
CHRISTOPHER BROUGH: It was huge. We made the cover of 20-30 magazines. I mean, we were cited by every TV critic around the planet. I mean, the show was a massive hit everywhere. It was number one in England, it was number one in Australia. In Japan, it ran on the NHK network—the English Channel there. I mean, everybody loved the show. They went crazy because no one had seen animation like that. Plus, the stories worked.
PHIL MITCHELL: ReBoot first aired in 1994; Toy Story in 1995. I think some folks poo-pooed ReBoot because compared to Toy Story it looked quite primitive, but it did its thing, and I think eventually it was accepted that they were two very different animals.
“It was our lives! I don’t think ReBoot would have happened if any of us has thought of it as ‘just a job!’” – Phil Mitchell
CHRISTOPHER BROUGH: We had no money, so we really have to work off of the generosity of these software companies and the hardware companies. [As an] example, SGI made a frame buffer, which basically meant it was an interim storage. It was like a sort of a RAM mechanism between the output of our animation to the data sets that we could render. We’d be using RenderMan—I mean, we might have been the largest client at the time then. That was X ray, where Pixar started because they were software company, but not people may remember that. But anyway, their OS didn’t work! They sold this hardware, but it didn’t work!
We had to reverse engineer their hardware [with] source code from the manufacturer, and we got their hardware working for them. But in turn, that software development was theirs, and we had to hand it back because we never could have afforded the software or the hardware things. And they found a goldmine in development with us. Sadly, we just didn’t have the horsepower financially to keep the stuff proprietary. Every time we made an upgrade, or anytime we modernized those for the manufacturers, they loved this for that very reason. I mean, when Softimage went to NAB, they put our show on the cover of all their all their boxes because we were, in essence, a component of their development of all this stuff.
JONO HOWARD: In the initial days of Mainframe, the office was a bit of a chaos. One time I was there, the front desk phone kept ringing and ringing. They didn’t have anyone to answer the phone. I went home, and at that time, my roommate’s girlfriend, Sally Lyne, an Australian, was looking for a job. I told her, “Put on your best business clothes, go to Mainframe with a resume and tell them you can start now—as in immediately!” Well, she did and they said, “Great, you’re hired,” and she sat down at the front desk and started answering calls. She worked there for several years and when she left, the Hub gifted her with a ReBoot poster signed by everyone in the studio.
PHIL MITCHELL: The production process started out being quite traditional. Script writing was usually scheduled to take a week or two per episode, I think. After that, traditional drawn storyboards were tried, but these took too long, so we ended up producing 3D CG animatics from the episode’s assets—I could do a 22-minute episode in 3 days when I was in practice!—with cameras blocked or finished and new sets produced as maquettes to be completed by the modelling team; library animation or “Gumbies”, our name for sliding characters around, after the stop-motion animated series by Art Clokey, to imply motion timings were included, and audio first pass produced [dialog, music where needed for animation timings]. I’d also do a first lighting pass set up.
Ian would direct and edit, and I would produce the CG footage for the shots that made up our animatics for the first 2 seasons. The shots I created for the animatic were passed to the animators to complete, and their finished work was edited together to make the final episode’s picture. This was usually scheduled to take 8 weeks but was the fastest episode we ever produced. The third episode in season one, “The Quick & The Fed,” I think, took just three weeks from animatic to final delivery. None of us got much sleep from that! After picture was completed, post-production [final picture edit, final sound mix] was done in two weeks, if I remember correctly. I supervised the sound mixes and quality-controlled the final edit and audio playback [combining picture and sound] before delivery.
GAVIN BLAIR: We did fall behind about four episodes in. ABC indulged us with an early run of repeats to allow us to catch up and iron out the kinks. They loved the show, and so did the audience, plus they were making history so that earned us some grace.
After the bumpy start, we settled into what would become our typical model of an eight-week turnaround per episode from recording session to finished animation. Each show had a dedicated Avid suite with an editor, a supervising animator and the director of that episode plus—in a couple of animation suites—an animation crew of about 8 people of varying degrees of skill. We trained our animators on the job. To begin with, we had two lines running [two episodes going at once] with a few weeks overlap to avoid bottlenecking in the edit and sound suites, but as the company grew, we had three, four, or five episodes leapfrogging each other [or more].
Most of the time—especially after the first half dozen shows were completed—we pulled it off, but there was more than one master delivered [to ABC] by a runner flying down to LA on a Friday night for broadcast the next morning!
PHIL MITCHELL: I remember getting crew members to sit on an airport courier to prevent him leaving without one final episode D1 tape that had to overnight deliver to LA to air the next day. We paid him for the inconvenience, by the way. Never had to do that again, thankfully, as we never missed a single delivery.
