(MENAFN– TransMedia Group) Houston, TX, January 11, 2023 – Carson Productions pilot for “Abella’s First Tooth,” a series with a fully-stacked, award-winning team to create a twofold pilot, takes flight with those powerful little wings!
We’re inviting both booking producers for the influencer segments and network decision makers for a password-protected link and password for:
Media interested in having the product series on their network to view the pilot.
Networks interested in the series pitch.
“The pilot is complete and we can’t wait for the media to see our mighty little, superheroine Abella in action,” said Zane Carson Carruth. “The product we chose for the pilot is perfect and everyone’s thrilled with the storyline and pilot!” added Carruth.
Carruth is President of Carson Productions, LLC which released the pilot, Abella’s First Tooth, and ZTC Music, LLC, which also released “Winging It, (Abella’s Theme).”
“Winging It (Abella’s Song)” is the title, and the lyrics are eloquently matched for the upcoming Tooth Fairy pilot. Two-time Grammy Award-winning songwriter/producer/writer Dennis Scott has left no corner of the children’s music industry unexplored—adding Abella to his roster of musical talent.
Zane Carson Carruth holds the copyright for “The First Animated Tooth Fairy Influencer,” as little Abella has garnered attention worldwide. The team she brought on consists of many award-winning experts in the entertainment world including, Zane herself and Rick Siggelkow, Writer, Director and Producer; Candice Edwards-Marchrones, CEM Casting, Switch VFX & Animation, Adrienne Mazzone, President, TransMedia Group as Co-Executive Producer and Dennis Scott, Music Producer, Theme Song, “Winging It.”
ABOUT ZANE CARSON CARRUTH
Zane Carson Carruth is an award-winning international children’s book author, a certified business etiquette and protocol professional and sits on numerous non-profit boards in Houston, TX as well as the Vice President of Carruth Foundation. Zane serves on the SPCA board of directors and the capital campaign committee. She has raised more than $3 million for the new campus, and last year as the co-chair of the 2021 Howl-O-Ween Ball, helped raise $1 million.
Her books have won awards such as the Story Monsters Seal of Approval, the Story Book of Approval, and the Purple Dragonfly Book Award. Her 4th book in her trademarked series The World’s First Tooth Fairy… Ever, titled Abella Goes to the Rodeo, is the winner of the 2022 Parent and Teacher Choice Award from HowtoLearn and has also won the 2022 Purple Dragonfly Award. Abella is also the first animated Tooth Fairy Influencer!
Carruth has been honored to be named an ABC13 Woman of Distinction for 2020, Top Inspiring Woman Impact Maker for 2020, an honoree of The Houston Business Journal’s Women Who Mean Business Award, St Judes Woman of Philanthropy for Houston TX 2021. She is also honored to serve as First Lady of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for the 2021 to 2023 season, since her husband, Brady Carruth, was recently named Chairman of the Board of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. Carruth’s book series The World’s First Tooth Fairy… Ever are available on Amazon, Target online, Barnes and Noble, Walmart, and
Abella’s First Tooth is based on the series: The World’s First Tooth Fairy…Ever
The World’s First Tooth Fairy…Ever
The Adventures of Abella and Her Magic Wand
Abella Starts a Tooth Fairy School
Abella Goes to the Rodeo
Abella Gets a New Hairdo
The World’s First Tooth Fairy…Ever: Coloring & Activity Book
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Switch VFX & Animation is the only award-winning, artist-owned, boutique Canadian studio that provides exceptional digital visual effects and animated content from initial concept development through to final delivery for some of the best names in the industry, including Netflix, Universal Studios, Warner Brothers, Lionsgate, Disney, Nickelodeon, Teletoon, Dreamworks and BBC Kids. Our focus is co-production, service work and education.
Tell us about yourself?
Currently serving as Executive Producer and CEO of Switch, Pete Denomme began his career as a classically trained animator. Fast forward more than 35 years later, 10 as President/Executive Producer at Alliance Atlantis, 30 feature films and tons of television credits, Pete continues to feed his creative passion by developing a full slate of intellectual properties and co-productions, coaching young talent and actively participating on industry boards and committees.
Recent credits include LOCKE AND KEY S3 (NETFLIX), WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS S4 (FX on Hulu), GASLIT (STARZ), with the talented Julia Roberts and the unrecognizable Sean Penn, FROM (EPIX), START TREK DISCOVERY S4 (PARAMOUNT+), animated feature film KOATI, from the production team of Sophia Vergara and Mark Anthony plus the festival short THE PERFECT PROJECT, AN ANIMATED SHORT FILM ABOUT AUTISM.
Projects currently in the studio pipeline include the recently announced animated series ABELLA, THE WORLD’S FIRST TOOTH FAIRY INFLUENCER, MOST DANGEROUS GAME S2 (Roku), and the feature film LOU.
If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
Given that the past two years included the height of COVID, which was unprecedented, I am not sure what advice I would give myself.
