A Suitcase Packed with Memories
Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter’s quiet and poignant Negative Space as one of the most acclaimed shorts of the year. By Ramin Zahed
Broom,” reveals Lachauer. “Finding a design and a technique that would allow us to create something hopefully similarly exciting was a big part of our challenge.”
Schuh praises Dahl’s remarkable source material, which includes inspiring takes on female ‘As we were working towards a very hard deadline — the Dahl centennial — production had to start midway through the story process. This created a very tight and cramped schedule where many things had to be done in parallel.’ — Co-director Jan Lachauer
has all the ingredients of a children’s classic.
This world had a more fairy-tale quality to it, with animals that wore human clothes and had jobs.”
To produce the meticulously crafted animation for the project, Rose and Jaspaert tapped South Africa’s famous Triggerfish Animation Studios, who also worked on Stick Man and Revolting Rhymes. A team of 80 worked on the animation, using ZBrush, Maya and Arnold as their tools of choice. According to the producer, the overall budget for the special was about $2.5 million. As Rose puts it, “Magic Light’s viewers want quality in these specials. They are all adaptations of classic books, and they need to last a long time. Funny enough, the more expensive they get, the appetite for improving on the previous special also increases. We always want the best quality, and the team at Triggerfish always up our standards as well.” ‘ We certainly didn’t make it easy on ourselves as we have this very agile CG-animated cartoon rat on a realistic moving horse.’
It’s a commonly held belief that developing a hugely popular game franchise into a wellcrafted animated series is not a job for the faint of heart. The team behind the Activision Blizzard Netflix show Skylanders Academy will tell you that top-notch writing, artistic talent and an awesome animation studio are the essential ingredients to make a show like that really take flight.
The colorful and well-received series, which has been renewed for a third season coming to Netflix in 2018, follows the adventures of ragtag group of heroes, assembled by mentor Master Eon (Chris Diamantopoulos) to fight the evil plans of Kaos (Richard Steven Horvitz) and the Doom Raiders. Featuring a top-notch voice cast that includes Justin Long, Ashley Tisdale, Jonathan Banks, Bobcat Goldthwait, Norm Macdonald, Harland Williams and Felicia Day, the second season of the show introduced newcomers Cynder and Sprocket and found the heroes searching for answers about their past and fighting a powerful new adversary. (Recurring voice actors include Parker Posey, Susan Sarandon, James Hetfield, John DiMaggio, Catherine O’Hara, Jim Cummings, Jason Ritter and Billy West.)
So how did this successful show escape the common pitfalls of the game-to-TV show development process? “Like a lot of Hollywood success stories, it all started with a phone call,” recalls showrunner and exec producer Eric Rogers. “Activison and Blizzard called my agency because they wanted a writer to develop this property. After I met with industry veterans Sander Schwartz and Nick van Dyke, we decided to build the show around five main characters. They were looking for the same vibe as Professor X’s School for Gifted Youngsters.”
Rogers, who has written for shows as diverse as Futurama, Teen Titans Go! and Brickleberry, immersed himself in the Skylanders game and toys and came up with answers to questions like why audiences are going to love Spyro the Dragon and what Kaos is really all about. “I think these characters are amazing,” Rogers points out. “The design and animation is fantastic. What was really appealing to me was that we could give each of these characters their own unique voices, likes, dislikes and fears. The relationships between the characters are very important to us. The relationship between Kaos and his mom is a big part of the show.”
Cool Kaos Building a believable villain in the scheming portal master Kaos was another highlight. “Kaos is only a moustache twirler in the game, but in the TV series, we wanted more. You want to see why he became this dark dude, kind of like Walter White in Breaking Bad!” notes Rogers. “I had to reverse engineer Kaos, so we could see why he became this bad guy and why does he want to ruin Skyland?”
One of the biggest challenges for the creative team was creating the overall tone of the series. “Our goal was, make it kid friendly so that seven- to 12-year-old viewers would like it, but we wanted it to also appeal to their older brother and sister, and for parents to sit down and have a laugh as well. It was really about going for this sense of humor and sophistica-
tion, so a wider age group could enjoy the storytelling and the characters’ arc. I think that’s why Nick and Sander found me appealing as a writer, because I came from Futurama. I started out as a writer’s assistant on that show, which for me was the Harvard of comedy writing. That DNA is also part of what we brought to Skylanders Academy.”
Veteran animation industry exec Sander Schwartz agrees. “Skylanders offers a very rich world of characters that come out of a gameplay that is first of its kind in the toys-to-life category,” he notes. “Taking these characters that were created by the experts at Activision Blizzard was a great opportunity and presented a chance to offer fresh, exciting action adventures. The storytelling in this world that was created under Eric’s supervision is really compelling, and the animation that was produced by TeamTO was stunning and helped create quite a beautiful show.”
Dynamic Visuals Skylanders is also one of the most ambitious series produced by TeamTO, the French studio behind such shows as Angelo Rules, PJ Masks and Sofia the First. “We started working on the show in 2015 and have produced 26 halfhours and are currently working on the third season,” says studio founder and CEO Guillaume Hellouin. “Every episode of the show is quite sophisticated and is almost feature film quality. We have a large number of characters, against his mother and join this supervillain league. He has been told by Master Eon that he’s the only one of his kind that exists, that he’s the golden child. Why does he need to carry that burden? That is the fun of having a second season, because the characters are there already and you can dig deeper.”
Since the series doesn’t have a traditional writers’ room, Rogers and his script coordinator Brittany Jo Flores figure out the season’s main storylines and use a team of talented freelancers to deliver the episodes. “It’s a long process,” says Rogers. “We started writing season two in June of 2016 and I don’t think we deliv- The first two seasons of Skylanders are available on Netflix.