Tag Archive: Animation


Vikas Kumar is CEO of Digitoonz, an animation house specializing in Flash, 2D, 3D and and motion-comic animation from its home base in Noida, about 12 miles outside of New Delhi.

Your company, Digitoonz, works on many international properties. Are there some themes or story lines that are common to most countries? Do you find that children are children pretty much the same, with similar interests and concerns?

“Digitoonz works on entertainment content for all age groups. We are developing the content for different countries and cultures. These shows are based on almost same themes, aiming to provide knowledge with fun & entertainment. About kids interests and concerns, I would like to say that yes, kids are kids and they love humor and fun. The stories may relate to their own unique environments and things around them so that they can relate themselves to the story, but the basic ingredient  is always fun and humor.”

When Digitoonz starts working on a new show, do you sit down with the creators and discuss things like culture, humor and style?

“Yes, actually this is very important. Our creative team communicates with Creators and Producers of the show to understand their thoughts behind the story, the key points of the story which we will need to keep in mind while working on it. Producers of shows also visit the studio during the production and spend time with whole team.”

Does every show have to be watchable in every country for it to be successful? Or is it possible for a show to focus on a particular region and still find global acceptance?

“Shows should be acceptable globally to be successful worldwide if it will relate itself to audience world e.g. kids’ fantasy world, which remain almost same irrespective of place, region & boundaries. Then it would be acceptable globally — even though some shows gain huge success in one country or region and still find overall success. A show featuring a soccer player will get good audience in soccer playing countries.”

Do you find the tastes of global broadcaster is shifting toward more diversity?

“Yes, broadcaster taste is shifting toward more variety. There was a time when most of the shows were based on traditional stories and on specific style, but now we can see shows based on many unique themes. You can find lots of shows with sci-fi stories and more interactive shows. You may also find the medium of content from 2d & 3d to mix media. We are watching these varieties in content & medium now because of their wide acceptance by broadcasters.”

What, in your opinion, makes for a solidly entertaining show for kids?

“Story and representation of the story are key point to make a entertaining show. The other features which are also very important are characters, colors and music. Music keep the kids connected with the show.”

Do you see Digitoonz developing its own projects in-house? Or do you prefer to tackle the production tasks for outside projects?

“Yes of course! Digitoonz is planning to develop its own projects. We are working as co-producers also on two shows and we will continue the production task for outside projects too.”

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With a degree in Fine Arts, the animator Ennio Torresan, born in Rio de Janeiro, has been living for over ten years in Los Angeles, where he currently works as head of the story department at DreamWorks. Following his award-winning El Macho (1993), he became director of an animated series created by Ralph Bakshi for HBO, called Spicy City. Later he was screenwriter and storyboard director for SpongeBob Squarepants, for Nickelodeon. His next step was directing Disney’s Teacher’s Pet, for which he won an Emmy in 2003. At DreamWorks, he has helped to create Madagascar (1, 2 and 3), Kung Fu Panda, Megamind, and, most recently, Turbo. He has also found time to continue working in Brazil, on projects like the 2D feature animation Até Que a Sbornia Nos Separe, produced by Otto Desenhos Animados. He also still nurtures the passion for comic books that began it all, and has participated in the Scrambled Ink collection, by Dark Horse Comics, with an autobiographical story called The Guy from Ipanema.

The success of SpongeBob hit Nickelodeon like a tornado – no one seemed to anticipate how hugely popular the show would become. How hard was it to scramble and assemble episodes in the wake of such media and audience attention?

“Steve Hillenburg (creator of SpongeBob), who came from doing his personal short animated films, wanted to hire artists who’d had the same kind of experience and drive as himself. He wanted independent filmmakers on his show. I was free at the time after my show being developed at HBO, “El Macho,” was canceled.

The artists who first worked on SpongeBob were unlikely to succeed in other more conservative, script-oriented shows. The top management at Nickelodeon didn’t care much about SpongeBob so they left us alone to “try out” the script-less approach. Shows like CatDog and Angry Beavers were more in tune with what Nick’s top management wanted. However, the Sponge became an uncontrollable hit after being let loose. I saw Steve fight many battles to keep its integrity (including one executive who hated Southern accents!). Steve fought hard like he always did and Sandy remained a squirrel from Texas. That executive is no longer there, and Steve today has an estimated net worth of $90 million dollars.

Please don’t be naive, this kind of success doesn’t happen frequently. I’ve seen wonderful charismatic shows crash and burn more often than not. There are so many things that have to happen in the right order for a show to hit this big.”

