One month ago today, I released my first VOLTRON fan video, awkwardly called the VOLTRON Lion Force / Vehicle Team Combined Opening Sequence. In this blog I’ll explain why I made it.
When VOLTRON: DEFENDER OF THE UNIVERSE premiered in 1984, I was eight years old. I often wondered why the show’s two robots named Voltron almost never interacted. Years later, while browsing a then-back issue of STARLOG magazine (Number 105, April 1986), I learned that VOLTRON had been made using two unrelated Japanese animated television series:
This current program consists of two separate Japanese giant-robot serials, renamed Lion Force Voltron and Vehicle Team Voltron…. (Japanese titles: Go Lion, King of Beasts; and Dairugger-XV, the Armored Squadron.)
Even knowing this it continued to bother me that, with rare exception, most notably as the “Fleet of Doom” two-part final episode, neither Voltron story line mentioned the other in any way. Lion Force Voltron’s Green Lion pilot, Pidge, was said to be the twin brother of Vehicle Team Voltron’s pilot Chip, and in “Fleet of Doom,” references are made to the Lion Force and Vehicle Team’s pilots having been classmates and friends at some space academy, but that was about it.
Most confusing was that the Lion Force episodes and Vehicle Team episodes of VOLTRON had entirely different opening sequences, neither of which directly acknowledged the existence of the other Voltron, either in the video elements or in the narrations. The narrations were almost identical, and because each narration referred to Voltron as a legendary robot from the distant past, each narration seemed to imply that its Voltron was that legendary robot of the past.
The episodes themselves told a different story. In the earliest episodes of Lion Force Voltron, it’s directly stated that Lion Force Voltron is the robot of legend from days of long ago and uncharted regions of the universe. Episodes of Vehicle Team Voltron establish that Vehicle Team Voltron is a more recent construction, engineered by a now-dead scientist.
As someone who dabbles in moviemaking as a hobby, I thought it would be fun to make a hypothetical, single opening sequence for VOLTRON: DEFENDER OF THE UNIVERSE that acknowledges both robots, while retaining the same basic feel of the Lion Force and Vehicle Team opening sequences.
While doing so I decided to try to fix another pet peeve of mine — obviously inaccurate use of space terminology. Even as an eight-year-old, I recognized that the show’s narrations’ treatment of “universe,” “galaxy” and “solar system” wasn’t correct.
I also wanted my opening sequence to look like it could have been made in 1984, so I decided not to do anything fancy, such as Photoshopping the two Voltrons together in a shot, or compositing the five pilots of Lion Force Voltron into the same shot as the fifteen pilots of Vehicle Team Voltron.
Finally I wanted my opening sequence to be of the same length as the “real” Lion Force Voltron and Vehicle Team Voltron opening sequences, so that, if my opening sequence had happened to have been made in 1984 by World Events Productions, then it could have simply been swapped in to replace the old material.
Unlike World Events Productions, I didn’t have access to the “raw” video and audio elements of GoLion, Dairugger or Voltron. I only had access to DVDs of those shows, plus a Voltron soundtrack CD.
With those goals and restrictions, I began with a script. In theory Peter Cullen, who narrated both original opening sequences, could be called in to narrate my opening sequence, but reality required me to edit together a script and narration from elements recorded for Voltron in the 1980s. The source material for my opening sequence’s narration was pre-existing narrations. So that I’d know what I had to work with, I transcribed each source narration:
Peter Cullen’s narration from the Lion Force Voltron episodes’ opening sequence:
From days of long ago, from uncharted regions of the universe, comes a legend — the legend of Voltron, Defender of the Universe, a mighty robot loved by good, feared by evil. As Voltron’s legend grew, peace settled across the galaxy. On planet Earth a Galaxy Alliance was formed. Together with the good planets of the solar system, they maintained peace throughout the universe — until a new, horrible menace theatened the galaxy. Voltron was needed once more. This is the story of a super force of space explorers — specially trained and sent by the Alliance to bring back Voltron, Defender of the Universe.
Peter Cullen’s narration from the Vehicle Team Voltron episodes’ opening sequence:
From days of long ago, from uncharted regions of the universe, comes a legend — the legend of Voltron, Defender of the Universe, a mighty robot loved by good, feared by evil. As Voltron’s legend grew, peace settled across the galaxy. On planet Earth a Galaxy Alliance was formed. Together with the good planets of the solar system, they maintained peace throughout the universe — until a new, horrible menace theatened the galaxy. Voltron was needed once more. This is the story of a super force of space explorers — entrusted by the Alliance with the ancient secret of how to assemble Voltron, Defender of the Universe.
