Aloutah’s seeding shorts sprout a longer format Much like the icebergs that pepper its backdrop, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface of Aloutah, a new short series co-pro in the works at L.A.’s National Geographic Kids Entertainment and Paris, France-based Planet Nemo Productions.
On the content side of things, the 52 x two-minute project appears to be all about fast-paced slapstick comedy, with stories centering around a pair of mischievous Aleuth siblings who get into an avalanche of trouble in their extreme Northern environs. But like every Nat Geo production, it’s been shaped and inspired by a hefty background paper prepared by the company’s research department that delves into the geographic facts of life in the Arctic Circle.
And Aloutah’s business model is just as carefully plotted. While the plan is to get the 2-D animated shorts to market quickly and sell them as TV interstitials, mobisodes and webtoons, this is just one phase of a bigger seeding and testing strategy. Planet Nemo got the ball rolling a few years ago when it started working with Aloutah creator Jean Vincent. In those early days, the property’s cute graphic characters could have gone either way – preschool or seven to 12. The team decided to try the latter demo first, working up an edgier, gag-heavy online comic strip to generate kid feedback and test the viability of targeting an older viewer.
Planet Nemo hadn’t counted on attracting the interest of top French publisher Bayard Jeunesse, which found the comic strip online and picked it up to run in its D Lire kids magazine. So with Aloutah’s French audience building nicely, Planet Nemo started showing the property to potential international partners. NGKE president Donna Friedman Meir had been looking for a project that could feed off the buzz generated by March of the Penguins and the anticipated momentum from another Arctic-set Nat Geo film that’s set to roll out this summer. She was also impressed with Planet Nemo’s high-caliber track record and keen to find a way to work with the studio. Aloutah fit the bill perfectly.
Working with a budget between US$250,000 and US$275,000 per half hour, NGKE and Planet Nemo are currently looking for presales to send the shorts into production. Nat Geo is overseeing character development and writing, and has brought in Holly Hawkins (whose credits include Rugrats, Totally Spies! and Skunk-Fu) to do the scripts. Planet Nemo will handle all the design and animation work. Two shorts were completed at press time, with scripts locked for three more.
One of the wrapped eps starts with Aloutah borrowing a tusk from Ralph the walrus and pogo-ing all over his Arctic hood with MikMak while the hot sun beats down and melts much of the frozen terrain. In the end, they get stranded with Ralph on a tiny patch of ice, and when it dissolves, Ralph ends up in the water and Aloutah and MikMak have to find a new game.
Both Nat Geo and Planet Nemo (which retains distribution rights to French-speaking countries, Benelux and Asia) showed this finished ep to buyers at MIPTV in April, and interest was strong enough that the partners are starting to develop a 26 x half-hour series as well, using the shorts to inform the process. ‘What’s wonderful about shorts is that each one is like a different experiment,’ says Friedman Meir. ‘So we think we’ll learn a lot about which are the strongest characters, where the strongest comedy comes from, and how far we can push it editorially, and all of these lessons can be applied to the longer series.’ If everything proceeds as planned, the first 26 shorts will be delivered in November, and then the half-hour series should follow in early 2009.
Taiwan’s Gamania leads Hero: 108 story development
Mike Young Productions is harkening back to animation’s heyday by adopting a storyboard-led writing model for its new boys action-comedy co-pro Hero: 108. The 52 x 11-minute Flash toon originated in Taiwan as a concept worked up by the development team at Gamania Digital Entertainment, Asia’s largest publisher of MMOGs. With exec production help from Radar Cartoons’ Rita Street, the game studio is shouldering some pre-pro duties, including mapping out a storyboard for each episode as a first step in the narrative development process. Co-exec producer Kent Redeker will extract first-draft scripts from the boards and fine-tune from there.
The over-arching story, geared to the six to 11 set, is loosely based on an ancient Chinese novel called Water Margin, which details the trials and tribulations of 108 rebel bandits fighting against the corrupt rulers of the Song Dynasty. GDE’s modern version of the epic centers around 14-year-old Lin Chung (a.k.a. Panther Eye), one of 108 kid defenders trying to end a conflict between humans and animals in a hidden kingdom. Standing in their way is a villain named High Roller, who uses his ability to communicate with the animals to try and dominate the human race. Each ep plays out a new chapter in this struggle for power, as well as spotlighting one of the heroes.
All of the show’s visual elements are uniquely Asian-flavored, and GDE worked up several short animation sequences that helped draw in MYP and co-producing broadcasters Telegael and Cartoon Network International, which has picked up rights for all its worldwide territories. Hero: 108 is budgeted on the high side for Flash at just over US$350,000 per half hour, but MYP partner and co-CEO Bill Schultz explains that 17 language tracks will be produced right off the bat. The show is due to wrap up in time for a Q4 2008 rollout, and MYP is actively scouting for presales.