After adapting a number of publishing-based properties into hit TV series like Max & Ruby, Olivia and Mr. Men, longtime collaborators Diana Manson and Megan Laughton knew it was time to expand their skillsets —or risk being pigeonholed as younger-skewing-preschool producers. On the lookout for new opportunities, two years ago, the duo launched their own studio—Sydney-based Baby Octopus—and haven’t looked back.
“When we decided to set up the company, I knew that whenever we would talk to people about new IPs they would say, ‘Oh, you do preschool,’ so we really wanted to do something different. And Neil Gaiman is just as different as you can imagine,” says Manson.
One of the company’s two new development projects is Chu (pictured), a series based on the picture books from global bestselling author Neil Gaiman (Coraline, Stardust) about a little panda with a giant sneeze. Working with Gaiman, the prodco is in early development on a CGI-animated TV series for the four to seven bridge demo. (Baby Octopus completed the first animation test in March.)
Its second new project, Magic For Hire (working title), is also book-based, but targets an older six- to nine-year-old audience. The live-action/SFX series is adapted from a comedic book series of the same name by children’s author Bill Doyle (Behind Enemy Lines). Baby Octopus, which holds rights to all three titles in the series—Attack of the Shark-Headed Zombie, Stampede of the Supermarket Slugs and Invasion of the Junkyard Hog—has so far inked a partnership with Sesame Studios on the project. (The co-pro expands Baby Octopus’s existing partnership with Sesame Studios, which to date has launched 14 live-action musical and classic educational shorts on its YouTube channel.)
When asked about the diversity of the company’s new slate, Manson and Laughton note that Baby Octopus is fortunate to still be working with original collaborator Nelvana on Max & Ruby, which is entering its 14th year on Nick Jr. New partners, of course, are always welcome.
The company has also bettered itself on the social responsibility front by working with Seattle-based organization The Committee for Children, which creates secondary curriculum for 26,000 schools across the US. “They were working internally on a mindfulness project for children and asked us to brand it for them last year with animation and a website,” says Laughton. “So far, it’s doing really well. Kids are using it to quell anxiety and focus in school. It was a bit of an experiment for us, but we had a blast.”