Spotlight on NSI Alumni Dennis & Melanie Jackson

By Liz Hover, NSI

2011 marks the National Screen Institute’s 25th birthday. We’ve been training writers, directors and producers how to be storytellers since 1986.

In our latest alumni spotlight we’re proud to feature husband and wife team Dennis and Melanie Jackson.

Between them they’ve been students in four of our training programs. Not only are they the clever folks behind the award-winning TV series Wapos Bay (developed through NSI Totally Television) but they also find time to give back as associate faculty members of NSI’s New Voices program. Together they run Dark Thunder Productions Inc.

Spotlight on Dennis and Melanie Jackson

Dennis says: “NSI training gave me a confidence in the pitching process by teaching me the dos and don’ts when approaching a potential broadcaster. They’ve structured this by streamlining your project to its essence so that you know exactly what the broadcaster needs to know about you and your show.

Dennis is a graduate of NSI Totally Television (2002-03), the Aboriginal Cultural Trade Initiative (2004) and Featuring Aboriginal Stories Program (2009).

He began his career in elementary school watching 16mm prints of animation on aboriginal creation tales. Dennis remembers sitting at the back of the class as the teacher explained animation with the individual frames. Dennis has since received Gemini nominations for both his writing and directing of Wapos Bay. This animated series has received four Gemini awards of excellence.

Melanie Jackson says: “NSI training gave me confidence in the co-production process by teaching me the dos and don’ts when approaching a potential partner.  [The program] allowed me to participate in learning the process and what’s available in the international industry.”

Melanie is a graduate of NSI Storytellers (2005) and Featuring Aboriginal Stories Program (2009).

Melanie is a producer with over 14 years proven experience in development and programming of many hours of original drama and documentaries across several channels.

She has led creative professionals and built effective teams responsible for the delivery of quality programs. She brings a fresh perspective to the type of film, TV and digital media productions that can be successful in the marketplace and what skills are needed to create them.

Her ability to work with the leaders in our industry will help develop the most innovative, relevant and uniquely positioned in providing quality indigenous storytelling, high production values with excellence in stop-motion animation personnel and facilities.

Their successful TV series Wapos Bay is wrapping up with a movie called Long Goodbyes which will premiere in the fall on APTN with a limited advance theatrical release.

Read the official article here!

Wapos Bay Lives on in Digital World

By Emily Claire Afan, Playback Daily

Wapos Bay the series may be coming to an end on the small screen this fall, but the Saskatchewan team behind the children’s stop-motion animated series has plans for the franchise to live on in the digital media world.

Producers Dennis and Melanie Jackson, and Anand Ramayya recently wrapped production on the final episode, which will air as a feature-length MOW on APTN called Long Goodbyes.

Marrying the traditional art of stop-motion animation with the new interactive side was no easy task, but the team was intent on keeping the same look of the series across the board.

According to Hulomedia transmedia producer Ryan Lockwood, WaposBay.com is a “very close translation” of the series that plays on the exploration and adventure themes that have drawn kids to the series for the last five seasons on APTN. (The site received CMF funding.)

WaposBay.com launched last fall, and this coming fall, the interactive offering is Wapos Racerz! (pictured), a Mario Kart-esque style casual racing game from Toronto independent game company Phantom Compass.

“It was a challenge to do the game in stop-motion,” show creator Dennis Jackson tells Playback Daily, echoing Lockwood’s thoughts on keeping the stop-motion look consistent across Wapos products. “It would probably be easier to do it in Flash, but we were adamant to have it look like the show.”

Lockwood worked with fellow Hulo producer Brooke Burgess on the game as well, noting that animators on the MOW also contributed to the creation of Racerz!

Digital extensions of the brand slated for this fall include an interactive storybook series for mobile and tablet platforms that allows readers to flip between Cree, French and Inuktitut languages, as well as linking to videos on its YouTubechannel. On top of that, Wapos Bay episodes will soon be available for downloading on iTunes, streaming rentals and for sale on DVD on Amazon.com, IndieFlix and Netflix.

On tap next for Hulo and WBP is another stop-motion sci-fi project called Guardians, a project which Melanie Jackson says is already locked into coproduction deals with Australia and New Zealand.

