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Cost-Effective CG For TV...The Hour-Long Variety
Using Softimage’s XSI Was More Treat Than Trick For Mainframe Entertainment

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Scary Godmother is the first full CGI television production utilizing SoftImage's new XSI software.
The Christmas season has always been bombarded with TV specials while Halloween gets treated like the poor relative. But that’s all changing this year thanks to Vancouver-based computer animation creator Mainframe Entertainment, whose first one-hour prime time special, Scary Godmother Halloween Spooktakular, is scheduled to air on Canada’s YTV network this Halloween.

“It’s a groundbreaking project, as we’re the first animation company to complete a full CGI television production utilizing SoftImage’s new XSI software,” explains Mainframe CEO Rick Mischel. “And that meant that we were able to bring a feature film quality to a television special. Of course, one of the main challenges of doing something like this is to ensure that once you’ve invested all this time and money in a project that you’ll have an audience for it.”
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Mainframe CEO Rick Mischel
To this end, the company carefully picked a property that “has universal themes, about kids growing up, and that is linked to a big holiday like Halloween,” notes Mischel. Based on the popular comics and children’s books by the award-winning artist and writer Jill Thompson, Scary Godmother Halloween Spooktakular is a whimsical story that follows the first trick-or-treating adventure of a young girl one dark Halloween night.

“But we were well aware that Halloween is not a worldwide holiday like Christmas,” he says. “It’s big in North America and the UK, but still a growing event elsewhere, and the economics of anything you do in the kids’ entertainment business dictate that you find as big a market as possible.”

But while Halloween may not yet be a global holiday, it’s not nearly as crowded as the Christmas special season, “and that was a big plus for us,” he adds.

Getting Familiar With Some Scary Stuff
In terms of the economics of producing a one-off special, other advantages came into play for Mainframe, one of the world’s most prolific producers of computer animation for television and direct-to-videos. “We’ve always maintained a very high quality of CGI, and that’s because we spend the time and have developed the proprietary software needed to create specials like this one,” notes Mischel. “And this was also done as a way of testing and incorporating the new XSI software into the company. We’ve done a lot of work with Softimage and we do a lot with Softimage 4.0, and we saw this special as a chance to let all our in-house animators get very familiar with the new XSI system. So all these costs are not really part of the Scary Godmother budget — they’re basically an overhead cost.”

With this in mind, Mischel estimates the budget for the 44-minute special in the $2 million range, a very low figure when compared with budgets for an average CG feature. “But don’t forget that we do get certain economic advantages being in Canada,” he cautions. “We get substantial savings through the tax credit program here and labor costs that are a bit lower, in addition to the efficiencies that we’ve built into our production pipeline over a decade of work.”


Source: Film & Video Magazine

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