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‘Odo’ Helps Preschoolers Navigate a Difficult World and Believe in Themselves

The acclaimed 2.5D animated series, seen in 151 countries, has been nominated for an Annie Award for Best Animated Television/Broadcast Production for Preschool Children.

In the forest, as in life, the most important thing you can do is to believe in yourself.

In the unlikely event this maxim isn’t self-evident, it’s proved repeatedly in the popular preschool series Odo, in which a diminutive, but determined, young owl demonstrates that there’s nothing you can’t do if you set your mind to it. Intended for kids aged three to five, Odo is a Polish-Northern Irish co-production that was designed and animated in the Letko studio in Warsaw. The series, which had its US premiere in December 2021 on HBO Max’s Cartoonito, has already won the hearts of young viewers in 151 countries, and has been nominated for an Annie Award in the category of Best Animated Television/Broadcast Production for Preschool Children.

“The great success of the series is an extremely pleasant surprise for me, but also a confirmation that Polish artists can compete with the best,” says Odo co-director and Letko studio co-founder Piotr Szczepanowicz. “Polish animation has always been recognized as an important component of the film market, and we especially want to reach children, no matter what part of the world they live in. The Annie nomination is a great distinction and huge creative achievement for us.”

The 52-episode series of hand-drawn 2D animation deals with important topics and shows how to deal with failure, while supporting the development of social skills. In the leafy playground of Forest Camp for Young Birds – whose diverse population of feathered creatures includes silly chickens, cheeky toucans, harmonious canaries, and a vain peacock, all under the loving and watchful supervision of Camp Leader, a supremely capable and good-natured eagle – Odo, with the help of his best friend Doodle (a thoughtful little bird of unknown species) positively tackles every challenge, no matter how big. When asked if he thinks he can do something, Odo will always confidently reply, “I know I can!”

While determinedly upbeat and humorous, Odo also takes very seriously its commitment to helping kids get through difficult times.

“When we created it in 2018, we were really concerned at the growing levels of anxiety and depression in children,” says creator and showrunner Colin Williams, the founder and creative director of Sixteen South studio in Belfast. “We’re thrilled to have lots of new voices on our writing team and we’re not shying away from telling stories that need to be told – stories addressing racism, immigration, adoption, loneliness, respect for others, and friendship.”

To help ensure that Odo would fulfill its educational and psychological goals, its creators enlisted the services of Dr. Natascha Crandall. A psychologist and educator whose credits include the series Gabby’s Dollhouse, The Octonauts, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Floogals, Bob the Builder, and many Sesame Workshop international co-productions, Crandall is the founder of Crandall Consulting, LLC, a research and consulting firm that is committed to improving the educational quality of entertainment for children.

In addition to being universally acclaimed for its unique story and relatable gender-neutral main character, Odo has also received plaudits for its enhanced visuals. The creators used 2.5D (also known as pseudo-3D) technique, which combines animation in a 2D environment with lighting and shading from the 3D world. Often used in music videos and, more commonly, title sequences, the layering and animating of two-dimensional images in three-dimensional space provides a convincing 3D look without requiring the processing power necessary for true 3D.

Odo is a great and unique character and we wanted the style of the show to be special as well,” says executive producer and Letko cofounder Jakub Karwowski. “We created it in 2D with all the theatrical beauty of traditional two-dimensional animation, but added lots of depth with special 3D lighting and shading, giving the characters a 3D feel in a 2D world. We used a warm, earthy palette to evoke a feeling of being outside on a sunny day – full of color, light and energy.”

Summing up his feelings about the series and his central role in its creation, showrunner Williams confides that he is “thrilled to be in production with this very special show.” He goes on: “To have the opportunity to once again co-produce with our beloved partners at KiKA and Milkshake! is just wonderful.”

Odo is co-produced by Sixteen South and Warsaw-based animation studio Letko, with funding from the UK’s Young Audiences Content Fund (YACF), NI Screen and the Polish Film Institute. Sixteen South’s Colin Williams, Letko’s Jakub Karwowski, KiKA’s Sebastian Debertin and Louise Bucknole from Milkshake! are all exec producers on the series.