FINAL SPACE: THE INS AND OUTS OF PRODUCT LICENSING
Space–the final frontier.
Wait… wait, sorry, wrong show.
Ah, that’s right, Final Space: the space opera following an intergalactic group of friends (and enemies) as they navigate the trials, tribulations, and shenanigans of space. The brain-child of Olan Rogers, Final Space was first conceptualized in 2010 as a hand-drawn video called Gary Space on Olan’s YouTube channel. He later chose to elevate the idea, developing it into a pitch for a television show. The hard work of transitioning from a DIY video platform like YouTube into a fully fleshed out, produced television show with a team of talented artists, producers, and show runners began in 2016; after two years, and the help of Conan O’Brien and his production team Conaco, Final Space debuted in 2018. Olan announced to excited fans that he would be debuting the series at an exclusive season one premiere event that would take place downtown Nashville, Tennessee, on February 24th, 2018, two days before the show’s official premiere on TBS. The event featured a giant, inflatable Mooncake, wherein guests gathered to view the first two episodes of the show, hosted by Olan Rogers and featuring actor Coty Galloway, who lent his voice to Avocato. Olan voiced the protagonist, Gary Goodspeed, as well as many other characters including Mooncake, the adorably round, green mascot of the Final Space universe.
Although Final Space is categorized as adult animation, there is much that sets it apart from others. This show had more heart. Unlike other adult animation shows, Final Space aimed to be thoughtful and heart-felt–just as meaningful as it was funny. It was meant to pack a punch and reel viewers in with a good balance of tears and laughter. Creators also strived to elevate this show and highlight the talent working behind the scenes, with a dynamic musical score, intricate backgrounds, cinematic style shots, and intense action scenes. Unfortunately, after 3 seasons, Final Space was canceled at the end of 2021 due to a merger between Warner Media and Discovery. Olan already had plans for three more seasons, intending to end the show thereafter, but fans would be left without a finale.
Today, Star Cadet is the only official licensed provider of Final Space merchandise. In this post, we’ll give you a glimpse into the vast universe of intellectual property, what a licensing agreement is, and how we secured the license. We’ll also tell you about the style guide created by our very own Boss Lady, Rachel Rogers, with the help of the shows Art Director Devin (DVO) Roth. and how that has been used to inform other licensees creating Final Space merchandise. We hope you enjoy this peak into the behind-the-scenes work we do here at Star Cadet!
WHAT IS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY?
Intellectual Property (IP) is a type of private property (which might be trademarked, copyrighted, etc.) that develops as a creative product, such as a television show or a song, and which is regulated and licensed by the owner of the IP, whether it be an individual, company, or otherwise.
WHAT IS A LICENSE AGREEMENT?
In short, the owning entity of an intellectual property (IP) gives legal rights to a business, allowing the use of their IP for the production and sale of merchandise.
When one obtains a license (known as the licensee), that individual or business has entered a legal agreement with the licensor (the brand/TV show or network/etc.) which grants the right to use properties belonging to the licensor. This allows the licensee to sell things brandishing characters/character art, imagery, logos, or sayings from the intellectual property for which they have acquired the license. The licensee upholds this contract by then paying an agreed upon amount of money back to the licensor in residuals, percentage, etc.
HOW LONG HAS STAR CADET HELD A LICENSE FOR FINAL SPACE?
In a bit of a rare move, Olan was able to secure a license to sell merchandise for Final Space as a part of the original contract negotiation with TBS in 2016 because of a former collaboration with Cartoon Network, where Star Cadet curated and sold merchandise for J.G Quintal's animated series Regular Show. Star Cadet has held a license to produce merch for Final Space for six years! However, no Final Space merchandise was released by Star Cadet until the show’s premiere in 2018.
HOW DO YOU OBTAIN A LICENSE?
We were lucky enough to have an owner who created the property for which we wanted to produce merchandise–however, this is not generally the case. There are many steps involved in obtaining a license, and the process could be a bit lengthy if you aren’t lucky enough to have one foot already in the door like we did.
