Wednesday, February 13, 2008

News - 02/13/08...

"Clone Wars extends its battle to Cartoon Network"

A project that had every animation-themed channel battling over who got bragging rights, it has been announced that Cartoon Network has landed the all-new CG-animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars from creator George Lucas. A full press-release and new artwork follows:

Turner Broadcasting Lands Lucasfilm Ltd.’s
Groundbreaking Animated Series Premieres This Fall on Cartoon Network and TNT

After months of speculation throughout the television industry, Turner Broadcasting has landed the broadcast rights to the highly-sought-after CG-animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, from creator George Lucas. A new era of Star Wars entertainment begins this fall when the television series premieres on Cartoon Network, followed by airings on TNT. The series will premiere following the North American theatrical release Friday, August 15, from Warner Bros. Pictures. Details regarding international television broadcasts will be announced shortly.

Produced by Lucasfilm Animation, Star Wars: The Clone Wars takes audiences on incredible new Star Wars adventures, combining the legendary storytelling of Lucasfilm with an eye-popping, signature animation style.

“I felt there were a lot more Star Wars stories left to tell,” said George Lucas, executive producer of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. “I was eager to start telling some of them through animation and, at the same time, push the art of animation forward.”

“Nothing like this has ever been produced for television,” said Stuart Snyder, President/COO Turner Animation,Young Adults & Kids Media. “For 30 years, Star Wars has shown that it appeals to a huge breadth of fans. Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Cartoon Network will be appointment television for everyone in the family. We’re thrilled to be working with Lucasfilm again and very excited to be playing a role in bringing this remarkable adventure to viewers.”

Star Wars: The Clone Wars showcases an entirely new look and feel to the galaxy far, far away, combining the expansive scope of the Star Wars saga with state-of-the-art computer-generated animation. Each week, viewers will see a thrilling, 30-minute “mini-movie” created by the talented artists at Lucasfilm Animation.

On the front lines of an intergalactic struggle between good and evil, fans young and old will join such favorite characters as Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Padmé Amidala, along with brand-new heroes like Anakin’s padawan learner, Ahsoka. Sinister villains - led by Palpatine, Count Dooku and General Grievous - are poised to rule the galaxy. Stakes are high, and the fate of the Star Wars universe rests in the hands of the daring Jedi Knights. Their exploits lead to the action-packed battles and astonishing new revelations that fill Star Wars: The Clone Wars. With a new story each week, Star Wars: The Clone Wars continues the tradition of thrilling stories, astonishing visuals and extraordinary music that have always been the hallmarks of the Star Wars saga.

Lucasfilm Animation, which is based in Marin County, Calif., with a studio in Singapore, has produced more than 30 all-new episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The first in a planned series of web-only documentaries that chronicle the development of Star Wars: The Clone Wars debuts online today, and can be found at

[Above and below: Animated Jedi Anakin Skywalker, right, fights alongside apprentice Ahsoka in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, scheduled to premiere on Cartoon Network in fall 2008. © & TM 2008 Lucasfilm Ltd.]

Exclusive Kung Fu Panda trailer online

AOL Movies hosts a new theatrical trailer for the upcoming DreamWorks animated flick, Kung Fu Panda. The exclusive high-definition trailer can be viewed using QuickTime, and is available in several different sizes. Hitting theaters on June 6th, Panda follows the adventures of Po the bear as he trains to become a kung fu master.

Animation Talent on Spot for ka-chew!

Celebrating 10 years in operation, ka-chew!, the commercial production company owned by Klasky Csupo founders Gabor Csupo and Arlene Klasky, has announced a significant expansion of its directorial roster. The studio’s animation work can currently be seen in’s “Firefly’ spot, which debuted during the Super Bowl. Other recent achievements include several currently airing spots for Mucinex and Campbell’s Soups.

Among those Joining the ka-chew! crew is Six Point Harness, a character animation collective the produced Where My Dogs At for MTV and El Tigre for Nickelodeon, as well as BET’s notorious “Read a Book” PSA, which got more than two million hits on YouTube. The group also animated the recent Annie Award-winning Powershares spot “Escape Average,” working under Acme Filmworks director Dave Wasson. Currently, the artists are working with ka-chew! to produce animation for a campaign promoting Sweet Peppers Deli for client Maris West & Baker in Jackson, Mississippi.

Miles Flanagan has been animating and directing TV titles for Klasky Csupo since 1997. He now heads Parallax Studio, which is signed for spot work with ka-chew! Flanagan’s direction on the long-running rotoscope “Your Potential/Our Passion” campaign for Microsoft and cut-out animation for Visa were both widely recognized.

To create a commercial campaign for Captain D's Seafood Restaurants, ka-chew! turned to Seattle-based independent filmmaker David Russo, whose award-winning film, I Am (Not) Van Gogh, toured with Don Hertzfeldt’s and Mike Judge's The Animation Show. he has also created original animation for the Thom Yorke video “Harrowdown Hill.”

Also tapped by ka-chew! are YouTube stars Paul Cummings and Tony Fiandaca, who created the pixelated live-action fight film Tony vs Paul. They also shot a series of comic shorts to promote last year’s Balls of Fury movie release and a tie-in with Butterfingers.