What problem does your business solve?
Switch invests in animated co-productions with like-minded partners to bring inspiring stories to life. In the case of The Perfect Project, An Animated Short Film about Autism, we saw a need to help children learn about their autistic classmates in a manner that was heartfelt and honest with a touch of humour. In the feature film, KOATI, the happenings in the Latin rainforest.
In addition, our visual effects team creates impactful imagery to enhance the scenes of many of your favourite series and films for studio partners like Netflix, Universal Studios, Warner Brothers, Lionsgate, Disney, Nickelodeon, Teletoon, Dreamworks and BBC Kids.
What is the inspiration behind your business?
The inspiration behind our business is a passion for animation, creativity and good storytelling. We are looking to be a preferred partner for producers who want quality work delivered for the price quoted.
What is your magic sauce?
The magic sauce at Switch is the right mixture of experience (decades of knowledge of our leadership), artistry (as an artist-owned studio that fosters creativity), technical expertise and integrity with a passion for delivering a superior product to clients, on time and on budget.
What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?
To continue to deliver gasps and giggles to worldwide audiences and invest time, energy and resources in our industry to leave it to the next generation of artists better than we found it.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
The biggest challenge facing our business is the ability to find and retain talented artists to nurture and grow in our studio. Canada, specifically Ontario, is a competitive market, and the number of available artists to fill positions has dwindled. There are not enough artists in the province, and the education system is not helping us keep up with demand.
For Switch, the opportunity for staff to work on both animated projects and those involving visual effects have always been an employment enticement. However, we knew we needed to do more to help this industry-wide talent challenge. In 2017 the Switch Scholarship program was launched at key Ontario colleges to help inspire the passions of digital artists. In addition, Switch became the host and main sponsor of the Animation Lounge, an education platform created to improve the skills of professionals as well as introduce the art form’s opportunity to young people. In 2022, Switch plans to introduce investment in a new high school sponsorship during the Ottawa International Animation Festival.
The World’s First Tooth Fairy series is loved by so many children as it follows the main character, Abella, through her adventures learning valuable life lessons from her tales and now talking about products that are helpful to parents, families and children world-wide.
“Bringing back innocence into news segments where my little Abella can share some great products while on her tooth flights is something to tune into,” said Abella’s creator, Zane Carson Carruth. “I couldn’t be happier working with Rick Siggelkow and Switch VFX and Animation on the 3D creation, it’s so very exciting!” added Zane.
As the pilot that Abella, The First Animated Tooth Fairy Influencer stars in is underway, brands and product companies have been writing to get involved. Networks have shown interest and the excitement of what’s to come for viewers watching the news with their families just as bloggers have their segments; Abella will have her moment of flight!
“Great to join forces again with Rick Siggelkow to animate the continuing adventures of Abella, our first work for an influencer focused on content for children, parents and families.” says Pete Denomme CEO/ Executive Producer of Switch VFX and Animation.
For information on sponsorship opportunities, network slot or media inquiries, please contact Executive Producer for the series, Adrienne Mazzone, President, TransMedia Group email@example.com 561-908-1683
AboutSwitch VFX & Animation
Switch VFX & Animation is the only award-winning, artist owned, boutique Canadian studio that provides exceptional digital visual effects and animated content from initial concept development through to final delivery for some of the best names in the industry including Netflix, Universal Studios, Warner Brothers, Lionsgate, Disney, Nickelodeon, Teletoon, Dreamworks and BBC Kids. Visit the Switch website at www.switchent.com
About Zane Carson Carruth
Zane Carson Carruth is an award-winning international children’s book author, a certified business etiquette and protocol professional and sits on numerous non-profit boards in Houston, TX as well as the Vice President of Carruth Foundation. Zane serves on the SPCA board of directors and the capital campaign committee. She has raised more than $3 million for the new campus, and last year as the co-chair of the 2021 Howl-O-Ween Ball, helped raise $1 million.
Her books have won awards such as the Story Monsters Seal of Approval, the Story Book of Approval, and the Purple Dragonfly Book Award. Her 4th book in her trademarked series The World’s First Tooth Fairy… Ever,titled Abella Goes to the Rodeo, is the winner of the 2022 Parent and Teacher Choice Award from HowtoLearn.com and has also won the 2022 Purple Dragonfly Award. Abella is also the first animated Tooth Fairy Influencer!
