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Fri 25 Feb 2011 12:05 PM

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That’s not all folks!

Blink Studios is giving a new, Arabic lease of life to Cartoon Network’s existing cartoon portfolio. Chris Newbould talks to Blink’s Nathalie Habib about the first of many local adaptations, this time of live action/cartoon quiz Skatoony

That’s not all folks!

Towards the end of last year, Digital Studio was at the
launch of Cartoon Network’s new Arabic channel, unsurprisingly called Cartoon
Network Arabic. At the event, Alan Musa, VP of Turner Broadcasting, which owns
Cartoon Network as well as CNN and a host of other well-known TV channels,
spoke at length about the organisation’s plans to ensure that CN Arabic was not
merely an organ for broadcasting Arabic-dubbed versions of its successful
European content, but a genuine driver of new local content, and an active
participant in ‘Arabising’ its existing content.

Musa was engaging, and seemed committed to the task, but
some questions remained as to exactly how ‘Arabising’ content differed from the
aforementioned broadcasting dubbed versions of its existing European content.
With the new channel’s first foray into the field now complete, we tracked down
Nathalie Habib, general manager of Blink Studios, which undertook the
conversion process of CN Arabic’s soon-to-screen Skatoony – a quiz show featuring
young contestants pitting their wits against a host of popular characters from
the channel’s rosta of animated favourites.

Habib seemed confident that the channel’s experience in
providing local content elsewhere, as well as her own team’s talents, would
stand the new show in good stead: “It’s important to mention that this would
not be the first time that Cartoon Network adapts content for a local audience
as shows have been produced for other local feeds in local languages,” she

“The Cartoon Network Arabic channel launched in October 2010. As part of
the channel’s first initiative to create and adapt content for the region and
try to ingest a local flavour into their programming grid, they approached
Blink Studios with the production requirement of adapting their UK-originated
programme called Skatoony. Blink and CN
Arabic’s relationship commenced in 2009 with the advent of CN’s Business
Development team to the region in search of the next step forward to introducing
a localised CN channel for the young Arab audience. This relationship soon evolved into a
cohesive understanding of the market requirements in terms of creating specific
content for the region, which now in the early stages is starting with the
adaptation of Skatoony.”

Habib explained that the process of creating this specific
content was an extensive one, and that the new show should engage with local
audiences on  a number of levels: “This
show has a unique twist to it revolving around a quiz show between kids and
cartoon characters. Classically, all types of animation mixed with live action
shows open great windows for removing and replacing segments within the
episodes,” she said.

“The first step, was the casting of Arab kids. This obviously took a lot of auditioning time
to find the kids that would not only be equipped to compete in general
knowledge competitions but are also not camera shy and would comfortably play
along with the ‘invisible’ character that is supposedly sitting next to them
competing in every round of the games.

“There was also the need to readapt and rewrite the script
of each of the 22-minute episodes. It is
worth mentioning that this show is quite ‘wordy’ and has a mouthful of witty
jokes being thrown around between the various characters. The challenge here was to first try and come
up with a pan-regional script that would feature the various dialects of
Arabic, as well as, make it funny and comedic. Again, this was achieved through
locating a local scriptwriter who was able to meet these requirements.”

To give the show a truly local feel, however, Blink went
beyond new scripts and translation, ensuring that the new episodes looked, as
well as sounded, like local content: “The highlight of the adaptation was
integrating local cartoon characters into the show. In this case, CN Arabic was able to agree
with Lammtara, creators of the popular Freej, to include their characters in
the show. Here the work revolved around
transforming the already created 3D Freej characters into 2D and integrating
the characters in the script of certain selected episodes. We think this specific adaptation, though
challenging, successfully resulted in retaining the spirits of the
well-recognised Freej characters

“On a visual level, the episodes featured visual sketches of
iconic settings known to the region. For example, Burj Khalifa and the Emirates
towers from the UAE, Faisaliya
Tower from KSA, the
Pyramids of Egypt and more. All were integrated in the 2D setting, as well as
Arabising the main supers and typographies keeping to the original identity of
the show.”

The adaptation was a fairly comprehensive affair, which is
all the more remarkable given the tight timescales Blink was working to. Habib
says: “The 13 episodes and their long list of adaptation requirements were
produced in the extraordinary timeline of three months. This is a timeline that
is quite a challenge to undertake for any animation production studio. Blink
knew this and still took interest in taking the show on board because it
believed in and understood the importance of CN Arabic’s eagerness to introduce
region-specific programmes into their grid. After all, this is what sets CN
Arabic apart from other international children broadcasting channels that have
been introduced in the region. It is also this objective that Blink aims to
support, especially since it parallels Blink’s long term vision of creating
long-form animation content for the region and beyond.”

It is perhaps uniquely challenging for a creative team to
take on the work of another creative team and adapt it for its own needs, and I
ask Habib how her own team rose to this: “All kind of content that is taken
from the hands of its creators and originators would definitely present a
challenge when it needs to undergo an adaptation to a different region and
audience. This of course applies to all formats of productions including live
action, documentaries, theatricals, etc…

“Some challenges revolve around the technical platform the
show was created on and the ability to provide the local technical know-how and
resources to understand and emulate the same technical specifications. The
content itself and the creative thinking behind it also presents a challenge,
particularly in this show with comedic scripts and settings that have to be
adapted and translated so that they entertain and make an Arab audience laugh.

“On both fronts,
Blink was able to meet and deliver to expectations.”

With debates raging around the industry about the merits, or
otherwise, of 2D to 3D conversion – a topic which we look at elsewhere in this
issue – it must have been a novel experience to do the opposite by taking the
3D characters from Freej and turning them into 2D animations for Skatoony, but
how did Blink go about retaining the feel of the characters when changing them
from their original form?

“It is always fascinating how each of these animation
formats carries a unique feel to it, and once characters are created and
brought to life in either 3D or 2D, the specific format embodies not only their
look and feel but also their identity and ‘liveliness’.” Habib explains.

“Transforming the Freej characters from 3D to 2D was a feat
that was undertaken by James Fox, who is the creator of CN’s Skatoony. He was
the one who closely worked with Lammtara in order to ensure that all 2D
sketches did not compromise the identity and recognition of the characters.
Blink also consulted with creators Lamtarra to ensure that the characters’
dialogue retained the feel and language that audiences would recognise.”

With new scripts, new contestants and even new local
characters joining the action, the adaptation process certainly goes far beyond
a simple translation into Arabic. Indeed the project begins to sound more like
a whole new show, and Habib says that the team’s close working relationship
with each other and its external partners helped to make the process as smooth
as possible: “When adapting this type of production, which includes a mix of
live action and animation, the most important ingredient to its success is a
collaborative working spirit shared between the originators and the adaptors.
If the spirit of working closely together with openness to discuss and
challenge all specific segments of the show is non-existent then a true
adaptation of any production is bound to fail in delivering a true localised
look and feel.”

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