Working under renowned international director Suthon Petchsuman, Elliot M. Bour directed animation for the “Firefly” Super bowl spot for ad agency Wieden+Kennedy. Bour previously co-directed with Saul Blinkoff a five-spot anti-smoking campaign titled “The Sunny Side of Truth” through Curious Pictures. He also helmed the direct-to-DVD feature Kronk’s New Groove and the MTV animated series Spy Groove.

Liz Blazer directed the award-winning animated documentary Backseat Bingo, which was based on interviews with retirees about their sex lives. For ka-chew!, she has directed a web campaign to promote the reality TV series Bridezillas and a series of animated shorts for Cartoon Network. Ka-chew! hopes to sell Blazer’s warm, animated documentary style to the advertising community.

Last, but not, least, ka-chew! has enlisted the talents of Carolle-Shelley Abrams, who created the animated character Natalie the French Coquette. Her shorts, including Oola Oop L'eau de Ooh, Oola Oop Diner and Alien Dinner Theater, have been widely seen on the animation festival circuit and are available on iTunes.

In addition to the new directors mentioned above, ka-chew! recently signed vfx supervisor Lochlon Johnston, formerly of Zoic Studios; CG supervisor Matt Rosenfeld, a veteran of the company’s Mucinex campaign and also from Zoic; and senior producer/head of production Michaela Zerbib, most recently of Nickelodeon’s Burbank studio.

DIC Debuts Web Channel

DIC Ent. has launched, a new online streaming video channel dedicated to new and classic cartoons for families and children from DIC’s extensive library of more than 3,000 half-hours of programming. DIC has also named Frederic Soulie to the newly created position of head of interactive. Reporting to DIC president and COO Jeffrey Edell, he will be charged with managing the company’s network of sites.

Kids can go to and watch free streams of such animated shows as Dino Squad, Inspector Gadget, The Littles and Liberty’s Kids, as well as live-action series including Cake. Designed to work for both PC and Mac users, the web community also features imkewl chat and games, and serves as a portal to other DIC sites, including,,, and Also accessible through the site are, a partner in the network, and DIC Ent.’s newly re-designed corporate site,

Throughout the year, will grow substantially with the launch of new property sites for DIC brands including Eloise, Beginner’s Bible and Inspector Gadget, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The site will also add hundreds of hours of DIC programming. DIC hopes the web destination will attract more than 700,000 kids and yield more than 150 million pages views each month.

Prior to joining DIC as senior director of corporate and strategic planning, Soulie served as manager of strategic planning at Intermix Media Inc., the publicly traded parent company of MySpace. Working with Edell, who formerly served as chairman of Intermix Media, Soulie was actively involved in the company's mergers and acquisitions. He also developed post-acquisition integration strategies for five successful acquisitions, and managed successful online properties including dating websites.

Animated Short Nominees Talk Oscars

With the AWN Oscar Showcase tour ready to start tomorrow in San Francisco with a screening at ILM, the Oscar nominees for Outstanding Animated Short Film have been writing in to tell us what they think of being nominated, as well as a bit about the inspiration behind their films. Head over to AWN's Oscar Tour Travelogue to hear from nominees such as PETER AND THE WOLF director Suzie Templeton and producer Hugh Welchman, I MET THE WALRUS director Josh Raskin, and EVEN PIGEONS GO TO HEAVEN director Sam Tourneux. Additionally, we have thoughts from WALRUS producer and inspiration Jerry Levitan and MADAME TUTLI-PUTLI producer Marcy Page, who has had experience with the Oscar experience.

Check out the Travelogue here.

"Ratatouille" album a winner at 50th Grammy Awards

The soundtrack album for the animated film "Ratatouille" was victorious at the 50th Grammy Awards, held Sunday night at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles.

Released on Walt Disney Records, composer Michael Giacchino's Ratatouille was named Best Score Soundtrack Album For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media.

Also nominated in the category was John Powell's Happy Feet soundtrack, released on the Warner Sunset/Atlantic label.

"The Song Of The Heart," written by Prince for Happy Feet, was unsuccessful in its Grammy bid for Best Song Written For Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media. Instead, the winner was "Love You I Do," composed by Siedah Garrett and Henry Krieger for the live-action Dreamgirls (and performed by Jennifer Hudson).

A collection of excerpts from the children's stories that spawned the 2001 blockbuster Shrek lost out for Best Spoken Word Album For Children.

The One And Only Shrek, read by Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci, was released on the Audio Renaissance label to mark Steig's 100th birthday and in anticipation of DreamWorks' Shrek The Third. Instead, the Grammy went to Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, read by Jim Dale and released by Listening Library.

Animated on Post-It notes

Directed by Andrei T. Bakhurin, this fun collaborative animation jam (Multfilm) from Russia (whose full title translates as St. Petersburg is More Than Twice as Little as Moscow) was entirely animated on or with Post-It notes.

(Thanks, CartoonBrew)

In Strike News...

February 12, 2008: Film and television writers will return to work on Wednesday after 92.5 percent of Writers Guild of America members voted to end their strike against Hollywood producers, Reuters reports.

