Fearless on Wheels

Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredvil, Disney XD’s new action-packed toon, follows the high-octane adventures of a young boy who can give Johnny Knoxville a run for his money.

A high-energy animated show about a young daredevil boy who loves to challenge himself physically seems to be exactly the kind of thing the newish cable channel Disney XD was created to produce and air. That’s why common wisdom dictates that the cabler’s target audience of six- to 11-year-old boys will instantly gravitate to Kick Buttowski: Suburban Daredevil, a snappy new toon created by Sandro Corsaro, loosely based on his own boyhood experiences.

‘I was a real boy’s boy and wanted to go as fast as I could on anything with wheels and loved to challenge myself like most boys do. I remember there was one kid in my neighborhood and he was younger and smaller than the rest of us, but we could challenge him to do anything, and he would do it. So in essence, I wanted to create a character that embodies all those traits’Johnny Knoxville and Tony Hawke are his heroes.’

The 33-year-old Corsaro says Kick Buttowski started with a simple drawing of a young boy with a small body and a very determined look on his face. He then fleshed out the rest of his world, his family and his friends. ‘I grew up in a cul-de-sac in Stoneham, Mass., which reminds everyone of the town in Back to the Future. So you’ll see a lot of Stoneham in Kick’s town, which is called Mellow Brook’the town is just like a character in the show. It’s the sort of place where everyone knows each other.’

Corsaro moved to Los Angeles in 1994 to study art and animation at USC. His lucky break happened during his junior year when he landed an internship to work on Brad Bird’s acclaimed animated feature The Iron Giant. ‘I worked for art director Alan Bodner who was doing previsual development on the movie’and to have that as my first gig in animation was pretty incredible,’ says Corsaro. ‘That movie is such an amazing piece of animation history’and I was able to have access to these amazing people. In the working world, it’s so rare that you have a chance to work with a director as talented as Brad Bird.’

Inspired by the success of JoeCartoon’s online Frog in a Blender series, Corsaro learned about Flash technology from one of the animation tool’s leading experts, Rob Reinhardt. Soon, Corsaro wrote his own primer on Flash technology and decided to create his own two-minute Flash-animated pitch to show the development execs at Disney.

Eric Coleman, Disney TV Animation’s senior VP of original series, says that both he and VP of animation development Mike Moon were quite impressed by the two-minute Flash-animated short Corsaro had made to pitch his concept. ‘It was a short piece that really gave us a glimpse of this determined, focused little ball of energy,’ he says. ‘Here was this wonderful character who could withstand a lot of pain’you just saw it in his expression and it was enough to get everyone excited as we were looking for original concepts to help create our new network. Over the next year and half, we were able to develop and build this character and his world in a way that it was perfectly aligned with the branding of Disney XD’which matched the spirit and theme of the show perfectly.’

Corsaro believes that digital technology proved to be the means to an end. ‘I wanted to cut the paper out of the process,’ he says. ‘I wanted to put the pitch on a cell-phone and show it to people. Then Toon Boom’s Harmony came along’and that was the right tool for us to animate the series. You can get some amazing camera movements with it and rotate 360 degrees and create this depth of field’it meets the show’s needs really well.’

The pilot for the show was animated by Ottawa-based Mercury Filmworks. Another key member of the team is exec producer and director Chris Savino, who has over 15 years of experience working on top shows such as Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends and Johnny Test. Disney has committed to 20 half-hour episodes of the show to date.

According to Coleman, one of the factors that sets the show apart from other boys’ action fare is that it has a very strong graphic sensibility. ‘There’s a real iconic quality about it,’ notes Coleman. ‘The squishy, pudgy body reminds you of a great vinyl toy. It’s perfect for a guy whose motto is, ‘If life throws an obstacle in your way, you jump it!”

Not surprisingly, Kick Buttowski has been testing remarkably with young boys. ‘It really delivered,’ says Coleman. ‘Boys like seeing pain! They also want action, action, action and they want lots of comedy, and we believe the show has all of those elements.’

Throughout the development process, both Coleman and Corsaro were aware of the fact that they also needed to broaden the scope of the show to include the other characters in Kick’s universe. That’s why viewers will also get to know the little hero’s best friend Gunther, his bullying older brother Brad, his self-involved beauty queen younger sister Briana and various other neighborhood kids.

‘Our big challenge was finding a voice for the character that can sustain a lot of stories, through numerous episodes,’ explains Coleman. ‘We want to look at the characters far beyond a TV show, as a new character in the canon of Disney characters and find the right balance between comedy and action. One of the things that we are excited about is the fact that it’s a total brand fit for us. It’s a great companion piece for our hit show Phineas and Ferb‘and has some of the same underlying themes of friendship and determination.’

As Corsaro sees it, determination is one of the key qualities animators need to have in order to succeed in the business. ‘One of the most important things you need to do is believe in yourself,’ he advises. ‘If you don’t believe in your project, you will never be able to able to pitch it the way it should be made’and you have to be tenacious to the commitment to yourself, because it’s easy to be distracted by life. Commit to your idea and execute it in the best possible way you can’and even if it doesn’t happen, at least you can say, I gave it every ounce of my energy. At least, I gave it a million percent.’

Kick Buttowski premieres on Disney XD in February.