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Hot Talent: JAM Media’s John Rice makes every kid a star

Not many animators can trace their first moment of inspiration back to age three. But that was exactly when John Rice, co-creator of Picme, started drawing moustaches on the election posters his politician father used to bring home. Luckily for the business, he stuck with it.
April 1, 2005

Not many animators can trace their first moment of inspiration back to age three. But that was exactly when John Rice, co-creator of Picme, started drawing moustaches on the election posters his politician father used to bring home. Luckily for the business, he stuck with it.

Rice’s penchant for adding ‘character’ to photos has matured into an interactive series called Picme, which melds headshots of real preschool viewers onto animated bodies and backgrounds. The series was a big hit at last month’s KidScreen Summit, where it won the Pitch It! competition, and it has been picked up by RTE in Ireland and Nick Jr. in the U.K. Debbie MacDonald, Nick Jr.’s VP and program director, says she was drawn to Picme because it fulfills the ultimate kid fantasy of starring in a TV show.

Although he trained at the European College of Classic Animation, Rice’s first official foray into the animation business fizzled when the Dublin-based company closed up shop on his first day. So with a degree in one hand and a green card for the States in another, Rice jetted to Arizona, where Fox Animation was setting up a studio to produce its animated feature film Anastasia.

Four years and one box-office flop later, Rice could tell the division wasn’t going to last. So he headed north to New York, where MTV hired him to do pre-production and character development work on teen series Downtown. The show only lasted a season, but Rice says it was an invaluable experience because he got to work on every stage of the show’s creation.

Shortly after his MTV gig ended in 2001, Rice was accepted into the post-graduate multimedia masters course at Dublin’s Trinity College. ‘I figured it was about time I learned something about computers because at that point, I hadn’t even really typed my name on a keyboard,’ he says.

Rice liked the medium so much that he hooked up with fellow animators Alan Shannon and Mark Cumberton to launch JAM Media in Dublin with the intention of creating content for the Internet. But since nobody was paying to download animation three years ago, the partners focused instead on finding new, commercially viable ways to use the technology, and that’s how the concept for Picme was born.

While Rice is working hard to secure more deals for Picme, JAM is developing better software that can render photographs with facial expressions. The upgrade will be at the heart of a new personalization show concept for older kids that is in the very early stages of development.

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