A proposed contract agreed to by negotiators for the producers and the union will give writers a share of the money generated by films and TV shows that are distributed via the Internet. A vote on the contract itself still has to be held

Briefly: New Indian Pictures; "Carl2" Multiplies Seasons

* India's DQ Entertainment and Percept Picture Company have announced plans to produce three animated feature films at a cost of $25 million. [Indian Muslim News and Information]

* Carl2 has been renewed for another season by broadcasters in Belgium and Israel. [World Screen]

* Jetix Europe has named Monika Oomen deputy managing director for central and eastern Europe. [World Screen]

"Shrek the Musical" Coming to Broadway in December

Shrek the Musical will have its Broadway debut at the Broadway Theater on Sunday, December 14, DreamWorks and Neal Street Productions announced today.

Producers have signed Sutton Foster to play Princess Fiona, Christopher Sieber to play Lord Farquaad, and Kecia Lewis-Evans to play The Dragon. Additional casting will be announced soon.

Group sales for the musical will begin on Tuesday, February 12.

Producers previously announced that Shrek will get a pre-Broadway run in Seattle at the 5th Avenue Theater from August 14 to September 21.

Tolkien estate sues New Line Cinema

The estate of "Lord of the Rings" creator J.R.R. Tolkien is suing the film studio that released the trilogy based on his books, claiming the company hasn't paid it a penny from the estimated $6 billion the films have grossed worldwide.

The suit, filed Monday, claims New Line was required to pay 7.5 percent of gross receipts to Tolkien's estate and other plaintiffs, who contend they only received an upfront payment of $62,500 for the three movies before production began.

The writer's estate, a British charity dubbed The Tolkien Trust, and original "Lord of the Rings" publisher HarperCollins filed the lawsuit against New Line Cinema in Los Angeles Superior Court. If successful, it could block the long-awaited prequel to the films.

Robert Pini, a spokesman for Time Warner Inc.'s New Line, declined to comment.

The films — 2001's "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," 2002's "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," and 2003's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" — have reaped nearly $6 billion combined worldwide, according to the complaint.

The estimate includes everything from box office receipts to revenue from sales of DVDs and other products.

The plaintiffs seek more than $150 million in compensatory damages, unspecified punitive damages and a court order giving the Tolkien estate the right to terminate any rights New Line may have to make films based on other works by the author, including "The Hobbit."

Such an order would scuttle plans by New Line to make a two-film prequel based on "The Hobbit." "Rings" trilogy director Peter Jackson has already signed on to serve as executive producer on the project, which is tentatively slated to begin production next year, with releases planned for 2010 and 2011.

"The Tolkien trustees do not file lawsuits lightly, and have tried unsuccessfully to resolve their claims out of court," Steven Maier, an attorney for the Tolkien estate based in Britain, said in a statement. "New Line has not paid the plaintiffs even one penny of its contractual share of gross receipts despite the billions of dollars of gross revenue generated by these wildly successful motion pictures."

Maier also claims the film studio has blocked the Tolkien estate and the other plaintiffs from auditing the receipts of the last two films.

The lawsuit claims J.R.R. Tolkien established a trust through which he signed a film deal in 1969 with United Artists. After Tolkien's death, his heirs created the charity in the author's name.

Meanwhile, the original agreement terms were picked up by Hollywood producer Saul Zaentz, who produced an animated film in 1978 based on the "Rings" books, and eventually licensed the rights to make live-action films to New Line.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said they have spent the years since the movies hit theaters trying to negotiate a settlement with New Line.

Other disputes over the film's earnings have surfaced in recent years.

In 2004, Zaentz sued New Line, claiming the studio cheated him out of $20 million in royalties from the film trilogy, which he optioned to New Line for a percentage of the movies' profits.

He and the film studio reached an out-of-court settlement a year later.

Jackson's production company also tangled with New Line in 2005 over profits from the films. A lawsuit was settled last year.

End of the Line for New Line?

Time Warner executives are considering folding New Line into its Warner Bros. division or keeping the brand as a separate production unit with Warner Bros. handling its distribution, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing people familiar with the situation. The newspaper said that in either scenario, New Line would be reduced to producing low-budget films as it once did instead of blockbusters like its recent Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Journal did not indicate what would become of The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings prequel, which New Line is scheduled to produce this year.

Fox Sues Warner Bros. Over Watchmen

20th Century Fox has initiated a legal battle against Warner Bros. over the rights to develop, produce and distribute a film based on the graphic novel Watchmen, says The Hollywood Reporter.

On Friday, the studio sued Warner Bros., claiming it holds the exclusive copyrights and contract rights to Watchmen.

Warner Bros. plans to release on March 6, 2009 a big-screen version of the popular graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. The film is directed by Zack Snyder (300) and stars Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Matthew Goode, Billy Crudup, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Carla Gugino, Stephen McHattie and Matt Frewer.

The trade says Fox seeks to enjoin Warner Bros. from going forward with the project, saying in the lawsuit that it seeks to "restrain (Warner Bros. Pictures) from taking actions that violate Fox's copyrights and which stand to forever impair Fox's rights to control the distribution and development of this unique work."

Fox claims that between 1986 and 1990, it acquired all movie rights to the 12-issue DC Comics series and screenplays by Charles McKeown and Sam Hamm. In 1991, Fox assigned some rights via a quitclaim to Largo International with the understanding that the studio held exclusive rights to distribute the first motion picture based on Watchmen, according to the lawsuit.

