Toronto-based Tom McGillis and his Fresh-TV partner Jennifer Pertsch have created some of the most popular tween-skewing animated shows of recent years. Since Tom will be attending this month’s MIPTV content market in Cannes, we thought it was a good time to catch up with him to find out about his new (13 x 22) animated series Stoked, which will debut on Cartoon Network and TELETOON later this year.
Animag: So we hear you’ll be introducing a new animated series called Stoked at the market. Can you tell us a bit about the show?
McGillis: Stoked is the show that Jennifer Pertsch (my co-creator) and I have been dreaming of making since forever. In talking with tweens over the past few years, we started to notice that surfing’once the exclusive domain of teenagers’has become something that tweens want to experience as well. The day I realized that tweens deserved their own animated surf show was the day I was standing in Hollister watching the live video feed of California’s North Shore. I looked behind me and I saw about ten tweens just staring at the screen wishing they were there! The Fresh TV team often hear tweens call themselves surfers, even if they’ve never dipped their toe in the ocean! Stoked not only offers tweens a totally legit surfer lingo, but also tons of laughs, awesome surf music and the most advanced Flash animation techniques ever used for television. TELETOON came on board early for 52 half hours, which has been incredibly helpful.
Also, Jennifer has a double-overhead sized stack of Surfer Girl magazines in her closet. She’s been surfing since she was seven and she is fierce. When we realized the market was ready for a tween surfing show, it was a no-brainer.
Animag: Your shows seem to follow a magic formula that appeals to the 8 to 12 year old audiences. Why do you think they’ve struck a chord?
McGillis: When we wrote 6TEEN and Total Drama, we did extensive research. We talked to tweens and asked them what shows they watched, what shows they liked and hated, and why. That research taught us that today’s tweens are incredibly sophisticated in their media consumption. They watch a LOT of adult programming’not because they want to know about adult themes or adult subject matter’they just want smarter content. That’s why we reach out to the best writers we can find and work closely with them to develop dense stories with multiple plot lines and carefully constructed characters. We NEVER make adult jokes “for the parents” that will fly over tweens’ heads. We respect our tween audience completely and make shows specifically for them. If some of our jokes fly over their parents’ heads, we’ve done our job!
Animag: Do you mine your own experiences as a teenager for storylines?
McGillis: Definitely! Today’s tweens may be more sophisticated than we were at their age, but every 13-year-old has had the same goofy problems throughout history. The fears and excitements about becoming a teenager are universal. I had a brutal tween life’but then, who doesn’t?
Animag: What was your biggest challenge in creating a show about the surfing community?
McGillis: I would have to say that the biggest initial challenge for us was to find conflict. While the physical world of surf, sand and sunsets is visually seductive, the stories still need to hinge on conflict. That’s why we created the giant trashy hotel complex where our groms work at their first-ever summer jobs. The hotel is full of nasty bosses and kook tourists who really only want to get their picture taken with surf boards before digging into the all-you-can-eat buffet. Our gang of groms works at grueling jobs at the hotel so they can hit the beach and surf the awesome waves just minutes away.
Animag: Where is the animation done? Which tools do you use for the animation?
All the animation is done at Elliott Animation, Fresh TV’s sister company in Toronto’s Liberty Village. We have taken Flash animation to new heights with this production. We invested a huge amount of time and resources into designing a pipeline that combines traditional, 3D, and Flash animation into something that has never been attempted in TV animation before. The results are jaw-dropping. We think our audience will agree.
Animag: We’re sure you get this a lot, but what do you like best about your job?
The best part of my job is to walk around the studio and watch the most amazing artists in Canada work their magic. Because I am the boss, I just have to say “Help! I need inspiration!” and the artists pull up their best animation work and show me. It fills me with wonder and pride. There are a lot of incredibly talented people in our business.
Animag: What is your take on the global animation scene today, especially in the TV arena?
Times are tough. There’s no sugar coating I can put on it. But now, more than ever, animation producers need to create a place where people of all ages can escape the yucky recession and get their laugh on.
You can catch Fresh TV’s 6Teen and Total Drama Island on Cartoon Network and TELETOON. Stoked will join the lineup later this year. For more info, visit www.freshtv.com