Carruth has been honored to be named an ABC13 Woman of Distinction for 2020, Top Inspiring Woman Impact Maker for 2020, an honoree of The Houston Business Journal’s WomenWho Mean Business Award, St Judes Woman of Philanthropy for Houston TX 2021. She is also honored to serve as First Lady of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for the 2021 to 2023 season, since her husband, Brady Carruth, was recently named chairman of the Rodeo. Carruth’s book series The World’s First Tooth Fairy… Ever are available on Amazon, Target online, Barnes and Noble, Walmart, and https://www.worldsfirsttoothfairy.com/
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This past Friday, U.S. audiences were treated to director Rodrigo Perez-Castro‘s 2D-animated featureKoati, which stars and is exec produced by Sofía Vergara. The colorful family feature tells the story of three unlikely heroes — a free-spirited coati, a fearless monarch butterfly and a hyperactive glass frog — who embark on a journey to stop a wicked coral snake from destroying their beautiful natural homeland. We caught up with Perez-Castro and the film’s creator and producer Anabella Sosa-Dovarganes (owner of animation and post-production studio Upstairs) to find out more about their labor of love, which took eight years to bring to the screen. Here is what they told us:
Anabella Sosa-Dovarganes | Rodrigo Perez-Castro
Animag: Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the movie?
Rodrigo Perez-Castro:Koati started as the brainchild of our producer Anabella Sosa. She had been looking to create an animated project that celebrated the natural world of Latin America, in particular, its very diverse wildlife, which is not as well known in the rest of the world. Anabella zeroed in on a few very specific species that would highlight the project — species that represented different classic archetypes, including our hero the coati. I was approached by Anabella in late 2014 to help create a vision for the film, build a story and help develop these characters and many others that later became intricate parts of what evolved into the movie we have today.
What attracted you to this project?
Rodrigo: By the time Anabella approached me, I had been working as a story artist for many years as well as a head of story for big mainstream projects, many of them sequels for very well-known franchises. I had been offered directing projects before, but I was craving desperately to be part of something original, something new, to help build something from scratch. At the same time, my animation career up until that point had taken place in the U.S. and Canada. I had left my home country of Mexico, when I was 20 to pursue my dreams of working in animated films. because they really didn’t have much of an animation industry back then. But for a while I wanted to give back to my country in some way, to do something that could bring me closer to home. Anabella’s proposal satisfied both my creative need to help create something original and my desire to reconnect with my roots and home land. It was incredible for me to discover that Latin America, and more specifically, Mexico, is now fertile ground for very passionate animation talent. The landscape had changed quite a lot down there since I had left 20 years prior.
Where is the animation produced and how many people worked on the feature?
Anabella Sosa-Dovarganes: The animation company in charge of the production of Koati was Upstairs, with offices in Miami and Mexico. Upstairs had a team of over 1,600 animators and digital artists collaborating from Mexico, U.S.A., Canada, Argentina, Venezuela, France, Denmark, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Spain, Madrid and Honduras.
Since our goal was to make this film as traditionally hand-drawn animated as possible, we literally had to cherry pick the best talent available and create a production pipeline that would enable us to collaborate with each team remotely while still maintaining same quality and consistency in all of our scenes regardless of which team was animating film. The fact that both me and Rodrigo are bilingual made the work much easier because we were able to communicate directly with talent, and therefore have access to a larger pool of amazing talent.
Which animation tools were used to create the animation?
Rodrigo: From the very beginning, Anabella and I had a great desire to make this film as traditionally hand-drawn animated as possible, and we created a very flexible, hybrid pipeline that allowed our creative talent to work with whichever tools they were the most comfortable with.
We had an “artist process first” approach to this that allowed people like our incredible production designer, Simon Varela, who preferred to draw on paper and charcoal, to do his thing as he wanted. Same with the rest of our artists. We let them use whichever program they felt most comfortable with to draw and animate, for some it was TVPaint, for some it was Toon Boom. As long as the final result reflected that unified, hand-crafted vision we were going for, the tools were always secondary.
In your opinion, what are some of the standout qualities of the movie?
Rodrigo: The most obvious one is the look of the film. The fact that it used techniques that create a look that can seem familiar for some of us who grew up with hand-drawn animated films, while also feeling very fresh because of its unique visual language and aesthetic. This look stands out from many animated family films of today, which have a very uniform, computer animated aesthetic.
Tonally, our film also has its own unique flavor. Yes, it is an action-adventure-comedy, but we also pushed for a certain poetic vision in the way we visually portray this world. A magic realism that gives it a very particular Latin American essence. The characters and storyline are inspired by the hopes and dreams, challenges and struggles of us, the Latin American people of today. We touched on power dynamics and social struggles that are very particular to the region, which makes it very authentic. We also didn’t shy away from exploring the darker and bittersweet side of the uncontrollable power of the forces of nature, the cycle of death and rebirth, which are an essential part of any good myth.
Anabella: For me, the animation, production design and art direction of this film is outstanding and very different from any other movie. I think the beauty lies on the fact that we carefully wanted to maintain a 2D look while still capitalizing and maximizing the amazing new digital and post-production tools available to make this film look contemporary and high end while preserving the craftsmanship of 2D hand-drawn animation.
The score and the seven original songs of this movie are incredible. They were produced by Marc Anthony and Julio Reyes Copello and they are a celebration of the Latin rhythms and culture which I think audience will love.
Looking back, what were some of the toughest parts of the experience of bringing a 2D-animated feature to the screen?