When Largo dismantled, the rights were transferred to producer Lawrence Gordon. Under a "turnaround agreement" between Fox and Gordon, the producer agreed to pay a buy-out price to Fox if he entered into any agreement with another studio or third party to develop or produce Watchmen, among other things.

Now, Fox claims that neither Gordon nor Warner Bros. has paid the buy-out price or advised the studio of any other conditions required under the agreement, including procedures necessary to acquire the rights to Watchmen from Fox.

"Conan" Director Talk Is All Bull

The likes of Rob Zombie, Xavier Gens and Neil Marshall have all been linked this past week to directing "Conan", a new film version of the classic barbarian hero that Lionsgate is planning for Summer 2009.

Well all the talk is utter bull according to a reputable and highly placed source within the production. The scooper says: "The bottom line here is that there isn't one. The production companies are talking to a host of directors, there is no completed script and there will be no director until they have a script done."

They add their own warning to those who would spread these rumors - "People like Rob Zombie are planting their own rumors trying to get the job. This is ridiculous." For now, ignore all the talk until later in the year.

G.I. Joe's Destro Has Been Re-Cast!

First reported by IESB and later confirmed by The Hollywood Reporter, Christopher Eccleston has been cast as the villainous Destro in Paramount's G.I. Joe. Eccleston, a British actor, is most known for his stint as Dr. Who for one season and his role as Claude aka The Invisible Man on the hit NBC TV series Heroes. He was also in 28 Days Later and had a villainous role in Fox/Walden's The Seeker as the Rider.

Irish-born actor David Murray originally had been set for the role, but withdrew from the film because of visa issues. Stephen Sommers is directing the latest script written by Stuart Beattie.

Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Transformers), the August 7, 2009 release co-stars Dennis Quaid, Channing Tatum, Sienna Miller, Ray Park, Rachel Nichols, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Said Taghmaoui, Marlon Wayans, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Arnold Vosloo.

As Strike Ends, Now What?

TV Guide columnist Michael Ausiello has predicted that Smallville, Supernatural and Lost may gear up for new episodes this season now that the writers' strike is all but settled. The outlook for other Sci-Fi & Fantasy shows is mixed, and all predictions are tentative.

The CW's Smallville still has four episodes left to air that were completed before the strike began three months ago and may shoot an additional three to five episodes once the strike ends, Ausiello reported.

Similarly, The CW's Supernatural still has two pre-strike episodes left to air and could shoot another three to five new ones.

ABC's Lost, meanwhile, still has six original episodes left to air and could shoot an additional six this season.

Among other SF&F series, the outlook is hazier. NBC's Medium still has six episodes left to air, but is unlikely to shoot additional segments before next fall. CBS' Jericho will begin airing its full seven-episode second season this week, with no new episodes expected this season.

Fox's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles has five episodes left, with its future still in question. Similarly, The CW's Reaper has three unaired episodes left, with an uncertain future.

Other shows that have already used up their new episodes are unlikely to shoot new segments until fall. They include CBS' Moonlight, NBC's Chuck and ABC's Pushing Daisies, which just received a second-season pickup.

It's unclear when production may resume for NBC's hit Heroes and CBS' hit Ghost Whisperer.

But it's virtually certain that NBC's Bionic Woman and Journeyman won't be coming back, either this season or in the fall, Ausiello said.

Michael Bay Has Written Transformers 2

Transformers 2 director Michael Bay told Rotten Tomatoes at the Visual Effects Society awards that he's already written the sequel and will pass on his script to the screenwriters, who are coming off of the strike:

"I've been writing Transformers 2," said Bay. "We've got our characters all designed. I always write all my scripts, my movies anyway so at least I've got something to give the writers. It's like a template. We have a really good outline so I worked on that." It might be a tad unorthodox, but Bay has high pressure demands. "We had to because I want to make my date. I'm not going to let the strike take me down."

Bay also spoke to IESB, who he assured that we won't be seeing Dinobots in the follow-up. ILM's Scott Farrar also told the site that there will be a lot more robots this time and that the animatics look amazing so far.

Transformers 2 is scheduled for a June 26, 2009 release.

WonderCon Features the Best of Comics & Hollywood

WonderCon, Northern California's largest comic book and popular arts convention today announced additional special guests for the February 22-24, 2008 convention to be held in San Francisco.

"It's a pretty spectacular line-up," said David Glanzer, spokesperson for the non-profit event. "Hollywood is very familiar with our sister show Comic-Con in San Diego, and they know we have a long history of being able to deliver audiences for their presentations. Besides having the very best in comics guests and programming, Hollywood has really taken notice and made WonderCon a must attend event."

With comics guests such as Sergio Aragones, Kurt Busiek, Mike Choi, Becky Cloonan, Darwyn Cooke, Terry Dodson, Mark Evanier, Jim Lee, Steve Leialoha, David Mack, Terry Moore, Noel Neill, Tim Sale, J. Michael Straczynski, Ben Templesmith, Bruce Timm, Herb Trimpe, Bill Willingham, and Brian Wood, WonderCon features some of the biggest names and most popular creators in the comic book world.

