The Many Faces of Hank
Entry by Brent Winzek
Hank has evolved more over the past twelve years than any other character in the Space Cadets series, both physically and conceptually.
Phase 1: The Piñata
On the day Space Cadets was created, our social group had joined mentor and Norwin Theater Technical Director, Mike Mullig for a crew call to clean out and organize the theater space after a busy school year. At some point during the week, I had resolved to start filming a project with Dale, Joe, Sledge, and any of our other friends* who wanted to spend a summer Saturday being stupid in front of a camera. We worked that day in the theater until about 4:00 pm, then retreated to my car to shuffle through the props and costumes I had brought along. Sorting through it all, our conversation kept gravitating towards science fiction toys we all had at home. After about five minutes of this, I finally pitched the other idea I'd been mulling over: an intentionally low-budget, over-the-top sci-fi short film.
The group's commitment was unanimous, and we set about picking up more prop toys from Joe Connelly's house and stopping at the Dollar Tree for a few more costume pieces. Lucky for us, the Ang Lee movie Hulk had left its mark on merchandise at the local Dollar Tree, where they had an aisle display with at least half a dozen Hulk piñatas depicting the green 'roid-rage hero from the pectorals up. There was something about the limbless green man with his harsh geometric face and contorted mouth that made him less Hulk-like and more akin to a misshapen alien in the mind of co-creator Dale McCarthy. At the same time, Joe and I were pulling badges, laser guns and cheap toy sunglasses from the toy aisle. With our props combined, Hank was not only created that day, but carried onto the alien planet of Zebulon 5, torn apart, and given a warrior's burial (we stuffed him full of fireworks then set him aflame on a funeral pyre).
Phase 2: Resurrection
After filming the pilot episode, conversations about the potential for a series of videos featuring these characters evolved until we had a ten-episode filming goal for the summer break. In order to film episodes even when the full cast wasn't available, we did what anyone would do: write that character out temporarily. Through expository dialogue we explained that Cliptok had stayed on Zebulon 5 because Hank's unsettled spirit had reached out to him.
When Dale showed up at the end of the shoot, Cliptok returned to the ship holding my family dog, Schinken (the miniature schnauzer). Season 1 of Space Cadets improvised with whatever we had handy, so when Dale made the choice to show up with a dog, Captain Stubing immediately reminded him that there were no pets allowed on board. "This is no pet... it's Hank," Dale exclaimed. Dale, attached to the idea of Hank the alien crew member, not only wrote Hank back in, but returned to the Dollar Tree shortly after this and secured two more Hulk piñatas for use in the series.
In Episode 3, Argylesox produced a serum to transform Hank back to a green stump, and those two piñatas gave us four years and three seasons with the most lovable Space Cadet. His image adorned our t-shirts and he even enjoyed a few slow dances with fan girls at our Season 1 premiere. During Hank's tenure we improved the satchel he was carried in, we upgraded his sunglasses several times, found ways to manipulate him like a puppet, and even shot a Stellar Edition remake of Episode 1, which included a 'stumpy Hank' origin story (he had a body when we landed on Zebulon 5, but was physically torn apart in battle at the end of the episode).
Phase 3: Time for Change
Throughout college, I continued to write Hank the Hulgarian as a stumpy creature whose species had evolved beyond the need for limbs. The series was in its adolescence at this point, and I had not yet committed to making it more grounded and sincere. Multiple friends and mentors questioned this choice, but I was still involved with producing and directing Season 3, and was sentimental about the little green stump. But after five years of hearing that feedback from others, Jordan finally brought up the problem of Hank the stump.
By 2012, Jordan had been my primary source of feedback and development on the Space Cadets screenplays for nearly a year. He was passionate and involved, and he enjoyed the original Hank, which is why our dismayed realization that he wasn't 'making sense' finally prompted a change.
How do we make this change and maintain the traits that made him unique and interesting to us? We brainstormed for months. After several weeks of contemplation, we had an entire day of brainstorming and story development during which we finally worked the problem out. He couldn't be a reptile because we had the Candalonians. We'd just created the Oggladons, our hairy quadrupeds, and had plenty of other mammals, including Cliptorgians and humans. I recall suggesting he be an amphibian, which excited Jordan to propose the mask and respirator. The idea of a body built for water or land with a tail and webbed arms formulated in my mind, securing those desired unique physical traits I wanted the Hulgarians to have.
I also elaborated on Hank's robotic legs (an idea Dale and I were developing while shooting the original Season 2). The goal was to provide him with mobility options so he could function as a hero with the rest of the Cadets. That same day, I set to work on early illustrations of his physical appearance and, in less than a month, we'd converted him from the stumpy butt of a pyrotechnic joke to the brainy, noble Hulgarian explorer he is today.
Have you heard the Legend?
*Joe Connelly, Dale McCarthy, Chris Shendge, Eric Odioso, Sara Odioso, John Scott, Lindsay Alberts and Danielle Leith were with me on that first day of filming in 2005.