In video game to kids TV adaptations, story and character development are often the biggest challenges for new production partnerships. When worlds expand, age targets change and unidimensional game characters become well-rounded ones. As a result, gamemakers and TV producers need to be on the same page creatively.
For Montreal’s Sardine Productions, open-minded collaboration was key for the development of Starlit Adventures, a 52 x 11-minute CG-animated preschool adaptation of an original mobile game from Brazilian gamemaker Rockhead Studios. This action-adventure app of the same name has a slightly older target demo of six and up.
The companies officially partnered on the TV series in June, after Rockhead first pitched the idea to Sardine at Kidscreen Summit in February.
Sardine founder and president Ghislain Cyr says he was particularly attracted to the high volume and quality of Rockhead’s 3D CGI assets for Starlit.
“When I look at game franchises, it helps for the speed of production if the IP is almost production-ready in terms of its world, key concept and characters,” says Cyr. “With Starlit, I liked the characters, the global universe was intriguing, and Rockhead had quite a bit of the scriptwriting done, which is also something I look for.”
Starlit Adventures is a level-based puzzle game set on a planet of floating islands. Its protagonists must locate and return stars that have been stolen from the sky to restore peace and happiness to their land. To date, the game has 13 million global users across three releases (mobile and console), and it has generated more than 100,000 eBook downloads.
While the game targets older kids, the cute and colorful designs felt better suited for a preschool audience, prompting a change for the TV adaptation, says Cyr.
“I had to put my foot down and say, ‘There is no way we can sell this series to older kids. They don’t want to watch shows that look like they’re for younger kids,’” he says. “In the gaming world, if the gameplay works for an older age group, the visual doesn’t matter much to them. In TV, it’s very different.”
With little TV experience, Rockhead had to get a crash-course in production for the medium, says EP Rodrigo Scharnberg.
“We knew we would need help from Sardine in getting the stories right,” he says. Rockhead chose Sardine as a partner because the boutique animation prodco has experience transforming mobile games for the small screen, Scharnberg adds.
Sardine’s non-verbal, slapstick short-form series Chop Chop Ninja, based on Gamerizon’s app of the same name, is a global hit. The 40 x 11-minute TV adaptation originally aired on Teletoon Canada, but has since been picked up in more than 120 territories on major broadcasters including Nickelodeon and China’s Tencent.
Once development is compete on Starlit Adventures, Sardine will handle pre-production (scripts, voices) with Rockhead on designs, and Brazilian prodco Hype leading the animation workload for a 2021 delivery. The series is budgeted at around US$207,000 to US$226,000 per half hour, and Spain’s GoldBee (which reps Chop Chop Ninja, the series) is attached to distribute it globally. The producers will present a teaser and show bible at MIPCOM and are seeking additional financing, broadcasting partners and Canadian writers to fulfill Rockhead’s 360-degree vision for the brand.
“Part of the plan is to attract and work with top licensing and merchandising partners, with toys, apparel and publishing at the top of the list,” says Cyr.