Hollywood is set to make a big splash as they bring several high profile films and television series to WonderCon with sneak peeks and special guests. Scheduled to appear are stars James McAvoy (Wanted); Kristen Bell and Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall); Brendan Fraser (Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D); Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway (Get Smart); Jon Favreau, director of Iron Man; Andrew Stanton, director of WALL•E; 10,000 B.C. director Roland Emmerich and stars Steven Strait and Camilla Belle; Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo star John Cho and writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg; and Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz along with stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny of the new X Files movie. Anderson and Duchovny are making their first-ever joint convention appearance at WonderCon. From television, stars Ashley Scott and Lennie James (CBS' "Jericho") and Thomas Dekker and Summer Glau (Fox's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles") come to WonderCon to talk about their respective hit series.

Add to that the exclusive world premiere screening of the animated Justice League: The New Frontier, and the first screening of the American DVD version of Appleseed: Ex Machina, and it's no surprise that WonderCon is one of the most eagerly anticipated shows on the comic convention circuit.

WonderCon will be held Friday though Sunday, February 22-24 2008 as Moscone Center South, 747 Howard Street, in downtown San Francisco. For additional information, visit the official website.

Bakugan Makes Its U.S. Premiere on Cartoon Network

New Animé Series Fights to Restore Peace on Sunday, Feb. 24, at 9 p.m. (ET, PT)

Bakugan, the hit animé series that is taking Japan and Canada by storm, makes its U.S. debut on Cartoon Network Sunday, Feb. 24, at 9 p.m. (ET, PT). The series follows the adventures of Dan and his fellow Battle Brawlers as they use strategy and skill to unleash their Bakugan power and save Earth from destruction.

The story begins with kids around the world finding interesting cards with different characters. They create a battle game with them, not knowing the cards actually correspond to an alternate world called Vestroia, where Bakugan warriors have been waging war. From the Japanese words "baku" meaning "to explode" and "gan" meaning "sphere," Bakugan are small spheres from a far-off universe that morph into powerful warriors. When the war in Vestroia spirals out of control, the Bakugan spheres are sent to Earth trapped inside "field cards." Now, it is up to Dan and his friends to save both Vestroia and Earth from destruction, using their Battle Brawling skills.

Bakugan is produced by Sega Toys Ltd., Spin Master Ltd., Nelvana Enterprises, TMS Entertainment, Ltd., Japan Vistec Inc. and Sega Corporation, with animation by Japan Vistec Inc. and TMS Entertainment, Ltd.

Kyle MacLachlan, Voice of Superman, on "Justice League: The New Frontier"

From his head-turning debuts in “Dune” and “Blue Velvet” to his iconic Special Agent Dale Cooper in “Twin Peaks” and his current plum primetime role on “Desperate Housewives,” Kyle MacLachlan has had a memorable career.

Now you can add a new benchmark for the actor: MacLachlan makes his animation debut as the voice of Superman in the highly-anticipated direct-to-DVD film, “Justice League: The New Frontier.”

“Superman stands for so many things that I believe in – strength, justice, fighting for what’s right,” said MacLachlan. “You just can’t turn down the opportunity to play a guy like Superman.”

MacLachlan is an integral part of an all-star cast that includes Neil Patrick Harris, David Boreanaz, Brooke Shields, Miguel Ferrer, Jeremy Sisto, Kyra Sedgwick and Phil Morris. Casting for the film focused on finding actors that could channel the tones of the Korean war era of the mid-1950s without sounding corny or old-fashioned.

“Kyle MacLachlan is the perfect example – he sounds exactly like what you’d think a ‘50s era Superman would sound like,” explains executive producer Bruce Timm. “He’s very righteous and good, but still very natural. We didn’t want the sound of Superman in 2008, and Kyle gave such a great, stylized performance in capturing that mid-50s feel.”

MacLachlan doesn’t claim any specific talent for a ‘50s super hero – he just tried to echo the Superman in his psyche.

“There’s a sort of moral imperative that Superman has, and I think the language he uses is a little more proper -- he’s just not a guy who uses his words casually,” MacLachlan said. “So maybe, unconsciously, that 1950s tone just creeps in there for me.”

MacLachlan enjoyed his first voiceover experience in animation, though it was not without challenges. As usual, the cast recorded the script before the animation began, then the cast returned to the booth about 10 months later to add and tweak the dialogue and effects. While MacLachlan is accustomed to live-action looping, the animation equivalent proved more challenging.

“When I’m synching to myself in live action, which is what I usually do, my mouth moves the same way and I can see it visually and it somehow connects,” MacLachlan said. “This is a little more difficult because the animated mouth moves a little differently -- the animation doesn’t quite have the same amount of detail that you would see in a real-life performance. Like the word “strategy” – we were having trouble in the booth getting that one right because I couldn’t really see how it was formed in my animated mouth. But we made it all work.”

MacLachlan found particular amusement in the voicing the action sequences within the film, particularly those moments that called for going beyond even the far-reaching imagination of his roles in David Lynch films.