Rodrigo: It’s often said that making an animated film is always like running a marathon, and that’s absolutely true. One has to persevere and keep the inspiration alive and pass on that inspiration to your team, and do so for a long period of time. One thing I learned during this process is that making an independent animated film is like running that marathon but with obstacles on the road. Now add a global pandemic into the mix, studios going into lockdown, everyone mostly working from home for the last year of the production — it made for a very challenging scenario. To see our very bare bones operation finding the light at the end of the tunnel after so many challenges it’s incredibly satisfying and a testament to the courage and perseverance of everyone in our team.
Anabella: For me there were three major challenges:
Convincing investors, distributors and commercial partners to do this film in 2D instead of 3D film.
Financing the film was the biggest challenge. We did not have access to big co-production tax incentive programs, nor did we have backing from a big studio.
COVID. We had to re-invent everything; our whole production pipeline so teams could work from home, our distribution strategy.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this family feature?
Rodrigo: The biggest hope is that the audience will fall in love with our characters the way we did. That they will laugh and cry through the journey, while being awestruck by the beauty of their world. Which brings us back to the initial dream Anabella had of exposing worldwide audiences to a fascinating and rich biodiverse world that exists beyond the story on the screen — a world that needs to be protected. Who better to protect it than the children that will watch this film?
Anabella: No matter where you come from, anyone can be a hero of their own story, Koati is a gift from Latin America to the world. And we hope audiences fall in love with our world with nature and are inspired by our characters.
What are the release plans for the movie?
Anabella: Koati was released in the U.S. on October 15. It will be released in Latin America on November 25 and the first quarter of 2022 in the rest of the word.
What is the best advice you can give animation hopefuls who want to have a rewarding career?
Rodrigo: Take risks and draw inspirations from all sorts of sources. Look beyond animation, look into live action, theatre, opera and literature. Enrich yourselves and, most importantly, enrich your own lives. I always tell students and people starting their career in animation to get out of their shells, fall in love, break your heart, allow yourself to experience joy but also sadness and the sorrows of loss. In other words: live. Only from life can you draw sincere inspiration as a storyteller and as an artist. When you are drawing or creating, turn off your phones. Allow yourself to experience being inside the creative “zone” without looking for “social media likes.” Do it for the fun of it, like you used to when you were a kid.
More information and tickets for participating theaters available at www.koati.com.
Hitting theaters today, Rodrigo Perez-Castro’s new hand-drawn animated feature, starring and executive produced by Sofia Vergara, beautifully portrays the region’s vibrant but steadily disappearing rainforests alongside a message of hope for a more environmentally sustainable future.
It’s a paradise where armadillos wield magic, frogs and butterflies take flight on the backs of jabiru birds, and flowers of every shape and color, and animals of every species, live together as family. Venezuela native and Upstairs animation studio owner Anabella Sosa-Dovarganes says her film Koati is “complete nonsense” when it comes to scientific accuracy. But, at the same time, it’s an incredibly beautiful testament to her beloved Latin America, the creatures that inhabit its rainforests, and the timeless power of 2D animation.
“I’m very proud,” says Sosa-Dovarganes. “What we did was amazing. And I think people are going see that when they see the film.”
Releasing in theaters today, Koati follows the heroic adventure of three unlikely heroes – Nachi (Sebastián Villalobos), a free-spirited coati; Xochi (Evaluna Montaner), a fearless monarch butterfly; and Pako (Eduardo Franco), a hyperactive glass frog – who embark on an exciting journey to prevent a wicked coral snake named Zaina (Sofía Vergara) from destroying their homeland of Xo.
This is the first animated feature film produced by Upstairs, along with Los Hijos de Jack and Latin We. With animation by long-time Disney collaborator Toon City Animation, the film not only features actor Vergara as the film’s main antagonist, but the Modern Family star also serves as executive producer.
Nearly all Koati’s main cast and key production team members, like Sosa-Dovarganes, have connections to Latin America, with Vergara hailing from Colombia, production designer Simón Valdimir Varela from El Salvador, art directors Lubomir Arsov and Fernando Sawa from Argentina, and director Rodrigo Perez-Castro from Mexico.
“I want the audience to be moved,” says Perez-Castro, who’s known for his storyboard work on Ferdinand and Rio 2. “Laugh, cry, all the good stuff. But I hope, as they fall in love with the characters, that they gain awareness about the natural world that is disappearing. Because it’s up to children to make sure that world survives.”
It’s no secret that biodiversity has become an increasingly rare commodity in our world. For Sosa-Dovarganes, it’s been a 10-year journey coming up with a story that would not only highlight all the unique regions of Latin America but also draw attention – using hand-drawn 2D animation – to the natural world and endangered species within its forests that are also rapidly disappearing.
“The seed of this project was to make sure that we sang to Latin America and its qualities, but one of the reasons the world really needs Latin America is because, right now, that’s home to the vast majority of rainforests,” explains Sosa-Dovarganes, whose team has partnered with WWF (World Wide Fund For Nature) to promote more sustainable lifestyles and the conservationist message of the film. “When we started creating the film, we handpicked the animals that we knew were in danger to be the characters.”
