Rainbow’s Iginio Straffi

The global hit Winx Club is celebrating a milestone 20th anniversary this year, a testament to the power of Rainbow’s storytelling capabilities in keeping the show fresh for a new generation of fans. There’s a Winx Club reboot in the works as well as the Gormiti: The New Era live-action show, and Rainbow has a new animated series, Mermaid Magic, that it is bringing out at Annecy. Rainbow’s Colorado Film is also behind the teen romance drama The Tearsmith, which has been a resounding success on Netflix. Iginio Straffi, founder and CEO of Rainbow Group, talks to TV Kids about the success of Winx Club and The Tearsmith and the different approaches for animation and live action. He also shares a word on whether more strategic acquisitions are in the company’s expansion plans.

TV KIDS: What is driving the current growth and gains for Rainbow?
STRAFFI: We have had quite a lot of success in the live-action division, starting from The Girl in the Fog but also, recently, My Name Is Vendetta, which is still in the top ten of Netflix for non-English movies. Our service division is also doing very well, producing Emmy Award-winning series. They’re also working on a theatrical movie for Disney. Last but not least, our animation series are doing great. We are going to be launching Mermaid Magic on Netflix in the summer and Gormiti: The New Era live-action show with stunning CGI effects in October this year. We are working very carefully on the reboot of the Winx Club animated series, with a lot of attention to the storytelling, animation and graphics. We want to bring the show to a new audience, with all the DNA of Winx but with today’s quality animation and pace.

TV KIDS: Tell me about the new animation project Rainbow will be launching at Annecy.
STRAFFI: We’ll bring our new series Mermaid Magic to Annecy, a high-budget CGI IP that will be released on Netflix worldwide in Q3 ’24. We are very excited to bring this series to audiences. It’s a magic story telling the adventures of mermaid princess Merlinda and her friends Sasha and Nerissa on a mission to the surface world to save the underwater kingdom of Mertropia. This series is the perfect mix between a great technical style and narrative of a beautiful story where adventure, magic, mystery and contemporary values such as ecology and protection of the marine environment merge to offer a series to entertain both kids and the whole family.

TV KIDS: How is the 20th anniversary of Winx Club being celebrated?
STRAFFI: The celebration started in January and will continue throughout the year and the whole world. We launched many activities and content on social media to be sure our whole community could join the celebrations. We joined the main Comic Con events around the world, not only in Italy but also in the U.S. and Brazil, where the fan base is stronger than ever. The biggest event will be the official Winx Club 20th birthday party in Rimini on August 31. The entire town will be buzzing with activities, surprises, concerts and special content for new and longtime fans.

In the new version of Winx, the graphics have changed. From the traditional 2D, we have created CGI models, and everything has been redesigned a bit. The storytelling will finally tell how Bloom joined the other Winx to form the Winx Club. In a coming-of-age story, she and the other fairies find out how to become more powerful and, most importantly, how to save the magic dimension from the dark forces who want to take control of it. We have put a new twist, and some new secrets will be revealed. We have new elements to the story in this reboot.

TV KIDS: What are the challenges in producing live action versus animation?
STRAFFI: I am really enjoying producing live action, trying to bring the experience that we have with animation series. We create and use storyboards and animatics usually used for animation to better develop some particular scenes for live-action series or TV movies. This gives us many advantages: it’s helpful with complicated scenes that may require more attention during the shooting. We work on them and study all possibilities very carefully in advance to avoid difficulties on sets. That’s how you work in animation to avoid mistakes and consequent costs, and when it comes to live action, we found out the best solution would be the same.

Our passion is to identify stories that can be good for a global audience and try to tell them in a way that they can connect to the audience. It is always the biggest challenge. But, we really put all our passion, experience and investment in, and the result has been encouraging.

TV KIDS: Tell me about bringing Erin Doom’s best-selling novel to the screen in The Tearsmith.
STRAFFI: We worked very carefully on the details. The first choice was, are we going to keep the U.S. setting and shoot this in America or in the U.K. with an American look, or are we going to do it in Italian, finding locations that look like America but could be in Northern Europe, and make it more global? We decided to do it in Italy and in Italian and tried to create these very neutral locations that look like a town in America but could also be in Northern Europe or somewhere else.

With the dialogue, we had to choose if we were keeping some of the iconic dialogue from the book, which is very romantic but probably far from the way today’s audience speaks. We decided to keep the DNA of the book, keeping not all but at least some very beautiful iconic dialogue from the protagonist almost identical to the movie.

We wanted to try to see if something written by an Italian novelist, adapted by Italian screenwriters, with Italian actors and an Italian crew and shot in Italy could have the power to engage and be appreciated by an international audience.

We have a different way of approaching an adaptation. When we came to decisions for Fate: The Winx Saga, the first Winx Club-inspired live action, we decided to shoot in English in Ireland together with Netflix. We didn’t shoot in Italy with Italians. For The Tearsmith, we thought it would be good to keep it in Italy because the book is a huge bestseller in Italy and abroad.

There have been directions to choose, like which parts of the story to carry through and which to leave aside. The book is 600 pages, so it’s too much for a movie.

For the actors, we knew immediately we wanted to find new talents. We wanted them to be fresh and new for the audience. A big casting was opened to find the right actors suitable for the two main characters and secondary characters. For the director, we selected Alessandro Genovesi, who we already knew well. He has produced many successful movies with Colorado Film and Rainbow. We thought he would have the right taste for this teen drama. We had long discussions about the mood of the movie in terms of photography and atmosphere.

We used storyboards and animatics coming from the animation world to help find the best way to tell certain scenes that were a bit complicated and difficult for a director who is used to doing other genres. After that, the attention was on shooting and the music. Music can make up about 50 percent of the movie when it matches the atmosphere and the story. We selected some theme music for this movie from 200 to 300 compositions. The music is very well executed and compelling in this movie.

TV KIDS: How does The Tearsmith add to the ever-popular genre of teen romance?
STRAFFI: The book and the movie are in the same tradition as Romeo and Juliet about troubled love. I loved the theme from the beginning. It’s timeless; a story that can always be enjoyed but with a new twist. The Tearsmith has an original way of telling this type of story, as it starts in an orphanage and there are two teenagers who have been adopted by the same family. They are not real brother and sister, but it is understandable that people might not be accepting of their love story. So, there is always a fear for them that they might get sent back to the orphanage. They also have a feeling of being in love, but they are kids growing up together, so there’s conflict. This makes it original from other love stories where it’s an impossible love because of conflict between families. It is in the same tradition, but this take is original and new in the way it has been developed and told.

TV KIDS: Will Rainbow be continuing to make strategic acquisitions, either of libraries or companies, to grow the company?
STRAFFI: Rainbow Group is always expanding. We are looking, in a quite active way, for other acquisitions to be done, possibly between this year and the beginning of next. We are looking at both libraries and companies.