MICHAEL BENYAER: They brought in a woman named Andrea Romano, who was the top animation voice director in the world, because ABC was co-producing with YTV in Canada. Andrea, at the time, was doing the Batman series and Tiny Toons. She was the top person, and she came in, and they played my reference for her and she was great. And when we did the show, she did very little rehearsal or direction. She basically recorded the first and second take, we went through one time, we recorded it, and went on. She kind of was a fan of initial instinct, to not beat something to death.
SHARON ALEXANDER: The production process was a glorious mystery to me. I remember getting to tour the studios every once in a while, and marveling at the sheer volume of work, the immense talent, and the groundbreaking storytelling happening seemingly round the clock.
GAVIN BLAIR: Animating was bloody hard work—too hard for me, and I’m not that good compared to some of the superstars we employed! I loved overseeing production, but it nearly killed me. Voice acting a couple of minor characters was a blast, but just for fun really, though I loved being at as many sessions as I could in my more serious role as representative of The Hub. Watching the actors work is a blast, but writing, that’s the joy. To craft the stories and the characters and put words in their mouths—I love that. And to see words and stories I helped craft making fans rave and laugh and cry? Nothing beats that.
MARK HOFFMEIER: From a story perspective, we came up with premises and then sent them off to Mainframe for approval. Then we’d write the scripts. I remember it was great to have CGI because you could imagine very complex shots—lots of tracking and panning and following characters—that would have been impossible in regular, 2D animation. It was eye-opening for me from that perspective.
I remember that the story sessions—which were held at Lane’s apartment in the San Fernando Valley—were always fun and lively. Lane and I have similar loves of history and similar Midwestern sensibilities when it comes to humor. We’d also take breaks to play games—we both love those, too. And, I think we looked for ways to really make the characters fun, and not just some high-tech cutouts of characters to put into a show set in a computer.
LANE RAICHERT: Though we were all under schedule stress and unhealthy hours, as for me, I found ReBoot to be incredibly pleasant, creatively. I felt that the creators, Ian, Gavin, Phil, along with Jennie and the team at ABC enabled me to do some of the best work of my TV career. I’m grateful they included me in an engine that had so many cylinders firing at once. It was the better kind of collaborative environment: it didn’t matter where the ideas came from, if it worked and was fun, or cool, we all nurtured it and tried to put it into the show.
Disk Space Exceeded
“This is bad. This is VERY bad.” – Bob, Guardian (ReBoot)
They did a third season of Reboot, without ever contacting me, and my character was replaced by an actor named Ian Corlett who voiced the morphed “Glitch Bob”. I did not know any of this happened until the show aired. This is the days before everybody was on the Internet, and knew everything—about ‘96. I really didn’t care because I was in LA trying to make it to the next level, on camera, and for film and TV. In the end, I think he only did three episodes of that season.
Then, years later, ironically, they decided to do the movies, which were going to be more episodes. They brought us both back for this whole storyline called, “My Two Bobs,“ which is, “Who is the real Bob?” But I’ve never seen the third season, it’s kind of like when your ex-girlfriend goes out with somebody else, you don’t want to see the picture.
LANE RAICHERT: Personally, [departing from ReBoot] broke my heart. I enjoyed the creative process with the Hub creators and was looking forward to growing the future arcs of the series with them as it matured. I also genuinely enjoyed spending time with Bob, Dot, Enzo, Megabyte, Hex, Mouse, and the rest. When I am in there writing and editing, these pretend people are like old friends to me, so I did miss them terribly when I was let go.
Professionally, the production company had been asking me to move up to Vancouver for a while—I was down in California—so I completely understand that having their story editor in closer daily contact with the team in Vancouver would work better for the production. I didn’t want to move out of state at the time because it meant I would have had to leave my school-age daughter behind. Companies have to do what’s best for them in order to stay in business, and I think that’s more than reasonable.
MICHAEL BENYAER: I think what happened, concerning my recasting, was they just decided we don’t need him. We can do this without him. Because animation takes so long, you don’t get the fan backlash immediately. It happens a year later. So, eventually, when the show aired, they were like “oh, the kids did notice that his voice changed. We gotta do something about that.”
GAVIN BLAIR: ReBoot was never just a job. It was our baby, and that goes for all the shows we produced—or tried to get produced, they don’t all see the light of day after all—during the “Golden Age” of Mainframe Entertainment. When the company focus shifted into doing more and more work for hire and things that were “just a job”, that’s when I left.
MICHAEL BENYAER: I believe one of the main reasons the show was canceled on ABC, was that it was co-produced with them and YTV, and half way through the second season ABC was bought by Disney. So Disney didn’t need their show, they’ve got Mickey Mouse and everyone else. They really had no need in continuing something like ReBoot, which I think was also quite expensive to produce.
