With globalisation, co-production is not a distant dream anymore. Many animation studios in India are partnering with global brands and studios to produce diversified global content. Zoonicorn, the multiplatform animated preschool brand, teamed up with Toonz Media Group (TMG), a global leader in family entertainment, to co-produce and distribute the new 3D Zoonicorn animated series.
Launched in 2015, Zoonicorn has been growing with a strong product line including interactive plush toys, music videos, picture books, apparel line, and interactive story apps and games. It went on to become a strong brand in the kids market.
Owing to its popularity, Zoonicorn is getting the animated treatment. The series will have four Zoonicorn characters who are a magical mix of unicorns and zebras that live in the Zooniverse, an enchanted dreamland – the dreams of children being the one place parents cannot reach to protect their kids. The series is currently under production at the Toonz studios. It is a 52 x 7’ series that is expected to hit the market by March 2022.
To explore more about Zoonicorn, Animation Xpress got in touch with Zoonicorn creator Mark Lubratt, brand manager J’net Smith, and Toonz Media Group CEO P Jayakumar.
Shedding light on how the project initially kicked off, Lubratt said, “Zooniverse is a combination of cute characters and an interesting adventurous world which can generate a lot of different kinds of stories for different media outlets and platforms. It is an extension of my education history and the lessons that I have learned from my mentor Bose Corporation founder Amar Gopal Bose. He was a firm believer that everyone is capable of doing extraordinary things. So it made me realise that I can combine education philosophy with these characters in the world and share my brand vision with people around the world and that is where everything started taking off.”
Sharing the excitement for the upcoming series, Jayakumar said, “It is really exciting to work on a project built around such a successful brand like Zoonicorn. Zoonicorn is a very strong brand in the kids market already. They launched in 2015 and the brand has been growing since then with a strong product line. We are now looking forward to taking the magic of Zoonicorn to the screen in the form of a vibrant 3D animation series. The Zoonicorn series is currently under production at the Toonz studios.”
Commenting on the collaboration with Toonz Media Group, Lubratt said, “It has been important for Zoonicorn to find the right partner with amazing creative teams and animators who get the fun and adventure of our brand as well the vision and goal of our brand. We are thrilled to have found that partner with Toonz. Jayakumar and the team understood what we wanted and led us and guided us until they got it. Now it is a very collaborative effort. With this collaboration, we can tell more in-depth stories, dive deeper into the development of our beloved characters, and expand the Zooniverse to reach new audiences around the world.”
Praising the Zoonicorn team, Jayakumar quoted, “At Toonz we have been privileged to work with some of the greatest creators of our times for so many international projects. It is always a creatively fulfilling experience, besides a huge learning experience for our team. The same is the case with Mark. He is a creative genius and a brilliant storyteller. The success of the brand that he created is testimony to this. There is a lot of synergy between our teams and I am sure that together we will be creating a wonderful series for kids.”
The writing team of the show consists of a star-studded cast including two Emmy award-winning, Mark Zaslove (Winnie the Pooh, Lazytown, Shopkins), who serves as the showrunner and lead writer/editor for the series are Stephen Senders (Inspector Gadget, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs), Annie Girard (Donald Duck’s Three Caballeros and Club Penguin), and multi-Emmy Award-winning team of Dennis Haley and Marcy Brown (Kong, King of the Apes, Lego Friends, Dinosaur Train).
Charting the ideation to execution process, Lubratt elaborated, “It was three years ago when we started to negotiate the contract. Toonz brought a series of lead screenwriters, and we went through a couple of iterations before settling down with Zaslove. The collaboration included numerous Zoom calls between Toonz and Zaslove to convey the overall umbrella of the brand. After finalizing the storylines, we chose Telegael, the animation production company based in Ireland for the artwork of the Zooniverse characters.”
Adding to what Lubratt said, Smith shared, “We worked on each character to reach the brand vision. Initially we created some music videos which was a fun process. Toonz came up with funny and innovative ideas for the characters and we put all the ideas together and added little nuances to them. Telegael and Toonz listened and pulled out of us what we envisioned for Zooniverse. Once we finalised the character look we looked forward to the scripts. We worked with Zaslove to fine-tune the scripts of each episode and to implement the concept of optimism and resilience.”
Describing the characters of Zoonicorn, Smith said, “We always wanted to make the characters alive, young and relatable to the children so they can learn from them easily. We tried to have a combination of characteristics that make sense to kids in growing up and learning lessons. Zoonicorn are not superheroes; they can’t do everything but they are learning at every stage.”
She further added, “The format of the show is that the characters inhabit the dreams of young animals, taking them on amazing adventures to help learn important social-emotional skills. When the dream is over, the young animal wakes up feeling self-confident and with decision-making skills necessary to overcome whatever challenges they are facing.”
Zoonicorn music videos have been a hit on YouTube with more than two million views, speaking about the videos’ reach, Lubratt said, “The statistics of viewership we got from YouTube was tremendous. These YouTube videos are a bit of a marketing experiment to see if the stories and characters were appealing to the people. With this response, I learned that people are receiving the story well and understanding the messages from the cute characters of Zoonicorn.”
Explaining the USP of the show, Smith said, “Zoonicorn holds a lot of social-emotional programming which are very positive and has good values to make the kids learn and experience in real life but nobody focuses on this area. But Zoonicorn tries to educate and encourage kids in all aspects of life in a fun and adventurous way.”
The whole world is stuck up because of the ongoing pandemic. Many places in India are still under complete lockdown due to which the film and animation industry production has been affected. Commenting on the animation production process of Zoonicorn, Jayakumar said, “Almost the entire animation process for several episodes was done remotely during the lockdown months. We have used traditional 3D keyframe animation for this project. The main software used are Maya for asset till production and Unity for lighting and compositing.”
He also added, “We are producing one season of the series comprising 52 episodes of seven minutes each. Out of these, the first 13 episodes are ready and the remaining episodes are in various stages of production.”
On asking about the strategy implemented for marketing and promoting Zoonicorn, Jayakumar said, “We are trying to identify broadcast and VoD partners for Zoonicorn in our key territories including the US and Europe. Besides this, Zoonicorn is one of our marquee properties that we will be highlighting in markets and trade shows in the coming months. Zoonicorn already has a strong social media presence built around the brand, its L&M products as well as mommy groups. We will use these channels to promote the series once it is ready for broadcast.”
Smith further added, “The distribution and sales of the series are being handled by Toonz distribution arm, Imira which will distribute the series globally through its worldwide network. We are also holding licensing and merchandising rights along with Toonz in Spain, Portugal, and India and we are also looking forward to partners around the globe to help us on licensing.”
The Zoonicorns are kids themselves, a magical mix of zebra and unicorn, each with special talents and skills. It will be really exciting for kids to enjoy each and every episode where they are able to learn social-emotional skills and manage to implement in their life. The series is expected to hit the market by March 2022.