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What does it take to connect to the mind of a child? Do you maintain a strong connection to your own feelings and point of view as a small boy? Do you find kids are similar in what they want to see, no matter where they live and grow up?

“Kids are kids. Regardless of ethnicity, origin, background. They will laugh at the same jokes and are scared when the scary music cues happen. Making them laugh and engaged in a particular story becomes much easier once you have kids yourself, as I found out. Before having kids I was digging deep into my earliest memories.”
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Your work is seen all over the world, and your personal projects have a distinctly international feel. Are all markets opening up to more diverse cultural themes in cartoons? Or is the industry divided between English and non-English speaking stories and types of characters?

“It seems that now more then ever, kids are in charge of what they want to watch. There are fantastic shows being produced straight to streaming video. Tinga Tinga and My Big Big Friend are just two of the most creative and well-realized shows these days. The first one was produced in Africa and the second was a co-production with Canada and Brazil. The world has become a much smaller place and great shows can be created and produced anywhere in the world.”

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There are so many requirements for a cartoon’s global success – merchandising, ancillary products, etc. Is it possible for a smaller, simpler idea to find an audience these days?

“There is more competition now. There are more creators realizing their projects now than let’s say ten years ago. Streaming is changing the way we watch TV.

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The way an idea goes viral these days depends on how much energy the creator can exert, and how persistent they may be. It took me five years to make my first short, which I had started in ’87. It was all animated on paper and shot on a 35 mm camera. There weren’t that many places to screen it afterwords. Today I could accomplish that in a fraction of the time and with much better tools, and it would be accessible to the whole world instantly.”

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What are your hopes for the future of the animation industry?

“I wish there were directors as important as Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, PT Anderson, Francis Coppola, Luc Besson, Roman Polanski, William Friedkin or Jonathan Demme who would be doing new kinds of animation. I wish animation would grow up and venture in the world of adulthood. That’s my wish for the future of animation.”

Industry Insider Interview: Hey Arnold’s Craig Bartlett

You studied painting in Europe as a young man – it sounds romantic and epic. Obviously you moved in a different direction, but was that time of your life an important part of what you’ve done since? 

“It was! I remember confessing to my sculpture teacher in Portland that I was afraid if I went away for a year to go to Italy, I might lose touch with my classmates at the art school. He laughed and said that I was doing something way more important than any of those friendships: I was going to Italy to get my mind blown and I would never be the same. Those friendships would still be in Portland when I got back, or they wouldn’t – it didn’t matter at all. He was right, of course! I think about those days in Italy, where I turned 21, all the time. Whenever I talk at colleges, I tell students to take a year and travel, and not to worry about how relevant it is to their studies – it’s way more important to just get out of our little bubble and see something different! And of course Italy was unbelievably beautiful and amazing”

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When you returned to the US, you worked with Will Vinton, the famous stop-motion director. Stop-motion is such a precise and painstaking art form; how did you like the actual creative part of that discipline? Do you feel that, given an opportunity, you could have remained in stop motion for your entire career? Is it something you’d care to revisit some day?

“What a great first job out of school (if you don’t count all the crappy jobs I did to make money before Will hired me). It was a complete filmmaking apprenticeship. You’re right, there’s nothing like stop-motion animation. It’s really meditative. I loved it, and I think I learned to multi-task in those days. I might have stayed with stop-motion it if I didn’t move to LA. There was just so much 2D going on here, I had to get into it.”

 

At the time the stop-motion Mark Twain film was released, the Vinton studio was at its peak, and the project received a lot of attention. Have you seen it lately, and do you feel it holds up?

“I remember really enjoying it the last time I saw it. To me, it’s a trip down memory lane. The film’s storyline is episodic, with short stories contained within the larger frame. It evokes really vivid memories of our little group making all those bits, in different parts of Will’s studio, which was a little cube of space attached to a Victorian house and a barbershop. I made some great friends there. I’m still in touch with them. Watching my own stop-motion animation, I have a kind of visceral response, as if those days and weeks in Portland are still somewhere in my cellular memory.”

 

What was your role on Return to Oz? How was it to be an integral part of such a legendary property?

