Crocadoo, a new series from Energee Animation being broadcast on Australia's Nine Network, is the latest evidence of a small but thriving animation industry. Karen Paterson details what's happening with Energee down under.
"Animation is the hot career for many young Australian graphics professionals," according to Gerry Travers, Marketing & Distribution Manager for Australian animation house, Energee Entertainment. After all, the Australian animation industry is booming and Sydney-based Energee is no exception, with its own successful series, Crocadoo, screening on the Nine Network--one of Australia's major commercial television networks.
From its beginnings as Unlimited Energee in 1989 with just 20 people, Energee has experienced rapid growth to become Australia's leading series animation production house with more than 100 staff and a swag of international projects under its belt. Energee was founded by Gerry and John Travers, who saw animation as a growth market, particularly with the proliferation of new television outlets following the introduction of pay TV, cable TV and multimedia.
Crocadoo itself is a children's show, aimed at 8 to 12 year olds, which seeks to convey a value for nature through comedy and action. The conservation message is connected to the conflict between the crocodiles, led by Jazz and Brian, and Rufus B. Hardacre, the ruthless property developer who is only interested in getting the crocs out of Crocadoo so that he can build a new resort.
Special FXCrocadoo is distinguished by the fact that, in addition to its clever animation, it uses some of the latest in computer animation software. Thus, it features 3D backgrounds that allow for a great variety of special effects and camera tricks. The colorful and stylized art direction is designed to make the show appealing and more relevant to today's audience.
More than 50 digital workstations, including high-end Silicon Graphics computers and Power Macs were used for the 3D backgrounds. Special particle effects for rain, snow, lightning and time distortion were also created using digital means. The show's directors have also successfully scripted 2D and 3D action sequences together, using the same Alias software used in such live action features as Jurassic Park.
Gerry Travers feels that,"Crocadoo merges the traditional skills of animators with the modern technology skills of many young multimedia creatives to bring a lively, exciting and 'real life' cartoon to children of every culture."
The series also showcases the Computer Enhanced Classical Animation Production System (CECAPS), a proprietary animation and image compression software developed internally by Senior Research and Development Manager, Richard Collins. Travers notes that, "CECAPS provided the company with a taste of the future in digital ink and paint. Using specially programmed algorithms developed in conjunction with the University of Western Australia, it allows automated painting of hundreds of drawings at the touch of a button. CECAPS helps to minimize some of the repetitive tasks in the noncreative area, such as coloring cells and scanning images"
Flexibility and Diversification
Travers also feels that the future of the animation industry lies in diversification. It is this, he claims, that makes Energee more flexible than traditional international animation companies and contributes to its success. "We took full advantage of our creative and technical expertise gained in the creation of Crocadoo," he notes, "by reusing the material to produce a CD-ROM game, a video and a web site. It is this ability to work with different mediums--video, online, and TV that is attractive to many of our international partners."
Very much an export-oriented business, Energee Entertainment has completed 13 movies for overseas distribution and has many strategic partnerships with large international companies. Marketing & Distribution Manager Gerry Travers, indicated that, "Through our expertise in digital production and our understanding of the international market , we formed strategic relationships with partners including Walt Disney in the USA, Virgin Interactive in the UK, Ravensburger Film and TV in Germany, Longman Asia in Hong Kong and the Nine Network in Australia." Apart from producing its own series, Energee has played a significant role in projects including the Disney's popular Aladdin TV series; the 39 episode Gogo's Adventures for Longman Asia; animation of a series of bumpers for the highly successful Australian Broadcasting Corporation series Bananas in Pyjamas to help repackage the series for US release; and Hoops, an animated NBA basketball game for Sony Playstations and Sega Saturn platforms.
Animation is moving online, following the growth in the World Wide Web, with concurrent enhancements to web browsers and technologies like Sun's Java, and Macromedia's Shockwave. The arrival of these technologies has extended the range and type of projects that animators get involved in. Animation on the Web is a natural extension to the activities that many animators already cover. When artists design characters, they consider all aspects of visual feedback: color, depth, movement, and texture. They also consider the interaction with other characters, the timing and sequencing of events. These same skills can be used very effectively with animations on the Web.
For example, Java and Shockwave are used extensively in the company's Crocadoo Web site to educate children regarding the issues associated with coloring and animating a drawing. Some color combinations don't animate well and the children can learn this by coloring an image of Brian, in the "Color in a Crocodile" page on the site.
"In many ways," Travers asserts, " the techniques developed by Energee have led the charge to digital series production and animation. The company's experience with both analog and digital processes has given the company a lead in the international animation industry."
The Business of Creativity
Travers further noted that international companies come to Energee for their business skills as much as its creativity. "Energee is able to provide the full range of skills required to project manage and produce an animated series, animation on CD-ROM and animation on the Internet."
When asked about the reason for Energee's success in both the international and domestic markets, Travers commented, "Whilst we are working in a creative industry--the professional animation market--we are very aware of its competitiveness and run our business as a commercial enterprise."
Energee Entertainment is made up of a number of departments: Energee Series--responsible for the production of Crocadoo and other animated TV series; Energee Interactive--CD-ROM production including, Tales from the Kangaroo Crypt, Hoops, and Crocadoo Park; and Energee Online--offering Java programming to companies who want to include animations on their Web pages. Finally there's RedRock Animation--the company that creates animations for TV commercials.
Energee Entertainment also handles distribution of animated TV series of its own shows, as well as any international co-productions that it is a partner in. "Quality product is always in great demand in the world markets," Travers says, "so Energee attends all the major American and European markets that buy and sell animation and new media products.
"As part of our future growth strategy, we have secured the rights to a number of original and existing stories from Australia and overseas. Our project management of multimillion dollar projects is the central plank in our strategy to becoming a highly successful owner, producer and distributor of content in the international media industry.
"Our record of achievement, developed during the production of over 50 hours of animation production, has given Energee the ability and confidence to meet he demands of the fast emerging markets for digital media products."
Karen Paterson is a Sydney-based publicist for a number of high tech companies, including Energee Entertainment. She is also studying part-time for her Bachelor of Business degree, majoring in Marketing and Psychology.