She adds, “We really wanted this film to be different. We did not choose the most beautiful animals that people would naturally be drawn to. We chose those that represented who we are as a culture and those who most needed our attention.”
Every animal represented in the film, except the coati protagonist Nachi, is currently on the verge of extinction — the glass frog Pako, the black jaguar Balam, the quetzal bird Amaya, the tamarin monkey Whiskers, and many others. But the animators have given vibrant, graphic life to these animals, naturally attractive or not, in the hopes that audiences will grow in their fondness for the oddly charming Pako, the wise Balam, the motherly Amaya, among others, and want to enact change to see these animals survive.
And a big part of pulling audiences into the rainforest world was bringing back the nostalgic aesthetics of hand-drawn animation.
“When Anabella approached me, I was like, ‘Let’s make it like one of those hand-drawn films, rich and fully animated in a traditional way,’” remembers Perez-Castro. “We both grew up with the classic hand-drawn animated films like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. So, it’s in our DNA. And I think one of the many reasons why I got into the business was because of those films.”
He continues, “It was a pretty ambitious idea and we had to look under every rock to find animators that could work on the film. But people really got into this idea, and we found lots of animators who had been craving to get their hands on animating characters in ways that were very naturalistic. We didn’t want animals that were like Bugs Bunny or from Madagascar. We wanted to reflect the natural world, similar to how they did it in Bambi, and the anatomy of those animals.”
Like the animal characters, the film’s settings are incredibly captivating, from lush greenery and silky waterfalls to regal architecture and menacing volcanoes. In total, Koati’s fictional setting explores roughly one dozen real locations in Latin America, such as the Yucatan and the Amazon, and landmarks specific to those regions, from the grand Iguazu Falls to the Tepuis mountains.
“We even have the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuaries, which are not really in the jungle, so we took some artistic liberties,” notes Perez-Castro. “There are a lot of Mayan motifs, not only in the pyramids but also in the actual jungle where you see flowers designed in a way that’s representative of Mesoamerican cultures. It was a combination of trying to emulate some of that nostalgia that we all had for the hand-drawn animated feel from those Disney classics but, at the same time, giving it this fresh look that is very particular to Latin America.”
Sosa-Dovarganes says the team was extremely diligent with the development stage and took it very seriously, considering the amount of negotiation it took to convince investors and partners that 2D, rather than 3D, was the way to go.
“They didn’t understand why we wanted to go back to 2D, but we were very lucky we had people that trusted us,” says Sosa-Dovarganes. “We spent almost two years doing development and I think you can see that in the level of detail of our work. One background, in particular, took us almost four months to approve.”
Pete Denomme serves as a producer on Koati and is one of the only members without a Latin American background, though Sosa-Dovarganes says he has a “big Latin heart.” The Switch VFX and Animation CEO is also no stranger to films centered around highlighting the importance of the world’s diverse forests and the small lives that often are overlooked in the name of economic progress. “The first movie I ever worked on in my animation career was Ferngully, and it’s ironic that one of the last films I’m ever going to work on is Koati,” says Denomme. “It’s just a full circle for me. “The audience is going to fall in love with the characters and then they are going to fall in love with the story. Ferngully, the storyline and the thoughtfulness in that film, it still resonates today. It’s going to be the same with Koati. It’s going to have a legacy down the road. People are going to keep picking it up because of the environmental aspect and the characters.”
While Koati’s mission is to enact change, Sosa-Dovarganes is adamant that it’s first and foremost, a “feel-good movie,” mixing characters and environments that would never scientifically go together all for the sake of making an impact on the next generation of change-makers and creating a magnificent quilt of Latin American representation.
“The film is not intended to be depressive,” she shares. “It’s not a documentary. That’s not our role. Our role is to get the families engaged and to have them fall in love with the characters. Then, hopefully, that will plant a seed. Though World Wide Fund for Nature has been able to engage the people that care about the environment already, they haven’t grown beyond that group. And in order for them to create a real impact, they really need young audiences to get involved.”
She adds, “There’s a song in the film called “Together Through Whatever” and, for me, that summarizes this film. It’s a message of hope and happiness and that there is a future if we come together.”
Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She’s reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at victoriadavisdepiction.com.
Y: The Last Man is a new FX on Hulu drama based on the DC Comics series by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. After a cataclysmic event decimates nearly every mammal with a Y chromosome, one man and his pet monkey survive. The series follows those who are left and their efforts to restore what was lost.
Produced by FX Productions, the show stars an ensemble cast that includes Diane Lane, a politician who now assumes the role of President, along with Ashley Romans, Ben Schnetzer, Olivia Thirlby, Amber Tamblyn, Marin Ireland, Diana Bang, Elliot Fletcher, Juliana Canfield and Missi Pyle.
