C.O.R.E. turns to proprietary work

C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures’ coproduction of the animated series Angela Anaconda – which premiered Oct. 5 on Teletoon – is a first step in what company executives hope will be a long foray into the world of proprietary production.

The 26-episode series also marks c.o.r.e.’s inclusion on a growing list of animation houses that traditionally do service work but have recently begun generating productions from within in an attempt to carry creative control.

‘It’s been something that we’ve been moving towards for quite some time – producing our own content,’ says c.o.r.e.’s. cofounder Kyle Menzies. ‘This is our first real step in that direction.’

The chance to put its own money behind the venture – a coproduction with Decode Entertainment – came out of service work the Toronto animation shop did earlier this year for Decode on the series Brats of the Lost Nebula, Menzies says.

As a result, when Toronto-based Decode purchased the rights to Angela from American series creator Sue Rose, they approached c.o.r.e. to take on the animation. c.o.r.e.’s total investment in the venture is unavailable.

The animation style behind Angela is best described as a combination of South Park and Terry Gilliam’s cartoon work for Monty Python: a two-dimensional, collage-style that combines scanned photo elements with illustration. Under the direction of Doug Masters and Menzies, c.o.r.e. animators combined an elaborate series of stages.

To begin, they cast child actors, sat them down in front of a blue screen and shot them with three 35mm still cameras – at front, three-quarter and side angles – as they went through the full range mouth (phoneme) positions. This created a library for c.o.r.e.’s animation team to draw from for the lip-synch.

Additional artwork, including illustrations and more photographs, was generated on pcs with Photoshop. These elements, including the headshots, were then cut out into shapes with Avid’s Elastic Reality. Artists, using er, designed the cast of characters by changing proportions and creating distortions from the original photos and illustrations.

These characters were then traced and imported into Side Effects’ Houdini software where the pieces were put together and animated.

A staff of 14 animators has thus far generated six episodes of Angela. It’s been a grueling work schedule, Menzies says creating two 11-minute segments for each show. ‘It’s on a really ambitious schedule and it’s a credit to the animators involved that we are managing to pull off a really tight deadline,’ he says. ‘Right now we’re doing an entire episode, two stories in eight days.’

Menzies says the company is searching for an additional five or six Houdini artists to carry some of the load generated by Angela.

Even as animators churn out new episodes of Angela, c.o.r.e.’s entree to proprietary production acts to further distort the line between service work and production as more and more animation shops begin to explore similar opportunities.

These include Calibre Digital Pictures, which has been working on a pair of its own projects and Dan Krech Productions, which recently finished work on The Nuttiest Nutcracker, which is being distributed by Columbia TriStar

The Nuttiest Nutcracker – loosely based on the Tchaikovsky ballet – is the story of the Nutcracker as seen through the eyes of the nuts. It has been picked up by ctv in Canada and cbs in the States, says dkp founder Dan Krech.

Using Softimage, dkp animators handled the entire cg from beginning to end, Krech says. ‘You have creative control and you don’t need to go out of house and do a lot of shooting,’ he says. ‘You have the creative control right within your studio. So it makes it a logical vehicle for content creation.’

Kirsten Marshal, c.o.r.e.’s executive producer in charge of tv production, agrees. She says c.o.r.e.’s entree to a coproduction deal stemmed from creative considerations rather than the so-called bottom line.

‘There’s an element to having ownership over what you do both creatively and financially. You are able to drive the show in the direction you want to go in,’ she says.

c.o.r.e., she says, has already begun looking for another coproduction to build off the hoped-for success of Angela Anaconda.

‘I would say our bread and butter is service work,’ she says. ‘We’re still going to service our clients.

‘But this is something we were really interested in pursuing and hope, of course, that there are more things like this down the road.’