Québec City, Canada-based digital entertainment studio Frima and Canadian French-language pubcaster TFO have joined forces to develop MaXi, a new 2D-animated fantasy-comedy for nine- to 12-year-olds that will launch app first.
The 26 x 11-minute series will be available as an immersive, interactive mobile experience for iOS and Android devices next spring, prior to its linear format debut on TFO later in the year.
MaXi is a complete French-language production that follows the fun learning adventures of part-time Siamese teens Mara and Xilo (MaXi) who inhabit and explore the fantastical world of Vakarma. In a unique twist, the conjoined twins have the magical ability to separate when they want to and appear as ghost-like, independent half bodies. But if they stay apart for more than one waking hour, their ghost halves start to disintegrate. The series also encourages the understanding of diversity in people, the importance of strength in unity and features a musical setting with an underlying theme of ecology.
With money from the Canada Media Fund and the Bell Fund, the series features an all Franco-Ontario and Québec cast and has been designed as a co-viewing experience. And it’s being touted by Frima and TFO as the first animated kids series made in Canada to launch on mobile devices before television.
The digital series includes touch-points hidden within each episode that unlock special animated backgrounds and characters that kids can interact with whenever they want. Kids can also create their own shareable comics featuring pre-scripted animated characters from MaXi and some newly unlocked characters.
Interestingly, as a social media-inspired way to gather user feedback, Frima developed a way for kids to “like” specific moments in each episode with heart icons that pop-up by touching the screen. “The likes can be transferred into data, so if we make a second series, we will be able to see what the kids enjoyed and shape the new content accordingly,” says Valérie Hénaire, Frima’s VP of intellectual property and co-executive producer on the series.
For TFO’s president and CEO Glenn O’Farrell, the data could also be used in the development of new kids projects beyond MaXi. “We see the project as a research and development lab, too,” he says. “We have to show the marketplace that it is innovative and has strong engagement capabilities.”
Hénaire adds that a key aspect of the production is its seamless user experience. “The biggest challenge is making the specs work for smaller screens, because it has to run properly on mobile devices and it has to be well-designed,” she says.
The producers recently introduced the first two linear episodes at Pixel Animation/Cartoon Connection in Québec City .
As development continues, Paris-based Mediatoon has come on board as the show’s international distributor (excluding Canada), a standalone video game is in the works and there are plans to launch toy figurines.
O’Farrell notes that the launch of MaXi comes at a strategic time for TFO, which is upping its investment in digital innovation for its unique brand of educational kids content. In that vein, it’s also just launched a new production process called LUV (Laboratoire d´Univers Virtuel), which brings virtual reality technology into its educational content pipeline.
“A year ago, we started looking at how we could re-invent ourselves internally and adapt to fully scripted studio production for our learning audiences. We found that there was great opportunity in the VR, Flash and gaming software space,” says O’Farrell. “It gives us opportunities to take environments and modify them through the software at a very low cost,” he contends. “We’re also learning how to find the exceptionally interesting and sometimes elusive balance between the virtual and the physical.”
TFO is currently using LUV to produce three- and five-minute programs for toddlers and preschoolers, and has a 26 x 11-minute kids series that will start production in early 2017. Plans are also in the works to make the tech available to third parties who may want to use VR for their own educational content.
“We will begin offering these opportunities to the production sector in February at Kidscreen Summit in Miami,” says O’Farrell.
The pubcaster also recently signed a deal with PBS Learning Media that will see its educational content distributed across platforms in the US.