“I animated a few segments – the Nome Spy that appears on rocks and rock walls and then goes down underground to report to the Nome King. It was great to work on that project, because I’m an Oz fan (the 1939 movie and the books), but I was afraid from the start that the film was doomed to not succeed at the box office, because everyone has such a deep connection to the 1939 version, and there was no way a film made in the ‘80s could have the same vibe (and director Walter Murch actually wanted to call back the earlier turn-of-the-century vibe of the books). So it was perceived as dark and kind of joyless, even though I thought it was really good. But Walter is a brilliant guy and I was already a fan – he’d done the sound and picture editing for “American Graffiti” and “Apocalypse Now” so when he came to Portland I always tried to ask him stuff about his career.”

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You moved from fantasy to a kind of madness, with Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Were you part of the in-house team of creators when you made the Penny films? What was the atmosphere like within that inner circle?

“I worked with the other animation units (the ant farm, the fridge, the mouse hole dinosaur family) and we were kind of marginalized, set up in a warehouse workspace far from the Hollywood studio where the live action part was shot. So I didn’t feel like I was in the creative inner circle. But I had a lot of freedom and autonomy making Penny, so I was fine with it. It was one of the most fun jobs ever. In my small way I was really proud to be part of “Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” which I think was a great and absolutely unique show. There’s been nothing like it on TV since.”

 

Hey Arnold! seems like it was on a fast train from initial pitch to pickup to first airing. That was a decent leap of faith on the part of the Nick execs – was that due to your powers of persuasion or the charm of the property?

“Ha, all the above! Actually to me it seemed to take forever. But I think those mid-90s were a particularly good time to launch an animated series and find an audience. We were set to deliver the first episodes by end of ’95, but Nick held them till October ’96 because they had the idea to use “Hey Arnold!” as the opener of their new prime time initiative. So they actually sat on that whole first season and let us build up a stockpile of episodes. It made me feel like they had great confidence in the series. Our VP Herb Scannell said we didn’t have to worry about killing ‘em right out of the gate, that we had time to find an audience, but it turns out that when “Hey Arnold!” finally premiered, it got really good numbers and everyone felt satisfied that they had made the right moves.”

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The music in Arnold was tremendously important to the stories; how closely did you work with the composer, and would any of those tracks ever be released publicly?

 “Jim Lang was already a friend before we started “Hey Arnold!” But that Arnold pilot was the beginning of a long, fruitful relationship between us. He is a great musician, and it was always fun to spot an episode with him, tell him about the emotions that I would like to feel, and know that Jim would come back in a couple weeks with something amazing. I still play Arnold music to work to or when I drive around, and I think how lucky I was to have my own composer, making tunes that would always be personal and meaningful to me. Plus, he can be really funny and funky! Some of our tunes were released by Nickelodeon on collections. Nick should put out a strictly Arnold compilation though.”

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Hey Arnold almost seemed Dickensian at times. The stories were rooted in some of the most realistic emotions ever seen in a kid’s show. Was that a conscious move, to stake out that territory?

 “Thanks for the Dickens shout out! He’s one of my favorites. Yes, I wanted to find our own edge that would make us different from the other cartoon shows, and it turns out that our edge was emotions. We had real kids doing the voices, which already gives you a kind of emotional authenticity. No one can play a kid like an actual kid. And the leads were so strong, especially Francesca Smith, who played Helga, that the actors and the writers made a kind of feedback loop of creativity, and together we workshopped the characters into deeper and darker territory. I got a lot of support from Nickelodeon – they responded to the emotional authenticity as well. They liked the realistic kid emotions and the bluesy-jazzy soundtrack.”

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 Who/What/Where is Snee-Oosh?

 “Good question! I spent my teenage years living on Snee-Oosh beach in Laconner, Washington. It’s on the Swinomish Indian Reservation, in the north end of Puget Sound. “Snee-Oosh” in Swinomish means “beach facing westward.” When I started “Hey Arnold!” I needed to start a loan-out corporation, so I named it after my childhood home.”

 

Your work with Bob Rogers and BRC – creating films for World’s Fairs and theme parks – they seem larger than life in scope. Do you have to do more, visually, in a compacted amount of time in order to hold the audience’s attention?

 “Yes, all the projects that I did for Bob Rogers are “special venue films.” They come out of world’s fairs, which would be built to last for six months and then be taken down, but Bob has been focusing on more permanent venues in recent years. The venue itself is always different than a regular theater. It’s more of a complete experience, and that includes the architecture, lighting and sound design, and the visuals. And the running time for the shows is shorter – people in these special venues are on their feet more – so it’s more packed with details than a regular film experience.”

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Dinosaurs and trains – two of the most popular boy concepts known to the entertainment industry. I guess the question is, what took them so long!

