Putting A New Spin on Zorro
Cyber Group Studios plans a modern update called that also sticks to the beloved characters’ roots. By Tom McLean.
Get ready to get Z’d. The prototypical masked adventurer is getting a new lease on animated life thanks to Cyber Group Studios’ new inproduction series Zorro: The Chronicles, due for delivery in 2015.
The Paris-based studio is giving the wellknown masked avenger — best known for his calling card of slashing his initial into whatever is around — a thoroughly modern revamp that also pays tribute to his roots.
Cyber Group Studios president Pierre Sissmann says the studio went back to Zorro’s roots as a pulp fiction hero created by Johnston McCulley and first published in 1919 in the pages of All- Story Weekly #2.
“The series is really a new way of looking at Zorro,” says Sissmann. “It’s a pure action comedy, but we wanted to tell a story that goes back to the reasons why Zorro is fighting for justice.”
A lot of effort was put into researching the character’s historical setting, and the series is set in California in 1820 — one year before Mexico took control of the territory from Spain.
The premise sets up a situation involving the Spanish soldiers, who are trying to maximize their profits from California before they lose control, and the Chumash tribe and ran- cheros who suffer under Spanish rule.
Into this comes the well-known alter-ego of Zorro, Don Diego de la Vega. In this incarnation, he is a 19-year-old of mixed race — his father is a ranchero; his mother Chumash — summoned home from university in Spain by his twin sister, Ines, to try and improve the situation. Coming along with him is his best friend, Bernardo, who completes the triad of lead characters in the show.
Ines is a new addition to the Zorro mythology. “She challenges her brother all the time,” says Sissmann. “And it creates a lot of opportunity for action in the scripts, and also a lot of comedy.”
The world of Zorro: The Chronicles is further fleshed out by a robust supporting cast of characters, including Viceroy Don Estaban Parasol, who rules for the Spanish; Captain Monasterio, a soldier who hope to marry before returning to Spain; and some comic relief in the form of Sgt. Garcia and Cpl. Gonzalez; and Don Diego’s fiancée, Carmen de Villalonga.
The show is nominally aimed at ages 6-10 but Sissmann says the hope is the many different elements they have developed will broaden its appeal.
Now in full production in France on the first of three planned seasons of 26 episodes, Sissmann says the approach to the series is very cinematic. The company has invested in developing tools that will help it deliver feature-quality visuals on a television production budget and schedule.
“I want to do 26 mini-feature films for television, as opposed to doing 26 television episodes,” he says.
Those tools include technology that increases the number of characters that can be animated and the series will have between 100 and 120 distinct characters. “We had to develop the characters for about two years to be able to produce characters that would fit in the budget.” A new lighting tool also was developed.
Sissmann says broadcasters are in place in Europe, and once a full episode is complete the company will take it out to show to broadcasters they are in talks with in the United States, Asia and Latin America.
Zorro: The Chronicles is one of four shows Cyber Group Studios has in production right now. The others are the second season of Zou, its hit preschool series; a second preschool show called Mia that is a co-production with Canada’s Sardine Productions; and Mini Ninjas, a co-production with TF1 based on the popular Square Enix game.