CARTOON DIGITAL: As content producers gather at Cartoon Digital in Denmark, discussions are turning to the increasingly blurred relationship between brands, interactive apps and TV animation. Nico Franks reports from Viborg.
With the anxiety surrounding Europe’s economy growing and predicted bad weather, a gloomy atmosphere could easily have engulfed this year’s Cartoon Digital. But delegates arriving this week in the picturesque Danish town of Viborg were instead greeted by sunshine and a renewed, although limited, sense of optimism about the region.
On day one participants heard some of Europe’s top digital commentators speak about how innovative technology and multi-platform strategies can be embraced by the kids’ animation business.
Animation today is at a point where it is just as common to hear a prodco is developing an app to accompany a cartoon as it is for the company to have its own website. But a full 360-degree approach to animation can be overwhelming for a company that already has so much on its plate when it comes to getting a project off the ground.
Nevertheless, the digital space continues to open up ways for animators to make more revenue from their project, as well as attract the attention of coproducers and broadcasters. For example, decent animated shorts may bring success to a studio in terms of raising awareness or awards, but rarely are these projects big money makers. However, in today’s digital environment, the concept behind a short animated film can be converted into a lucrative gaming app and, from there, a potential series.
Morten Thorning, general director of European Union-funded The Animation Workshop, where local and international students are taught character animation and trained as professional animators, describes exactly how that can happen.
As an example, Thorning cites an animated short from Copenhagen-based studio Sybo Games entitled Train Bombing, which went on to form the basis of gaming app Subway Surfers, which is currently riding high in the Danish iTunes app chart.
Sybo itself received valuable guidance from The Animation Workshop when looking for a company that could transform its short film, about a youth ‘tagging’ subway trains with graffiti, into a successful gaming app. It entered into a coproduction with Denmark’s Kiloo Games and, as a result, “suddenly the game took off and started to earn a lot of money in a way the short film never could,” says Thorning.
In the future, successful apps will pave the way for animated series, as has been the case with Rovio’s forthcoming Angry Birds series, currently being penned by Helsinki-based prodco Moskito Television.
“There are so many windows now,” Thorning says, “which means more mediums for the story to play out.” The script for building a brand, then, has been completely torn up and re-written. Brands are increasingly fragmented, yet more connected than ever before.
But will this drive to monetise content in as many ways as possible result in the dilution of the toon’s storytelling? Perhaps not, says Studio Fizbin, a Ludwigsburg-based company looking to raise the profile of German animation, which is currently dwarfed by its European neighbours.
Sebastian Mittag, CEO of Studio Fizbin, says the way to embrace working across platforms was to simple brainstorm as many ideas as possible, no matter how ambitious. “You have to think of your ideas as if they are an origin into all possible media,” he says.
Since 2009, Mittag has been working on the concept of a fantasy adventure universe called The Inner World, the story of which was developed with no particular media in mind, in order to concentrate on characters, settings and storyline. A 2D point-and-click adventure game is on its away, while a full 13x22′ animated series is being developed as a copro with Film- und Fernseh-Labor Ludwigsburg.
Augmented reality seems to be at the core of many case studies from speakers at Cartoon Digital, including French digital agency Casus Belli’s app for Cartoon Network properties Ben 10 and The Amazing World of Gumball. This ambitious app attempted to redefine the relationship between the broadcaster and viewer, by rewarding the viewer with exclusive content that they could access in real time.
Three-quarters of Gumball and two-thirds of Ben 10 viewers downloaded and used the app. And importantly, as Casus Belli’s Jerome Caudrelier says, the technology forms an integral part of the animation and doesn’t serve as just an add-on.
In the current climate, instinct may dictate that content producers should play it safe. But Casus Belli’s success with the app came, it says, as the result of experiment. Trial and error, it seems, is the only way forward for content producers trying to make their mark in the digital arena.