Seventy-four-year-old graphic designer Guillermo Mordillo has been an icon in animation for 30 years. Based in Spain, his work has been morphed into books, greeting cards and weekly strips, with distribution primarily in European regions like Germany, France, Italy and Spain. His characters have spawned licensed product across those same areas, but until recently no one had ever approached him with television development in mind.
London-based TV4C’s managing director Terry Ward got involved almost accidentally. ‘His agent approached us at MIPCOM last year with a videotape of interstitials made 12 years ago in Germany,’ Ward explains. They were short comedy sketches that had a brief run on German TV, and Mordillo’s agent wanted Ward–who, along with his U.K. colleagues, had no idea how revered Mordillo was in other parts of Europe–to distribute them.
While watching the tapes, ‘I was crying with laughter,’ says Ward, who then hunted down some of the books. ‘The artwork was incredible,’ he says, and while the images leaned toward an adult target, he thought they had good series potential for the six to 12 set.
The characters have never spoken because Mordillo couldn’t speak English when he first began to submit strips. Since they work well in that wordless form, dialogue had never been developed. Ward says at first Mordillo was hesitant about adding voices, but ‘we assured him it would still be very much visual comedy and that we would stick to the original concepts.’
Crazy Adventures in Paradise is the working title for the 2-D series, which will be branded with Mordillo’s signature, a scrawl that many Europeans will recognize on the spot. Sixty-five 11-minute episodes are being developed, and a pilot is almost ready for a MIPCOM debut.
The budget has been running high so far, Ward says, due to the very detailed animation. The pilot is budgeted at roughly US$8,000 to US$10,000 for one minute, but he says production costs will come down later on in the process. He is working with a timeline that should see a series ready for delivery by fall next year.
Under the terms of a 15-year profit-sharing agreement, Mordillo retains the rights to his own work, while TV4C will control any licensing, merchandising and publishing resulting from the television series. The deal was a simple one, Ward says. ‘Mordillo and I had a bit of a synergy and we struck up a deal.’ People at MIP who knew Mordillo and his reputation couldn’t believe it. ‘They were wondering how we did it,’ Ward laughs. ‘We’d struck gold, and we didn’t even realize it.’