Animated Web3 Series "Space Junk" Proves AI Can Do Vocal Work -- But Can It Write?

By Behind the Scenes in Hollywood Archives
Cover image for  article: Animated Web3 Series "Space Junk" Proves AI Can Do Vocal Work -- But Can It Write?

One of many entities taking advantage of Web3 is Toonstar, which on May 19 launched the animated series Space Junk ( The series was created and written by Dominic Russo (Workaholics) and features the voice talents of Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), Tony Cavalero (The Righteous Gemstones) and Byron Marc Newsome as Thackeray, Hank and Fergus, respectively -- three men who work for a family business that cleans up the very real problem of space junk.

Beyond using the Web3 platform to deliver the show, there are other innovations. Russo and company have a provision for fans to interact and inform storylines, and one major character, a robot named Wellbecca, is the first in an animated series to be voiced entirely by AI. With AI-generated content currently newsworthy -- it's a central issue in the ongoing WGA strike -- Russo believes artistically, having a robot voice a robot works. "We wrote this [series] the traditional way," he explained during an exclusive interview with MediaVillage. "I'm in the WGA, I'm striking, and this was all done before the strike. I mean we didn't want to be cancelled for having a human play a robot! We made that choice a long time ago, and the AI voice did a great job sounding like a robot.

"I doubt it would do as good of a job sounding like the humans I [needed]," he added. "It's pretty good, but the soul is missing. I'm all for humans, but it worked in this scenario. If we had done the whole cast with robots, I'd be in trouble -- I think? Good stories don't come from spitting out Wikipedia. We engage with stories, that's why we go to coffee shops, hang out, and eat meals together. I don't think a computer is going to replace what we find interesting about other humans."

"Web3 isn't going anywhere, and the thing I love about this strike is, we're going to get this figured out and I think it's good because we're kind of getting ahead of the game here," Cavalero concurred. "Everyone was so afraid of the Internet when it first came out, just like when streaming came out, and everybody was slow on the uptake with that. There's no way you're gonna get the human condition from a robot. I'll challenge a Terminator to an emotional fight, any day.

"You still need a human pressing the buttons to make that work," he continued. "I don't think a robot could do what I do with Hank. It's one thing if we're talking about a robot in an animated series. It's another thing talking about a human with real human emotions. Creating anything truly original that grips and evokes emotion, whether it's laughter, horror or whatever, that human element is critical.”

The concept for the show has its roots in media, as well ... though of the more traditional variety. "I read an article some five years ago about space junk as a concept," Russo recalled. "I was stopped in my tracks and was like, 'Wait, what? The oceans have been filled with plastic, and now the low Earth orbit is being filled with rocket debris? What are we doing, humans? Stop!' I got obsessed with the idea of space junk as just a concept and kept digging deeper. As somebody who develops and writes shows, I [realized] I am obviously passionate about this for no particular reason. It's a cool idea, and my next comedy series is all about garbage men cleaning up space."

With approximately one trillion pieces of debris waiting to shower down upon us, that reality provided a deep well of inspiration. "That's another part of the writing process," he continued. "When you think you have the next great show idea, you ask yourself, 'Is this a joke? A sketch? Is this a show or a movie?' This one felt like a show, with potential stories to do a trillion episodes -- I hope. You can go in any direction you want, which feels overwhelming at first, so I built it like a Lego world. You have your locations, and characters, then get more specific about the characters and their purpose. That kicks off the story's direction and the season's arc.

"I mean, Elon Musk even launched a Tesla Roadster in 2019 with an astronaut suit in the driver seat," he added. "It's floating around up there and is probably the most valuable piece of space junk. I've tracked [that] for a while and I want to go get it one day. I have an outline for a [future] episode that includes that storyline, so one of the trillion episodes will deal with that.”

Cavalero is no stranger to the world of animation, having provided voices for Robot Chicken, SuperMansion and Big City Green, so being a part of the advancement of animation technology, and the way it's watched, was an opportunity he couldn't pass up. "I did SuperMansion for Crackle, if you remember that," he laughed. "So, I've been lucky to get to do a few things here and there. I feel like we're talking about all this stuff because technology is moving at such a rate we can't keep up.

"I'd done nothing on this scale, and nothing this cool, cutting edge and adventurous before for sure," he continued. "This was such a neat thing. In December of 2022, I knew nothing of cryptocurrency, Web3 or NFTs. Zilch. I got an offer for a film called Cold Wallet shot in a town called Lennox, the home of the co-founder of FTX, Sam Bankman-Fried, all about a cryptocurrency heist. I did all this research on the space, blockchain and everything else. When Dom contacted me about this project, I had a very rudimentary basic grasp of it all. I guess I'll learn more now. It's going to be the future whether we like it or not."

Episode one of Space Junk is currently streaming at, with new episodes dropping bi-weekly on Fridays.

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