Shayla's Web was the only adult feature released by award-winning director Michael Ninn in the year 2000, and he has none currently in production - so why is he in his office every day at 4 a.m., often not leaving till well after dark?
"It's not for the weak of heart," he admits. "This kind of work is incredibly difficult."
Ninn is referring to the mind-bending job he and his team of six in-house animators, and eleven stringers world-wide, have been doing on his new animated series for Playboy TV, Dark Justice.
But Dark Justice, about a futuristic city, its state-of-the-art police force and a Batgirl-like heroine, is no ordinary animated series.
"We're pushing not only the limits of what we do, but no one in the history of what we're doing has ever had two characters take up the same 3D space," Ninn informs. "For characters to intermingle like that, it just hasn't been done, and we are developing it, we are pushing the limits on it. There's nothing with a love scene in it that's been done in 3D that's as intricate."
What sparks that comment is an image on his 40-inch computer monitor depicting two computer-generated, mostly-nude women, one sitting in a chair on a futuristic dance stage, and the other with her head between the first one's legs, apparently licking pussy - and no matter how many times the virtual camera circles this virtual couple, the action is perfect; no sign of joint mis-movement nor of character bleed-through.
And all of it's done remarkably quickly and under budget.
"It takes about three weeks to do one 21-minute show, which is unheard of; it's incredibly fast," Ninn states. "By comparison, an episode of The Simpsons takes four or five months to do. And if you think of some of the Saturday morning shows with crews of sixty turning a show around every six to eight weeks, we do the impossible. A half-hour show on morning television, which is actually twenty-two minutes long, runs about $350,000 to $425,000 per half hour to produce. We produce twenty-one minutes for nowhere close to that; not even in the same ballpark. My adult background has taught me how to get jobs done, and done inexpensively and still give a good, expensive look to the show."
The Dark Justice team, however, is a strange amalgam of animators, some of whom have worked for mainstream companies, and adult industry professionals, who supply everything from production duties - Jane Hamilton produces the show - to scripting - VCA's Tony Lovett has written every episode so far - to voice acting - characters are voiced by Hamilton, Juli Ashton, Tina Tyler, Julia Ann and Anthony Crane (Ninn: "An excellent, excellent voice talent.") Hamilton, Ashton, Ann and Evan Stone have also donned special body suits that allow computer-linked cameras to "motion-capture" their movements as they dance, fight or simply go about the routines of daily living.
"I haven't forgotten where I came from in what I'm doing, and I try to give back to the industry and give back to the people that have been there for me," Ninn says, gratefully. "It's kind of a weird mix, because we also have guys that have worked for Disney who now are doing this."
Ironically, Ninn can't watch his own show on the tube - his cable company has decided to remove all adult fare from its offerings - but he knows just what his audience wants.
"I know, for the guy watching the show, the nudity and the wiggle-and-jiggle are real important, and I didn't want to shortchange it," Ninn explains. "I think our target audience is the same audience that's playing games: 18- to 34-year-old white males [with] disposable income - pretty much the same people that buy porn, that subscribe to the Playboy Channel."
Which isn't to say there won't be changes made as the series progresses towards its contracted end, at Episode 26.
"Playboy showed a couple of episodes to some focus groups," Ninn reveals, "and what they found is that the audience wants less dialogue, more sex and more shoot-'em-up. As we have time, we will increase the lines of the show and feature more stylistic S&M; type stuff; better, more intricate sex; more time spent on the sex; more character development. It's just a matter of time."
All episodes cast so far are available for viewing in the Playboy Cyber Club at playboy.com, and will eventually be released on videotape and DVD. Those rights, as well as video games based on the series and even a comic book version (from a major company such as Dark Horse, Top Cow or Kaos) are currently in negotiation.
Ninn insists upon giving credit for Dark Justice's success to Jane Hamilton, his partner in Hope Ranch, their jointly-owned production company, and also to VCA owner Russell Hampshire, for whom Ninn exclusively does adult video features.
"In a business with very little foresight and very little imagination," Ninn says of Hampshire, "he's one of the few that is willing to go with an artist's vision. No one else would have made Shock or Latex or even Cashmere; most companies would not have let those pictures be made. The movie that I would do next would be a spectacle. I think it would have photo-realistic elements that would increase the dynamics of the picture without it being a mixture of live action and animation. It would be full live action, but the plate work - background plates, foreground plates; the marriage of blue screen - it would be that much better.
"The next place I take VCA in the adult business will be for the ride of their life, so fasten your seatbelts, folks. We did Shock five years ago, and it's still selling incredibly well; think what we can do now. The adult viewer is not an unsophisticated viewer. There are guys that know what they want, what they want to see, and they want to be taken on a trip and they want spectacle. We are capable... but it'll be almost two years before I make my next movie."
- Mark Kernes