Muse VFX (musevfx.com) in Hollywood is one of the studios contributing visual effects to the series. Others include Switch, FuseFX and ILM.
In Muse VFX’s case, the studio has collaborated with visual effects supervisor Stephen W. Pugh on a number of projects over the past 20 years, and once again partnered with him on this series.
“When he landed the job, he gave us a call and said, ‘Look, I’ve got this new gig and I want you guys to be a part of it,’” explains Muse VFX co-founder/creative director/VFX supervisor, John Gross.
The studio got to work on the show in earnest last August, after delays due to COVID. At press time, Episodes 7, 8 and 9 were all in post production, with as many as 18 artists touching the show at different times. In addition to clean up, matte paintings and set extensions, Muse VFX also handles creature work, shots involving explosions and other forms of destruction — all with an emphasis on photorealism.
Fred Pienkos, co-founder and VFX supervisor at Muse VFX, says the studio contributes between 35 and 45 shots for each episode.
“I think Y: The Last Man is sort of the ‘bridging of TV and film’, because they’re running it more like a TV pipeline, but they’re shooting it more like a film,” notes Pienkos. “For example, the whole show is shot anamorphic, which is a decision they made for the look of the show. But that requires a little more effort in the visual effects world to deal with those lenses. It’s sort of coming together, like TV and film are colliding. It’s been going on for a while, but this show really feels like that.”
Much of the show is shot in Canada, but made to look like different areas of the United States, including Washington, DC, Boston and Oklahoma.
“Everything’s based in reality,” says Gross. “The explosions — if there’s something exploding — it’s because somebody blew it up. Things fall and crash, and then (there’s) a lot of just making people look dead or making props look better. A lot of invisible effects, making things look dead and destitute.”
Muse VFX had a remote pipeline set up before the pandemic, but COVID really pushed the studio to take advantage of it.
“We were doing a little remote work before the pandemic,” says Gross, “but the pandemic really pushed us, and pushed Fred and the IT team, to make it happen, where it can just be like we’re in the office.”
“Pipeline wise, our studio is basically a private cloud, and all of the content is secured in a private network,” explains Pienkos. “People use VPN and cloud-access software to remote into (the studio) from their house. All of the work is being done in our private network, but from people around the country.”
Muse VFX relies heavily on SideFX’s Houdini for its effects work, along with Autodesk Maya for modeling, Pixologic’s ZBrush digital sculpting software and Foundry’s Mari digital paint tool.
“It’s sort of unique that we we’re doing much more of our work in Houdini than Maya these days,” notes Pienkos. “Modeling and character animation still exist in Maya for now.”
Blackmagic Design’s Fusion Studio serves as the backbone of Muse VFX’s 2D/compositing pipeline.
“We used it exclusively for all of our compositing work on Y: The Last Man, including prep, de-graining, rotoscoping, keying, tracking, particle effects and final composite,” says Pienkos. “We find it more reliable and reasonable than other compositing solutions.”
Pienkos points to a particular scene in which Fusion Studio proved useful. The studio was tasked with creating an explosion of a house using LIDAR scans and photo references that were taken on-set.
“No practical effects were shot on the day, and there was significant layering required to integrate the explosion of the house with the environment, as there were multiple layers of trees and bushes between the camera and the house,” Pienkos recalls. “We also needed to replace several practical trees with CG. For this sequence, camera tracking, rotoscoping, digital pyro, digital debris and digital foliage were all comp’ed together in Fusion Studio, including a simulation to blow out a nearby car’s windows as part of the explosion.”
Muse VFX’s pipeline also includes PFTrack from The Pixel Farm and SynthEyes from Andersson Technologies for tracking, and Maxon’s Redshift for rendering.
“In the pilot, there are definitely some signature shots that that I think we’re all very proud of,” adds Gross. “The way they look — they look absolutely real!”
Toronto’s Switch (www.switchent.com) worked on more than 100 shots for the series, creating matte paintings, set extensions, gun battles and green-screen composites. The VFX supervisor Stephen Pugh tasked the studio with creating matte paintings and set extensions for the series’ opening apocalyptic sequence, which appears in Episode 1.
The in-house creative team of VFX supervisors Jon Campfens and Beau Parsons worked with Pugh and senior CG artists David Alexander and Brandon Rogers, along with senior compositors Mike Suta and Amanda Hollingworth, to create the sequence with the rest of the Switch crew.
In one shot, abandoned cars clutter an LA highway, while debris from a plane crash covers a nearby hillside, all marking the sudden and violent halt to normalcy. Hundreds of 3D assets — including cars, trucks and the airliner — were created using Maya, with textures created in Mari, and modeling performed in ZBrush. Redshift was used for rendering.
Each asset was then referenced into the scene and hand placed to design the crash to create a natural and realistic look. Referencing the assets into the scene allowed the artists working on the vehicle models to continue to update them, as other artists continued laying out the crash.
