When someone says “action hero,” a young boy with a paintbrush probably isn’t the first image that comes to mind. But the traits that make a good action-adventure protagonist (honesty and bravery) are also the markers of a good artist, says producer Alex Rockwell. And seeing a space for a series that capitalizes on the popularity of action shows, while also empowering kids to be artistically creative, The Jim Henson Company is developing and producing Nate Create.
The animated series is about a young boy who draws worlds into existence, and then fights to protect them. Created by Rockwell (Norman Picklestripes, Word Party), Nate Create will feature a variety of backgrounds and designs inspired by different artistic styles that change every episode. Executive producers on the series are Alex Rockwell, Lisa Henson and Halle Stanford for the Jim Henson Company, and Matthew Berkowitz and Jennifer McCarron for Atomic Cartoons.
With the recent rise in art-focused education models, and the trending popularity of creation-based games like Roblox and Minecraft, Rockwell predicts this series will fill a gap in the market.
“Art is an internal process and doesn’t make for good storytelling,” says Rockwell. “But combining art with action-adventure makes it so that there are real stakes that drive the story forward. The show’s goal is to make the artist an aspirational figure, because skills like creativity and thinking outside the box are so important for kids to learn,” she adds “And four-, five- and six-year-olds love action heroes. It felt like merging those two things would achieve that goal.”
Henson is working on the 52 x 11-minute preschool series with Atomic Cartoons, which is co-developing and co-producing the project out of its Vancouver studio.
Atomic is currently planning the show’s changing art styles so that when it goes into production, the schedule will be unaffected by the different art, says Matthew Berkowitz, chief creative officer.
“This is the most ambitious series we’ve worked on,” Berkowitz adds. “It could have a variety of art styles like origami, watercolor, 2D, cut-out, stop-motion and CG. The leads will always be CG to give them a recognizable look, but the world around them will change in every episode.”
It’s a challenge for Atomic—which hasn’t set a delivery date for the show yet—but it’s not entirely out of the prodco’s comfort zone. Its team has mixed 2D backgrounds in its CG shows before and worked in different art styles, such as when it blended a live-action actor with an animated animal in preschool series Nico Can Dance! (65 x two minutes), or combined stick figures with live action in the 26 x 22-minute show Minimum Wage, aimed at kids eight to 12.
“I’ve seen that something special, restorative and calming happens to a young brain when it’s creating art,” says Rockwell. “And we want to inspire that in kids.”