A Suit­case Packed with Mem­o­ries

Animation Magazine - - Features -

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.

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