Foundry’s NukeX was used to obtain a 3D camera track, along with a point cloud and guide geometry as a representation for the landscape of the shot. In Photoshop, multiple frames from the plate were used to create a matte painting for the highway without any cars. From there, the matte painting, along with other debris and smoke elements, were projected onto 3D cards in Nuke and placed where needed in the scene. Elements and plates were ultimately combined in NukeX.
For colorist Dave Hussey at Company 3 in Santa Monica, it was his past work with cinematographer Kira Kelly that led to his involvement on Y: The Last Man. The two worked together on The Red Line, and more recently on HBO’s Insecure. Kelly shot the pilot for Y: The Last Man and asked Hussey to be a part of it.
“Kira and I had a working relationship, so we created the LUT for the show, with some help from (DP) Catherine (Lutes), and we went from there.”
The pilot episode, Hussey explains, is a little different than what viewers will be exposed to as the show develops.
“In the pilot, you have life the way it was before things go bad,” he explains. “Everybody’s looking good. The people look the way you would expect them to look, with full makeup and hair and wardrobe. But then as things break down, once the virus comes along, and starts killing men — then things start to shut down. There [are] little lighting changes. The people aren’t wearing so much makeup or doing their hair because it’s chaos. So between Episode 1 and the rest of the series, you have kind of a change in the overall feel of the show.”
On the front end, Hussey met with Kelly and Lutes to discuss how they wanted the show to feel.
“We definitely wanted it to have a cinematic quality,” he recalls, “so we designed a film emulation LUT that kind of gave us the richness we were looking for in color. But also, we wanted it to be able to go fairly gritty as well, because once things start going bad, it has quite a dark, gritty look to it, so we wanted a LUT that could give us both.”
This involved some experimentation and collaboration with the color science experts at Company 3.
“We came up with something that would work for the beginning of the show, that needed the richness, but then could also be adapted to look gritty as well.”
The show was shot on Arri’s Alexa and the LUT was applied so the show’s editorial team would have a fair representation of what the series would ultimately look like.
“The LUT that I’m using to do the final color correction is basically the same LUT that they used as a shooting LUT in production,” Hussey explains. “When you look at the dailies, they’re very close to what we end up with in the actual final (deliverable). That was our goal. We didn’t we didn’t want the dailies to look one way and then have our final show look like something else. Also, because the show was very dark in general, for the DPs, we wanted to have a LUT that they could trust, that they knew where they were exposure wise and just felt comfortable with.”
In addition to Kelly and Lutes, Claudine Sauve also served as DP on the series.
“The LUT that we came up with, I think all three DPs were pretty happy with,” says Hussey. “They were able to tweak on-set with their DIT a little bit, depending on the situation.”
Y: The Last Man spans 10 one-hour episodes, and debuted on September 13th. When Post spoke with Hussey, he was working on Episode 7.
“How we work is, I do a pass of color myself, and then we’ll either send it to whoever the DP is that shot it and get color notes. Or, if they happened to be available for an afternoon, we’ll do a virtual (meeting) wherever they are. Once we’ve gone through the show again and done all the tweaks the DPs are happy with, then we screen it for the showrunner. They’ve been working very closely with the DP, so they don’t have a lot of color tweaks, really.”
The showrunner, instead, uses the color grade as an opportunity to call out story points.
“The showrunner has been really good about story points that I may have missed,” Hussey recalls. “Something like, ‘bring out this book’ or ‘bring out that phone’ — points that the showrunner would know more than I would.”
Hussey works on a Linux-based system running Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve, a tool he’s been using since its infancy in the 1980s.
“I started working on DaVinci back in 1986, so I’m pretty much a Resolve guy,” he notes. “I’m much faster on Resolve than any other system. I think for colorists, they pick the system they enjoy.
“It’s hard to believe, really,” he says of DaVinci’s evolution. “I started my career in Toronto in the early ‘80s. When we first started using DaVinci, it was all analog. Things drifted and we were working off of film. Is a completely different world! We had no power windows, no noise reduction. We had very little to work with. There was basically just three joysticks.”
Today, he praises the system’s unlimited power windows as well as Blackmagic’s business plan that allows even casual users to download a free version of the application.
“Because Resolve is so popular and people can download the basic [features] of Resolve, people have a little more knowledge of what I can do. And they can speak my language a little bit easier because a lot of people have played with the software and know how to ask me for something.”
Hussey is often working with incomplete episodes, where visual effects shots are coming in later in the cycle as the deadline approaches. He can get through a general color pass in about 12 to 14 hours before showing it to the DP for feedback. An episode will ultimately take 30 hours of his time once feedback has been implemented.
“I may color a VFX shot and, a week later, I’ll get an update of that VFX shot,” he explains. “You may end up coloring the same shot several times because it’s constantly being updated and changed.”
All of his work on the show took place this past spring in his suite in Santa Monica.
“We’re in a very big facility, so it was easy to social distance,” he states.