“Ha! I thought of “Dinosaur Train” probably in 1992, when Mathias was 3.  I’d watch him playing with piles of trains and piles of dinosaurs. I told my wife, “If I made a cartoon show about dinosaurs on a train, I’d have all the 4-year-olds at hello.” And then I pitched it off and on for about 15 years – Nick Jr. passed on it, Cartoon Network passed on it, Disney Jr. passed on it. Finally my friend Linda Simensky moved to PBS and then she picked it up. The whole 15 years, I was worried that someone else would do it! It just seemed so… inevitable. Thank God it’s finally on the air and I can take credit for it.”

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Two-time Emmy winner Mark Zaslove has spent nearly 30 years creating stories for children. Among his many projects: The New Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh, Happy Tree Friends, and he co-developed the first new series for Disney Afternoon, TaleSpin.

What made you interested in writing cartoons?

“My Dad was an animator/director/producer of cartoons, all the way back to when he was 15 at Warner Brothers, then to UPA, etc. Growing up, animators, to me, were drunk guys falling down and sleeping on the living room carpet. So when I was doing novels and live-action and needed some bucks, I thought: “Animation? Hey, I can do that!” And so I went to HB and got started.”

What was your favorite cartoon as a kid?

 “Johnny Quest! I even ended up with my best bud in junior high and onward being East Indian.”

 How do you feel about today’s cartoons vs. cartoons of your youth?

“Depends on if one’s talking about TV versus TV, or theatricals. TV animation has gotten more sophisticated, technically, than the ol’ HB stuff, but when you look at the writing on Top Cat or the Flintstones, they had some major stuff going on. And Jay Ward?!? No one’s that funny these days. Of course, there’s Cowboy Bebop, which is plenty great, but most American TV isn’t very daring or very sophisticated, though they think they are. Theatricals were more artistic and more influenced by classical art and music back then, now, less so. Also, they were trying for more of an adult component. You have to go to Japan and Miyazaki (and his ilk, though he’s the best), to get real theatrical stuff that’s making a creative statement. It still comes  down to someone’s vision, and if someone will let them do it. Not so much anymore.”

What’s the worst cartoon ever made?

“Sorry, there are too many for words, and they defy categorization and time period. Maybe Cars, because they should have known better. Or maybe the Punky Brewster cartoon. Hard to say.”

What kinds of notes have you received from networks?

“Everything from the dumb to the stupid to the curious to the ridiculous to the bizarre. Even the helpful (quite often). I once got into a battle on whether I could have a giant cask of gunpowder in Winnie The Pooh (Gopher is a miner and needed to carve out the side of a hill). Nope: imitatable behavior. I guess kids can easily get their hands on casks of gunpowder. So, jokingly, I asked if I could have the character use a thermonuclear device. The answer: yes. Yes I could. Yes, I could have a character on Winnie the Pooh use a thermonuclear device. We never did it, as it clashed with the art style, but I COULD have given Pooh the Bomb, if I so wished.”

How do you keep stories fresh?

“As in all writing: truth. Characters must be true within the context of their own world-rules. I see so much hypocrisy in writing. Writers MAKE their characters do things that are contrary to what a “real” character in those “real”circumstances would do because the writer WANTS something done and doesn’t have a good idea, so he forces the character to do something against their nature. The more “true” the writing in, the fresher it will be.”

Shows you’ve created – are you happy with how they were developed?

 “I have no problem developing…but I’ve NEVER seen a show executed half as well as it was developed. Hence, I almost NEVER watch a show once it leaves the studio. Can’t stand it. Makes me hurt to watch something lovely turn to dross. Or worse. I’ve seen a few good episodes here and there, but usually…nada.”

Do you write for the audience or yourself?

“A little of both. You have to entertain both. It’s not about writing “down” or “up,” it’s just knowing the parameters. One simply doesn’t pick the topic of “sexual deviance and role-playing” for 5-year-olds. You’re NOT being smart or trendy, or…God forbid…edgy, by doing a topic that’s not right for your audience. All these writers think if they put adult subjects into a pre-school show, that they’re being great writers. Nope. They’re just not serving the best interests of their audience and being rather narcissistic about it. But one can pick “big” topics: I was once able to get the topic of child suicide into a show, but the metaphor was a wind-up toy allowing its key to run down and not rewinding. It was an important topic, and so many young kids, more than I realized until looking into it, are committing suicide. But it had to be “right” for the audience to pull it off. So: please both.”

Which classic cartoon from the past do you wish you could’ve written?

If I were good enough to write Rocky & Bullwinkle, I’d be mighty proud.

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