Isle cartoon to debut on NickToons


POSTED: Sunday, July 05, 2009

For the first time, a production studio in Hawaii will launch a series of animated shows on the national scene. Hawaii Film Partners has produced 38 two-minute episodes of “;Ape Escape”; for Nickelodeon's NickToons network. The series premieres at 9 a.m. today.

“;This was a way for us to do our first animation project on something that was bite-sized,”; said Rann Watumull, co-founder of Hawaii Film Partners and an executive producer of “;Ape Escape.”; “;It's a wonderful way to introduce a show without having to take over a time slot.”;

Based on the Sony PlayStation game of the same name and geared toward kids between the ages of 6 and 13, the episodes are constructed with Flash animation, which allowed Hawaii Film Partners to build the series in their Hawaii Kai studio. Watumull said they hired 10 designers and animators locally, with the exception of one person from the mainland who was brought in to train the staff and oversee production in the initial months of the yearlong endeavor.

The result is an exceptional opportunity for emerging talent in Hawaii. Academy for Creative Media student Cameron Nitta, for instance, became the production manager.

“;That should be encouragement to everyone,”; said Watumull. “;These kids are going to get credits on a national show.”;

Other executive producers include Hawaii Film Partners' Gina Watumull, David Jackson and Shauna Shapiro Jackson, along with Fred Seibert and Kevin Kolde of the Frederator Studios, and Rick Privman and Yumiko Miyano of Sony. Nickelodeon's Konnie Kwak, who approached Watumull with the idea, is the producer.

THE FLASH animation technology allows designers to draw the characters and then scan them into the computer. But sometimes the characters' movements aren't as fluid as those produced by traditional illustration. Consequently, “;there is still some artistry involved,”; said Watumull. “;But a lot of the grunt work is taken on by the computer.”;

Creating the infrastructure for animation has already led to the next step. Watumull's company is working on 26 half-hour episodes of “;Guardians of the Power Masks,”; an animated series that represents a multinational partnership with South Korea and China, where it will air in prime time. Though the series has generated a lot of interest in the United States as well, Hawaii Film Partners has yet to choose a network. The first episode should be ready in the fall.

In addition, the busy production company is currently editing its first feature film. “;You May Not Kiss the Bride”; stars Mena Suvari, Rob Schneider, David Annable, Tia Carrere, Vinnie Jones and Katharine McPhee and is scheduled for release later this year or in early 2010.

The “;Ape Escape”; series centers around a nutty professor who creates a helmet that's supposed to make people smarter, and a bunch of comically dimwitted monkeys who get their hands on this magic hat. In some entertaining, perhaps inexplicable way, all of this leads to many foiled attempts at world domination.

“;There's so much hard stuff in the world that kids just want to laugh,”; said Watumull. “;It doesn't always have to make sense. It's a throwback to the good old days.”;

After the 38 interstitial (between full-length shows) episodes of “;Ape Escape”; air on television, the future remains open. If the concept strikes a chord with the public, Nickelodeon will want to do more, said Watumull. This could include full-length live-action episodes with actors dressed in monkey costumes.

It's just one possibility, noted Watumull. “;There are a lot of fun things you can do.”;