More kids content creators than tomb raiders, GraveRobber founders Keith Graves and Rob Moreland have been busy stealing the hearts of broadcasters, distributors and even legendary voiceover actor Tom Kenny (a.k.a. SpongeBob). And their unique, do-it-yourself approach to animation was showcased last month at Cartoon Forum in a winning pitch for its new series Chicken Big.
GraveRobber was launched two years ago in Los Angeles by children’s book author/illustrator Graves and writer/producer Moreland as a micro-studio where the partners could create their own animated TV series and feature films, literally out of a garage.
“Rob and I have been working together for years on various projects, and at some point we decided to create our own studio to make the kinds of projects we felt most passionate about,” says Graves, whose picture book credits include Chicken Big, Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance and The Monsterator.
Moreland, meanwhile, has written three CGI-animated feature films, including Lionsgate’s Happily N’Ever After (2006). He most recently served as writer/producer on Netflix’s animated feature Gnome Alone (available on October 19), and wrote on upcoming animated series Muertoons.
GraveRobber currently has four kids projects in development, including 2D-animated comedy series Chicken Big (52 x 11 minutes), which the studio pitched at Cartoon Forum last month in Toulouse, France. Adapted from Graves’ same-titled book, Chicken Big targets six- to 11-year-olds and shows what happens when a giant fowl is introduced into a lovable but clueless chicken flock.
GraveRobber was not only a Forum first-timer, but also the lone American producer attached to an accepted international co-production, with Berlin-based Big B Animation and Spain’s Bestial Investments. The pitch generated a lot of buzz in Toulouse, and Moreland says interest has been expressed by a number of broadcasters, distributors and investors since the event.
Landing the iconic voice of SpongeBob SquarePants himself, Tom Kenny, as well as equally prolific animation voice actor Tara Strong (Bubbles from The Powerpuff Girls, and Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony) hasn’t hurt the project’s chances for success either. Both actors are also lending their singing talents to the project—Strong previously headlined live theatrical show Women Rule Broadway, while Kenny sings lead in the band Tom Kenny and the High-Seas.
GraveRobber was able to sign such high-profile talent because of Moreland’s existing relationships with the actors. “I was working with Strong on Muertoons and Gnome Alone, so I showed her Chicken Big and she was really into it. We then approached Kenny’s representatives because I had also worked with him on some other projects,” he says.
Moreland notes that the young company was able to snag the actors so early in the development process with help from the Screen Actors Guild’s new media agreement. “The arrangement is really good for companies like us that are incubating a bunch of shows and want to record some episodes, because we can hire people through SAG at lower rates than normal,” he explains. “Lucky for us, Kenny and Strong came on board because they are excited about us and the project.”
Graves chalks up a lot of the company’s early success to the fact that the studio is adamant about not pitching any projects until the characters are recorded and the show is far enough down the road to demonstrate their high quality to all parties.
“We don’t want to pitch anything until we’ve sold ourselves on the fact that it’s a good show, meaning we’ve made an episode and watched it ourselves—then we can be confident,” says Graves.
Looking ahead, Moreland says GraveRobber is open to partnering with more international producers and is beginning to take its other kids projects—CGI-animated family feature The Monsterator, teen series The Ann Ziety Show and serialized show Orphan—out to pitch.
“We’re busting our butts to be great storytellers using the tools that we can afford, but most importantly, we love what we do,” says Graves.