- Arts and Design
Producing a Cartoon Series
How Do You Go About Producing a Cartoon Series?
I am a cartoon producer and creator of several cartoon characters. It's been a dream come through for me.
If you've ever wondered how cartoon series get funded and produced, who funds them, who creates them and how do you go about pitching an idea for a cartoon series, here's the lens for you.
I sincerely hope that reading this lens will be informative and rewarding to you.
About the Lens Master
This Squidoo lens was written by Aldric Chang (Follow Me on Twitter!) - best described as a creative entrepreneur with business interests in internet marketing, virtual worlds, animation, cartoons, interactive digital media, web 2.0 and music.
His 3d animation studio - Mediafreaks - is focused on producing high-end animation work for documentary producers, advertising houses and cartoon animated series - with projects ranging from the animation of dinosaurs to the visualization of natural disasters and something as chic as 3d jewelry animations. He runs a popular animation blog where he frequently posts informative articles on the animation industry and shares useful advice on the business of animation.
He is currently working on a series of free online virtual worlds for kids besides other creative endeavors.
To find out more about Aldric, visit his lensography at http://www.squidoo.com/aldricchang.
Sedo Dog Animated Series
Sedo Dog was a show I am currently producing. Our company successfully raised the funding for the show after completing a character bible and pitching it to investors.
Pitching a Cartoon
Pitching a cartoon is probably the most nerve wrecking moment for most people. What you do here is a song and dance routine where you attempt to seduce TV executives or cartoon producers to say yes to financing your show.
Here are some Q&A you might like to know regarding pitching a cartoon series.
What's the best way to actually budget the show and speak to a producer?
There is a certain formula to budgeting for a show by dividing it into 3 phases - preproduction, production and post-production. The percentage split is roughly 30-40-30 (in some cases 30-45-25) but can differ slightly depending on who you engage and where your work is being done. As for speaking to a producer, the best way is to meet them at TV Licensing shows, such as MIPCOM, MIPTV, Kidscreen, etc. Producers are usually open to discuss co-production opportunities at these shows, but do make sure you engage them as early as possible. Do your research on what companies will be going and look up their background to see if they are producing shows that suit your genre. Then write a polite email requesting for a meeting during the shows. Alternatively, you can ask to visit them. But meeting them at shows is a better idea because you can get to meet many companies at one such event.
Once you have completed your pitch package what is the next stage?
Answer: After you've completed your pitch package, hook up with a producer or an investor for a meeting! If you are looking for funding, clearly state your intentions. If you are looking for co-production opportunities don't be shy about it. Producers and investors will be quick to indicate any interest, although it does take much longer to close any deal.
Besides registered trademarks and the website domain names are there any other routes that are important to take in order to protect a property?
Regarding protection, you can copyright your materials by sending them off to international copyright offices for filing. There is one in Washington DC which you can file your works for a file, so that in the event of a dispute you can retrieve it from a recognized official archive proving when you had the materials officially submitted for filing. These can act as your backup proof and be retrieved during legal suits. You can also trademark your brand and characters under various categories in various countries if your pockets are deep enough.
Should you phone around/use contacts to get a Pitch Meeting or is it more important to first get an entertainment lawyer and/or agent?
Both are fine. There is no right and wrong. It all depends on who you know and who they know. What I am trying to say is - if you have the contacts, use them. If not, start from scratch. I did that.
With regards to the pitch, you don't consider myself the best public speaker, is it common place to hire a seasoned professional to pitch the idea?
I don't know if it is common. But I do believe it will help if you are getting a really good spokesperson. But at the end of the day, if your concept is weak and your character designs are not well-done, then even the best motivational speaker is not going to save the day. Also, while your speaker can do the pitch, you still have to do the Q&A yourself since you should know the concept much better.
With regard to the pitch, would it be frowned upon to create a video presentation pitch, then be available for questions afterwards and leave a CD behind, rather than doing the whole printed pitch bible thing and trying to sell it with your own mouth?
The answer is no, it won't be frowned upon. But do make sure that you keep your presentation short and straight to the point. Also, make sure it's really good because you have only one chance to impress anyone. The downside is - you might not be the only one sending in a pitch and they might miss your package altogether.
Are cartoons now produced at high definition? Or are they still 720 by 576. What is the standard these days?
More and more channels are picking up HD nowadays. Although they will still purchase 720 x 576, you might want to make your program in HD as more and more channels open up to HD. They will pay more for HD and there might be an eventuality that they might only accept HD shows. It won't happen overnight though.
