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Tuesday, September 14, 1999

Duane Capizzi: Guiding the adventures of Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot

By Rob Allstetter

Duane Capizzi isn't the Big Guy, nor is he a robot. But he sure looms large when it comes to Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, the new animated series.

Capizzi is the story editor and producer of Big Guy and Rusty, which is based on the Dark Horse comic-book characters created by Frank Miller and Geof Darrow. The series begins Saturday, Sept. 18 at 11 a.m. on Fox Kids, with 26 episodes in production at Sony Television.

An animation veteran, Capizzi's most recent credits include Savage Dragon, Men in Black: The Series, Extreme Ghostbusters and Roughecks: Starship Trooper Chronicles.

Recently The Continuum talked with Capizzi in a telephone interview, where he gave his insights to the animation of Big Guy and Rusty, as well as plans for the first 26 episodes.

The Continuum: How did you become involved in the series?

Capizzi: Dark Horse struck a deal with Sony. I'm at the studio. Big Guy had gone in and out of development the last couple of years, and I've always had my eye on the project. I was always disappointed when I saw it was being developed without me.

And it just so happened that I became free from my duties on Men in Black when it was going back into development, so I was a natural choice for it.

I'm really glad it happened that way. I love the property and I love the characters. It's been great. I'm every bit as satisfied and proud of the scripts and the series than I have been with Men in Black.

The Continuum: Have either Frank Miller or Geof Darrow been involved with the show?

Capizzi: Geof Darrow has to some extent. They're both very busy. I talk to Geof Darrow every once in a while.

We do have Geof Darrow character designs. He's become sort of our creative designer. Again, as time permits, about half of the monsters/bad robots you'll be seeing in the series have been designed by Geoff Darrow. In many cases, we'll get designs from him and go, 'Wow, this guy is really cool!' Then we'll sit down and build a story around the actual design. So, in that sense, his contributions have invaluable.

The Continuum: Is the first episode an adaptation of the comic books?

Capizzi: It's a loose adaptation, to be honest. Most of the elements are the same and we've transposed some things because there were so many characters to introduce in the pilot.

We simplified the monster. It's someone of a similar threat status, but we simplified the monster in the pilot to extreme basics. It's just a monster who falls from the sky in comet form and runs a course of rampant destruction.

It's about all we had room for with the various character introductions. But the villains beyond show one are definitely more interesting and more three-dimensional.

The Continuum: What's the relationship between the main characters in the series like?

Capizzi: It was sort of a fine line that we had to ride. In the comic book, as we leave them in the last panel, Big Guy is sort of a reluctant partner to Rusty. And we wanted to keep some of that, but at the same time over the course of the number of episodes we are doing, we felt that would have gotten a little thin after a while.

Plus there was the issue of how do you maintain that without making Big Guy too mean spirited? So we opted to sort of slowly develop - and the series is not necessarily chronological and it certainly isn't serialized - from episode to episode you definitely see a growth. And about midpoint of season one, Big Guy finally turns and compliments Rusty for the first time, which is a mind-blower for Rusty. Later in the first 13, there's an episode where Duane Hunter - who is the pilot who operates the Big Guy - realizes that he owes his life to Rusty.

The irony of it is Rusty will ever know Duane is the pilot. We maintain a secrecy clause. There's an inner circle of individuals who know the truth behind Big Guy - that he's not really a robot, that he's a man inside of an exo-skeleton. We establish early on that if Rusty were ever to find that out, to discover the truth, that his emotion grid would crash.

The reason is that Rusty thinks Big Guy is the greatest and wants to 'grow up' and be just like him.

They have to protect Big Guy's secret from Rusty. Now, granted, that's another fine line to play because obviously if humans are in danger, if there's a world-threatening situation, Duane Hunter would have to make a choice and humanity must be saved and the aspect of keeping Rusty from knowing the truth would be less important in that situation.

So realizing it's a fine line, we tread that very delicately. There are situations where Duane does make a choice. There's a couple of times he's forced to eject from the suit, and he decides not to. He decides to risk it and follow through with the action for fear that Rusty would discover the truth and crash.

During the course of the series, Duane Hunter does come around to appreciate Rusty. And it's quite poignant, actually. It's not heavy-handed. We do it in small ways that nonetheless I think are very effective. The Continuum: Can you say more about the villains and other supporting characters in the series?

Capizzi: We have sort of a running villain in the series, an organization called the Legion Ex Machina. They provide the evil robot factor constant in the series. They're responsible for maybe a third to a half of the episodes. Generally, whenever we do evil robots, it's a Legion Ex Machina show.

Otherwise, it's mutants and aliens and other monsters. Some are created for the show and some are implied by the comics.

We obviously only had two issues and one story to work from. We needed to develop a character that the Big Guy would report to, so we have our General Thornton. We decided that the Big Guy, the particularly massive and intense piece of machinery/technology that he is, would need a pit crew to help with maintenance and keep him up and running. So we supplied the Big Guy with a pit crew that doubles as his confidantes. It's someone for Duane Hunter to talk to when the Big Guy is in shut-down mode. So they play a supporting role in the series.

Then, perhaps the main departure from the comic book is that Rusty is no longer a Japanese creation. We've transposed that aspect to sort a city of the future, New Tronic City, and Rusty is the product of a corporation. It's the corporation who originally built Big Guy. Now they are under the regime of a new CEO and they are tying to develop the next wave of robot technology. And what they come up with is Rusty the Boy Robot.

So it gets us to the same place, but we decided not to play the Japanese/American arms race aspect of the series up for a variety of reasons.

We also personalized the creator in the form of a female scientist, Dr. Erika Slate, and made a character of the CEO of the corporation that invented Rusty and Big Guy. That is Dr. Axel Donovan. We did retain the chimp from the comic book.

The comic book is a fight-fest with Rusty and Big Guy and there are no other characters to play off of, so we needed to expand the universe of characters who would interact. There's a big cast, but they are mostly supporting roles. It's still the Big Guy and Rusty show.

The Continuum: There are 26 episodes being produced, right? Will they all be for the first season?

Capizzi: As we speak, I have story 23 on my desk that I'm just finishing up. We've already seen four episodes and we're in various stages of post-production on those. I can't speak for the Fox network, but I believe it's their intention to run all 26 in the first season. But that's subject to the network's confirmation.

The Continuum: How many episodes did you personally write?

Capizzi: I wrote the pilot and that was it. It's just a big runaway train at a certain point, the speed at which we have to deliver scripts. But I'm very involved in every script. Most of the stories are generated by me, and I'm very involved in the script rewrites, so that the whole series is consistent and of one vision, much like Men in Black was.

The Continuum: Any last words for the fans?

Capizzi: I think it's going to be a great show. I've got really high hopes for it. The scripts have been really well received.

I know there are a lot of fans out there who know the book who are looking forward to the show. Those who don't know the book, who were like maybe 1 when the book came out, will like the show, too. They're such great characters, and I think the show's going to cause a stir.

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