Diversifying into various forms of animation have help Bradissimo in these tough economic times. Rick DeMott talks with SVP Josh Fisher to find out the secrets to their success.
With animation production on a downturn in L.A., production firm Brandissimo is one bright spot in the toon landscape. On TV, their Harry and his Bucketful of Dinosaurs aired on Cartoon Network and their Emmy-nominated Meteor and the Mighty Monster Trucks aired on Discovery Kids. Now they have found success online in the animated virtual worlds sphere. NFLRUSH Zone is an MMOG world sponsored by the National Football League. The immersive site has acquired more than 1.3 million registered users in its first 15 months. In addition, Brandissimo teamed with veteran animation exec Josh Fisher to expand Fisher's Urbaniacs.com, a comicbook-themed online social community and gaming site.
To get into what else Brandissimo is up to and more on these online projects, we talked with Fisher, Brandissimo's exec producer and SVP of content. Fisher is an Emmy Award-winning exec that has 12 years of experience creating and producing content for young audiences, tweens, and teens. He has developed and produced animation, live-action, and Web development for ABC Family Channel, Fox Kids, Disney, Discovery Kids, Cartoon Network, and several major broadcasters around the world.
Rick DeMott: What projects are Brandissimo working on at the moment?
Josh Fisher: NFLRUSH Zone continues to do great! It's growth rate in the offseason is above projections and we have some great things planned for the summer and upcoming NFL season, including chats with star NFL players, more contests with great NFL-only prizes, more games, including multiplayer games and more. It's a great experience and a lot of fun.
We're making a big push with Urbaniacs as well, having just launched Urbowars, Celebrity Wedgie Toss, and Wedgie Toss on the iPhone. We're also doing new games, comics, and a few other things.
We’ve also got a great project with Cabbage Patch Kids in production and we're working on two unannounced virtual worlds that are really inspiring... I’m itching to tell you about them but we're not ready for that to go public yet. Give me a little more time.
We're also pushing a few things on our linear side as well. We have a great animated series we're developing and we're partnered with a Canadian company on a live action show that was recently greenlit.
RD: How did the agreement between Urbaniacs and Brandissimo come about?
JF: I met one of the founders of Brandissimo a while ago. Then, when he read about Urbaniacs in the LA Times, he called me. Three years later Brandissimo has invested in Urbaniacs three times and brought me on as a partner and executive producer of the studio. It's kind of been the best of all worlds.
RD: What are the plans for Urbaniacs in the future?
JF: We’re really excited about a couple of things. First, Urbowars ties in all of the features of Urbaniacs together. It rewards our users for playing and being social. We crown monthly champions. Since our site is intended to be a bit tongue and check, we encourage healthy trash talking along the way. Next, Wedgie Toss 2 has over 14 million game plays and we think the opportunity to give melvins to Kim Kardashian, Steven Colbert, Spencer Pratt, Dane Cook, Enimem and Dick Cheney via Celebrity Wedie Toss will be a fun twist on a game that's already popular. Finally, we’re going mobile with an iPhone version of Wedgie Toss. Urb ON!
RD: How did the deal with NFLRUSH come about?
JF: The NFL was looking to strengthen its relationship with kids and we suggested a massive online game world. They loved the idea. It’s now 1.5 million players later and we’re just at tip of the iceberg with where the NFLRUSH Zone is going. The NFL has been great to work with and incredibly supportive the entire way.
RD: What are the greatest challenges in creating an interactive online world?
JF: The toughest part is cutting through the clutter that is the World Wide Web. Kids have TONS of options, and their lives are scheduled pretty tight. Our focus is to engage kids, never talk down, and to continue to update our game worlds as often as possible to them coming back! It's also about letting kids be kids. Tap into their imagination, make them laugh, and hopefully the experience we're offering is good enough that they'll tell all their friends.
RD: How do NFLRUSH and Urbaniacs make revenue at the moment? Plan to in the future?
JF: Both NFLRUSH Zone and Urbaniacs use multiple revenue streams including subscriptions, sponsorships, advertising and micropayments.
RD: How do you view gaming as an outlet for storytelling? What advantages and disadvantages does it give creators?
JF: The neat thing is that we approach gaming and storytelling very similarly. It starts with a character and a goal. Rather than tell a specific linear story, with games, you're sort of leaving the door open. We try and provide a platform for users to get absorbed and have fun. All good games tell a story, even the quick play games.
RD: What are your thoughts on the current state of animation? On TV? In theaters? On the net?
To be perfectly honest, the current state of animation is both exciting and frustrating. The economics of being an independent producer and making money on an animated series have gotten extremely tough. Even if you have a great show, finding a broadcast partner and a license fee that can support quality production is a huge challenge. Look at the landscape. Thee used to be dozens of broadcasters and a ton of animation studios here in LA. Not so much anymore. I'm cautiously optimistic that this will turn around again at some point. It's a big reason why I was so engaged in web worlds, games, and content early on. There's a lot more opportunity online at the moment. On TV, I love Phineas and Ferb. It's also my kids favorite show. Dan Povenmire and Swampy are doing a great job. I just saw Up with my mom and my kids. It's simply brilliant. Pixar/Disney just keeps outdoing themselves. As for the future… who knows? The truth is that I love making content for kids. We have a great team at Brandissimo. Whether it's animated series, games, web worlds, shorts, or anything else, I'm happy to keep producing content that kids really are engaged in.
Rick DeMott is the managing editor of Animation World Network and editor of AWNtv. In his free time, he runs the movie review site, Rick's Flicks Picks. He has written for TV series, such as Discovery Kids' Growing Up Creepie and Cartoon Network's Pet Alien, the animation history book Animation Art, and the humor, absurdist and surrealist website Unloosen. Previously, he held various production and management positions in the entertainment industry.