Chicho & Darz is an animated series I created about a chicken and dragon who live wacky adventures in a university with a shady reputation. Since its creation on 2013 as my graduation film in university, it became a scholarship winner in Bridging the Lab Animation Lab in Tenerife, Spain, where I was taught by European producers how to prepare a professional selling pitch for my project.
On 2018 Alex Lagos, a screenwriter living in Valparaiso, Chile, and me in Lima, Peru prepared the folio to be considered for a financial award at DAFO, from the Ministry of Culture in Peru. Its pitch was successful and as an award winner it received 75,000 soles (about 16,000 euro) to develop a 12-minute animated series pilot. It was up to me and my studio MJ Campos to join, train and hire a team of companies and independent artists to work on the project.
This pilot is targeted mainly for preteens from 9 to 13 years old. Nevertheless, we consider it can be a multitarget product as it references cartoons from the 90s, which makes it attractive to millenials (25-35 year-olds).
I am the creator and IP owner of the project, as well as the CEO of MJ Campos. I was the main leader of the pilot, assuming the roles of director, producer, storyboarder and art director.
9 months in total.
Pre-production: November 2018–March 2019
Production: April–mid May 2019
Post-production: mid May–July 2019
Illustrator, Photoshop, Animate, After Effects, Premiere, Pen and paper, Post its, Excel, Word, Google Drive, Zoom.
Produce a 12-minute pilot within a budget-friendly and independent way with a large team of animation and sound professionals in Lima, Peru, using the funding given by DAFO and complying with their contract.
The solution process
I developed the animated pilot on the three stages of production of a typical audiovisual work: pre-production, production and post-production, with a large team of companies and independent artists in Lima, Peru.
Parting from the folio we presented to DAFO, Alex and me kept on working on the screenplay to improve it and get feedback from other fellow animation creators. We had the screenplay on final version on January and on February we started the voice casting with Torre A Doblaje. Together with the voice casting director, I casted several voices that unfortunately not all appeared on the pilot, however it was important to give shape to the show in playfulness and wacky spirit. Voice acting is essential on this type of character-driven project, and it was my main goal to shape Chicho and Darz and find the perfect duo, based on the voice acting I would work the moving image. Here we discovered Javier Jugo and Yubitza Leiva, who could improvise naturally in conversation, which was an important asset for the main characters. Another wonderful discovery was Angela Moscoso, who voices Fresa, as she created her own performance on the character, making a baby voice with say demonic things, which was terrifying and hilarious.
Parallel to this, the MJ Campos art team was already working on the concept art regarding characters and backgrounds. They came once a week to my home office and we proposed different ideas for scenes and character profiles, and we kept an online archive with our scans and digital artwork for review, as we worked the rest of the week remotely. While Romina, Matsu, Jacqueline and Alex (who joined us online) worked on some art designs, I started crafting the animatic. I started by drawing on post its to get the general idea and put it on boards and started pitching it to my team. After this, I redrew them digitally and made a more polished animatic, adding the voices recorded from the Torre A studio. An animatic is vital as a roadmap for the whole production as it indicates the scene number, timecode and other vital information for the art, animation, layout, post production and sound teams that will need it to start making their breakdowns and work accordingly to the pipeline.
Here an important member came to my aid. Fatima Lock became production coordinator and helped me greatly to manage the different teams' breakdown sheets.While the art department started doing their scene breakdown for making all the assets needed (characters in layers and background art), the animation team started also to work and coordinate with us. Animation and layout was made by Maneki Studio, directed by Alonso Vega Peña, and they were located on another office. They asked from the art team to design characters in layer and vector to be later manipulated by the layout and animation departments on the Adobe Animate software. The MJ Campos art team made about 100 initial backgrounds and 10 character pre-rigs, which included different character views, lipsync mouths, hands and expressions.
Maneki Studio worked for a month and a half to animate 12 minutes of cutout animation on Adobe Animate. The MJ Campos team and me worked on the art line, colour and final touch for the 100 backgrounds. Once a week we assembled a new animatic with the shots worked on that week. Alonso, Fatima and me joined in Maneki's office to watch it together and then give our feedback, what could be improved, what was to be done the upcoming week and adjusting schedule if necessary.
One of our characters was captured in live-action, that is recorded by camera. The President Dog, portrayed by Tomas, was filmed and photographed with chroma key in my garage on a Saturday morning. The photographic team of Big Bang Studio installed the lights and chroma key and helped us capture on video and photo shots of the President Dog, who wore a presidential band made by my grandma.
Maneki Studio started post-production in mid-May, by doing compositing of all animated shots, background art, visual effects and the President Dog chroma shots. Every week we saw the progress on animatic form, and we have the feedback to Alonso to pass to the post-producer.
We also re-dubbed some voices with Torre A Doblaje, such as breaths, laughs and reactions. Music composition was composed by Astro Contenidos, which mixed 90s rock, rockabilly and surf rock, creating this vintage cartoony vibe. Finally, they were also in charge of the sound editing, foleys and final mix.
I finally edited the pilot, putting image and audio together, adding subtitles, opening and ending credits and rendered the pilot, which lasted 13 minutes with credits, at the end of July.
Constraints and limitations of the project
This has been clearly the biggest project I had to direct, in terms of people and equipment. I was not well-aware that different studios manage different terminology so, for example, I realised late that the pre-rig characters were an art team task and not an animation task. I had to rush with my team and get it done on record time, as we did not consider it on the initial schedule.
Many of the things I miscalculated I had to asume by myself, which required me talking many sleepless nights, as I could only work with the budget I had received. The budget was a limitation but it also taught me never to plan on a project that you cannot afford. Work with what you have, applying both to money and to time.
The President Dog shooting day was very fun but also a little stressful as Tomas was very mischievous and did not want to stay put. He even jumped to the swimming pool and run around everywhere as he just wanted to play. However, our team was patient and perseverant, so we finally achieved our goal and got great shots of Tomas.
What did I learn
As the director, producer, creator and art director I had to wear many hats. I indeed remember being on every stage of the project, every online and face to face meeting, which consumed great time of my energy and time. I learned that I had to delegate, even though I really wanted to be present on every stage, but it was not good having a burned out director at the middle of the process. Fatima Lock, who entered at the end of the pre-production, helped me with line production essentially, which was a life saver, and allowed me to center myself more on direction and art direction, which are my technical specialities.
I learned to believe in myself and my ideas and that can be huge to inspire the team and people to work with me. I really learned to pitch and bring my enthusiasm forward, to make them believe on my project. It was sometimes very tiresome but it paid off in the long run. Following the production of Chicho & Darz I won two international promotion awards to go to two animation festivals as we were selected finalists to pitch our project: Chilemonos (pitch for Cartoon Network in Santiago, Chile) and Animation! at Ventana Sur in Buenos Aires, Argentina).
"I have had the pleasure of meeting María José Campos since 2013, when we were undergraduate students in Audiovisual Communication at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. I was part of María José Campos' team, where she was the director of the final project of the degree, an animated trailer. From that moment, I was impressed by María José's innate talent and ability as a designer, illustrator, and content creator. And, of course, her leadership, her commitment and her great charisma. Now, she is the director of her own design company, dedicated to carrying out animation and illustration projects mainly for entertainment and children's education, where she occasionally works as a producer. María José is an exceptional person not only in the professional field but also as a person in daily life, and I am sure that she will be a very valuable asset for any company."
Production coordinator in the Chicho & Darz pilot