Wapos Racerz: Making Video Games

Q: What do you need to make video games?

A: Computers.  Ok, that answer might be overly simple, but I think that the question “WHO do you need to make video games?” is more interesting…

There are some video game companies who have hundreds of employees working in teams in space-aged offices, with robots that roam the halls offering bowls of free candy.  And then there are some video game companies who have only one employee who does it all, working tirelessly out of her mom’s basement, surrounded by pizza boxes and empty Dr. Pepper cans.

Gratefully, Phantom Compass falls somewhere in between… Robots kind of scare me.  With four full-time employees and many fantastic contractors, Phantom Compass creates rocking games.

Here is a breakdown of WHO Phantom Compass needs to make the “Wapos Racerz” game for you.

-ARTISTS- Often seen sipping a coffee from a ridiculously small cup with odd little moustaches, the artists are the ones charged with making the game look and sound nice.  They have an imagination for the finished game experience, the artistic skill to create the art needed and often have the technical know-how to get it done.

-PROGRAMMERS- Programmers can look at a problem, debate the 5 billion possible solutions and choose the most efficient solution to move forward with… all in about a nano-second.  They are kind of like robots… but friendly ones, that smile.  They work with and sometimes even create the game’s engine (which is the computer code that makes the game run) and often even make their own tools (programs that run in the game engine) for artist and other programmers to work with.

-DIRECTORS- Like a ships captain, they lead their crew out into the stormy seas of Game Development and safely back to the quiet shores of Final Delivery.  Directors make decisions on which direction the game should go and direct the artists and programmers every step of the way.

-ORGANIZERS- These people are sometimes called Producers or Project Managers, but really they are just like a Mom or Dad who makes sure that everyone is fed, gets to their after-school activities on time, has their homework done and always has a band aid ready in case someone falls down.

So, now you know WHO Phantom Compass needs to create “Wapos Racerz” for you.  These team members are all working hard getting ready for our next deadline.

Keep your eye out for more postings, where you will get to meet some of our team members… None of which are robots.

Cheers,

Ericka Evans,

Producer for Phantom Compass

From the Crew to the Producers of Wapos Bay: Thank you!

Dennis Jackson, Melanie Jackson, Anand Ramayya

Watch this exclusive video from the official wrap party! Some of the crew share memorable moments and thank the producers of the Gemini-award winning Wapos Bay!

Want more Wapos Bay fans? You can purchase DVDs on the National Film Board of Canada website and watch for our interactive eBooks and ‘kart-style’ racer video game both coming out this fall!

Don’t forget to check in about the exciting NEW series, Guardians, from the producers of Wapos Bay!

Wapos Racerz! at the Studio

When I was first exposed to Wapos Bay, I was genuinely amazed; here was a world-class stop-motion animation program that was made in Canada – in Saskatchewan, no less – and it had completely slipped under my radar. Now, I consider myself pretty ‘media savvy’ (especially when it comes to genre programming, and even more so with animation), so if I was surprised by this revelation, the odds implied that a lot of other folks were similarly in the dark. This was a situation that needed to be remedied.

Enter ‘digital media’…or ‘transmedia’, as the hip kids like to call it. When the series creators and producers had mentioned that they were working on upgrading the web presence for the show early last year, I threw my proverbial hat in the ring. Their original plan was to create a basic video hub that featured short clips from the series…and not much else. My goal was to take advantage of current web technology – specifically Flash animation – to create a slice of the Wapos Bay experience online. People from around the world could come to the site, and immediately be immersed in the sights, sounds, and hand-made CHARACTER of the show. It would be packed with custom animations, easter eggs, and access to behind-the-scenes material that showcased the incredible craft of the creative team. 9 months later, Waposbay.com was born – mission accomplished!

So now – with the award-winning series coming to a close with a feature film – we wanted reach an even larger audience to celebrate its conclusion. And with the explosion in casual gaming online, the next phase seemed obvious: give new visitors and established fans a chance to meet the characters and explore the town in a stop-motion racing game. We hope you enjoy a sneak peek at what we have in store for later this Fall – Wapos Racerz is coming to a screen near you!!!

Courtesy Brooke Burgess, Transmedia Producer