GAVIN BLAIR: ReBoot was the show that kept almost making it big—by that I mean being a hit in America—but it kept tripping or being tripped at the finish line. The end of season four was the biggest example of that. We had a deal for a huge launch of the fourth season, paired with a rebroadcast in heavy rotation of the previous three seasons. On the back of that heavy rotation, we had an enormous toy line planned thanks to the backing of the US toy sellers and the toy company itself [Irwin Toy Limited]. Lots of people [were] very excited that this was it—finally—the big time for ReBoot! And then the broadcaster changed its mind. They cut the episode order. They cancelled the heavy rotation, which led to the toy sellers axing the toy line and the toy company nearly going bankrupt. Instead of a huge splash, season IV aired in the US with barely a ripple. ReBoot missed the big time yet again.
That doesn’t necessarily doom a franchise—one can always try again and again, especially if you own the IP, and in my opinion, ReBoot is a property that could run and run, evolve with the times and technology forever—but that’s where the second part of the answer comes in—changes in the creative and business philosophy of Mainframe.
As I hinted at previously, the company was changing. Pushed by its board, it was drifting from being a creative powerhouse famous for pushing boundaries and doing new things, creating and/or developing new properties to a service company doing work-for-hire, making widgets for other people, bringing their properties to life. I wasn’t interested in that, and—not that I would speak for him—neither was Ian Pearson. We both left the company after season four. Saddest day of my life, but that’s showbiz for you.
As for ReBoot, that stayed with Mainframe—they own the rights. They can [keep] doing whatever they want with it, but in my humble opinion ReBoot is only ReBoot when Ian Pearson is in charge. You never say never, but for the moment, sadly, ReBoot is in Sleep Mode.
You are next generation guardians. The first humans to defend cyberspace. – ReBoot: The Guardian Code
[In 2018, 17 years after the final episode of the original series, Netflix re-booted ReBoot. With an all-new cast, ReBoot: The Guardian Code mixed CGI with traditional live-action sequences to tell the story of four teenagers who are recruited by an AI to help protect both cyberspace and the real world. None of the original creative team were involved, and most of those interviewed by Retrofied chose not to offer any comments regarding the show.]
MARK HOFFMEIER: I never watched it, actually. I saw some promotional photos and thought it looked like a combo of ReBoot and Power Rangers, which amused me since I wrote for both of those shows. I’m not sure why they didn’t do a straight-up new version of ReBoot using the really amazing CG that’s available today. Maybe in the future.
JONO HOWARD: I reached out to see if I could get on the writing team and was told they only wanted to work with “live action writers.” Why? Because they’re special somehow? Maybe that was a mistake on their part.
MICHAEL BENYAER: They finally decided that they were going to do this new version. And I thought, originally—I think many people did—that they were just going to pick it up, what the show was, and then I would have a regular job for 52 episodes or whatever. Then I find out that it was an updated version of the show, it was going to be half live action, half CGI, I’m like, OK…
My involvement was one episode. I toyed with not doing it, saying good luck, and then I remembered all of the fans I met at the conventions and who wrote to me, and I was like “what am I going to tell these people?” That I didn’t do it because I didn’t get a raise, or whatever? People think all actors are rich or movie stars, they don’t understand something like that. So I thought to myself, “You know what, I’ll do it.” So I did.
LANE RAICHERT: Whatever I say will put me into a tribe, and I don’t want to belong to any tribe. I did the best job I could with our version, and I’m really touched that twenty-five years later, there’s still this love for it out there. The new version is a new version, and I’m sure there are people on the new production putting their hearts into it like we did. I hope they get to say the same as me down the line.
It was great fun, very scary, extremely satisfying. – Phil Mitchell
CHRISTOPHER BROUGH: It was historic, and it was the first. And it still resonates today, with the characters and the stories that we created within the city of mainframe. I still get letters and stuff, honestly, with kids of all ages—young kids, older kids, adults—I mean, it really struck a nerve.
MARK HOFFMEIER: The technology to make the show can be good or bad, but if you don’t have good stories and characters, nobody will want to watch it. But, in the case of ReBoot, I think it was a mix of story, character, and technology that made it truly memorable. Also, we were just starting to embrace computers and computer technology in our homes and so those characters—with names that reminded us of those early days of computers—are tied to that place in time. Makes it quite special.
LANE RAICHERT: For me, [it’s] definitely more meaningful and personal than usual. Out of hundreds of vintage credits, ReBoot is one of my top two favorite TV projects—A Pup Named Scooby-Doo being the other. Quality of work is my own professional addiction. Being allowed to write at that level is incredibly satisfying, and, if you are blessed with a hardworking, talented team that makes your team’s scripts look and sound good? It’s the best.
JONO HOWARD: I showed “Wizards” to my kids on video tape last year. They were really interested in it, almost fascinated. They loved all the computer jargon that was built into the show, but they laughed at some of the “crude” animation. CG has come so far it certainly does look antiquated now. It’s like us watching Steamboat Willie. But the Hub did an amazing job with where the technology was at the time.
