Kids Trendsetter Winners Talk Creativity at MIPJunior


The recipients of this year’s World Screen Kids Trendsetter Awards, Rainbow’s Iginio Straffi, Xilam’s Marc du Pontavice, Brown Bag Films’ Bronagh O’Hanlon and Green Gold Animation’s Rajiv Chilaka, weighed in on the creative process at the Creators Superpanel at MIPJunior this morning in a conversation moderated by Anna Carugati.

The panelists are each being honored for their contributions to the children’s content industry by World Screen in association with Reed MIDEM. “All of them are responsible for some major international hit shows,” Lucy Smith, deputy director for the television division at Reed MIDEM, said in introducing this morning’s Creators Superpanel. The World Screen Kids Trendsetter Awards have been produced with Reed MIDEM for the last five years.

Carugati, group editorial director at World Screen, opening the session, noted, “One of the reasons you are being honored today is that the work you do is helping to shape the next generation, which is exceedingly important in today’s world.”

Straffi, founder and CEO of Rainbow, started his journey into the kids’ business at a young age, drawing comics and creating characters as a child. “After high school, I went with this box full of stories and drawings to find some publishers and I started to publish my comics during university.” Sergio Bonelli Editore, a leading comic book publisher in Italy, spotted Straffi’s talent, hiring him as a lead creative artist. He soon began working on TV series and movies and decided to set up his own venture in 1995. “Knocking on door after door, I managed to convince someone to buy my cartoons.” At Rainbow, Straffi went on to create such megahits as Winx Club and the more recent 44 Cats.

O’Hanlon, series director and creator at 9 Story Media Group-owned Brown Bag Films, also discovered her passion for animation at a young age. She joined Ireland’s Brown Bag early in its history, developing her skills as the company grew. She worked on Doc McStuffins and went on to create Sadie Sparks.

Du Pontavice, CEO of Xilam, was working at Gaumont when he discovered his passion for animation. He founded the French studio’s Gaumont Multimédia division, subsequently buying it to form the basis of Xilam Animation. “I found myself fulfilled by animation,” he said. “When you do a good story it can travel all over the world. And it gives you enormous control of the end product. The process of doing animation gives you incredible input in every step.” Among Xilam’s biggest hits is Oggy and the Cockroaches.

Chilaka, founder and CEO of Green Gold Animation, also came to the kids’ sector later in life. While getting his master’s degree in computer science in the U.S., Chilaka became enamored by Walt Disney. “That he could achieve that much at a time when there was no technology or access to finance—if I could achieve 10 percent of what he did, I would have done some wonderful things. That started a journey for me towards animation.” A key turning point, he said, was seeing The Lion King. “I thought, one day I want to make a movie like The Lion King, that was the goal I set for myself.” He went on to go to art school and then returned to India to found his own animation production company, which created the megahit Chhota Bheem franchise.

Carugati then asked the panelists about creative inspiration. Rainbow’s Straffi talked about finding the idea for the company’s hit 44 Cats in popular Italian children’s songs. “I have a young daughter and was watching a lot of animated songs on YouTube. In Italy, we have a series of very famous songs from one of the oldest TV festivals, Zecchino d’Oro [on Rai 1]. We were watching the songs and I found that there were stories in them.” Among those songs was Quarantaquattro gatti, which provided the seed of the idea for 44 Cats.

O’Hanlon talked about the creation of Sadie Sparks, which is being rolled out worldwide by Cyber Group Studios. “I had found out that top hats don’t actually pop out! It’s only magicians [that have those]. And they always have a rabbit. Wouldn’t it be funny to have a rabbit who was grumpy and jaded, had worked with all the best wizards and didn’t get the credit? He’s retired and brought back to train a female wizard. He’s never worked with a girl before. What would be the best contrasting character I could have with him? Also, I’m such an animation nerd. It’s always bothered me that there weren’t female characters on TV who were heroes. They were always the ones who needed saving or were bookish. I wanted to be the one doing the saving! Every time I create a show it comes back to something I would identify with.”

Oggy and the Cockroaches at Xilam emerged from du Pontavice’s fondness for slapstick comedy chase cartoons. “For some reason, the U.S. stopped producing that kind of comedy. I felt there was something we could bring to children by doing this. These kinds of comedies are very demanding, especially when they are non-verbal. So after the success we had with Space Goofs on Fox Kids in the U.S., they asked, What else do you have? Thinking about Tom & Jerry and this antagonism-based slapstick comedy, we felt, let’s keep the cats but instead of a mouse we’ll go with three cockroaches.”

Chilaka talked about creating Chhota Bheem at a time when Indian animation studios were largely doing work for hire and not creating original IP. “One evening, I thought, what if we take a famous Indian character, Bheema, from the Mahabharata, and put his characteristics in a normal kid in rural India. He has this super strength. We started building a story around that. The challenge was how to sell the show when there were only one or two kids’ channels in India back then. It took us five years to sell the show. It went on air in 2008, and that was a turning point for us. It’s still doing very well.”

Carugati asked the panelists about what characteristics they look for in concepts.

“For me, the show needs to be unique,” Chilaka said.

O’Hanlon said that a brief needs to “get you right away—you know exactly what to do with it, and you can’t believe it hasn’t been done [before].”

“In animation, it’s all about the characters,” du Pontavice added. “Characters have to be relatable, inspiring, they have to be designed in such a way that the hearts of the kids are with them and they can’t find these same characters anywhere else.”

On choosing techniques for storytelling—2D, 3D, live-action, etc.—Straffi noted, “It’s quite complicated. We try to find a graphic that is unique and original and appealing.”

“When we design a show at Xilam, we’re not thinking, this is for TF1 or Netflix,” du Pontavice said of the creative process at his animation studios. “It’s not about designing the show for the right home. You have to find the partner that feels the same passion for the project.”

Brown Bag’s O’Hanlon noted that the animation techniques used for a show should be informed by the story and the characters. “On Sadie we had a mix of 2D and 3D. It started weirdly enough as a production constraint. We couldn’t have that many sets in the show. I love it when something that’s a negative becomes a plus. We started thinking creatively around technique. We thought, wouldn’t it be cool if the human world was more tangible and real, in 3D, and when you go into the hat, [the magic world], it’s like going into another dimension, in 2D. That was totally informed by the story, and it’s a happy coincidence that we got pushed into that by production constraints.”

Green Gold makes Mighty Little Bheem, a preschool show for Netflix, in 3D. “Initially, we thought 2D, but Netflix said to try it 3D, and we did and it looked great.”

The panelists then talked about their upcoming projects. Rainbow is working on a new Pinocchio, among other projects, and further expanding its young adult live-action slate. O’Hanlon has a new show in the works, Karma’s World, about a young rapper. Xilam is shopping new projects at MIPJunior, Moka’s Fabulous Adventures! and Lupin’s Tales. Green Gold is also showcasing new projects at MIPJunior and continuing its work on Mighty Little Bheem, with a new season and specials in the works and the company is building the brand out with L&M, games and more.

Carugati and Smith then presented the panelists with their World Screen Kids Trendsetter Awards.