Peter Cullen’s narration from the “Fleet of Doom” opening sequence
In the far reaches of the universe, the beautiful planet Arus had been enjoying peace and prosperity, thanks to the courage of the Voltron Lion Force. In the near universe, happiness reigned throughout the Galaxy Alliance, with the special help of the Voltron Vehicle Team. Goodness prevailed — until the day that Viceroy Throk, ruler of the Drule High Command, joined forces with Zarkon, king of planet Doom, and created a mighty armada to smash the Alliance. Fear and confusion was spreading across the universe. Princess Allura would be captured by witch Haggar, and only Commander Keith could possibly rescue her. Finally, the two Voltrons would have to fight side by side, to save their worlds. But would even their combined power be enough? Could the evil armada be defeated by Voltron, Defenders of the Universe?
Peter Cullen’s narrations from the two Lion Force Voltron pilot episodes:
From the far reaches of space, World Events Productions presents Voltron, the trilogy, defenders of the universe. The Voltron Trilogy: the adventure series that follows the interstellar heroics of three super robots who protect a group of daring, young space pioneers. Voltron One — the magnificent mechanical wonder who is guardian of the near universe. Voltron Two — the intrepid protector of justice in the middle universe. Voltron Three — the spectacular super robot who battles the forces of evil in the far universe. The Voltron Trilogy — today featuring Voltron of the far universe.
Peter Cullen’s narrations from the Vehicle Team Voltron pilot episode:
From the far reaches of space, World Events Productions presents Voltron, the trilogy, defenders of the universe. The Voltron Trilogy: the adventure series that follows the interstellar heroics of three super robots who protect a group of daring, young space pioneers. Voltron One — the magnificent mechanical wonder who is guardian of the near universe. Voltron Two — the intrepid protector of justice in the middle universe. Voltron Three — the spectacular super robot who battles the forces of evil in the far universe. The Voltron Trilogy — the explosive and thrilling three-part series that follows the amazing adventures of daring young space explorers — traveling in the near, middle and far universe, protected by three uniquely different champion super robots. The Voltron Trilogy — today featuring Voltron of the far universe.
I came up with the following script:
From days of long ago, from uncharted regions of space, comes the legend of Voltron, Defender of the Universe, a mighty robot loved by good, feared by evil. As Voltron’s legend grew, peace settled across the universe. From planet Earth a Galaxy Alliance maintained peace — until a new, horrible menace theatened the universe. Voltron was needed once more. This is the story of the super force of space explorers — in the far universe, a group sent to bring back Lion Force Voltron, and in the near universe, a group entrusted with a new Vehicle Team Voltron.
My opening sequence would have one of two conclusions, based on which Voltron was being featured in the specific epsode. For the Lion Force Voltron episodes, the narration would conclude with:
Today: the interstellar heroics of Lion Force Voltron, Defender of the Universe.
And for the Vehicle Team Voltron episodes, my narration would conclude with:
Today: the interstellar heroics of Vehicle Team Voltron, Defender of the Universe.
You’ll notice that, because my narration focuses more on the two groups of space explorers and their respective Voltron robots, I had to reduce the focus on the back story.
Once I’d “written” the script for the narration, I had to edit it together. While perusing the Voltron DVDs, I was fortunate to find an almost clean, voice-only audio track of Peter Cullen narrating the Lion Force Voltron episodes. I wasn’t so fortunate with the other source narrations, so I used the Lion Force Voltron narration as the primary audio source. (This is why my narration refers to “the super force of space explorers,” rather than “a super force of space explorers.”)
My “Frankensteined” narration went together amazingly smoothly. The toughest part was having to create the phrase “a group,” because that phrase from the pilot episodes’ narrations sounded too happy in tone for my narration, and it was too intermixed with background music. The phrase that I edited together used the word “a” from the Lion Force Voltron narration’s “a Galaxy Alliance,” and I stitched together the word “group” from the Lion Force Voltron’s “legend grew” and “good planets.”
Once the narration was edited together, I had to find suitable background music. Ideally I’d have used the same pieces that were used in the original Lion Force Voltron and Vehicle Team Voltron opening sequences. I didn’t have access to all of those elements without sound effects and narration, so in some cases I had to substitute what I thought were appropriate alternatives from the soundtrack CD.
I also didn’t have access to sound effects without music or dialogue, so my opening sequence lacks any sound effects — except for a “whooshing” sound from a spaceship in the Lion Force Voltron opening sequence. I couldn’t eliminate it without also eliminating the signature music from that part of the opening sequence. Because my opening sequence would use different video footage than the original opening sequences, I had to find something else that could make the whooshing sound. I wound up choosing a comet from an early episode of GoLion. It’s true that comets don’t make whooshing sounds in space, but in reality, nothing makes sounds in space.
