We wrap up our week-long series, with KidScreen editor Jocelyn Christie and Avatar creators Bryan Konietzko and Mike Di Martino discuss the creative freedom of working in kids animation.
Where do you go for inspiration?
BK: For one-off funny ideas, watching the Nature Channel does it for me. You come into work the next day and say things like, ‘Dude, I saw the weirdest thing last night about frogs that can be frozen, and then they come back to life when they thaw out.’ These are the kind of funny side elements that we peppered throughout the show.
MD: Travelling. I went to Bhutan last year and visited Tiger’s Nest, which is a real-life Air Temple.
What do people most often misunderstand about what you do?
BK: Most people think computers do everything, which is just not the case, even on CGI projects. It takes as long or longer to do CG, and it’s as expensive or more expensive. Everyone is also shocked by how long it takes – the fact that it takes 10 months to do an episode usually blows their minds, and that 15,000 drawings go into each one.
Was it creatively limiting or liberating to work on a kids show after so much adult animation work?
MD: It was pretty freeing. Nickelodeon was great place to make the show because they really left us alone to do it. We got a few notes along the way, but the heart of the show is exactly like we wanted it to be. In that environment, it really blossomed.
BK: We worked on a lot of American animated sitcoms, which are funny to watch, but not very creative to work on. They tend to be very writer-driven, and if you try to add a visual joke or an animation joke, you usually get scolded and have to revise it on your own time. On some of those shows, I didn’t feel like an artist. I just felt it was a job. And the other thing is that these shows very rarely have true sentiment; they’re usually ironic or sarcastic, and so I was dying to work on something that could be funny or sarcastic, but that could also be heartfelt or moving or dramatic.
What advice would you give to creators on pitching?
BK: You don’t need to have a really slick presentation. Have a clear concept, be realistic about what your target’s needs are, and communicate how what you have meets those needs.
MD: The other thing is it’s always worthwhile to work on a show that’s not your own first so you can learn how to run an animation production process. A lot of times, creators will sell a concept to a network and then get pushed to the side because they don’t know how to run the show.