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Not-so-wise owls bring laughs in Huhu
November 25, 2008

Not-so-wise owls bring laughs in Huhu

Cute and humorous shorts projects seem to be on the rise these days, and Huhu, a 2-D digital animation series from Budapest, Hungary-based Studio Baestarts, is a great example of the trend. Each of its 52 non-verbal two-minute segments chronicles the clumsy adventure of a group of simple-minded owls discovering a new environment.

There are 11 distinct owl personalities in the bunch, including a timid one and a pig-headed argumentative one, and they take turns leading eps as the protagonist. Besides being dim-witted, these birds have no long-term memories, so they never learn from their failures and have to keep doing things repeatedly, as if for the first time. So no matter how perilous the adventure (i.e. approaching a sleeping bear), they attack it without fear, and thus the comedy ensues.

In one episode, the rest of the owl posse follows the leader du jour into a deep hole. Although trapped, they’re happy to have found their friend. The birds jump up in the air and flap their wings to celebrate, only to accidentally discover that they can fly out.

Even shorter 40-second segments are in the works specifically for mobile downloads, which executive producer Andras Erkel says can also be used to link the two-minute episodes together. Naturally, the content will be produced in small file formats to work immediately on mobile and online channels, and the studio has a mobile strategy underway that includes the creation of emoticons, wallpapers animated GIFs, instant-messaging icons and ringtones. Erkel also has mobile phone accessories, plush and online games in mind for future licensing opportunities, and says he sees the property working well in comic book form.

Budgeted at approximately US$11,000 per minute, Huhu has triggered early interest from Nick UK, which sponsored its entry at Cartoon Forum in Ludwigsburg this past September. Erkel is actively looking for finance partners to get the project, which targets kids 10 to 13, on track for delivery in fall 2009. Though Studio Baestarts has the in-house capacity for production, Erkel says he’s open to working with post-production partners.

A beastly tale

Since debuting at Cartoon Forum in September, Beast in the Box, another short series at 26 x two minutes, has entertained some feelers from several broadcasters. The gag-driven CGI concept from Paris-based Image-in is fairly simple – through a series of questions and clues, viewers are invited to guess what animal is hiding in a closed box sitting in a gleaming white environment. The guessing game always begins with the animal rustling around inside the box and the off-camera voice of a child narrator asking, ‘Who’s there?’

Three to four clues are gradually doled out, and the box comes alive with the revealed traits and characteristics of the mystery animal, changing shape, texture, size and color (think growing hair or scales). It can also hop around, swim or crawl and vary in personality. For example, a mischievous monkey wouldn’t communicate with the child in the same way a bad-tempered zebra might.

As well, the simple white background transforms into the animal’s habitat throughout the reveal. Inaccurate guesses from the child make for sight gags, such as the placement of plumage on an animal that is actually a crocodile. Producer Jean de Vivie says the shorts are aimed at preschoolers, but the gags and verbal ping-pong of the guessing game should attract kids up to age seven.

Image-in has brought on Paris-based Awol Animation as its distributor and is working with a budget of US$430,000 for the first 26 eps. The studio also looking for a co-pro partner. With 13 scripts already in the can, de Vivie says he hopes to start delivering finished eps in January 2009. A few interested broadcasters are mulling over taking the shorts on as branded channel interstitials, and the Image-in team is also working on developing simple online games to complement the series.

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