Viacom Pitches Moonbeam City as Genre Grows
DreamWorks Animation Television has put the pedal to the metal developing a pipeline and staffing up quickly to fill big orders for high-quality shows. By Tom McLean.
Things move fast in TV animation production, but rarely has it moved as quickly as it has for DreamWorks Television Animation.
It was less than two years ago that DreamWorks Animation struck a ground-breaking deal to provide 300 hours of exclusive original content to Netflix — shows it turned right around and licensed to major players in the global TV market like Super RTL. At the time, the studio had developed animated series based on several of its features, including The Penguins of Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness at Nickelodeon and Dragons: Riders of Berk at Cartoon Network.
But to handle the quantity and quality of material the studio had committed to producing, it had to ramp up DreamWorks Television Animation big time. The studio turned to a trio of former Nick execs who already had experience working with DreamWorks to get the operation up and running as fast as possible.
Margie Cohn, who spent 26 years at Nickelodeon before becoming the head of DreamWorks Animation Television, says 10 people were on board when she started in August 2013, and that number has now grown to more than 400 just in the company’s Glendale, Calif., office. She joined fellow ex-Nick execs Peter Gal, head of television development, and Mark Taylor, head of television production, to spearhead the quick ramp-up to production.
“Optimism and resilience have been two of the qualities we’ve really needed as we try and get this done,” says Cohn. “It felt like if we were going to do this really, really quickly, those were two guys we could do it really, re- streaming on Netflix, to be joined this summer by the new Dragons: Race to the Edge.
Feature Transition Adapting animated features to TV series is nothing new, but it takes the right touch to
make a feature work as a series on its own without treading on sequel feature territory.
“We don’t want to repeat the feature film experience. I think one of the fun parts for us has been trying to separate what is TV and what is feature,” says Cohn.
Citing Puss in Boots as an example, Cohn says the series had to focus on exploring Puss’s character rather than taking him on a single big journey the way a feature would. “We’re dealing with his vanity, with his lack of interpersonal skills, with his taking on too much, his love of milk. We just play in that detail,” she says. “We just have to carve it out from the features because you still want that to feel like a big, giant event.”
The company’s first original series, Dinotrux, has been announced and is set to premiere this summer on Netflix.
“That was a different experience because it’s an original,” says Cohn. “The studio is used to a certain type of development and we were doing this really, really quickly and still needed to get as much depth and character into that world.”
Finding talent to staff up the company as quickly as it had to was a real challenge, Cohn says, though it was aided by DreamWorks’ reputation as an established and successful studio, as well as the job security implied by the quantity of material the studio has committed to producing.
Operating in ‘The Hub’ Taylor spearheaded production by assembling a pipeline structure at the studio known as “the hub,” in which teams oversee quality control of specific aspects of animation production, like assembling characters, prototypes and environments; and checking color, lighting and render times with partner studios.
“We really were careful so people looking at it didn’t think, ‘Oh, a cheap version of the movie,’” Cohn says. “The characters had enough of the original spirit so they worked on the television model but also looked great.”
Cohn says the results have been compared — favorably at times — to the studio’s feature film work. “We would have two models of King Julien turning around and we’d ask people to pick which one was the feature model and which was the TV model,” she says. “We actually had a few people pick wrong ... which made us so happy.”
Being a recent launch, DreamWorks Animation Television is built for a world in which content is consumed in any number of ways — the company’s Netflix deal being a prime example.
Cohn says the studios’ shows are made to work both online and on television. Creatively, today’s content has a greater element of serialization than in the past, and those elements are built into DreamWorks’ series.
“A lot of what’s happening for Netflix will also be impacting linear television, because why do you come to linear television if there’s not something that kind of drives you through and compels you to watch episode after episode?” she says. “What can we carry from one episode to another that doesn’t make it outright serialized, but it makes you say: ‘That thread’s left hanging. I want to see if it’s answered in the next episode.’?”
The Netflix model also offers a more long- term distribution method, with shows available to watch at any time. “We don’t have to worry about day-and-date ratings, so the library is there, the shows are there, for whenever people want to watch,” Cohn says.
With so many orders, expect more series announcements — both familiar titles and original properties.
“The goal (with original shows) would be to develop properties that would still feel distinct to DreamWorks, even if they’re not coming off features,” says Cohn. “It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be doing 2D, really hilarious shows, but we are trying to figure out – we’re getting close – to what the DreamWorks differentiation might be.”
Despite having started with a sprint, the end game for the studio is more like a marathon. “My goal has always been creating a library that stands the test of time — because these properties deserve it,” Cohn says.
Online channel DreamWorksTV drives demand for funny animated content for kids while winning over animators with creative control. By Tom McLean.
For passionate animators who’ve always wanted to create their own show but have never had the opportunity to do so, DreamWorksTV is a match made in heaven.
“We don’t mess around; we just make stuff,” says Birk Rawlings, head of animation for the channel.