“The physical performance is fun – you have to use your imagination a lot more,” he said. “It’s a lot of grunts and oomphs and ughs, which you just can’t help but act out physically. I’m sure it looks funny from the other side of the glass. Like in one scene, it was about getting hit with a pterodactyl wing versus getting punched by a super villain. There’s apparently a difference in that sound. So you have to shade it a bit and use the imagination.”

MacLachlan admits it will be tough to accept another super hero role after his performance in “Justice League: The New Frontier.”

“Once you’ve done Superman, it’s hard to go anywhere else,” MacLachlan said. “So I think I’ve reached the zenith of my super hero experience.”

Toon Zone Interviews Nick SVP Teri Weiss About "Ni Hao, Kai-lan"

In her 9 year tenure at Nickelodeon, Teri Weiss has been involved one way or another with some of Nick Jr's biggest hits, including Dora the Explorer, Blue's Clues, Go, Diego, Go!, and The Backyardigans, which have earned her a Peabody Award and multiple Emmy nominations. Her success comes as little surprise, considering her string two Emmy Awards and three Parent's Choice Awards in her prior position as a producer at Sesame Street. As Senior Vice President, Production & Development, at Nickelodeon Pre-School Television, she is currently responsible for overseeing all production and develoment for Nick Jr. and Noggin.

Last Thursday, Nick Jr. debuted their newest pre-school animated series,
Ni Hao, Kai-lan, which aims to teach aspects of Chinese language and culture to the audiences that have already taken to Spanish thanks to the efforts of Dora and Diego. We got to speak with Ms. Weiss via telephone to talk about the development of Ni Hao, Kai-lan.

TOON ZONE NEWS: Wasn't Ni Hao, Kai-lan originally announced as Downward Doghouse?

TERI WEISS: Yes, it began as a series of shorts that we did.

TZN: What happened to turn it from those shorts into Ni Hao, Kai-lan?

WEISS: Well, I think that when we do a series of shorts, it's always a great opportunity to see illustrations and concepts come to life on a small scale, and to get a sense of how much we will fall in love with something. I think once those shorts were complete and we saw this little girl come to life, we just thought there was something there that we wanted to explore in a much deeper way. We just felt like the designs were so beautiful and unique, we thought that the spirit of the character was infectious, and we wanted to see what else we could do with it.

TZN: It seems like you kind of shifted emphasis a bit, because the original show was supposed to have a bit more of a yoga theme, is that right?

WEISS: She was supposed to be a physical character, and yoga was a personal interest of Karen Chau, the creator of the show, so that was integrated into the shorts. At the time we were doing the shorts, we weren't thinking "series," so we weren't thinking whether the yoga concept would sustain itself over a 20 episode series or anything like that. It was just felt right in the context of those 2 minute shorts. Once we made the decision to go to series with Ni Hao, Kai-lan, we brought in curriculum experts and pre-school consultants, as we do with all of our shows, to talk about what type of curriculum we could do for Kai-lan that would really feel special.

TZN: The original debut was scheduled for October, and then it got pushed to February. Was there a reason why it got delayed that long?

WEISS: You know, the more we thought about Chinese New Year, the more we started to get excited about it, and once that Chinese New Year's episode was close to final, it just became contagious within the company. We felt it was worth it to delay the launch just a little bit to take advantage of the excitement of the cultural richness of the Chinese New Year. We just all decided we could hold our breath for just a little bit longer and just ride the wave of excitement. It's amazing because with the added awareness and familiarity with the Chinese culture and with the Chinese language in general, more and more pre-schools are celebrating Chinese New Year in their classroom. We thought, "Well, what a great opportunity!" Little kids, our audience, is more aware of what Chinese than ever before, so why not deliver them a brand new friend in that context?

TZN: That actually touches on another question: what were the drivers that got Nickelodeon to consider a show about Chinese language and Chinese culture in the first place?

WEISS: I think with the success of Dora and Diego, certainly, we recognized how much pre-schoolers responded to new languages. I think the fact that Karen Chau is a Chinese-American and is bilingual, and the fact that bilingualism is really just a reality in kid's lives today. There are more and more bilingual people in their classrooms and in their gyms and their neighbors, and our world has become so much more global and multi-cultural in that way. Ni Hao was an opportunity to introduce a new culture and a new langauge in the same way that we had done with Dora and then Diego.

TZN: Did the rise of the number of parents adopting Chinese girls in North America figure heavily into the decision at all?

WEISS: No, it was really more about the culture and the language. I can't say that that was a piece of it. It's certainly wonderful -- there was that wonderful article in The New York Times about a month ago about Chinese adoptions. I think that it's a wonderful thing that you know there's an opportunity for kids to learn more about the Chinese culture, but it was not an element to kind of making the decision.

I think that any time there's an opportunity on television, particularly with pre-schoolers, to have children to kind of look at the screen and go, "Oh my gosh, she's just like me. She's like me. She reminds me of me," I think that is a wonderful thing, because I think that when kids feel and see themselves reflected on TV, I think that they really get a kind of sense of being part of a community. I think that that's part of Nick Jr. in general, is the level of diversity that we have. That kids watch our air and invariably, every child who watches our air is able to say, "He or she is a lot like me!

