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Crime-solving kid trio hits the nabe's mean streets
January 6, 2009

Crime-solving kid trio hits the nabe’s mean streets
Three tweens who patrol their community on the hunt for missing pets and petty criminals is at the center of L.A.-based Lincoln Butterfield’s Neighborhood Investigation Team (N.I.T.). Leading the pack is Emma, an ultra-precocious 11-year-old who finds mysteries to solve, schemes to cook up and causes to champion at every turn with her penchant for deductive reasoning and overactive curiosity. Loyal little brother Neville and Crunchy, the new kid on the block, round out the trio.

This 26 x half-hour 2-D animated series has a sleek and dynamic anime-inspired style, and the four-year-old company’s executive producer Robert Hughes has made a point of layering the humor so adults will also get a kick out of the jokes peppering each episode.

Not every episode revolves around a mystery, but the kids always make outrageous assumptions that Emma discounts using logical thinking and research, and Hughes hopes this common story thread will inspire viewers to be inquisitive researchers themselves. In one ep, for example, a break-and-enter at a grocery store has the authorities looking for two men with muddy boots. Emma, convinced that the intruders are actually a small vicious bird and an elk, sets about confirming her suspicions. Her thorough investigation techniques end up proving her right.

Hughes and his team have written a pilot and roughed out a budget that depends heavily on the final animation style and which co-pro partners come aboard. Right now, Hughes is ballparking per-ep costs in the US$300,000 to US$400,000 range. In the meantime, Lincoln Butterfield has also been working up a publishing gameplan for the property. It turns out N.I.T. promo material simulating Emma’s personal journal entries has attracted enough attention in the book world to inspire plans for a graphic novel series.

Chapman and Weta weave a modern-day Pinocchio tale that’s got solid boys action legs
The mid-summer co-production deal struck between London’s Chapman Entertainment and New Zealand-based Weta Workshop, best known for its Lord of the Rings special effects magic, has borne its first fruit with boys CGI actioner, Trooper Tom. The 26 x 22-minute series conceived by Chapman founder Keith Chapman aims to tell the epic tale of an half-human/half-robot boy created, like Pinocchio, by his ‘father.’ In this case, it’s Commander Rock, a man who desperately longed for a child after losing his infant son at birth.

Chapman says the quest and battle portrayed in 1960s classic stop-motion series The Thunderbirds influenced the concept that the two studios have co-developed. (Scripts are being penned by a writing team in the UK, and design and production of the pilot ep will be carried out in New Zealand.)

Further to the backstory, self-aware robot boy Tom is deemed illegal on Earth and is kept in a state of dormancy until the day Commander Rock gets sent on a mission to find new energy sources for the planet. Rock crash-lands on another world with energy to spare, and being so far out of Earth’s jurisdiction, Rock flips Tom’s switch and calls on him to help his Rock Squad secure the newfound power supply. This teenage team of elite Top Gun-esque operatives, who zoom around on highly specialized strike pods, is brought in to fight against the corrupt forces guarding the energy source on the distant planet.

Weta’s background in crafting theatrical special effects, as well as its proprietary rendering technique, gives the series a distinctly cinematic feel, says Chapman, adding that the budget will come in between US$300,000 and US$400,000 per half hour. The producers are currently looking for broadcast and/or toy partners to shore up financing, and a full-length feature for Trooper Tom is also on the horizon. Whether the film will kick off the series or follow its broadcast debut in theaters depends on future partners, Chapman adds.

The first episodes are slated for delivery in late 2010 or early 2011, and Chapman is hoping a corresponding toy line will roll out by the end of 2011. The studios also plan to bring on gaming partners for the property and are considering running an online campaign revolving around a character’s blog well before the series airs to create a buzz.

Fun food prep series serves appetite for shorts
Remember when playing with your food was considered a bad thing? Petit-Creux, a new 104 x one-minute series from Belgium-based indie prodco Cherry Picking actually encourages mixing fun with food. The shorts are based on the Having Fun Makes You Hungry book series by Muriel Bienenstock that shows how simple nutritious edibles can be combined to form everyday objects and creatures. Likewise, the 2-D animated preschool series uses voiceover to identify five different foods in each ep that undergo a transformation. For example, a slice of brown bread, cream cheese, radishes, a slice of cheese and olives come together, step-by-step, to form a cow. Aimed at three- to six-year-olds with a healthy eating theme at its core, the show will steer well away preachy subtext about choosing the right foods or what foods to avoid, says producer Jean-Philippe Doutrelugne.

Doutrelugne is working with a budget of roughly US$475,000 for the 104 eps, and this sum covers the development of a website with simple activities for kids and practical information for parents and teachers about expanding kids’ food knowledge. The prodco also plans to carry on with the publishing program via books that both inspire the construction of new animal shapes and contain educational materials for kids.

Cherry Picking is looking for a co-pro partner to get the project off the ground. Awol Animation sponsored Petit-Creux at Cartoon Forum ’08, but the Paris-based distributor was not on-board officially as of press time. If all goes as planned, Doutrelugne expects to start delivering the series in April 2009.

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