Step one is getting in contact with those network executives that are spearheading the merchandising side of licensing. Best place to start is LinkedIn. Upon first contact, you will need to outline what it is that you intend to use the intellectual property for and provide examples of your work (i.e. past product development). If they approve you as a potential licensee, you will go through channels that will typically include a legal department to negate your residuals percentage, a minimum guarantee, channel of sales, territories of sales (meaning countries), licensing length. If, like in our case, you wish to produce a t-shirt to sell that uses a graphic pertaining to the property, you will need to go through an approval process before being able to produce the product. Approvals oftentimes have to go through not only a legal department and the business management executive, but all the way to the show creator or even actors (in live action instances). Many TV networks, for example, use a portal system through which you will upload images and mock-ups; those will then move through review before being approved or denied by the network. You may be denied if you have not followed close enough to the licensor’s style guide (more on style guides in a moment). Likewise, if there is a particular actor or individual whose likeness will be used on the product, they must approve the product as well. If there is disapproval in any of these areas, you won’t be able to produce that particular product. Sometimes, the licensor will deny a submission, but stipulate that it can be used after a few specified edits.
Approval is ongoing–if you have a new application for a pre-approved design, you will need to follow the same avenues for approval before shifting into production.
You are probably thinking, "Wow, that seems like A LOT of work to do things the legal way." And you would be 100% correct.
WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH A LICENSE?
With a license, you are able to sell merchandise or products that pertain to your licensor’s creation. You can, for example, put television characters on t-shirts, socks, or notebooks. You can use quotes or sayings associated with the property. You can create these designs from scratch while following the rules and guidelines outlined in the style guide, or you may be allowed to use existing designs that were included in the style guide. Speaking of style guide–
WHAT IS A STYLE GUIDE AND HOW DOES IT RELATE TO LICENSING?
A style guide is an example, an outline, and a rule book. Style guides contain all of the requirements for producing anything that relates to the property. Style guides are provided for all licensees–from small, hand-screen-printing shops like Star Cadet, to larger companies like Hot Topic or Target. Licensees cannot go outside the parameters set within the style guide–but, ideally, they shouldn’t need to. Style guides should contain all of the information necessary to produce great merchandise for a property.
As Olan was working on bringing Final Space to life, Rachel was already brainstorming what could be designed for the show and put onto apparel for Star Cadet. Rachel had already established a working relationship with Laura Forti–VP at Turner Entertainment Network Distribution–when they had previously worked together on creating Regular Show licensed products for Star Cadet. Laura Forti was tasked with expanding ancillary distribution opportunities for Turner’s original programming, including looking at new e-commerce and consumer product opportunities for TNT and tbs titles.
Rachel recalls, "I remember going to meet Laura Forti at the TBS headquarters in Burbank. It was surreal to get on the elevator and walk into the office lobby and see the TBS logo on the wall. I’m pretty sure there was a cardboard cutout of Conan O’Brien there too. We were only supposed to be discussing Star Cadet’s license and what all we would be planning to release when she mentioned the Style Guide.”
When asked why she considered Star Cadet for the development of the Final Space style guide, Laura noted, “A combination of really fun and inspired designs, a great social media presence and clear passion for, and a history with, the Final Space IP.”
Rachel continued, “I may have asked ‘what’s a style guide’ like an idiot. But there was no question I was going to jump at the opportunity to create the style guide for Final Space. Did I know exactly what I was doing….nope. But I knew I would figure it out, and with my knowledge of InDesign, and all adobe products, experience in product development, and a literal backdoor (Olan) into the vision behind the show, there really was no doubt in my mind that I could pull it off. So to kick off the job, I tagged along to work with Olan one day at the studio and knocked on the art director’s door, introduced myself to Devin (DVO) Roth and asked if he wanted to help me make killer merchandise that honored all his hard work on the show thus far. And he said yes, so we got to work right then and there.”
Rachel and DVO both had their work cut out for them: Rachel had to put her own rule system for her products into words, and DVO had to adapt to creating designs for wearable garments. Rachel’s personal business policy of “no bad art on t-shirts” became the main building block for the style guide. The pair knew that they wanted to include high quality, dynamic, and interesting designs to use as examples. Essentially, if they were to expect other licensees to produce products they would be proud of, they had to, first, create a style guide they were proud of.
