People often ask how we decided on what stories to tell. Every TV series has this dilemma: where do you focus? Is it big action spectacle? Surprise plot twists? “Big-idea” social themes? Exotic adventure? Old fan favorites? Links in a continuing saga? Newly revealed powers? Every one of those concerns is important, but the key for me was the characters. TV series live and die on how the viewer feels about the main characters. Everyone remembers Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, or even Pooh, Tigger, and Piglet. You know them like they are your family, because they are. Super-fans know plot details and favorite visuals, but all viewers cherish the characters. You can interchange one planet or villain in a Star Trek episode with little effect, but you can’t just substitute Scotty for Mr. Spock. They are unique and they resonate. That’s how Mark Edens and I laid out the first 26 episodes. We didn’t know the X-Men world any better than many first-time viewers (though we learned it quickly). We looked at the core cast we were given and asked: what stories will best showcase their individual characters? What’s the strongest “Storm story” or “Wolverine story.” Unless the audience knows and loves these people by the end of the first season, we’ve failed. That’s why we chose “The Cure” to showcase Rogue. We asked: which X-Men member might be lonely and desperate enough to want to get “cured” of his or her mutant nature? The one who can’t touch another human being. Every other bit of that story — villains, action, locations — became secondary to exploring what being a mutant meant to Rogue. We offered her a false hope that she could “opt out” of what she was, and she was tempted. So of all the X-Men merchandise I have seen over the past 24 years, the art below is one of my favorites. Enjoy.
Once we got the stories started, casting began in Toronto. That’s right, the entire incredible cast was chosen and recorded in Canada. Fox Kids had had good luck recording there (Beetlejuice, other series), so we all had great hopes. The first recordings came back VERY wrong. What none of us counted on was that no one had done a series like X-Men:TAS before, so the voices came back young and cartoony. You couldn’t blame the voice-over professionals — it was what they were used to. Sidney Iwanter and Larry Houston went up to Toronto and gradually got across that these recordings needed to be different. Serious. Realistic. Movie-like. Luckily, Toronto is a major theater town. Some classically trained actors started auditioning and, after many stabs at the “Night of the Sentinels” scripts, a new tone was established. The performances had the heart and soul that we had imagined as we wrote. As you can see by my note to producer Winston Richard, the sound I had in my head was that of dramatic, adult actors in tough roles in serious films. Thanks to casting director Karen Goora and voice director Dan Hennessey, we succeeded beyond my expectations. Enjoy:
Below is rough art for one of the first team pose for the series, created for Saban Entertainment to publicize the series, long before we finished writing the first 13 episodes. Notice who is there and who is missing. There is no Beast, Gambit, or Jean Grey. When we started work in February, 1992, we were told that Beast and Jean Grey were secondary characters, less interesting to the core audience. But the more Mark Edens and I wrote as we created the story-arc for the first season, the more we wanted to use both Jean and Beast. Jean became kind of an emotional center for the team. Wolverine and Cyclops and Professor X and Gambit and Rogue and Storm might argue among themselves, but everyone seemed to trust and respect Jean. She provided a stable center in a volatile group of nine very different characters. She had a quiet strength. Beast was just way too fun to write for. We couldn’t leave him on the sidelines. There was no one like him. He was the most mutated, yet the most at ease with his mutation. He spouted obscure poetry, but was powerful and agile and courageous — a writer’s dream. So Mark and I didn’t listen to the initial instructions to minimize Beast and Jean. Will and Larry loved them too. By the time the stories were laid out, no one noticed (or mentioned) that we had used them a lot, and the team of nine was set. Gambit? I don’t know. He was supposed to be featured from day one. For some reason the marketing folks just left him out of the first promo picture. Enjoy:
The first season there was great interest from Marvel, among others, about which characters we were going to feature in the 13 episodes. Some appearances of major stars were a given — like the Sentinels, Magneto, Sabertooth, Juggernaut, Apocalypse, etc. Mark Edens and I had no preferences before hand. We simply picked and featured characters that made the stories stronger and that best brought out the nature of the core team that we had been given. Morph (originally “Changeling”) was planned for killing off during the first two episodes (to highlight Wolverine’s grief). Jubilee was our newcomer, heavily featured in those two episodes as a “way in” to learn the X-Men universe. Beast, while he was intended to be minor, grew in our love and affection. Below you can see a chart I prepared, with numbers and colors, to give the producers an initial idea of how much each character would be seen during the season. A higher number meant a larger role in the episode. As we wrote the stories, some characters came more to the fore than had been planned (like Beast). Series evolve as they are written. But you have to start with a plan. Enjoy:
We worked fast. On February 17th I was hired and told that we needed to figure out the show and needed scripts right away. We built the show in a week. Mark Edens started on the hour-long pilot 2-parter, and we had an 80-page script three weeks later — while we were crafting and getting the okay for all 13 stories for the first year (and possibly the only year). Other writers jumped in, then Mark and his brother Michael did a couple more, and before we knew it, we were done. Only one story was a direct adaptation of a comic (“Days of Future Past”). The rest were crafted on by Mark and me using bits and pieces of X-Men comic history, some suggested by artists and writers, much expanded in a hurry, all okayed by Marvel and Fox. Our one priority: focus on the characters. Below is the chart I kept of the progress we made, from day of assignment of a couple-sentence idea, through 10-page outline and 40-page script. There was a mid-season delay, then we pressed on. We finished them all before we saw a frame of finished animation. We just hoped they would look good. Enjoy a bit of production history:
We all love the opening title sequence to our series. Will Meugniot and Larry Houston created it, storyboarded it, and, with Sidney Iwanter, supervised Ron Wasserman’s amazing creation of the title theme music. It really works. What few people know is that there was a time when we all thought that there would need to be narration during the opening titles. Below is a draft I received from the would-be narrator, with some initial notes on it. Luckily we all gave the idea a second thought and talked Margaret Loesch into scrapping the narration in favor of simple music and images. Enjoy:
Will Meugniot was a primary creative force on X-MEN: TAS. As series designer and first-season supervising producer, Will was the first person chosen by Margaret Loesch when she secured a spot for X-MEN on the Fox network in early 1992. We will be posting more on Will’s biography as the site grows along with some of his rough artwork from the series. We thought we would start with a recent, original piece of Will’s art where he imagines a more adult look for our members of our original team. Let us know what you think.