LANE RAICHERT: A few years ago, we were digitizing old media from the first season, and I was sucked into the characters and stories again, the jokes, the warmth and flow between the characters, and the general colorful playfulness of the whole world. The music and voice work were terrific. Yeah, it’s dated, but I still found it charming and honest. And, no, I don’t say that about all my projects.
SHARON ALEXANDER: I watched the show a few years ago with my son who would have been about ten then. I believe I was looking for something in an episode, and he started watching with me, then he didn’t want to stop! I am surprised how well it does still hold up, and yet not. The stories, the writing, et cetera is timeless even if the technology is old.
PHIL MITCHELL: I had one fan write me that ReBoot had saved his wife from committing suicide. Folks who still remember ReBoot may not be the first generation to be watching it. The nice thing is that original fans watched it with their parents, maybe, and then they watched it with their kids. The Wikis, Facebook sites et cetera still go on, and I’ll get questions sometimes from curious youngsters about whether I’m the Phil Mitchell who worked on ReBoot!
MICHAEL BENYAER: Its legacy is bigger than me or anything I would’ve ever thought of at the time, I’ll tell you that. I didn’t know until years later that it’s in the Smithsonian. Did you know that?
CHRISTOPHER BROUGH: I’ll give you a quick story. I get stuck on a plane in Dallas for a lightning storm and sitting next to me—I’m staring at this guy and realizing it’s Bill Gates, and we struck up a conversation. He clearly did not want a conversation, but I introduced myself and explained I was the producer [of ReBoot] and he put everything down, and for about an hour he quizzed me on ReBoot. He knew every character. He loved the show! And about, I don’t know, three months later, I get this letter—sort of gold-encrusted from the Smithsonian Institute that he has nominated Ian and I, and we were put in this cyber Hall of Fame for the Smithsonian Institute. We were nominated by Bill Gates!
PHIL MITCHELL: Topping all was the inauguration of ReBoot to the Smithsonian Technology Archive in Washington DC in the late 1990’s in recognition of it being the world’s first 100% computer animated TV series, but I can’t recall exactly when. I was the only one sent to attend—I would like to think everyone else was busy. I walked back through airport security wearing the gold medal we had been awarded—thankfully, security allowed me to do this!
CHRISTOPHER BROUGH: A few years later, I was stuck at a table with Al Gore. We were sort of going around the table and introducing ourselves and stuff and someone mentioned ReBoot, and [Gore] sort of stopped things. He went back and said “You did Reboot?” I went “Yeah.” He goes, “Great show! That was President Bill Clinton’s favorite show.” He said [Clinton] would set aside a half hour sometime any week [and someone] would record it for him, and he would watch it. [Gore] said he would love to meet me. I never met him.
GAVIN BLAIR: There are some amazing folks in prominent companies all around the world these days working on movies and series who either cut their teeth working on ReBoot itself or at the company. I’m very proud of the “Children of Mainframe”! Also, I’ve done a few conventions by now and a surprisingly large number of folks seek me out and tell me that they do what they do because they grew up watching ReBoot. That gets me every time.
JONO HOWARD: ReBoot’s lasting impact is determined by the fans. The fans, in a way, are the most important part of the equation. People really connected with the show, and that’s cool to see.
SHARON ALEXANDER: I was at a convention in June 2019, and I had fans openly weeping when we met. All this time later [it] makes me very proud. I love what I do and always connect to it.
MICHAEL BENYAER: My father passed away about six years ago. Just about a year before he passed away, I went to one of the conventions in Toronto and it’s my birthday weekend. They brought me on stage to introduce all the actors who were going to be signing that weekend, and as I went on stage, the announcer said, “Here’s Michael Benyaer, and it’s his birthday!” And like 1000 people in the room started singing “Happy Birthday” to me. I filmed it with my phone and I sent it to my Dad. And you know, I’m glad he saw me have some modicum of success in show business.
When I do the conventions in Canada I ask them if they know the opening monologue, which is kind of the equivalent of “Space, the final frontier…” from Star Trek, and it’s amazing! Rooms of 500 people, en masse, unrehearsed, recite it like the Lord’s Prayer. It brings a tear to my eye even thinking about it right now
LANE RAICHERT: Impact? I have no idea. All art, including commercial TV, is highly subjective and personal. Everybody is gonna take away something different. [My] hope? That people will feel their time in our crazy, made-up world was well spent.
[NOTE: This oral history was originally recorded in the fall of 2020 and published in January 2021 in issue #1 of Retrofied Magazine. You can view the entire 50-page issue for free, purchase individual issues of Retrofied in our store, or become a subscriber by joining our Patreon]