If You Can Write but Can't Draw or Animate ...
Somebody once asked me if she can write but can't draw to save her life, can she ever produce cartoons?
I thought that it was a question whose answer should be shared, so here it is.
If you can write, but cannot draw or animate, what can you do to embark upon the path of cartoon production?
Well, believe it or not, a writer's chances of producing a cartoon is even better than an animator's!
Not convinced? Heard of the saying - "it's all in the plot"?
75% of a cartoon's success is dependent on a good concept and storyline, not how good the cast is or how good the animation is! Look at South Park! Do you call that good animation? But has the ridiculously simple flash animation stopped South Park from making families across the world roar with laughter and the producers from making obscene amounts of money? No! Yet South Park would just be a piece of crappy animation without the magic of the scripts! Incidentally, the producers are also the writers in most, if not all, of the scripts.
On the other hand, an artist is an artist is an artist. An animator is an animator is an animator. They usually just draw or animate. But please don't get me wrong. There are some multi-talented animators and artists who can think of great concepts and ideas too. Just that the specialization is somewhat different and if you start off as a writer, you are more in tune with the top line aspects of producing a cartoon.
Now, if you are convinced you can really write, you may like to follow the steps below to embark on your journey to produce a cartoon.
1. Come up with a strong story concept and think of all the characters that would be in the story.
2. Work with an artist either through a partnership or through outsourcing to create a character bible. If you are not sure what a character bible is, you can read up about it over here.
3. Look around for an animation studio that has a history of producing their own intellectual properties (IP). There are plenty of such studios around, so all you have to do is scout around for a suitable studio that has a history of producing cartoons similar to your genre of writing.
Here, you can either
(a) pitch your cartoon character bible to them
(b) or offer to write a few sample synopsis and a sample episode for one of their ongoing cartoon series.
You would be very very very lucky if a studio options your cartoon concept and decides to produce it! It usually doesn't happen for newbies because they don't like to take chances with newbies, but most likely it's because new writers just don't have the 'ooomph' factor in their ideas yet.
Either way, if you are really good at your writing, it opens up the opportunity for them to consider you for a writing contract. If you fail to get an assignment, politely ask the studio for the reason. If it's because they think you aren't good enough, it probably means you aren't good enough. You can go back to hone your skills some more or you can carry on trying. If more than 3 studios tell you the same thing it usually means you really aren't good enough yet. But practice makes perfect. If you keep trying you would probably get your first assignment,
4. Once you get your first assignment, cherish it like gold! Be flexible about everything (including payment) and cherish the opportunity. Don't do anything to destroy this silver bullet and do it like it's your first and last chance! Nobody likes to work with people who are too straight laced and the truth is - after you carve a name for yourself in the industry - companies will scramble for your services even if you are expensive. Don't be prima donna when you are just a newbie. In fact, my advice to you is never to be a prima donna :)
5. Try to be involved in as many parts of the production as possible. Ask to be involved in checking out the storyboards and offering your 2 cents on how you think the camera angles should play out. Ask to see the animatics so that you can give your opinion on the pacing and also the animation. You get the idea. Don't ask for extra fees because most studios would rather do without your help in these areas then. But you can gently request for some credits or offering your creative input. But don't be too pushy because studios rarely want to give producer or creative credits to a newbie, no matter how good you think you may be. The idea here is to get you as much experience as possible on other parts of the production pipeline.
6. As you get more experience working on such projects, you can begin negotiating for larger roles besides being just the writer. And the best part is, you can start pitching your ideas to TV networks and studios and you can bet some good moolah that they would want to listen to what you have to say!
What Kids Like in a Cartoon Character
If you're planning on producing a cartoon series or rolling out a kids' campaign with an animated character you might be interested in Kidscreen's three-part series on children's TV viewing habits.
The series covers recent research by Dr. Maya GÃ¶tz of the International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television in Germany.
Part one is boring and expected, pointing out that male leads overwhelmingly outnumber female leads in kids' TV shows around the world, and that most female characters are overly sexualized with unrealistic body proportions.
Part two is interesting. When Dr. GÃ¶tz gave over 1,000 children between 3 and 12 years old a choice of three different versions of the same female cartoon character, 70 percent of girls and boys chose the naturally proportioned character above the ones with a thin waist and a chubby waist. Turns out boys and girls also both prefer to see characters who are kids themselves (as opposed to adults).
Part three of the series focuses on the character genre preferences of boys, noting that less is more when it comes to dialogue for little boys. No chatty Cathy's for them. Sounds like they prefer the strong and silent type.
