For animation industry hopefuls, the big draw of Annecy Festival is the chance to hear from professionals who have already broken into the industry. As a pioneer of the animation medium, Disney’s presentations are always among the most popular. And with Disney Television Animation putting out more animated content than studio brands, a panel like “Learning the Ropes: A Guide to Creating the Next Big Disney Hit” became a must-see event. It featured creatives from Phineas and Ferb, Kiff, SuperKitties, and the upcoming series Primos. Emily Hart, SVP of Animation Development, moderated the panel, which ended with an audience Q&A.
The panel began with a conversation about paths to becoming a series creator or showrunner. Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh recalled their well-known tale of pitching Phineas & Ferb for 13 years, being turned down everywhere, including once by Disney. If they could go back in time and do things differently, they would’ve created an animatic to help sell the show much sooner. It’s something that Dan put together once they were greenlit for a pilot, which was going to be produced in the U.K. Recognizing that the show's tone could get lost on paper, he created something that could tell the animation team across the pond exactly what he wanted. As a special treat, we saw a clip from that reel, followed by a comparison of the same sequence from “Rollercoaster.”
Lucy Heavens and Nic Smal took a page out of Dan and Swampy’s playbook while pitching Kiff. Based out of South Africa, in-person pitches in Hollywood were a rare opportunity. Lucy overcame her nerves and wrote a song for an animatic they produced, which could be emailed to interested parties. We saw that animatic rap, which involved a list of Kiff’s excuses for being too busy to brush her teeth. Lucy and Nic anxiously waited for three days before Disney responded enthusiastically to the reel. Another key to their success was the countless hours spent defining their characters. By the time they were on Skype with executives at Disney, they could quickly share how the lead characters would respond to any scenario they were presented. That was key for their show, which was described as “Seinfeld for families.” It’s a show about the mundane elements of life, done in a highly entertaining way. As an added note, during the panel, it was revealed that showrunning from South Africa was unfeasible for Lucy and Nic, who would find themselves up all night on virtual meetings from California. They have since relocated to L.A.
SuperKitties was the lone Disney Junior title on the panel (although Swampy did name-drop the preschool show he’s working on, Hey AJ). Writer/Producer Sarah Mullervy talked about working with series creator Paula Rosenthal to help the show stand out in a landscape of superhero shows aimed at the same audience. The special ingredient is the way the characters deal with baddies. Rather than locking them up, they ask why they did what they did. The answers are relatable to children, and each episode ends with Bitsy’s vlog, where she wraps up the episode's message.
We hadn’t seen footage from Primos yet when series creator Natasha Kline talked about pitching her show (the animated theme song was unveiled later today in a press conference from Disney Branded Television). Natasha shared the secret to her pitch, writing what you know. In her case, she created a show inspired by her Mexican/American family, and she has 28 cousins. She has been working in TV animation for a while now, with credits including South Park and Big City Greens. But the first time she put an anecdote from her life to animation was when the Upright Citizens Brigade asked her to do standup, a thought she wasn’t comfortable with. Instead, she adapted a diary entry about her crush on the boy next door, which she shared with the Annecy audience. One of her favorite parts of developing the series was talking to her family members about her childhood, discovering things she forgot, or experiencing them differently.
With Phineas and Ferb given a two-season order by Disney+, Swampy recalled how anxious he was when the series was initially picked up, and they suddenly had to create 39 more stories for the 20-episode order. Dan added that they’re several months into writing and that his biggest concern was becoming the “Simpsons Did It” South Park episode, rehashing stories they’d already told. But so far, things have been going really well and he teased that some of the episodes will break the show’s typical episode structure.
The Q&A portion of the panel yielded a magic moment for the Phineas and Ferb creators. In the audience was Miguel Antelo, who translated all of the Phineas and Ferb songs into Spanish and became the Spanish voice for all of Danny Jacobs’ singing (eg, “Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated!”). Out of personal interest, he asked if Danny Jacobs was on board for the revival. “You can go buy that new car,” Swampy jokingly confirmed. Dan confessed that while they don’t have any input on localized dubs of the show, he enjoys finding them on YouTube. He added that in French, Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz has a very deep voice, while the Spanish voice sounds so much like him that his wife had to ask if he recorded that version of the character, too.
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