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ANIMAX Animates Webisodes Helping Teens Cope with Chemo

ANIMAX has produced a series of six short-form animated Webisodes for the Starlight Starbright Foundation aimed to help teen copy with chemotherapy treatments. The series, COPING WITH CHEMO, can be found at www.slsb.org/chemo. The goal of the series is to help teens with cancer deal with the impact chemotherapy has on their lives and their bodies.

Starlight Starbright scripted the webisodes based on focus groups conducted with teenagers with cancer. We considered this as a by teens, for teens project from the start, said Tal Gilad, senior director of program development and research for the Foundation. The scripts and animation have to work on a level that teens would embrace as well as meet the stringent criteria of the programs medical advisory team.

File size was a major consideration for ANIMAXs production team, which knew that Starlight Starbright was committed to making sure the webisodes were accessible to teens that might be accessing the web from a dial-up connection. From a production standpoint, the project was developed for a broadband environment, but economies within the animation were balanced against the richness of the experience to provide for a compelling programming series, said ANIMAXs vp of production, Tim Jones.

The webisodes track the process of Isabel and Marcus as they first learn they have cancer, and then have to cope with the initial treatment and follow-up. The protagonists deal with everything from uncertainty over how their friends will react to how it will affect their lives in dramatic fashion.

Each of the approximately three-and-a-half minute long webisodes features such titles as The Diagnosis, Telling Your Friends, Side Effects, When Your Hair Comes Out, Making Tough Decisions and Celebrating Your Last Treatments.

Jones described ANIMAXs work on the project as a collaborative process based on input from Starlight Starbright; budget, time and technical constraints; incorporating the focus group findings; and a round of design tests and refinements. ANIMAX produced the work using a hybrid combination of traditional animation techniques and Macromedia Flash. ANIMAX created a look that teens will relate to as contemporary yet still capturing the warmth associated with cell animation.

We explained the pros and cons of the constraints, and gave different scenarios to achieve the goals, said Jones. Each script called for a large number of characters and backgrounds. Given the budget and file size constraints, we crafted each episode as a series of scenes that take place within the confines of interesting still paintings, making each scene dynamic with choices of camera angles, color and composition and character poses. We then brought the main characters to life in a series of shorter, more fully animated segments that are designed to create an intimacy with the audience.

ANIMAX approached the project with a storytelling viewpoint that differed from competing script plans that called for expressing the message in a strictly graphic format without any narrative. We were looking for a studio that could present this information like a film, said Gilad. ANIMAX mixed the right visual look with the right sensitivity to help us reach kids in a different way.

The voice over talent and director donated their time to this project. The voice overs were directed by Andrea Romano, a seven-time Emmy award-winning voice director who is directing JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED and TEEN TITANS for Warner Bros. and AVATAR for Nickelodeon. The voice of Marcus was performed by Greg Cipes, who has the lead in Disneys upcoming animated feature, THE WILD and plays Beast BOY ON TEEN TITANS. He also has a recurring role on UPNS ONE ON ONE. Kamali Minter provided the voice of Isabel. She plays one of the Shortys in DreamWorks Animation feature SHARK TALE, currently in theaters.

COPING WITH CHEMO was produced by Michael Bellavia and Jones, with Al Rosson as animation supervisor. Al Rosson and Ed Frayna did character design, Dena Light handled storyboards. Sergey Maksimovich, Alexanrd Savchenko and Vladimir Vereschagin were animators while Sergey Mindlin and Nick Butler did background design. Sergey Mindlin, Timur Saifetdinov, Tatyana Pugachevskaya, Natalia Lysenko, Sergey Nagorny and Alexandr Tischenko did additional graphics. Ruslan Dobrovolsky and Nikolay Beschastny handled programming while Max Semyak, Sergey Mindlin and Helen Petrukhan did production coordination.

The webisodes are part of Starlight Starbrights diverse portfolio of entertainment-based programs and outreach services designed to empower children and teens living with a serious illness and their families. The webisodes were funded by the ESA Foundation, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation.

Starlight Starbright Childrens Foundation (www.slsb.org) is an international non-profit organization dedicated to brightening the lives of seriously ill children and their families through innovative programs that empower, educate, entertain and inspire. Seeking to address the many challenges seriously ill children and their families face, Starlight Starbright offers an impressive array of in-hospital, outpatient, school and home-based programs and services free of charge to children, families, and healthcare professionals.

ANIMAX (www.ANIMAXentertainment.com) is an award-winning full-service animation and interactive production company. With a focus on developing brand entertainment, ANIMAX has produced animation for Disney Channel, ESPN and Warner Bros.; interactive Websites for Universal Studios, 20th Century Fox and J.D. Power & Associates; and multimedia applications for Peachtree and StudyDog, among other clients. In addition, ANIMAX has several TV shows in active production and development. Headquartered in Los Angeles, ANIMAX was founded in 2002 by actor/writer/director Dave Thomas and marketing exec Andrew Bain.

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