By Indiewire | Indiewire May 2, 2000 at 2:00AM
BIZ: The Brains Behind Wildbrain.com
by Kevin Dreyfuss/EB Insider
(indieWIRE/05.02.2000) -- Wild Brain is the animation studio you know somehow, but you may
never have heard of. Founded five years ago in a San Francisco
garage by co-founder and current Creative Director John Hays, the
company does animation that runs the gamut, from CG to traditional
cell animation, from TV series to movie special effects to credit
sequences, and now online with a series of oddly compelling,
innovative Flash animations, available at www.wildbrain.com. Some of
their current projects that might ring a bell include the animation
work for the upcoming "Rocky and Bullwinkle" movie, as well as the
tres cool Japanimation "Playa's Delight" NBA ads running during the
playoffs this year.
Leading the online charge is Managing Director John Kirtland, who was
brought on last year to spearhead the company's Internet efforts in a
rapidly growing, crowded field of online animation experts that
already includes Mondo Media, Honkworm, Shockwave and the eCompanies-
funded Icebox.com. Kirtland comes from a background where he became
adept at straddling the fence between Old and New Media, growing up
with cable at HBO, doing some of the first Web content distribution
deals at CNN and Turner Broadcasting, and heading up the
international efforts at Infoseek and Disney's GO Network. He's
helped forge a site that shows off some odd, mesmerizing series such
as "Romanov," "Glue," and "Joe Paradise," the latter about a
mysterious international agent with no nose and one spindly hair on
his head. The site is also currently featuring a taste of forbidden
fruit with the original industry promos for NBC 's controversial and
short-lived animated series, "God, The Devil and Bob."
Kirtland sat down with EB Insider to talk about the past, present and
future of Wild Brain, the Hollywood-New Media divide, and the
EBI: So first of all, do you think people's expectations for the
online entertainment space are getting raised too high right now
KIRTLAND: You know, there is a lot of hype right now, and it's still
going to take some time [for the space to develop]. A lot of stuff
being developed for the Web will really only be important once
broadband takes a bigger hold, which is still a few years on. So it
scares me a little bit that with all this hype and all this talk
about it, and all the money, in five months people reading about it
now will not be seeing the results they're expecting.
EBI: So why did you come to Wild Brain in this overheated climate?
KIRTLAND: You know, what's really exciting about Wild Brain is that
we can do any kind of animation you wanna see. And what's really
exciting to me personally is that I'm overseeing the dot-com piece of
it, taking this really diverse group of animators and talent and
having them transform the Internet, seeing what they can do in this
whole new medium, and they're going crazy. You know, we put out an
open call, we needed some people to develop some things, and we had
everyone in the company giving 20 submissions. A good example is
that we had a summer intern named Roque Ballesteros, who just came in
to work on some commercials over the summer, and he had a great idea
for a show. We're premiering his 12 Webisode series called "Joe
Paradise." It catches people off-guard, it truly is storytelling on
the Web, it's not "Frog in A Blender." I love "Frog in a Blender"
and things like that, but this really is all about finding a new way
to tell stories on the Web.
EBI: And you're doing all sorts of animation online, not just Flash,
KIRTLAND: Right now we're doing everything. Our business model is to
be both a destination site as well as a producer and syndicator of
EBI: How do you see that working, because that's a contradiction in a
certain sense. If you're a destination site, you're trying to draw
eyeballs back to your site, but if you're a syndicator, then you're
spreading the brand out wide, dispersing the audience.
KIRTLAND: We're doing it because it's a little too early to tell what
is going to be the most successful model. We can't be a true
syndicator because we don't have enough content to syndicate at this
point. We will by the end of this year, we'll have up to 20 Web
series that are either fully produced or in production. Right now
we're going to attack it from both angles and see what works. The
other exciting thing about having this corporate backing, this
history in commercials and television, is that if we develop
something for the Web, which we can do at a much cheaper cost than a
television pilot, and it kicks in, then somebody may hopefully come
to us and say, we love your stuff, we're MTV, we're USA Network,
we're whoever, and we'd love to turn that into a TV show. And we'll
say great, we'll license you the rights to do that, and you know
what, we have a production company who can produce that as well. And
then, oh, you've sold some commercial time? Terrific, we'll produce
the commercials for you, too. You know, I've always wanted to run my
own television network, and here's my opportunity to create one on
the Web. And I just really like these guys, it's a very creative
environment, and there's not a lot of studio influence, which is good.
EBI: What do you think of this confluence between Silicon Valley and
Hollywood? How is this mix going to work out?
KIRTLAND: There are a lot of very interesting deals being done right
now, there's some very interesting names being attracted to the
Internet. When you hear David Lynch, when you hear the "South Park"
guys, people start to listen, excitement is generated.
EBI: But do you think the traditional media's growing influence in
the space is good, bad, do they get it, do they not get it?
KIRTLAND: You know, I have to be careful what I'm saying here because
I used to work for two of these companies, one being Time Warner, the
other Disney, and they both had interesting experiences in this
space. I think both of those companies get it in many ways, but the
exciting thing about the Internet is that anyone can participate.
You may not have a massive marketing budget, but word-of-mouth works
very well on the Internet, you can put something up there, people can
find it, and all the sudden it spreads like wildfire, it's nuts. I do
think that the big studios, they're going to get it, and I certainly
want to work with them, because one of the things they bring to the
table is the capacity to build a brand name in ways I don't have.
Partnering with somebody like a Time-Warner that has Entertainment
Weekly magazine, their cable channels, etc., they have the capacity
to really build brands. Disney is the king of that. Don't count
them out, they will figure this out and be big players in all of
this. It's just a question of how and when it shakes out.
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