Adult Animation Revolution: Building Global Franchises
by Tito W. James
At the World Animation Summit, producers at Nickelodeon gave a panel on building global franchises. The panelists advised creating animated shows with characters we want to spend time with. These characters need to be interesting and complex enough to be imagined in different scenarios for years to come. The secret ingredients to a successful franchise are compelling character dynamics paired with a world the viewer would want to explore.
Characters are strong if they can work across media while still retaining their identity. If there is a tie-in movie, the storytellers should raise the stakes. The goal is to push the characters as far as possible without breaking them. The film or spin-off series can explore another facet to the character or world.
The panelists had pragmatic advice in regards to multiple reboots or franchises with long histories and expectations. When working on a “Legacy Character” new creators should add their voice and interpretation as a fan. Think about what we have in common with these characters. What are universal truths and experiences that can be communicated with this story? A franchise becomes universally iconic when wearing its merchandise tells people about your personality.
Whether the franchise is old or new, some creative principles continue to work. Nickelodeon TV shows often feature an audience surrogate as the protagonist. Seeing an ordinary kid on an extraordinary adventure acts as a form of wish fulfillment. If you’re an aspiring showrunner, then think about a personal story or experience that you can communicate in a creative way. A human drama will act as an anchor to any fantastic cartoon world. While the panel was primarily about long-running franchises, there was respect given to series that were short but sweet. When it’s time for the story to end, go out in an elegant way and your fans will remember it fondly.