And make stuff, it does. Based on YouTube, DreamWorksTV produces anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 shorts a year — about half of which are animated, Rawlings says. Among the animated content are shows featuring characters from established DreamWorks franchises, such as Shrek, Puss in Boots and Kung Fu Panda.
But that still leaves a lot of room for original content and original visions. Among the hit series DreamWorksTV has launched: Jimmy Blue Shorts, a sketch comedy series about a pair of talking shorts; Gorillaville, about a trio of primates who cause trouble in a peaceful wildlife preserve; News That Doesn’t Suck, featuring a kid-oriented, The Onion- style take on the news; the ensemble comedy series Public Pool; and the hit Fifi: Cat Therapist.
“When you’re dealing with much bigger budgets and much bigger bets, it’s hard to take risks on things that are unproven,” says Rawlings. “We can do a silly show using cardboard characters and stop motion that bigger operations would never bet on.”
For animators with an appropriate idea and the resources to pull it off, it’s the best of both worlds to have creative control and DreamWorks branding.
“We feel like we’re in control,” says Chris Hamilton, president of animation studio Odd- bot and producer on several DreamWorksTV shows, including Zach Aufdemberg’s Jimmy Blue Shorts; Public Pool, created by David Fremont; and Dennis Messner’s upcoming Fishstick and Honeybear show. “(Rawlings) definitely gave us a lot of creative freedom and we came up with some really wacky ideas and he definitely supported Zach and our direction.”
Awesome Origins DreamWorksTV had its origins in a company called AwesomenessTV, which DreamWorks Animation and minority partner Hearst Corp. acquired in 2013. Rawlings says DreamWorks was drawn to the company, founded in 2012 by Brian Robbins, because of its success reaching teenage viewers. DreamWorks wanted to do the same thing with children and bring to that audience the studio’s brands.
“It is a daunting thing to create something from scratch, but doing so in this really exciting playpen that is digital distribution and the Internet has actually been really fun and rewarding so far,” says Rawlings.
But so much demand means the channel is wide open for new, original content from animators of all types.
“We’re finding them from all over,” says Rawlings. “It’s a mix of creators and artists with a lot of experience in traditional television or movies, in some cases that have developed a lot of things or worked on other people’s shows but haven’t had a lot of opportunity to get their own voice out there.”
The relationships often originated over many years, but the studio is willing to work with talented newcomers who show they can produce the content with limited resources and under tight deadlines.
Animators supplying content for the channel work in any number of ways, from one-person shops to creators subcontracting with a thirdparty studio for some of the work to the channel working directly with a full-service studio, Rawlings says.
The studio buys the rights to the shows it picks up for DreamWorksTV and “we try to arrange the deals in such a way that we all participate in its success,” Rawlings says.
The speedy approach and lack of a network oversight infrastructure means animators have a lot of creative freedom and a much less formal review process.
“I’m basically a one-man team. I have my actors and my composer, but I do all the writing, storyboarding, animation, sound design — all that kind of stuff,” says Stephen Leonard, creator of Dueling Kapowskis. “They give me parameters that I need to work in and they just say, stay within these, this is our target group, and then they give me some notes along the way. But I have 95 percent control of the show, and that’s been great because as a creator that’s what I want.”
“We’ll check in at all the major phases — premise, script, storyboard and animation — but it’s a very different creative interaction than you would have at a traditional studio or network,” says Rawlings. “While there are some hard lines in terms of what’s appropriate for our audience, beyond that it’s more of a conversation and guidance rather than directives.”
Saying Yes is Fun Part of what’s fun about the job is the ability to say yes to many projects and to experiment with different forms and styles, Rawlings says. He cites Jimbo Matison’s News That Doesn’t Stink series, which is animated using cardboard cutouts and puppets.
“Everything on the show really is made out of cardboard,” says Matison. “For me, everything that’s coming out is all CG and it looks slick and very produced, but I think a little too much of it looks like that and I wanted to have something that anyone could look at it and go, yeah, that’s just cardboard.”
So far, the high-profile studio characters have attracted the most viewers, but Rawlings says the Internet gives new ideas a better chance to find an audience than traditional media.
“You don’t have just that one weekend or that one month to try to find an audience,” he says. “When we believe in something we can keep plugging away and try different ways to grow the audience, and so it’s one of the benefits of working in this space.”
There are fewer differences than many expect between producing content for traditional television than for the Internet, Rawlings says.
“The difference is not so much about (how it’s made) as it is about the way that it is consumed,” says Rawlings. “Kids in particular have just voracious appetites for the characters that they love and digital delivery is uniquely constructed in such a way that it can feed that appetite much more readily than traditional linear networks.”
That means making sure a steady flow of content and ways to market it are always available.
Being based on YouTube brings certain advantages to certain shows. “It’s a search engine and so you need to make sure that you’re taking advantage of the platform that you’re on in terms of maximizing discovery,” Rawlings says. “That’s part of why, for example, Fifi: Cat Therapist has done well, is there’s a lot of people going to YouTube to find cool new cat stuff.”
