Thursday, August 11, 2011

Guest Blogger: Xavier Raphael Vanegas

It has been a fascinating journey as I have been developing a children’s television show called
Fink Forest Friends, which received the Fred Rogers Memorial Scholarship. It seems many cable networks aren’t interested though in accolades, but two things: a fully developed show and ancillary possibilities - merchandise, video games, toys, and digital products. The brand started through its potential in the ancillary side with an eco-friendly plush toy line, now featured in a few boutiques around Los Angeles.

Now comes the bigger challenge - developing the show. Not just so that it stands out from the rest of programming on television, but how will it fare against the best kids' shows? Our show has to fit in a space between classics like Winnie the Pooh and hit shows like The Wonder Pets. My collaborator, Cathleen Cimino, and I love Josh Selig’s work at Little Airplane, which has been a huge inspiration for the development process.

Such work represents the kind of finesse and attention to storytelling we want for our program. At the same time we realize that the process cannot be rushed as we seek to uphold the integrity and original vision of the Fink world and its characters. Look at Pixar, they spend up to 8 years developing their brands for a film release. They’re the best studio brand right now and I think it has to do with development - allowing oneself to travel down one possible story path for a few weeks then say, "You know what, that isn’t working." So instead of forcing the charge forward, you can back pedal to a place where the infinite possibilities for the show are reset and the brand richly developed.

We are closer to developing our vision of the show. What started years ago as absurdist anti-plot mini comics where everything in the Fink Forest was just simple and cheery all of the time, has now evolved into developed characters and plots that follow 4 friends - Skunk, Lily the Red Panda, Moose and Bird as they learn lessons through their adventures and mishaps growing up in the forest.

Photo: Original Bird and Moose comic with simple, no plot or story line

The initial simple, plot-less concept for the Fink Forest Friends was a sort of backlash against Joseph Campbell from my days at the Film Studies program at Columbia University. However, in molding the substance of the show and making it more accessible to an audience, we’ve been conscious of keeping the original quirkiness intact. Now the characters are in the process of transformation from simple 2D drawing concepts to 3D models toward a new hybrid style of animation. There’s a long way to go, but it’s been an exciting process and we are hoping to release our first animation piece soon.

Part of developing the series involves having a clear consciousness of the world and the brand beyond the show itself, with cross-platform considerations like social networks and new learning-technologies and devices. It opens up an exciting realm of possibility because even the most inane detail in the story world can then lend itself for exploration in greater depth. I’ve seen this as an opportunity to make the world as rich as possible so as to encourage fans and participants to look deeper into it.

Photo: Developing the world of the Fink Forest

If I were to give one piece of advice to someone pursuing their own idea or show, I would probably say the most important part is the world building. Take time to bring depth to the characters and be open to creative dynamism brought on by writers and other collaborators. “Fink Forest Friends” continues to be enriched by this process, all towards the end of the final pitching of the show. We’ve been lucky to be able to work with incredibly talented writers who have taken the original Fink characters and breathed new life into them and shaped them into robust multi-dimensional beings.

The Fink Forest Friends are more complex and rich than ever before. I can’t wait to share the characters with the world. They are starting to become like actual people as to the level of depth woven into them. Now, I can anticipate how a given character will react in a given situation and as the plots unfold we learn more about each character, their habits, traits, fears, hopes, and desires. With great characters we’ll be able to deliver incredible stories. It’s been a pleasure working with our creative team and I think I have in turn become a better artist and storyteller in the process.

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