On developing the style guide with Rachel, DVO told us: I have really only had experience making style guides for animation but never anything really with fashion on branding. Seeing how Rachel works and the drive to create clear and explosively colorful products for licensing guides was really infectious and it taught me a lot about clarity and relatability with Final Space and the audience. She is always very responsive with my questions and has great ideas in improving certain aspects of a look when presented with a variety of different ideas. She has a great way of building a seamless flow in her presentations that helped bring excitement to not only the artists and creators of Final Space, but also to the fans that are so very loyal to the sci-fi universe that we have created.
As the two worked together, they pieced together what would eventually become a style guide consisting of over 60 pages relating to Final Space. This guide includes information like specific Pantone colors for each character, character turns for angle reference, mocked-up designs, quotes from the show, and a lot more. It also plainly lays out what the show is and what the show isn’t, and how that information should inform any products being created under the license agreement.
The style guide also details what licensees can expect while moving through the approval process: going through a brand review, a product development review, and a legal review. After all reviews conclude, the licensees would be informed of either an “approval,” “approval with changes,” or “not approved” status. By that point, the process is pretty much finished.
When Laura confirmed that the style guide “was widely used by the Turner creative teams,” Rachel and DVO decided to do some updates for season two, noting the need for a broadening of design options for potential licensees. Rachel told us, “We went back in and did sort of like a how-to create an original design, because after seeing it kind of go through these other companies, I kind of developed some new rules.” She came to realize that many companies weren’t stylizing anything, just copy-and-pasting what existed in the style guide. And while that is certainly one acceptable use of a style guide, Rachel desired to offer way more information on creating an original design, and to offer more examples for things like sleeve prints, neck tags, and “badges,” which are essentially design patterns that can be used for anything from socks to backpacks.
“I feel like the style guides absolutely gave Final Space a better merchandise presentation in the retail world because of how clear and connected they were to the lore and style of the show.” DVO said. “Rachel was able to take every piece of artwork that I provided to her from the show and build something that was so expertly interlaced with what the heart of our universe. It was clearly evident how awesome the potential of our merchandise could be and we were all not disappointed.”
Since the season two update, the Final Space style guide has been a complete guide for all licensees, and we at Star Cadet still refer to it to this day.
We appreciated having the opportunity to work with Laura for Turner Entertainment, and in return, she had this to say about working with us:
“[...] we had a great experience working together on the Final Space guide and engaged the Star Cadet team to work with us across additional Turner brands. And similarly found them nimble, responsive to feedback, and, again, really great partners. [...] Rachel and team are just total pros. Such a pleasure to work with, great at taking notes and feedback, and adjusting creative accordingly.”
We also had the pleasure of working with DVO–from the style guide collaboration with Rachel, to the creation of exclusive Final Space designs for Star Cadet. We asked him to give us his thoughts on working together with Star Cadet:
Working with Rachel and her team at Star Cadet was an absolute pleasure for me while Art Directing on Final Space during our merchandise run for the show. I got to see and be involved with the process from start to finish and ultimately it helped lead me to start my own personal clothing brand thanks to having such a great experience. I think being able to collaborate with Rachel and help create art for a variety of different merchandise items was one of the highlights of my career. I had always wanted to create my own shirts and Star Cadet really helped collaborate with my work to create some awesome memorable products that I hope the fans enjoyed. Rachel's patience with my time while split between working on the show and on the merchandise really helped me focus on getting the finer details right with the products. I think the amount of trust that was built throughout this process really helped make creating designs fun and got me to think outside the box confidently when outside of my element.
So, there you have it folks. Star Cadet’s guide to license agreements and style guide development. We truly hope that this has given you some insight into the behind-the-scenes, legal aspect of branded merchandise creation. This is only part one of our Final Space blog series. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for upcoming blog posts that will dive even deeper into all things Star Cadet x Final Space!
This article was written by Kirstie Frank, edited by Rachel Rogers, and designed by Amberle Phillips. All photography by Amberle Phillips.