Beyond Y: The Last Man, Hussey has a number of projects forthcoming, including The Afterparty, from writer/director Christopher Miller. The upcoming Apple TV+ series retells the story of a high-school reunion through the eyes of a number of different characters.
“The color is completely different, depending on who the character is,” says Hussey excitedly. “And in the final episode, you have a mixture of all eight points of view — all mixed together.”
Toronto Canada, May 5, 2020 – Pete Denomme, Executive Producer and CEO of Switch Animation announced today the formation of a partnership with Aron Dunn of Treason Media to bring The World According to Dave series, written and developed by Aron Dunn, to animated life. Jyotirmoy Saha of August Media will also join the production after a successful relationship with Switch on George of the Jungle.
In The World According to Dave an overly-imaginative 11-year-old, finds an alien device called the IMAGIN-ATRIX that brings his wildest daydreams to life. Now this pop-culture obsessed kid and his friends take adventures through their favourite comics, video games, movies and more. Each time Dave rewrites the world he faces a new challenge that he must overcome in order to reset the Imagin-Atrix. Reality is never going to be the same again.
The reality-bending adventures of Dave and his friends will leap off the page as a result of this newly announced partnership between Switch Animation and Treason Media. “It is indeed a pleasure to be working with Aron once again on this uniquely creative animated comedy concept,” said Pete Denomme.
“After recently working with Pete and the team at Switch Animation on a short film, I knew they were a perfect partner for Dave,” explains Dunn. “I’m thrilled that they want to be part of this riotous celebration of imagination. Pete’s team of amazing artists will render an eye-popping world that I’m sure audiences will want to leap into and join Dave on his adventures.”
This production is based on an idea by author Sylvia Medina and will be supported by David Wollos, co-founder of Think Tank Emporium.
Pete Denomme – Executive Producer/CEO – Switch VFX & Animation
Pete is CEO/Executive Producer of Switch VFX & Animation an award winning, artist owned, boutique studio whose focus is on service work, co-production and education. Recent credits include Altered Carbon (Netflix), Northern Rescue (Netflix/CBC), The Expanse (Amazon Prime), feature film Jigsaw, animated short Zoua, Welcome to the Wayne webisodes and fan favorite George of the Jungle (Teletoon).
Passions include producing inspiring storylines with collaborative partners like the upcoming animated short, The Perfect Project where a young boy’s autism is portrayed as his superpower. In addition, Pete inspires the next generation of digital artists through investment in the education platform The Animation Lounge and industry scholarships at five Canadian colleges.
Member of the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, Visual Effects Society (VES), Computer Animation Studios of Ontario (CASO), National Academy of Media Arts & Sciences (NAMAS) and the Alliance for Children and Television (ACT)
Aron Dunn – Creative Producer / Writer – Treason Media
An industry vet with nearly two decades of experience, Aron leads his merry band of rebels on their campaign of creativity at Treason Media. When he’s not crafting a killer pitch, or delivering his latest script, he is staying in touch with his “inner kid” by reading the latest comic books or playing the hottest console games. Over the course of his career, Aron has worked with Netflix, Disney XD, Nickelodeon, Teletoon, YTV, Treehouse, KiKA, and CBC Kids. He has also contributed scripts to numerous animated comedy series including Cupcake and Dinosaur, Super Wings, Chuck Chicken, Rusty Rivets, Pocoyo, Camp Lakebottom, Justin Time, Trucktown and The Insectibles. Prior to founding Treason Media, Aron held senior development roles with some of Canada’s most prolific and acclaimed producers, including Breakthrough Entertainment and Portfolio Entertainment.
Toronto Ontario, February 7, 2020 – Switch Animation is pleased to announce today completion of The Perfect Project, an animated short film about autism adapted from the book of the same name by author, professor, TEDx speaker and award-winning psychologist Dr. Tracy Packiam Alloway, PhD. “This film brings to life my book celebrating the superpowers of children with a learning disability with sensitivity and gentle humor, telling the heartwarming tale of how a young boy with autism and his classmates learn to collaborate on their science fair project.” says Dr. Alloway.
The Perfect Project is a passion production for Switch Animation whose focus is on work that inspires, educates and entertains. “It started in 2019 with the festival short ZOUA, a story of friendship, shared around the world, from the creative minds of a group of brave children fighting cancer” Pete Denomme, CEO/Executive Producer of Switch explains “This year it was important to me to express to children what autism is in a simple, direct and honest way with the critical underlying themes of understanding and acceptance”. The team on the film included voice actors and animators on the autism spectrum as well as a behavior therapist who deals daily with children like lead character Charlie, who face many situations that classmates untouched by autism take for granted”. Within the framework of the story key elements of Charlies autism are proven to be his strengths and superpowers as he is instrumental in helping his team.
Representatives of this inspiring project are meeting with worldwide SVOD and broadcast production leaders at this month’s Kidscreen to grow partnerships that will bring Charlie’s daily adventures to a wider audience and continue his positive influence on the perception and reception of autism.