The last challenge in editing the audio was to figure out how to edit in a signature, electronicized voice that follows Peter Cullen’s narration by saying, “Voltron, Defender of the Universe.” I wound up using a portion of the Lion Force Voltron opening sequence, complete with music. In editing I dissolved from the music that I compiled for my opening sequence into the finished Lion Force Voltron soundtrack just after both sequences’ Peter Cullen narrations conclude. The transition worked well enough.
Now that the sound elmeents were more or less finished, I had to find suitable video elements.
For the parts of the opening sequence that mention the ancient legend of Voltron, I chose video elements of Lion Force Voltron, since the episodes establish that robot and not Vehicle Team Voltron to be the legendary Voltron of old. To make Voltron seem mysterious, I chose two shots that begin with Voltron being in silhouette. To create a sense of being old, I added a sepia tint to the shots.
For the parts of the opening sequence that mention the “new horrible menace,” I replaced the generic space monsters form the original opening sequences with a montage of Zarkon, Hazar, Drule ships and a Doom ship. In other words I showed the actual menace!
Because of the extended narration describing the space explorers, I didn’t have enough of the signature musical cue to initiate it when the narration mentions that “Voltron was needed once more.” As a result I kept the “menacing” musical cue running through that portion of the narration, and I chose video elements to illustrate just why Voltron was needed — the forces of the Drule Empire and Planet Doom were devastating cities and planets.
My narration describes each of the two groups of space explorers — the five who operate Lion Force Voltron and the fifteen who operate Vehicle Team Voltron. For the beginning of this portion of the narration, I made a composite shot of all 20 space explorers, partitioned in groups of five — the five Lion Force Voltron pilots, the five Air Team pilots of Vehicle Team Voltron, the five Sea Team pilots of Vehicle Team Voltron and the five Land Team pilots of Vehicle Team Voltron. The composite shot was simple enough to have been created using video-editing technology of 1984. My composite shot didn’t use the goofy 3D “twisty turny” bells and whistles of the original opening sequences, so in that sense my composite shot was simpler than the ones made for the original opening sequqences.
For each Voltron force — the Lion Force and Vehicle Team — I wanted the video elements to be as similar as possible. For each group I began with a shot of the entire group, dissolving to a shot of that group’s Voltron striking a pose. The video footage of Vehicle Team Voltron didn’t have him holding his pose long enough to support the narration, so I looped the last few frames until it was of sufficient length. The last few frames of this sequence were also from a different video element than the element used for the preceding frames. The two elements had the same foreground but different backgrounds. I did this mix and match because I thought the combination made the resulting Vehicle Team Voltron “striking a pose” segment look more like its Lion Force Voltron counterpart.
As each Voltron strikes a pose, I added a brief cross-dissolve to a shot showing the units which form that Voltron: either the lions or the vehicles. I did this for two reasons — because my opening sequence doesn’t show any separated Voltron components anywhere else, and because the narration’s phrases “Lion Force” and “Vehicle Team” came from the “Fleet of Doom” narration, which had a flange that, in this new narration, gave those phrases a sort of ethereal quality that seemed suitable for the cross-dissolves.
The most labor-intensive part of the video project was rotocoping the word “VOLTRON” over the footage of Vehicle Team Voltron. I never liked the original Vehicle Team Voltron opening sequence’s final shot — its “VOLTRON” word was smaller than it was in the last Lion Force Voltron shot, and the shot just didn’t seem cool enough. The original rotoscoping looked bad — the metallic word “VOLTRON” had a pink glow, as well as a black matte outline. It was clear that the “VOLTRON” and pink glow had been made against a plain black background, and it was then badly rotoscoped over the GoLion and Dairugger video elements.
Keeping with the spirit of making my opening sequence look like it could have been made in 1984, I chose to reproduce the rotoscoping effect, complete with the black matte line. I used the Lion Force Voltron sequence’s last shot as source material, since its “VOLTRON” word was larger than it was in the Vehicle Team Voltron sequence. Frame by frame by agonizing frame, I animated track mattes around the ugly black matte lines of the original footage. The resulting Vehicle Team Voltron last shot in my opening sequence is basically the “VOLTRON” from the original Lion Force Voltron video element rotoscoped over shots that I chose from Dairugger.
Despite my best efforts, my track matte outline didn’t exactly match the black matte lines from the ’80s footage, so in order to make my rotoscoping effect identical in both the Lion Force Voltron and Vehicle Team Voltron versions of my opening sequence, I actually used my rotoscoped “VOLTRON” word over top of a “blank” shot of Lion Force Voltron from an episode of GoLion.
So after all of the technobabble, what does the video look and sound like? Check it out here:
For reference here are the original Lion Force Voltron and Vehicle Team Voltron opening sequences: