Toonz takes creative New Zealand content overseas

Mark Nicholls: ``Toonz wanted to extend its reach into Australasia and use the large pool of New Zealand talent.’’

The arrival of one of world’s largest animation production companies in Auckland has provided a major boost for the fast-growing industry in this country.

Toonz Entertainment New Zealand, part of the Toonz Media Group, has set up here to develop and produce content for local and international markets.

After establishing its Auckland office in early 2015, Toonz quickly formed partnerships with local companies for pre-production work on an animated feature film and a television series.

"Toonz wanted to extend its reach into Australasia and use the large pool of New Zealand talent,’’ says Mark Nicholls, director of Toonz Entertainment NZ.

A key shift is to concentrate on developing, and often jointly owning, new intellectual property (IP) in New Zealand, and through co-producing allowing the chance for New Zealand production companies to access the Toonz platform and distribute this jointly-owned content around the world.

"New Zealand has some great (animation) talent, and we are excited by the opportunities the New Zealand office can bring to the group overall,’’ he says.

Toonz Entertainment NZ engaged Wellington-based Mechanic Animation to complete the pre-production work for the animated feature film, Beijing Safari. The work took 11 months and involved up to 30 artists.

"We were impressed by the talent of Greg Harman and his team at Mechanic,’’ says Nicholls. The project had an internationally-recognised director based in Boston, a line producer from Europe, and the animation production was completed in India.

"This was truly a collaborative international feature which created some challenges, but which were easily met by Mechanic. They completed the pre-production to a high standard, and completed on time.’’

Toonz Entertainment NZ was introduced to another project called Darwin And Newts, the brainchild of Christchurch-based Whitebait Media. ``This was one of the key reasons we started the office in New Zealand – to find New Zealand-based IP that we can co-fund, co-produce and then take them to the world,’’ says Nicholls.

The television series, made up of 40 eleven-minute episodes, encourages a pre-school brother and sister, Darwin and Newts, to explore simple science ideas to fix things.

Toonz Entertainment NZ has established a studio of artists in Auckland for pre-production for Darwin And Newts. The directors are Janine Morrell-Gunn and Emma Gribble, and the series will be completed in mid-2017.

Toonz has invested in the project, along with the New Zealand Film Commission, NZ On Air, and Whitebait, and it will first be screened on TV2 in New Zealand. "We have already had great interest from other broadcast partners around the world,’’ says Nicholls. "I’m confident we can sell Darwin And Newts, and it will travel well.’’

Toonz internationally is owned by the Comcraft Group headquartered in Switzerland, and it provides the media group with strong support to expand into new markets. Toonz also has offices in Spain, North America, Turkey, Singapore, Canada and the UK.

It has formed strong working partnerships with the likes of Disney, Turner, Nickelodeon, Discovery, Google, YouTube, Sony, Universal, BBC, ABC Australia, Paramount, Marvel, Hallmark to name a few. This provides New Zealand with strong links into these partnerships, and should be seen as a positive step for the industry in New Zealand, says Nicholls.

The partnership between Toonz and Nicholls happened after he needed an international partner to produce some content for a project he had initiated.

A trip to meet the CEO developed into a long term partnership where today they have both invested into the tech start-up based in San Francisco. They hope to launch this in 2017.

"We have now worked together for nearly five years,’’ says Nicholls. ``The family culture that has been created within the company is unique and refreshing. The Comcraft Group have invested in New Zealand in other sectors for the last 30 years, so this is an extension to their interest in this market.’’

Nicholls says Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) has provided great support for the introduction of Toonz to New Zealand. "Whether it’s connecting us to industry partners, hosting international executives at the Cricket World Cup or just supporting us with industry events, ATEED are always connecting with us – and making sure they can support us to help create a sustainable business here in New Zealand.’’