For independent creator and producer Brian Neil Hoff, 00K9 and his Furrywood stomping grounds represent a challenging 16-year labor of love.
The path from script to screen can be a long, arduous process for any filmmaker, but for animated films, the challenges can be immensely more difficult. For Brian Neil Hoff, creator and producer of Secret Agent 00K9, developing a 3D animated feature film and a TV series has been a labor of love for almost 16 years.
“The crazy idea of 00K9 came to me in 2001 when my dog, Cosmo, was just a puppy,” explained Hoff. “I looked out the kitchen window and saw him stalking the neighbor's house. He looked so serious and focused that I began to nickname him Secret Agent 00K9. Soon after that I began to develop the
00K9 character into a script.”
In 2007, Hoff enlisted the aid of veteran concept artist Jasen Strong (aka Alfie Vann) to create the characters. “I really enjoy working with him and we still work on the project to this day,” he said. “He’s one of the best concept artists I know. He gets the character details that make them unique and that’s really important in character development.”
Hoff published the first book in the Secret Agent 00K9 series, The Fast & the Furriest in 2014 and followed that up with The Bone Ultimatum in 2015 and Canine Royale in 2016.
The books, targeted at kids aged 5-13, focus on a spy dog who goes on adventures as a detective solving crimes, along with a cast of anthropomorphic animals that includes Crackers the French spy rat; Tinky Bigmoore, a poodle actress who was modelled after the great female actresses of Hollywood's Golden Age; Pierrer Poopenheimer, a Great Dane who leads TerrierDyne, running covert spy animal operations around the world; and crime boss Legs Diamond, modelled after gangsters from the '20s and '30s. All of it is set in Furrywood, a parody of Hollywood. In the Furrywood world there’s a combination of old technology mixed in with futuristic elements like robots and space ships.
“00K9 is really a parody of our world mashed up into a ridiculous animated comedy intended to just be an unbelievable fantasy,” said Hoff.
Hoff explained that he grew up reading Richard Scarry books. “I loved some of the anthropomorphic characters such as a worm driving an apple shaped car.” He was also inspired by Robert Crumb and Ralph Bakshi, who created the wildly successful animated film Fritz the Cat in 1972.
Hoff is currently developing both a feature film and a series of 12-minute episodes. “The feature film is the most developed at the moment,” he explained. “I have the script, IP, budget and 3D teaser trailer. I’ve pitched both the feature and TV show concept and each one has a different investment structure.”
The teaser trailer was produced by Blur Frame Animation Studio in Pakistan. “We worked via Skype to construct the visual and sound effects and produced this clip in about two months,” said Hoff.
Hoff is also working with producer Vanessa McMahon to find an animation director along with voice talent. “In February, Vanessa and I are planning meetings with production companies to discuss this project and plan to announce the milestones as we progress,” he said. “The feature is the main goal, but that can take an extended development period, whereas the 12-minute TV shows can be produced in one or two months and can be delivered to the market faster.”
Hoff said that ideally, he'd like to see 00K9 as a stop-motion film. “The details would benefit from stop-motion, like the robots and space ships but I would also love to see it in 3D,” he said. “The technology is evolving and the demand for high resolution is a deciding factor in producing an animated feature.”
He explained that the biggest challenge he's faced so far is connecting with the right entertainment investment and development partners to further advance the IP. “I would like to meet a production team interested in taking the 00K9 project to the next level as well as animation directors interested in the project.”
“I think if you're an independent producer, you have a much more difficult task to compete with the larger studios who can produce the product in shorter production times with larger teams,” he said. “Ten people worked on the trailer for 00K9, but many studios have over 70 people working on one character. Larger studios can deliver their products to the market significantly faster. Some studios are producing entire feature films in 18 months or less. Many independent producers like myself can spend over 13 years just dedicated to finding the right partners to see your project though.”
Hoff has already developed merch around the franchise, including coloring books and plush toys as well as a spy dog detective watch that has a “spy scope” that opens when you push the button on the side. “It’s a lot of fun to introduce my character with the watch when I’m at parties or at the store,” he said. “It was a simple idea but people love it.”
Hoff got his start in the film business in 1994 on the film White Mile, which starred Peter Gallagher and Alan Alda. He went on to work for independent film producer Paul Leder, father of Dreamworks director Mimi Leder. He continued to work in the industry and began developing his own scripts and film projects. His first animated short film, Automaton, won an award at the California International Animation Festival in 2008. Over the years he has also developed and produced several independent films. He cast Ernest Borgnine in a voice role for the 2010 sci-fi indie film Enemy Mind shot at the Salton Sea in California. In 2012, he was invited to develop an independent filmmaking program at Western Iowa Tech in Sioux City, Iowa. Recently, he has been mentoring animation students at The Arts Institute, Palm Springs High School.
Sadly, Cosmo, the inspiration for 00K9, passed away in 2015. “It’s the one way I can always remember him. If he ever gets to go 3D, I can see him come back to life in the film,” said Hoff. “That would be so awesome!”