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When toy companies have hot-selling toys they often decide to turn them into animated series or feature films. Here are some tips on how to do it successfully...

When toy companies have hot-selling toys they often decide to turn them into hot new animated series or feature films. Over the years I’ve turned a few hot properties into animated series, including Pac-Man, the Muppet Babies and even Macaulay Culkin. Most recently I turned the hot new Laser Pegs toy line into an animated series, and will soon turn it into an animated feature.

I have found that in every case the answer to how to best develop the characters and concept was inherent in what already existed. I didn’t have to struggle to find some new and unique series idea. I only had to look at what was already there.

If you think about it this makes perfect sense. If the property is already hot then there must be something there that the market likes and wants. So if you reach too far to develop it into a fantastically new and unique concept you may diverge far enough from the original successful idea that you no longer have something that the market will expect or like.

Let me give you some real-world examples of what I mean taken from the above series I developed.



Pac-Man was the king of video games back in the 1980’s. So naturally, Hanna-Barbera got the cartoon rights. But how do you turn a yellow circle with a pie hole into a cartoon series? It was pretty simple, really. I took the essence of the Pac-Man game and used it to build the foundation of the series. He was a guy who ate “power pellets” for energy, and got even more energy from eating the Ghost Monsters, provided they didn’t eat him first. Because the Ms. Pac-Man game was also a hot property, I gave Packy a wife and a kid. So Pac-Man was just a normal father with a normal life and family goals. Add some sociopathic ghosts and an evil overlord who wanted to steal all the Power Pellets, and away we went.



Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies was a similar story. The characters’ general personalities were already there, so I just baby-ized them through simplification and exaggeration. Animal was an "animal", only younger; Kermit was the soft-spoken heart of the brood; Piggy was a diva in the making; Fozzie was the terrible comedian who couldn’t tell a knock-knock joke if his life depended on it; and Gonzo was, well, nobody really knows. They were babies so I put them all in a nursery. To emphasize their baby world I had the adults only visible from the knees down. Then I added the single ingredient that is inherent in every child in the universe—imagination. The babies could go anywhere in their imaginations and that’s exactly where they went. 


©Laser Pegs

Most recently I turned a hot new toy into a hot new series. Laser Pegs are to kid’s building bricks what a nuke is to a stick of dynamite. One goes boom, the other turns night into day! Laser Pegs are glowing building bricks. So instead of just building a car or a jet that’s invisible when you turn the lights off, Laser Pegs glow with a juicy, transparent rainbow of eye-candy colors. 

©iStory Animation Studio Corp.

In addition to the Laser Pegs building bricks the company created the Peg Heads, three unique and adorable characters made of little connected blocks that can spin around and change eyes and mouths, with interchangeable arms, and even interchangeable hair and horns.

My job was to turn the Peg Heads and glowing construction bricks into a world of fun and charming characters. I did this by using the same simple technique. I just looked at the stuff.

Practically every kid in world has a basket full of a zillion little building bricks. But they’re opaque. Laser Pegs glow. Bingo! I created an evil queen named Brictoria who oppressively rules the opaque brick world of Brictania. She needed someone to build oppressive brick vehicles and monsters so I gave her a mad scientist named Dr. Frickenblock. 


©iStory Animation Studio Corp.

To develop the Peg Heads characters I again just looked at them. Peg (the pink one) was a bright-eyed girl with crab claws. I saw creativity. Creative ideas lead to action, so we made her the leader. Zippy (the green one) would be the brainy guy, with some insecurity to balance his character. When I looked at Spinner (the one-eyed blue dude) I saw a total nut job, so that’s what I made him.

Now Zippy, Peg & Spinner needed a place to live. So I gave them a small island off the coast of Brictania and called it New Pegland. One of the toy line's trademarks is LIGHT IT UP®. So I had brainy Zippy create a "Power Peg" that, when plugged into opaque bricks, does just that. And thus the underlying goal of the series was apparent: The Peg Heads would try to “light up” the dull world of Brictania while Queen Brictoria would try to snuff the light out on little New Pegland. Dr. Frickenblock would build dull brick monsters while the Peg Heads build awesome, glowing vehicles of every variety (thus allowing me to seamlessly include the entire toy line into the series). I split the half-hours into two 11-minute episodes so I could tell light-vs.-dark action stories in half of them, and day-in-the-life personal character stories in the other half.

And that was that.

Moral of the story: Like genes, the germ to developing a solid series is always right there in its DNA. All you have to do is look. Don’t turn it into a mutant, let it grow naturally. 

©Jeffrey Scott, All Rights Reserved