Mak­ing a Big Play

Con­sol­i­dat­ing its branded con­tent in Play­ground Pro­duc­tions is a nat­u­ral next step for toy gi­ant Mat­tel. By Tom McLean

Animation Magazine - - Spotlight -

An­i­mated TV shows and even fea­ture films have long been de rigeuer for toy com­pa­nies like Mat­tel with hit toy lines like Bar­bie and Hot Wheels.

But they’ve rarely war­ranted the kind of roll­out Play­ground Pro­duc­tions gave its new fea­ture Team Hot Wheels: The Ori­gin of Awe­some, with an in­dus­try premiere at the hip In­de­pen­dent Theater in down­town Los An­ge­les.

Of­fi­cially founded about a year ago as the in-house home for Mat­tel’s branded con­tent, Play­ground Pro­duc­tions is a nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion for the company, says Dave Voss, se­nior VP of Play­ground Pro­duc­tions.

“It’s just come to a time now where not only Mat­tel but many oth­ers have rec­og­nized the value of branded sto­ry­telling and branded con­tent,” says Voss. That led to pulling to­gether the company’s en­ter­tain­ment ef­forts into Play­ground Pro­duc­tions, which han­dles all Mat­tel branded con­tent for ages 5 and up. HIT En­ter­tain­ment, which Mat­tel ac­quired in 2012, han­dles pro­duc­tion on all preschool prop­er­ties, as well as dis­tri­bu­tion for it­self and Play­ground, says Voss.

Not be­ing a tra­di­tional en­ter­tain­ment company, Mat­tel is freer than most to think out­side the box and be loyal to brands over any spe­cific me­dia, Voss says. That’s why Play­ground pro­duces ev­ery­thing from fea­ture-length Bar­bie and Hot Wheels movies to the Max Steel TV show to we­bisodes, TV spe­cials and Net­flix se­ries for ti­tles like Mon­ster High and Ever After High. It also has pro­duced stop-mo­tion shorts for the WWE in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ro­bot Chicken cre­ators Stoopid Buddy Stood­ios.

Play­ground has de­vel­oped a pro­pri­etary method for de­vel­op­ing chil­dren’s en­ter­tain­ment that it ap­plies to all the projects it de­vel­ops, Voss says. “It’s a col­lab­o­ra­tive process be­cause it’s a large company and you need to be col­lab­o­ra­tive but the process is also built to pro­tect the cre­atives so that, in the end, what we de­liver is great cre­ative but in a real col­lab­o­ra­tive way to make sure it de­liv­ers on all the strate­gic in­tent that the con­tent has, that we de­cided to make it for,” Voss says.

In to­day’s mar­ket, the qual­ity of the en­ter­tain­ment has to stand on its own, which is why Play­ground places a high value on at­tract­ing ex­pe­ri­enced cre­ators.

“If it’s not good con­tent, it’s never go­ing to serve any pur­pose what­so­ever,” Voss says. “When you bring in the kind of tal­ent we bring in, none of them are go­ing to stand back and just not de­liver the very best con­tent they pos­si­bly can.”

That doesn’t mean that the con­tent isn’t go­ing to com­ple­ment the over­all goals set for it by Mat­tel. “We don’t shy away from the fact that, in our pro­pri­etary process, we talk about play pat­terns,” he says. “And we talk about our con­sumer and we want to pro­voke play and we want to pro­voke imag­i­na­tion.”

The proof you can achieve both goals is con­stantly shown to Voss by many of the cre­atives he meets. “I am al­ways amazed how many of them will tell me they got into the business they’re in to­day as a re­sult of a Masters of the Uni­verse car­toon that they watched — be­cause it in­spired them,” he says. “That’s what we’re in­spired to go do, is cre­ate things that will get kids away from a TV screen for the time be­ing and hold a cou­ple of ac­tion fig­ures in their hands be­gin to tell their own sto­ries and learn how to tell sto­ries. It’s a great place to be. It’s not about hours and hours of screen time for us.”

Marge Dean, a veteran of an­i­ma­tion with cred­its rang­ing from pro­duc­tion man­ager on Ren and Stimpy to su­per­vis­ing pro­ducer of The Ricky Ger­vais Show, su­per­vises much of the pro­duc­tion work as Play­ground’s di­rec­tor of pro­duc­tion, and deals with the company’s an­i­ma­tion stu­dio part­ners. Among the stu­dios the company works with are Guru Stu­dios, Mer­cury Film­works, Rainmaker, Nerd Corps, Six Point Har­ness and Tit­mouse.

Match­ing up stu­dios with prop­er­ties that work for them is a key part of the job. “It’s a very dif­fer­ent stu­dio that will work on Bar­bie ver­sus Hot Wheels,” she says.

