A note from the FableVision editor: This blog series over the next few weeks is written by FableVision’s Tone Thyne, Vice President of Creative. This series will give you a front-row seat to what it’s like to create a show, an over-the-shoulder look at the creative work that Tone and Gary Goldberger, FableVision President and Co-Founder do here at the Studio. Curious about how we got here? Read more about Tone here, Zoombinis here, and download the game to play!
Okay...here’s the fun part.
This is the part of the show-making process where I start to consider all the millions of different directions the show can take. At this stage, I intentionally don’t think about important details like, How would we pull this off from a production standpoint? How much money would this idea cost to make? Will this be a CG show, traditional drawn animation? Puppets? or How many spots do Spotted Flying Salamanders have and what region of the world do they actually hail from?
All those questions can be answered later. For now, this stage is all just pie in the sky.
The first and most important question I ask myself is, “What show would I (grown- up me) like to watch?” I know we’re ultimately making a show to appeal to a younger audience, but trust me – no kid is ever going to love a show that the show’s creator doesn’t love first.
With that directive, I grab a window seat on the MBTA, a blank sheet of paper, and a medium-fine-point Sharpie. While gazing at the world speeding by, I’m lulled into a trance. I make sure the conductor has my ticket first before any of this trance business happens. In this semi-conscious state, I’m able to transform the train window into a virtual television screen where I can watch the phantom show I’m dreaming up in real time. And as an added bonus – no commercials! As I visualize, I scribble what I see.
Don’t strain yourself. Let me help.
1. Narrator and his backstory
Throughout the entire Zoombinis game, there is an omnipotent Narrator who speaks to the player. This Narrator relays the backstory of our little blue friends and is present at every turn in the game – to set up a challenge and to remind the player when they’ve gotten something wrong. The Narrator takes a very objective stance – narrating what’s happening at each turn, but not really revealing too much.
But who is this guy? And why does he know so much about the Zoombinis? Is he the puppet-master? Does he have anything to do with the Zoombinis’ plight? Perhaps the series centers on him and his story – inside and outside the game – and how the Zoombinis fit in to HIS world. Maybe he’s sort of like a major grown up Dungeons and Dragons geek...er, enthusiast who plays Zoombinis in the fantasy world in his mind?
2. Characters getting ready for Zoombinis to enter
As the player navigate the Zoombinis through the game, they encounter several interesting characters. Some examples are:
- The Stone Guards – Four stone characters who regulate the passing of the Zoombinis through the Stone Cold Caves.
- Arno – A grumpy Pizza Troll designed to look like a tree stump.
- Captain Cajun – The humanoid owner of the ferryboat in Who’s Bayou.
- The Fleens – Small and easily aggravated green creatures who harbor a significant distaste for the Zoombinis. The list goes on and on.
What if our series revolved around these and the other characters in the game? We could follow their day-to-day activities and like them, await the Zoombinis’ arrival in each episode. In this incarnation, the Zoombinis themselves are minor characters to the others.
3. Actors playing Zoombinis
Here’s a weird one. What if the series was extremely self-referential? The whole series could be the “backstage” goings-on of the game. There could be a set of actors who play the characters in the game – including the Zoombinis themselves. Our show would be what happens when the “cameras aren’t rolling” during the “filming of the game.” Sort of like a Real Hollywood Story of Zoombinis.
4. Scot as a kid
As mentioned before, Scot and the team at TERC brought Zoombinis to the world in the early nineties, but who knows how long they had been mulling and creeping and crawling around in Scot’s brain before that? What if the series took a young boy (named Scot perhaps) and showcased him playing with imaginary characters he’s made up? Maybe he calls them “Zoombinis” and he acts out adventures in every episode? Maybe we watch him creating the elements that will eventually become parts of the game. Like watching Jim Henson sewing the Kermit puppet out of his Mom’s green coat.
Hey, I didn’t say any of these ideas were good yet.
I simply can’t get the image of that scrumptious looking pumpkin pie I used as an illustration way back in paragraph one so I’ll naturally close with a possibly over-reaching pie analogy. Gary and I are headed over to see Scot Osterweil in a couple days and we’ll take this list with us as a starting point. These four ideas are going to form the foundation for the discussion between Gary, Scot, and me. A veritable crust of sorts. Our goal is to walk out of our meeting with all the good stuff that makes up the delicious filling of the pie. Once that’s done, we can put the icing on top and share with the world. That’s gonna need to be one giant pie.
Off to MIT.
See you next time.