Dan Dare

 

Dan Dare is set to live again thanks to the latest CGI technology. Anthony Clarke takes a look at what we can expect from the new series...

Dan Dare is about to be launched as a CGI TV hero. But the "pilot of the future" and his space-bound adventures actually started life over 50 years ago on the front page of The Eagle. Launched in April 1950, the fantastically popular comic was the brainchild of the Rev Marcus Morris who also editored the weekly for the first ten years of its existence. But it was chief artist Frank Hampson who created the comic's trademark, the square-jawed and very British SF hero Dan Dare.

Dare's success was never planned - by his own admission Hampson had no clear idea where the opening installment of the strip was going to lead. But despite this, many of the elements within the story survived up until its initial demise in 1966.

The story opens with a starving Earth and a failed attempt to reach Venus where it is hoped food will be found. Dare thinks he knows what is going wrong and sets off to Venus which turns out to be a divided planet: the North inhabited by the ruthless Treens; the South occupied by the peace-loving Therons. Also on Venus are the Atlantines; Earth people abducted by Treens many thousands of years ago and kept as slaves. The Venus story was incredibly long by any standards - 77 issues - but made Dare a national hero.

The story of the Eagle's sad decline is long and involved but Dare's popularity has lived on and now a whole new generation will soon get to see him in action thanks to the wonders of CGI - but the 26-part animated TV series almost didn't happen.

The 14m UK-financed show, which has just been completed in the US, suffered a major production problem. The TV-revival was originally being handled by Netter Digital but the company went bankrupt early this year leaving the project only half completed. Fortunately Dan Dare's production was transferred to Foundation Imaging which completed the work on the 26 episode run.

Despite the problems with the midstream hand over the quality of the animation actually improved. Part of the problem with the Netter's original work was that the company had used a digital facial capture system for the dialogue which does not have the same range of expressions that much of Foundation's hand-keyed facial performances contain. Also, Netter's motion capture hardware, actor direction and motion data filtering software were not up to the same standard as Foundation Imaging's setup.

Colin Frewin, owner of the Dan Dare Corporation, believes that Dan Dare will prove to be as popular with today's media-savvy pre-teen audience as he was with the post-war generation that made him famous. "We market tested Dan with young people. The minute we got to the point when they began to say, 'Dan is cool', we knew we had arrived."

Actor Greg Ellis voices Dare, while Robbie Coltrane, Tim Curry and Charles Dance flesh out the remainder of the key human roles. Rob Paulsen plays arch villain the Mekon. The theme song is performed by Elton John and if the show proves a success a live-action film could follow.