One of the dif­fer­ences in com­ing to Mat­tel from the en­ter­tain­ment world is that there’s a greater fo­cus on in­no­va­tion, Dean says. “Here be­cause we’re mar­ket­ing (fo­cused) and our con­tent is branded en­ter­tain­ment, there’s a lot of room for peo­ple to think out­side of the box and re­ally ex­per­i­ment with a lot of dif­fer­ent venues an ways of get­ting con­tent out there.”

Pack­age: 52 x 7 Type of an­i­ma­tion: CG Pro­duced by: Blue-Zoo An­i­ma­tion Stu­dio; dis­trib­uted by Mer­cis BV and Tele­screen BV Cre­ated by: Based on the work of Dick Bruna Tar­get au­di­ence: Preschool Synop­sis: Fea­tur­ing new chil­dren’s voices, char­ac­ters and lo­ca­tions, the first-ever CG Miffy se­ries uses sim­ple nar­ra­tives and cheer­ful songs to il­lus­trate the lit­tle bunny’s ex­plo­rations of the world around her. Sell­ing points: “We are de­lighted with this new se­ries, in which Miffy is thor­oughly mod­ern and more adorable than ever,” says Mer­cis pro­ducer Frank Pad­berg. “Blue-Zoo has been able to recre­ate the same warmth and beau­ti­ful at­mos­phere of the pre­vi­ous stop-mo­tion se­ries. The images look in­cred­i­bly crisp, whilst the sto­ries are full of ac­tion and gen­uinely fun! With Miffy cel­e­brat­ing her 60th birth­day next year, this se­ries will in­tro­duce the character to a whole new gen­er­a­tion.” De­liv­ery: Fall 2015 Stand: R7.H3

Pack­age: 13 episodes Type of an­i­ma­tion: CG Pro­duced by: Badi Badi Cre­ated by: Tom Nedved, To­masz Paziewski Tar­get au­di­ence: Kids Synop­sis: Sib­lings Polly and Jack team up with a Bear and his fly­ing Book of Leg­ends on a quest to save the magic crea­tures from myths and leg­ends from around the world be­fore the pix­e­lated vil­lain Cy­ber can turn them into a dig­i­tized army and use them to con­quer the world. Sell­ing points: The Pol­ish stu­dio is de­vel­op­ing the se­ries for the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket, reach­ing out to ex­pert screen­writ­ers and mu­sic com­posers to cre­ate di­verse ad­ven­tures for the Bear and his gang, work­ing eth­nic mo­tifs into the globe trot­ting sto­ries. The con­cept has been well re­ceived by Euro­pean broad­cast­ers at Car­toon Fo­rum. De­liv­ery: 2015

Pack­age: 52 x 11 Type of an­i­ma­tion: 2D Pro­duced by: Lit­tle Air­plane Pro­duc­tions, UYoung Cre­ated by: Josh Selig Tar­get au­di­ence: Preschool Synop­sis: P. King Duck­ling is an ad­ven­tur­ous bird with big dreams and not a lot of common sense. He lives in sub­ur­ban Hilly Hole with his friends Wom­bat and Chump­kins the pig and is al­ways look­ing for ad­ven­ture — but his travel plans don’t al­ways work out. Sell­ing points: The show is bol­stered by an ed­u­ca­tional cur­ricu­lum cre­ated by Dr. Chris­tine Ricci ( Dora the Ex­plorer) and mu­sic from Emmy win­ner Jef­frey Lesser ( Won­der Pets). “P.King Duck­ling is a very funny character that we be­lieve will ap­peal equally to chil­dren in Asia, Europe and North Amer­ica,” says Lit­tle Air­plane’s founder Josh Selig. Type of an­i­ma­tion: CG Pro­duced by: Ink Global Cre­ated by: David Dozoretz Tar­get au­di­ence: Kids Synop­sis: The land of Za­fari is pop­u­lated by unique an­i­mals who have all been mag­i­cally born in another species’ skin. Join Zoomba, a lit­tle ele­phant with ze­bra stripes, as he ex­plores and makes sense of the world and learns to cel­e­brate in­clu­siv­ity and friend­ship. Sell­ing points: The multi-mil­lion euro bud­geted project prom­ises lush vi­su­als in ad­di­tion to its pos­i­tive mis­sion. “Za­fari, with its strong mes­sage of em­brac­ing our dif­fer­ences, is a story that needs to be told to the world,” says di­rec­tor Claus Tom­ming. “We be­lieve this en­hances the brand and makes it re­ally stand out in a crowded mar­ket.”

Dave Voss

Marge Dean

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