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.

Studio Tour with Trevor Cameron

Missed April’s studio open house? Check out the video below for your own tour with host Trevor Cameron, Director/Actor/Story Editor of Wapos Bay!

Also, a big thanks from everyone here at the studio to all those who made it out and to all of our fans!

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 Bay Feature on MBC Radio

Check out this great piece from April’s studio open house courtesy of MBC Radio. It includes an exclusive interview with Dennis Jackson (creator/writer/director/producer), as well as, Melanie Jackson (producer), Ryan Lockwood (transmedia producer) and actress Andrea Menard!

Listen here! Wapos Bay – MBC Radio

Wapos Racerz Game Prototype

Before I joined the games industry, when I heard the word “prototype,” I thought of a coverall-clad inventor with safety goggles on his head, emerging from his basement after months of tinkering with blueprints and wires. Grinning, he holds his “Prize” high above his head–the first ever model of his invention that actually worked; a Prototype!

Substitute the coveralls with a hoodie, the basement with a computer desk, the blueprints with design documents and wires with wireframes and you have a Game Prototype!

Phantom Compass recently completed the Wapos Racerz Game Prototype. This kind of prototype is called a “Proof of Concept” Prototype, which means that we build only the parts of the game needed to “prove” that we can build a fun racing game. This normally includes only the basic gameplay or “mechanics” for the game without any of the glossy artwork, killer sound, frantic physics or cunning artificial intelligence.

For the Wapos Racerz Prototype, we made a little purplish-grey box that you can drive around a crazy rainbow coloured track. It’s not pretty and certainly not perfect, but it does demonstrate the technology functions like we planned. The player can drive around the track and collide with the track edges–even spin out of control.

Now that the prototype is complete our programmers and artists will be building on this to make it into a real game… but we still have a few steps to go before our game is ready to play properly.

Watch for more postings while we get ready for our next step, which is oddly named “Alpha.”

Ericka Evans,
Producer for Phantom Compass

Wapos Racerz by Phantom Compass

My name is Tony Walsh, and I’m the founder of Phantom Compass, a Toronto-based company that makes games in support of TV series. We’ve contributed to game projects on CBC, YTV, Teletoon, and now APTN with “Wapos Racerz,” based on the hit TV series Wapos Bay.

In Wapos Racerz, a free online game launching on the official Wapos Bay site later this year, players will choose one of four characters from the series–each of whom drives a unique go-kart–and race through the town of Wapos Bay and its surrounding wilds. Players will be able to spot visual surprises during the race, and collect Slushy Kitty cups to unlock video clips. Racing against three other characters, or against a “ghost” racer of their best time, the player can try for a personal best score or submit their high score for others around the world to beat.

All of us at Phantom Compass are fans of animation–and from a personal standpoint, I’ve always loved classical stop-motion animation (my background is in illustration). The team at Wapos Bay Interactive is currently hard at work animating the characters and vehicles for the game. We’ll be using these stop-motion animations in combination with 3D graphics to provide a fast-paced racing game true to the vibrant look, feel and spirit of Wapos Bay.

Phantom Compass began making the game early this year and at the time of this writing we’re busy with the game’s first playable prototype. The prototype will be a rough test to show how the basic physics and driving system plays out. While we’re making the prototype, we’re also generating concept sketches and “pre-visualization” footage. At this stage, we’re roughing out the entire game–nothing’s pretty yet, but by mid-year we’ll have some eye candy in place.

Over the coming months we’ll be providing the Wapos Bay team with updates on the game’s progress. This will provide a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into making a game, and maybe even a chance to offer your suggestions for what you hope to see in Wapos Racerz!

Wapos Bay Studio Open House

We’re having another Open House so you can come check out behind-the-scenes of the four-time Gemini award-winning animation studio in Saskatoon!

What: Wapos Bay Studios – Open House
When: Friday, April 15th from 1pm to 6pm
Where: Wapos Bay Studios
Why: So you can get a tour of the studio and meet all different types of crew members, from animators to the creator!

School groups and individuals welcome!

The creators of Wapos Bay will officially announce their new TV series Guardians which will be produced in Saskatchewan. Come get the inside scoop on Wapos Bay The Movie that will premiere this coming fall, and the video game in development with Toronto-based Phantom Compass who has been involved with game projects for CBC, YTV and Teletoon.

Please RSVP to Shelly Bowes at 306-955-0036 or email shebow2000@hotmail.com to save your spot and get more information.

Find the studio via the map below!

The Week Before Production – Lighting & Camera Department

Courtesy of Craig Olson, Gaffer (from January 2011)

It’s a week before production on the Wapos Bay Movie and the Lighting/Camera Crew is called in to bring in all the gear (Cameras, Lenses, Lighting & Grip Gear) that our department needs to start the year.  It’s sad to see an award winning Canadian television show come to an end, but I’m excited that we get to do one last Movie to close the show out.  Not too many productions get the chance to say goodbye the right way, knowing that the show is over and having a chance to do what they always wanted to.

Our Crew has worked hard over the last week to get all of our bays ready to shoot for next Monday when the animators come in and shooting starts!  The studio has been modified to fit 10 bays this year which means that we need to have 10 different shots ready to go at all times (ideally). We use almost all of our gear in setting up those 10 bays as our department “stash” area is now almost empty.  Everything is “Tickitty-Boo” according to Peter.  I have learned that the phrase “Tickitty-Boo” is a good phrase meaning that life is good and we’re all happy.

It is the job of our crew to help convey the vision of the Director through camera angles, lenses and light.  We set up the camera and control light to the exact millimeter of where it should be to enhance the visual look of the shot.  Once the DP (Director of Photography) is happy with how the shot looks, the Director approves the shot and will communicate character direction to the Animator.  With the help of the Animation Supervisor (Cam Lizotte), the Director will make sure that the Animator has all the information needed to complete the shot.

Production Team Announces Digital Media Properties

The Wapos Bay production team is delighted to announce the launch of WaposBay.com and a world-class production blog, as well as the development of a “Wapos Bay” video game.

Developed by transmedia producers Ryan Lockwood and Brooke Burgess (Broken Saints), www.WaposBay.com has over 70 viral videos and compelling stop-motion interactivity (100+ animations), and is richly infused with the Cree language and traditions. This is a secret place where adventure and knowledge are the rewards for curiosity and exploration. The website was financed with the participation of the Canada Media Fund, Saskatchewan Film Employment Tax Credit program, Hulo Films, and Wapos Bay Productions. At the production blog (WaposBay.com/Blog), fans of the show, industry colleagues and animators alike can step behind the scenes to experience the making of the show.

The experience extends to social media, including FacebookTwitter and Flickr. On the Wapos Bay YouTube channel, fans can watch and share clips from the series, sizzle reels and demos. 

Delivering a high-quality transmedia experience is more than having a killer concept,” said Burgess. “It relies almost entirely on the caliber of your team to execute as planned. That’s why we’re so keen to be collaborating with Tony Walsh and his partners at Phantom Compass. With their help, next fall you’ll be able to experience Wapos Bay at breakneck speed by racing through the streets as your favourite character in custom handmade vehicles!

WAPOS RACER! will harness the power and worldwide reach of casual gaming. This ‘kart-style’ racer will challenge gamers of all ages and types to race through the world of Wapos Bay, explore unseen corners of the community, challenge their Cree language skills, and unlock video teasers and behind-the-scenes secrets. The game will be cross-platform: embeddable on Facebook, major Flash hubs like Newgrounds.com and Flashkit.com and open-source mobile-enabled (Android, Windows Mobile, etc).