TZN: Dora and Diego are teaching Spanish, but Chinese is a very different language, so I wanted to talk about what kinds of challenges that presented to you from an educational perspective. Am I correct in assuming that the show is going to be focusing a lot more on spoken language skills rather than written language skills?

WEISS: Yes, that's true. It's true of all of our pre-school shows, because our kids are pre-readers anyway. So, most of our linguistic experience is that auditory experience in any event. But you're right, we are focusing on spoken language. I think we all learned a tremendous amount in our journey with the language on Kai-lan. Our whole team took Mandarin lessons here at the company, and we all just jumped into it with two feet. It was really, really wonderful. I think that the pronunciations, the nuances within the language are so complex and rich. We had a language consultant for the show, and all the scripts and radio tracks were reviewed. We would have somebody on site when the kids recorded the languages to make sure that all the pronunciations were correct. It's been quite the journey, and wonderful.

The other great thing about the show is that there are two components to the language. There is the "target word" aspect of Ni Hao, where there's one particular word that's repeated many, many times within the context of an episode, and there is also more of the immersive experience of the language, which is mostly Yeye and Kai-lan speaking maybe one sentence and sometimes, on a rare occasion, two sentences of Mandarin that are not translated. The reason for that is I think that kids are fascinated when they hear a language in context and really take away a lot. We certainly set up the scene with that fluidity so that kids can follow along and pretty much understand what that back-and-forth conversation is without having to hear a literal translation. And it gives them an opportunity to see how different that language is from the language they speak, and how beautiful it is.

TZN: Jumping back briefly to the written aspect, that means you're not going to be addressing things like simplified vs. complex characters on the show?

WEISS: No, we won't tackle that.

TZN: Are you going to be addressing the fact that the language is tonal? Will you address that specifically on the show, or are you just going to use the children's mimicry skills to pick up the right tones for the right words?

WEISS: Yes, I think that second one is our initial approach. That's definitely what we did with the first 20 episodes. Should we move forward with more episodes...I think that the simple approach is really what's ideal for our audience. I mean, I think that once you start getting into a lot of the nuances within the tonal aspect of the language, I would imagine it gets a little complicated for our viewers.

TZN: Are there any plans to expand a little bit into that the website or other distributed materials?

WEISS: I think that there certainly will be games that we do on the web connected to Ni Hao, Kai-lan. Like I said, I think the approach is to really allow everything to feel very acceptable for our kids, I think that the playful nature of the site and our show is to really invite kids into her cultural world, and have the language piece be a compliment to that.

TZN: Speaking about the culture, would you say that the plotlines of the show and the stories that are being told are affected at all by Chinese values or things that are emphasized in Chinese culture? Or were you aiming for something a bit more universal?

WEISS: We have a combination of both. I think that there are certainly universal pre-school themes that are integrated into the series, but the cultural piece is definitely part of all of the script brainstorms that we have. We have a cultural consultant, and there are a number of people working on the show that are Chinese-American that share their experiences, I think that the relationship between Yeye and Kai-lan is very much supposed to be a reflection of that type of cultural relationship. It is at the top of our minds whenever we go to write a script.

TZN: Was there a particular instance where your consultant, Li-hsiang Shen, suggested a particularly interesting change, or anything where you didn't do something she had suggested?

WEISS: You know, I can't think of anything at the moment. I think that the biggest challenge with the show was really to always be mindful of the audience that we're serving, and they're so 2, 3, 4, 5-year olds. This show has a lot of wonderful layers to it. We have the language layer, we have the cultural layer, we have the emotional intelligence layer, and we have all of those friendships and great stories that we want to make sure that we tell. So I think that above all, whenever there was an idea that couldn't be executed, it was really, I think, in the name of simplicity more than anything else.

TZN: Where did the hula ducks come from?

WEISS: (laughs) You know, Karen I believe designed the ducks. They were always part of her initial world, and the writers would look at those design palettes. Then they became part of the "Dragonboat Festival" episode once they had to do the countdown. It's my understanding that it was a joint effort in terms of the designs to seeing them and they were just so unbelievably adorable that the writers made the most of them.

TZN: Right, I think they show up in the second episode as well.

WEISS: (laughs) Yeah, they're hard to leave out.

TZN: Even in the very very early reports about the show, it was mentioned that you would be working with Chinese animation studios. Was that a goal that you had up front to build that relationship?

WEISS: Yes. Yes, we definitely were looking to find a way to build a relationship with a Chinese animation house. It was part of the plan. I mean, I think that we're always looking for new people to work with, and this was an opportunity that seemed like a perfect fit.

TZN: I know that Nickelodeon's Avatar, especially, is known for giving the outsourced animation studio a lot of leeway to contribute to the show. Do you have that same kind of relationship with the Chinese studios that you're working with?

WEISS: You know, I think in terms of leeway, the only thing that makes our situation a little bit more rigid than perhaps the big Nick shows is that because we have that interactive component to the show, timing is pretty crucial. The way that the boards are laid out, I mean those games are researched with kids and the pacing of the show is researched with kids, so there is a lot of structure to what's sent overseas.

TZN: I guess because of the demands of the show, there's not a whole lot of room to play with.

WEISS: No, not as much. I can't say that there isn't ANY, but if I had to hazard a guess, just based on that, probably not as much.

