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Silas Hickey

Creative Director – Animation | 30 Mar 2012

Building strong, multidimensional characters is the most important element to attract kids across the globe. Kids need to be able to relate to characters irrespective of geographical, social and cultural diversities. Minimal language eases out the challenge of language translation.

Silas Hickey is a filmmaker and producer based in Hong Kong. He is currently responsible for the creative direction of Cartoon Network’s Asia-Pacific animation content development initiative, Snaptoons.

Hickey works closely with the acquisitions team in the region and plays a pivotal role in ensuring that whatever goes on air reflects Cartoon Network’s brand and its promise to delivering fun, engaging and relevant content to kids. This is also in keeping with his vision that kids everywhere can grow up watching a combination of locally produced premium content and great shows from around the world.

His body of work at Turner includes the science fiction film, Ben 10: Destroy All Aliens, where he served as the Executive Producer of the full length Computer Graphics (CG) animated movie. Other hits produced include the 60-minute animated musical featuring Johnny Bravo in Johnny Bravo Goes to Bollywood and Roll No. 21.

Prior to joining Turner, Hickey worked with an exhaustive list of media firms such as Virgin, MTV, Nickelodeon and Disney. He is also an industrial designer and a documentary film maker with multiple awards in broadcast packaging and promos under his belt.

Here are excerpts from Priyanka Mehra’s conversation with him:

Q. Please share your thoughts on the changing landscape of animation.

Technology has replaced many of tools, but not the individual artistry needed to create animation. Pencil and paper as well as brush and paint have been replaced by digital tools, but the skill-sets remain. For example, a storyboard artist still has to have a cinematic imagination and the draftsmanship needed to draw panels, but they would most likely draw them on a cintique in a program called Storyboard Pro or Photoshop. A cintique is a graphics tablet that allows the user to draw directly on the display surface.

More animation is being produced now than ever before both, for the big screen and television. In the past, only one or two traditional 2D animated films were made per year by one or two studios. These days, almost all animated movies are CG and many more studios are making them, enough to have multiple award nominations. For instance, the latest movie, Ben 10: Destroy All Aliens is CG-animated from our most popular franchise and this has enabled us to provide kids across the world a better television viewing experience on par with any Hollywood movie.

TV cartoons were broadcasted only for a few hours in the day when I was growing up. Now TV animation is 24/7, so this increased appetite is really fuelling the development of content more than ever before.

Q. What are the important components required to retain universal audience appeal?

Building strong, multidimensional characters is the most important element to attract kids across the globe. Kids need to be able to relate to characters irrespective of geographical, social and cultural diversities. Minimal language also eases out the challenge of language translation.

Simple and linear plots are easy to understand by kids and thus, travel across borders easily. And finally, one of the most important elements for kids to keep coming back to the same show time and again is – humour! It is for all of the above reasons that Tom and Jerry is a timeless show. It’s been going on for over 70 years, but is still one of the most popular shows on television across the world. In fact, it is one of the top shows enjoyed by adults as well!

Q. How can locally made content be optimised for global export success?

India has an immensely rich cultural and mythological heritage. Series based on this do fantastically well within the region. However, when it comes to exporting such series, kids in other countries have not grown up with the same characters and stories, so the cultural nuances are lost. However, we are seeing more studios taking inspiration from mythological characters, but creating plots that are fictional, modern to ensure more global appeal. For instance, Arjun, a popular show in India is gaining momentum in Malaysia as well.

Another challenge with Indian animation is that it can be very dialogue heavy. Humour is derived from language rather than action, which is why translating it for other markets becomes very costly. An example of slapstick humour in India doing well across borders is Roll No. 21. In this show, the humour is based on physically funny situations rather than dialogue, just like Tom and Jerry.

Another boost that the Indian animation industry could use is to further develop professionals in this field especially in the areas of script writing and character development. The increasing number of training programs both, within studios and in schools is an encouraging sign that local talent is being given a platform to hone their animation skills.

With movies like Ben 10: Destroy All Aliens being produced in Asia, we are looking for such opportunities to create content in India that will travel across the globe.

Q. What is Turner’s India focus when it comes to animation content and the promotion of it?

We have been making original Indian animated content for years with shows such as Roll No. 21, Kumbh Karan, etc. In terms of acquired and co-produced series, we are constantly looking for our next Chhota Bheem. Tripura and Arjun are good examples of Cartoon Network India shows that are doing well regionally.

We are currently working on several Indian stories that we believe will work regionally and beyond.

The India content team is focused on creating content that resonates with kids regionally by means of unique art direction and new animation techniques we have developed at Turner and with studios in Malaysia and India.

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