It all started in 2012, when Frame One producer Mira Soullen had the idea to produce an animated TV series for kids. Mira has a background in marketing to kids, and she built and started up several kid brands at Dannon and Krafts Foods. I knew that the upcoming project would have a very specific and unique approach. I was involved in the project since its early days, and initially served as a creative director and supervisor.Before even committing ourselves to story development and design, the producer organized massive research which included kids market research, mothers’ demands, and latest kid trends. We took into account global psychologists’ opinions on such topics as violence in cartoons, and the influence of cartoons on kids’ psychology. Lots of things to consider, and I’m not even mentioning a broadcaster’s preferences and requirements; those are a completely different story. After everyone on the team got the idea about what we were after, the creative process was launched. Though Frame One’s artist had significant experience in designing characters, we couldn’t find our protagonists among dozens of concepts that were drawn every day. I was looking for something fresh, but it had to have some Disney spirit in it. The weeks were passing by, and we’d developed dozens of beautiful concepts that corresponded to all requirements. Still, I had a constant feeling that we needed something different.
Late one evening when I was about to go home, I accidentally found a rough, dirty sketch on a paper drawn by one of our concept artists. The sketch was terribly drawn – it had lots of squiggles, pencil lines were crossing and overlaying like a couple of character silhouettes that were put one on top of another. The sketch was never destined to be shown to anyone.Looking at the sketch, where every person could have seen something different like in the Rorscharch inkblot test, I saw our protagonists. By squinting my eyes I could see three kids’ silhouettes hiding one behind another. At that moment, I felt like I had won a lottery. The next morning we had a meeting, and by the end of the day we had three drawings of our main protagonists.
After the concepts were approved, our producer Mira Soullen organized a focus group with 90 pupils from a primary school. She wanted to see kids’ reaction and hopefully get some constructive feedback on the story and character concepts. One focus group was held in a primary school in the north of Italy, and another one on the opposite side of the globe in Kazakhstan.
The feedback we received was just unbelievable! Despite different geographical locations, different languages and cultural backgrounds, both groups were saying almost identical things. I was surprised how good kids can be at criticizing and commenting on cartoons and drawings. Believe it or not, they were first class experts! Their feedback led us to rewrite the script and do some minor adjustments in the design of the characters. It took us another 6 months of testing and careful refinement before we could proceed to actual 3d modeling of the characters.