TZN: Are there any stories about hiccups or amusing misunderstandings with the overseas studio you can share?

WEISS: We haven't had any. I haven't heard any, in terms of hiccups or anything. I think that we have a really strong team out there at NickToons, managing the boards and managing any kind of language differences, and I think that we've worked with a lot of overseas studios, so our goal was always to make sure that it runs as smoothly as possible.

TZN: I imagine the number of bilingual people who must be working on the show probably helps too.


TZN: Now I know that you guys are also always on the lookout for good animation from foreign markets, like the acquisition of Peppa Pig. Are you doing that with the Chinese animation studios to bring a Chinese cartoon to America as an import?

WEISS: I would say we are always looking for material. In the Nick Jr. world, we are always looking for stuff. I can't speak for big Nick in terms of how far other deals have gone. They may, in fact, have some stuff in motion on their end. Like I said, I work exclusively in the pre-school world, but yes, we're always looking for new opportunities to work with international partners.

TZN: Also touching on some globalization concepts, international markets are becoming more and more important for a lot of media companies. Has you guys given much thought to if or how Ni Hao, Kai-lan can be exported?

WEISS: The show hopefully will do well domestically, and I know that there is a plan for it to go to a number of our channels globally. You know, we kind of start small and then grow depending on demand of the other channels. Certainly the advantage of Nickelodeon having channels all over the world is that all of our international partners have a chance to look at shows as they get developed.

TZN: Switching over now to the voice cast, a lot of the actors on the show are Chinese or Chinese-American. Was that a conscious choice on your part when you were casting?

WEISS: Absolutely, yes. We knew that that was something that we wanted to do from the very beginning, so it was part of the casting process.

TZN: Is there a story behind how you cast Jade-Lianna Peters?

WEISS: You know, we cast a wide net. I think that finding your lead is always a challenge. You're looking for somebody who has all those special elements that can carry a show, and I think it's wonderful that we found someone who's from Milwaukee. It's like "We would not be denied!" There was no stone left unturned (laughs) to find her. So there were a lot of little girls that we saw and auditioned, I don't know the exact number offhand, but definitely, it was a wonderful search.

TZN: Did you know that she was an adopted Chinese girl before you cast her?

WEISS: I don't think we knew. I can't say for a fact, but I believe that we didn't know that initially, and then I think as she came back for callbacks and as she was cast, we found out about that. But you know, I don't quite remember. It's one of those things that once you know it, you can't remember where you learned it (laughs).

TZN: Now Jade-Lianna is not actually a native Chinese speaker. Was that also a deliberate choice?

WEISS: It definitely wasn't deliberate. We auditioned kids that were bilingual, some who had some Mandarin background, and then we also auditioned kids who didn't have any. I think that Jade-Lianna just embodied the character in so many ways, and we knew that the Mandarin piece was something that she was committed to doing, so we just went with it.

TZN: Is it too early to talk about DVD plans or merchandising plans, or other distribution means like iTunes?

WEISS: I don't know the plans for iTunes, but we don't have any plans yet for merchandise. Basically what happens is that we launch the show, we get a sense of whether it's a hit, and then the other pieces of the puzzle follow from there.

TZN: You were involved in a lot of Nick Jr's biggest hits, like Dora and The Backyardigans and Bob the Builder. What would you say was the biggest difference you saw in getting those shows to the screen versus Ni Hao, Kai-lan?

WEISS: I think the biggest difference was that because we had the experience with our language consultants and with our cultural consultants on Dora and Diego, we kind of ironed out our processes with those two shows. Particularly with Dora. I think even by the time we were ready to do Diego, we had a really good sense of how to build the team, but I think that that made the process easier for Ni Hao, Kai-lan in that we kind of understood all the different components and all the different experts we wanted to get involved. We didn't know WHO they would be, but we knew what positions we wanted to fill, so that was certainly an easier process. Finding the right people is always a challenge, but knowing that you want those pieces in place and knowing from a chronological perspective when you want them to enter the process always helps if you've done it before.

TZN: Are there any plans or discussions or anything in the works right now to do similar shows for other countries like, say, India or Korea or maybe even the Middle East?

WEISS: We're always looking for diverse content. I think that the original Downward Doghouse shorts were part of a series that we did that were called the "My World" series, which was about all different types of cultural diversity. We did actually have pieces of a little girl who was Indian who was showing how she put on her sari. I think that that's always at the top of mind, "How can we make our programming as diverse as possible?" On some level, part of a creative assignment is always, "How can we do something that's new and interesting and enriching for our kids?" So, to that end, I guess the answer to that is, "Yes." (laughs)

TZN: What would you say is the coolest thing that happened to you while you were producing the show?

WEISS: (laughs) The coolest thing that happened to me while I was working on the know, I would have to say that the Mandarin language component was really the most fascinating piece. I think the tonal component to the language, as you brought up, and just how different it is to the English language was such a wild ride. I loved it. I loved hearing all these bilingual characters, I love the immersive experience that we have, so I think that was such a wonderful thing for all of us to have the opportunity to experience.

I'd like to thank Toon Zone News , who would like to thank Teri Weiss for taking the time to chat with them, and for Heather Brown and the whole crew at Nick that assisted in arranging the interview.

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