So, create a monosyllabic, average-looking kid and you have your Romeo or Juliet!
Resources for Licensing and Merchandising
I have received many questions regarding how licensing works, where to get started and where to look for licensees who would license your artwork. I have compiled a list of great industry resources you should check out if you are interested in this area.
- The Licensing Business Handbook is a comprehensive introduction to licensing for property owners, product manufacturers and agents. It is jam-packed full of information on how to get started and what to look out for in the complex business of licensing. The Licensing Business Handbook
Total Licensing Magazine - Total Licensing Limited is an independent publishing company dedicated to the licensing, merchandising and intellectual property market. It is the only publishing house to cover this massive industry on a truly worldwide basis. You can find a huge listing of potential licensees and licensors in the Total Licensing publications.
LIMA - LIMA is the grand-daddy association for companies and individuals engaged in the business of licensing - both as agents and as property owners. There is a wealth of resources and help available here and you should always refer back here.
Licensing Events - Licensing Shows that take place throughout the year. This is where licensees meet licensors and buyers meet sellers
More Q and A
Where is the best place to look for financiers?
Aldric's Answer: The best place to meet financiers from my experience are at international broadcast shows like MIPCOM, MIPTV and Kidscreen. Any such similar shows on a smaller scale also fit the bill. As a visitor or a participant, you will receive a participant's directory. Look up who lists 'financing', 'animated series production' or something of a similar nature as their agendas, and write a nice polite email to request for a meeting. These kind of financiers usually come in the form of production companies, distribution companies, financing companies, government agencies and even banks. Be sure to check out their websites and see whether the shows they produce match your genre before contacting them. It's no good trying to sell a matured show to a company who has a track record of producing preschooler series. Try not to divulge too much of your property, but not too little that you sound overly cautious (some companies view that as untrusting them unless you are a big name already). Mention that you want to do a 'pitch' and ask them if they would be interested in hearing further. As far as possible, try to request for a meeting so that you can present your story in person. If you find that you need to provide more information before they want to meet you, provide a one-pager which describes your concept briefly but clearly along with some completed concept art. I wouldn't worry too much about copyright issues because you wouldn't get anything done otherwise. This is a business decision and I leave it to your discretion, but I would throw too much caution out of the window if I were you.
Where can you find sponsorship instead? We all know who can invest, angel investors, vcs, etc but how do you find these people and keep things legal?
Aldric's Answer: The above questions are similar to the previous. As mentioned, you want to visit international broadcast shows to find production companies and financiers. To keep things legal and water-tight, I would always advise anyone to hire a lawyer! If you are on a budget (as most of us are at earlier stages), then I would tell you to ensure that everything you divulge is accompanied by a NDA (non-disclosure-agreement). But be realistic in realizing that not every company may want to sign a NDA for a non-solicited pitch. Copyrights are assigned automatically as soon as you create your work. If you want double protection,
1) send everything by email and ask for return-receipts so that you have proof of sending
2) get NDAs signed
3) register copyrights with Washington DC Copurights Office
4) send a self-addressed envelope with your creative work enclosed within as soon as you complete your works (don't open your envelopes!)
I have some characters do you want to evaluate them?
Aldric's Answer: I would be happy to see them and give you my feedback. But we don't sign NDAs because we produce cartoon characters all the time too and we don't want to be accused of stealing incase our concepts are similar to what you have. Although if we like your characters enough and they are unique, we may make a proposition to work with you. If you are uncomfortable with this arrangement, you don't have to do this. If you do, I will try my best to give you useful feedback.
Do you have a list of production companies or know of any looking to create a project?
Aldric's Answer: You will have to do this homework yourself unfortunately. I do know of many production companies that produce animation series all the time (my company Mediafreaks is one of them). But to be honest, this kind of information is something that you can find out on your own. Just look out for the credits at the start or end of the animated series on broadcast and find out the studios behind producing them. Look up their contact details on the internet and drop a nice email introducing yourself and what you want to do to them. Remember to find the animated series that best fit your genre.
I would be interested to know how you got the animation house(s) in the first place to produce the characters designs etc - did you raise funding and pay them (if so, how much do they charge) - or did they work for free hoping to be paid should the series be commissioned - or another way? And did you pay the cartoon script writer in the first instance? Also, once you got your Bible together, did you approach the animation studio and ask them to make a pilot/teaser for free - or what?
Aldric's Answer: The answer is - there is no hard and fast rule. Most studios will want to be paid. How much they charge depends on the medium and many other factors too complicated to discuss here. But most of them will have a rate card you can ask for.
