Bolstered by a US$6.5-million cash injection from investor Interfase Capital Partners, toon studio Wild Brain is celebrating its fifth anniversary this month by launching an animation channel on Yahoo. The San Francisco-based company hopes to cull a loyal viewership from the 31 million visitors Yahoo nets each day, with a primary goal of providing a first-time forum for non-mainstream, short-form animation from around the world.
The content will appeal to both consumer and industry types, and a kids area is planned for Q1 or Q2. ‘Being an independent that has worked across a number of different genres for years, we are familiar with a lot of lesser-known international projects and studios,’ says CEO Jeff Ulin. ‘We’re tapping into all of these grassroots relationships, as well as going to some obvious sources with larger libraries.’
Besides acquired screen content, the new channel will feature an area dedicated to showcasing 3-D animated graphics featured in interactive games. LucasArts titles Grim Fandango and The Curse of Monkey Island will take center stage for the launch, along with 989 Studios’ Syphon Filter. At press time, Wild Brain was close to inking a content deal with an educational software company that specializes in the kids market. Along with shorts, films and original fare, some of this youth-targeted gaming content will cross over into the planned kids area.
In its events area, the channel will provide real-time services for smaller international animation festivals and events. ‘The possibilities are sort of limitless in that we can essentially take a small festival and put it on the world stage,’ enthuses Ulin. ‘We can also help cross-promote an event during periods when it’s not up-and-running.’ India’s ‘Celebration of the Masters’ will be the first fest to step into the digital spotlight. Paying tribute to animation giants like Jeff Hale and Rob Coleman (Star Wars), the event will run streaming interviews and clips provided by the National Film Board of Canada. Wild Brain is planning to financially aid any low-budget festivals that are interested in launching Web initiatives on the channel, but lack the resources to foot the entire bill themselves.
The terms of the multiyear deal with Yahoo give Wild Brain dibs on any revenue generated from the channel, so the studio is currently scouting for sponsors and advertisers, as well as planning an upcoming revamp of its e-commerce efforts. An on-line store run by Secret Identity will offer merch that complements all of the channel’s content, with a particular focus on toys and plush based on original Wild Brain Web toons. One property that might spawn a toy line is Glue, a 10 x one- to two-minute Web series about a community of oddball characters that’s debuting on the channel this month.
In addition to producing several more three- to five-minute Webisodes (which range in budget from US$30,000 to US$50,000 per episode), Ulin says Wild Brain will take full advantage of any dual development opportunities that arise in-house. Some new toon concepts on the studio’s TV development slate that seem particularly ripe for Internet crossover include Mad Monk, a half-hour co-production in development with EM.TV & Merchandising. The series stars a bumbling monk who is kicked out of Heaven and onto the streets of an Asian metropolis. Along with a fellow exile who’s adopted the form of a stray dog, the nomad monk cum superhero wanders in search of corruption and evil to defuse.
Another developing concept with Web potential is Mr. Baby, a two x 11-minute 2-D project about a 10-foot-tall infant leading the life of a middle-aged man. Juggling a girlfriend, a job and a house in the suburbs-all the while needing frequent feedings, burpings and diaper changes-Mr. Baby is one hapless toddler. In fact, the whole town has to pitch in to prevent disasters like Mr. Baby flooding the town square with baby drool or playing with cars on the freeway. The series carries a rough budget of US$300,000.
In that same price range is a role-reversal western toon that rewrites cowboy legends from a horse’s point-of-view. Also two x 11 minutes in length, Horse Sense stars a trio of cerebral equines who must suffer the company of their dim-witted cowboy riders in silence. The horses vent their frustrations by occasionally galloping off-course toward low-hanging tree branches and stopping up short in front of large, muddy puddles.
Speaking of things cerebral, The Wild Brain is a half-hour CGI TV special in the works about a nerdy 10-year-old named Hubert who, while locked in a storeroom at the Science Museum by a bunch of bullies, stumbles across a brain in a jar. Belonging to a mad scientist from the `50s named Professor Dingman, the brain befriends the lonely boy, and the two set off on a catastrophic search for a new corpse for the disembodied brain. Wild Brain has been beefing up its CGI department in recent months by filching expertise from other studios, including CGI supervisor Greg Maguire from Disney and animators Ethan Hurd and Bobby Beck from Pixar. The effort culminated in the recruitment of Nina Rappaport, formerly executive producer of feature film and commercial production at Blue Sky, to head the division. The company is hoping that the one-off concept for The Wild Brain will prove successful enough to be spun off into a television series.