Gerhard Hahn, the creator of Mia and me, tells TV Kids about the genesis of the series and his process for developing content that meets the entertainment needs of young ones today.
For almost four decades Gerhard Hahn has been making European animated series that have resonated with kids and families at home and abroad. Based in Berlin, Hahn Film is behind a wealth of shows, among them Mia and me, developed with and sold by m4e. The series, now entering its third season, has rolled out to a slew of broadcasters, among them ZDF, Nickelodeon and Rai Gulp.
TV KIDS: What inspired Mia and me?
HAHN: In early 2009, I was introduced to Hans Ulrich Stoef [the CEO of] m4e, who had the idea that we join forces and create brands for kid audiences. He was looking for an attractive TV series for girls and suggested producing one about horses. Having already worked on a German horse-themed series for too long, I needed to put it behind me. An idea I was developing featuring a girl and a unicorn seemed the best direction to go in, and this was the key to Mia and me. On the one hand, we would create a world populated by elves and unicorns instead of horses; and on the other, we turned Mia, the heroine from the real world, into an elf when she visits Centopia. Also, Mia would be the only one in Centopia with the ability to understand the language of the unicorns.
TV KIDS: Mia and me has a unique look and style—tell us about how you designed the show and its characters.
HAHN: Mia and me was designed by my favorite character designer, Nesch’et Al-Zubaidi. On the basis of my vision for the general look and the character design, Nesch’et came up with his own ideas. However, this process was a rather tenacious struggle and quite emotional, especially when our ideas differed. So it occasionally happened that the f-bomb was dropped—or a graphic stylus was thrown against the wall! But we were also thrilled to bits and hugged each other when everything finally turned out well.
While looking for a distinct style, the idea came up to integrate certain patterns used by Gustav Klimt in his paintings into the design of the robes of the King and Queen, the unicorns and the antagonists. Klimt’s transitional artistic style strikingly unites the heterogeneous content elements of Mia and me in a particularly subtle manner. But developing a look is always a balancing act: it’s about achieving a maximum of originality, individuality and distinctiveness, and about compromising with co-producers and complying with the need to produce for an international market.
Following the advice of our co-producers Iginio Straffi [CEO of Rainbow] and Ulli Stoef, I changed the art direction at the last minute and poured a bucket of pink- and rose-colored paint over the artwork. Nesch’et and I were not happy about this development, but looking at the success of the series, I must admit, these marketing professionals know what they are doing!
TV KIDS: Why do you think Mia and me has been such a massive global hit?
HAHN: In addition to its distinctive and original look, the fact that Mia is a girl from the real world who also becomes an elf in Centopia in each episode led to an unusually high identification potential for younger viewers. We were fortunate that Nicole Keeb from ZDF realized this very quickly. That wasn’t something that could be taken for granted, as Mia and me is a combination of a live-action framework story in our world and 3D computer animation in Centopia. Such a hybrid was rare in European TV animated series at the time it was first broadcast. It was the favorable combination of the concept, the extraordinary design, as well as the marketing and distribution expertise of Ulli Stoef and his team at m4e, that led to this success.
TV KIDS: How have you kept the show fresh and engaging every season?
HAHN: Two components were essential for this: retaining the fundamental strength of the first season by having popular figures reappear, thus ensuring recognition, and always reintroducing new surprising characters, especially on the side of the bad guys, who present our heroes with new challenges every season.
TV KIDS: What are the plans for the feature film?
HAHN: Up until now, the series has left questions open concerning Mia’s backstory. The answers are being withheld to be able to tell them in an extremely emotional and tension-filled feature film: namely how and why the then 12-year-old heroine Mia came into possession of a magic stone and an oracle book, which enabled her transformation into a Centopian elf at the beginning of the series. In this respect, the film acts as a prequel to the series—but otherwise, it is a completely separate story.