There are studios who will collaborate with you based on wanting a share of the IP. They will probably only do this if they really like your property and they have some spare cash lying about with time to spare. This is tougher but possible.
I can tell you 99% of the studios will not work for free based on getting paid only if the show is commissioned. Why would they unless they are getting a share of the IP and a guarantee that they would be producing the series when it does get commissioned!
You should get out of the 'free' idea. Nothing is for free in this world. You will need to give up one thing or another. The fact is - the earlier you are in the stages of development, the more you have to give up. The studios will want a fair chunk of your IP or they will not have the incentive to help you.
So either you raise funding to engage the studios to do your work, or you have a good enough bible to impress them enough to work with you, bearing in mind that you will need to give up a share of your IP.
If developing a feature for the retail DVD market - is it practical to take a full script and storyboard (some artwork) to a distributor first to get a presale agreement - and then approach an animation studio, giving them some share in the IP? Or is it easier to approach film financiers once you have a presales agreement?
Aldric's Answer : It is definitely a good idea to have something to bring to a distributor - but it does not have to be a full script. The fact is - they probably do not have the time to read it all and you also do not want to have your script exposed to the wrong person. What you need is the character bible. I am going to write an article on what goes into a character bible soon, so do check back on my blog in the next few days.
Now, the distributor will not give you a presale. A presale means somebody purchased the program. First, distributors help to sell, not buy. So they can only get you a presale - and any sales are likely to be from a broadcaster. Also, the truth is, presales are almost non-existent in today's market. You need at least a few episodes before a distributor can do anything for you.
What a distributor can give you when you have your character bible is a letter of intent (to distribute) and some projections of how well the show may do if executed well. However, these projections usually mean nothing until your show is done and the distributor has something concrete in his hands. The letter of intent may mean something if it is from a well-known distributor. It will boost confidence in investors or animation studios to know that there is a heavyweight distributor who's interested to distribute for you if the show gets made. Basically this gives you more leverage in getting people to be interested, and also more bargaining power.
The fact about financiers is - they want as much as you can give them before they want to commit to anything. Sales, reputation, good concept, good artwork, good scriptwriter, good track record, good distribution, good everything! But these things take time to build and find.
Highly Recommend Reading for Cartoon Producer Wannabes!
A comprehensive business guide for property owners, manufacturers and their agents. Whether you're a beginner or veteran, you'll rely on the Licensing Business Handbook for the tools you need to build new revenue streams and profit centers. This well-organized guide shows you how to make money through licensed characters, teams, logos, trademarks, celebrities, events, fashion labels, likenesses and designs.
Story is the hardest thing to learn for most digital filmmakers these days since the technology has become so inexpensive and easy to use. How would you like to write a great script in about 24 hours while learning almost everything you need to know to tell brilliant visual stories for the rest of your life?
Chris Hart’s how-to-draw books have sold in the several millions of copies. Now, in his latest, he delivers detailed instructions, inspiring ideas, and invaluable tips for creating appealing and original manga-style characters. Character design is the key to success in comic books and animated films, and with this clear step-by-step guide, it’s a skill that can be quickly learned. Starting with the basics—body types, facial features, costumes, and expressions—Chris shows how to draw a hyper kid, bratty teen, lovable pooch, cool rapper, and many other distinctive types.
Whether a novice curious about the cartoon production process, a visual arts student who has not yet experienced that big break, or a seasoned professional looking for valuable insight, Animation Development is the go-to guide for creating the perfect pitch. David Levy has been through every aspect of the pitching process--preparation, hope, rejection, success--and now he wraps up his valuable experience to deliver this comprehensive guide on the industry and process. Animation Development will help readers discover how to tap into their creativity to develop something personal yet universal, push projects through collaborations and partnerships, set up pitch meetings, get legal representation and agents, and manage the emotional roller-coaster common to the pitching and development process.
Mediafreaks Animation Showreel
This is where I get to talk about my 3d animation studio - Mediafreaks. :)
A key player in the animation industry in Singapore , Mediafreaks is an animation production company that focuses on working closely with producers, distributors, broadcasters and partners worldwide to produce original television content and high-end animation for broadcast and marketing purposes.
Established in 2003, Mediafreaks has since produced hundreds of projects spanning from animated cartoon series to television commercials to CGI for documentaries to medical and architectural visualization work.
Mediafreaks focuses mainly on providing service work and its sister companies Mediafreaks Cartoon and Character Farm create their own original animated content for export into the international market for broadcast and licensing.
Please drop us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org for any enquiries.