Rawlings is looking at expanding DreamWorksTV to platforms beyond YouTube and making it a primary destination for kids and families looking for a laugh. “In the near term, that means more original shows, and it means more shows featuring kids’ favorite characters and expending our reach any way possible.”
talks up the junior-year season at world’s worst university. By Tom McLean.
keep way the show looks?
Neely: We’ve done some subtle tuning up. We have so many great people working on the show figuring out how to make it look more expensive or just cleaner. We built all these head packs for our characters and revised their designs. We had a big, big discussion about line weight. We use a one overall line weight for the show and we’ve increased that for this season. It’s nothing noticeable other than it might be a little more clear delineation between shapes for an unsuspecting viewer. If you watched it side by side with, especially, season one, you’d be able to see a difference just in clarity of the shapes.
Animag: Are you still involved in the writing of every episode?
Comedy is when a bird hits a pig — and Baboons are writing for them both. Yes, Baboon Animation has just wrapped up its share of the writing on Rovio’s Angry Birds Toons, seasons two and three, and is moving on to another Angry Birds project. Boasting 4.7 billion views and counting, Angry Birds Toons is soaring. But with neither limbs nor voices, what makes the agitated avians so enduring? Two core members of Baboon’s Angry Birds team, Joe Vitale and Javier Valdez, chat with Claire Stenger about voiceless comedy and timeless characters.
Broadcasters: France Televisions (commissioning), CITV (U.K.), Cartoon Network (Italy, Latin America), Canal Panda (Spain), VRT (Flemish Belgium), MiniMax (Eastern Europe), Thai TV3, NTV7 (Malaysia), Netflix (U.S.) and more Synopsis: Super 4 follows Alex the Knight, Ruby the Pirate, Agent Gene and Twinkle the Fairy as they travel in their multitransformable Chameleon vehicle through five extraordinary islands: Technopolis, Kingsland, Enchanted Island, Gunpowder Island and a Lost World. Selling Points: The series marks the first time that the 40-year-old Playmobil toy brand has been brought to animated life on the small screen, stirring interest around the globe. “Super 4 is creating so much excitement among buyers,” says PGS co-founder Philippe Soutte. “Method and Morgen are delivering a unique show, which, for the first time in animation, has a storyline that mixes fairies, knights, pirates and robots all together!” Stand: P-1.N2 pgsentertainment.com Producer: Martin Gates Production, Cloth Cat Animation, Hoho Entertainment Package: 52 x 11 Target Audience: Kids 4-7 Type of Animation: 2D Based on: Wind in the Willows, Grahame Synopsis: heritage, the adventures of Mole, Rat and Toad have been enchanting children for generations. The new series will breathe new life into the stories for a whole new generation of children, rediscovering beloved old characters and introducing some new female ones, including adventurous Squirrel, resourceful Rabbit and the scheming Chief Weasel. Selling points: Martin Gates Productions’ Wind in the Willows special, “Mole’s Christmas” was the most-exported British TV program between 1993 and 2003 and was broadcast in 213 territories. Book sales now are more than 85 million copies, sold into 70 countries and 29 languages. All of this illustrates the enduring appeal of the characters. MPG also made The Adventures of Mole and The Adventures of Toad, and knows these characters inside out. Stand: R8.D11 hohoentertainment.com Producer: Wizart Animation, Somuga, Dibulitoon Studio Package: 52 x 13 (in production) Target Audience: Preschool 4-6 Type of Animation: CG Written By: Andy Yerkes ( Pocoyo), Kevin Strader ( Jelly Jam), Evgenia Golubeva ( Luntik), Leo Murzenko ( Kikoriki), Edorta Barruetabeña ( Unibertsolariak), Cristina Broquetas Synopsis: “We are also in negotiations with licensing partners, such as games producers, mobile applications, F&B partners, which could support Yoko’s release in many countries.” Stand: Russian Cinema R7.E40 wizartanimation.com | yokopark.com Producer: GO-N Productions Package: 52 x 13 Target Audience: Kids 6-10 Type of Animation: Digital 2D Created by: Aurore Damant, based on an original idea by Anne Ozannat; directed by Lionel Allaix, story edited by Cynthia True Broadcasters: France Televisions (commissioning), SuperRTL (Germany), Disney France, France 3, SVT (Sweden), SIC K (Portugal), ITI Neovision (Poland), E-Junior (U.A.E.), DSTV Kids (Angola & Mozambique) Synopsis: These “pets” have a secret … and it’s totally wild! This comedy series features an ensemble cast of wild animals disguised as domestic pets in order to enjoy a life of luxury with an unsuspecting suburban family. However, the quiet life they crave is ever elusive, and constantly threatened by their animal instincts. Selling Points:
nce considered a rather radical idea, animated TV shows for adults have become unlikely stars in the global TV