Michael Bedard’s Sitting Ducks are no longer sitting still. They are making the leap from best-selling poster art and award-winning children’s book to an elaborate animated series, despite the fact the ducks are currently without a TV home. Universal Pictures Visual Programming has begun production of Sitting Ducks well in advance of broadcast sales and network commitments.
‘It’s a new brand for Universal, which is why we decided to greenlight the show,’ says Loredana Cunti, senior VP of Universal Visual Programming, the London-based production, development and acquisition unit. ‘Bedard’s characters are quite well-known internationally, and with Michael being so involved in the project, our plan is to produce the show, hire the best writers we know, and work together to find the right broadcast platform territory by territory.’
Currently in production on 26 11-minute eps, Elizabeth Darrow and Bedard of L.A.-based Sitting Ducks Productions are supervising the production with Glendale, California’s Creative Capers and Toronto’s Krislin-Elliot Digital. Voices are recorded in Vancouver under the direction of Andrea Romano.
‘Creative Capers is working closely with us, specifically Michael, to create the design of the show and supervise production,’ says executive producer Darrow. ‘The design is firmly based on Michael’s paintings, and we work with The Krislin Company on bringing the scripts to life, via storyboards and animation.’
Production began in August, and the series does indeed have the rich look of Bedard’s artwork come to life. ‘This show is going to change the way the world thinks of 3-D television animation,’ says Walt Kubiak, president of Agoura Hills, California-based The Krislin Company and co-owner of Toronto-based Krislin-Elliot Digital, which does the computer animation.
George Elliot, president of Krislin-Elliot Digital, adds, ‘We’ve been able to take the stunning design work from the Creative Capers team and move it into a practical production environment, raising the bar to a level seen only in feature films.’
Sitting Ducks began life as a humorous painting by Michael Bedard in 1981, showing a group of comical ducks on lounge chairs, casually glancing at the bullet holes in the wall above. It went on to become one of the biggest-selling novelty posters of all time. Bedard created numerous sequels with the duck characters, and in 1998, Putnam & Grosset published Bedard’s first full-length children’s book based on the characters, currently in its fifth printing.
‘Michael and I formed our company in the early 1990s and quickly had a deal with Universal,’ recalls Darrow. ‘While there, we didn’t work on the Ducks that much-we had developed it as a short, but we thought it was best to develop some of our other properties, notably a feature called Noah’s Blimp and a TV special The Santa Claus Brothers. But after five years with Universal, we decided to move on and quickly sold Sitting Ducks to PolyGram.’
‘We began developing Sitting Ducks with PolyGram which, shortly thereafter, was bought-coincidentally by Universal!’ By this time, the book had come out and the characters were developed well beyond the paintings that made them famous.
Universal plans to introduce the program, with completed episodes, to buyers at MIP Jr. in April. ‘We are targeting the six to 11 age group, as well as adults who enjoy Bedard’s posters,’ says Darrow.
On producing the show without a partner or presale, Universal’s Cunti states: ‘It’s such an important property to us and we didn’t want to co-op our rights. It’s expensive. The difference with CGI shows is that your expense really comes up front. Like a live show, you’re building all your sets at the beginning.’
Sitting Ducks is a risk for Universal, but one the people there firmly believe in. ‘We wanted to protect its artistic integrity,’ notes Cunti. ‘We want to make sure our show looks like Michael Bedard’s art. You can’t skimp on something that’s already so well-known.’ Per Darrow, ‘It had US$70 million in retail sales worldwide, the book had come out and did incredibly well. Even though it was a gamble, I think they feel pretty secure it’s a show they can sell.’
With Sitting Ducks production well underway, Sitting Ducks Productions is moving ahead with its other properties. The Santa Claus Brothers is in production for the Disney Channel under the first-ever co-production deal between Nelvana and Film Roman, and Noah’s Blimp is currently in development at Sony Pictures. The Santa Clause Brothers features the best-kept secret in the North Pole: Santa has three sons. Christmas will never be the same. Noah’s Blimp is a quirky, modern-day adaptation of the Noah’s Ark story.