This blog is dedicated to my Mentor and Friend, Kaj Pindal.
In the fall of 2004 I met Kaj Pindal professionally while working temporarily as the Program Coordinator for the BAA in Animation at Sheridan College. Although I knew of Kaj and had had him as a guest speaker when I was at Sheridan as a student in the 90’s, I really didn’t get a chance to know him as a colleague in the animation industry. Everybody in the Canadian industry knew Kaj as the father of the NFB short, Peep and the Big Wide World which started out as an animation test in 1962 called The Peep Show which would eventually become the Emmy Award Winning WGBH series Peep and the Big Wide World. Although Kaj had had a distinguished career at the then fledgling National Film Board Animation Unit in Montreal and was even nominated for an Oscar in 1967 for the animated short film What on Earth with fellow animator Les Drew, it was his career after the NFB that caught most of the student’s attention. He had a gift for animating and spent a good time going around the world talking, demonstrating, working and researching with the other great minds and leaders in the industry.
Kaj wandered into my office one day and sat down. It was his way of introducing himself and getting to know the new faculty and staff. I remember him distinctly asking what I did in the industry and explaining I was now Producing children’s shows, in which he replied….I might have a couple of ideas.…..in his trademark long Danish accented, Kaj Pindal drawl. Sure enough, buy March of 2005, Kaj and I had started working on his next project called “The Immigrants”.
Kaj envisioned a family of Penguins who lived on the South Pole called the “Guins”. Their habitat was overcrowded and shrinking with the melting ice cap and an over friendly seagull suggested they make their way up to the North Pole, where food and ice was abundant! The “Guins” would venture out into this big wide world as newcomers to strange and different lands as they journeyed North to the promised oasis called the North Pole.
Essentially it was a “fish out of water story” with a nice cultural and environmental theme. In 2005 it was timely due to the environmental concerns being discussed, but when I see the massive refugee crisis that has hit the world in 2015, I’m awed at Kaj’s innate ability to be forward thinking while discreetly pushing major themes within a global context.
We got to work developing the pitch bible, checking with broadcasters on their needs as well as bringing in production partners for the inevitable animated test that most funders want to see before they put any money up for a full production. One of the major stumbling blocks was the title. Although being old-school, I knew where Kaj was going with it. In the 1940’s Kaj had spent his youth in Denmark drawing cartoons of Hitler for the Danish Underground, so he had seen his fair share of hardships and flight but the title had to change as the broadcasters just didn’t like it.
In true Kaj fashion, he went away for a bit to ruminate on the dilemma and came back with The Wanderbirds! He based his title on a very popular European pre-WWI youth group that emphasized hiking, swimming, camping and travelling to other countries; called the Wandervogel, which had a bird for its emblem.
With an excellent title in hand, a good working storyline, all we needed was an animation test. I had gotten to know the industry leaders in flash animated series, Fatkat Studios in New Brunswick very well. They were a great bunch of classically trained animators, the people Kaj thrived working with. With a trip out to see them, Kaj and I had secured an agreement to produce a trailer in hopes they would get further work when/if the project was greenlit.
The trailer was short, but as you can see above, the style and timing was all Kaj. I placed the trailer into MipCom Jr. in Cannes France during the 2005 MipCom broadcast sales and distribution market. Along with The Wanderbirds Pitch in hand, we immediately received interest while at the market. However now that I was an independent producer and not working for Calibre Digital Pictures/Alliance Atlantis anymore, broadcasters were a little risk averse and advised Kaj and I to partner with a larger Executive Producer in order to make the financing work.
Oddly enough we had three Canadian Exec Prod’s interested in representing the project; GalaKids, CCI Entertainment and Shaftesbury Entertainment. In 2006 we came to a Development IP agreement with Shaftesbury, who then started working on the broadcasters to fund the series. Over roughly a two year span, Shaftesbury worked hard to try and bring the Wanderbirds to life, but by then the broadcasters had too many other penguin shows. The IP agreement ran out with Shaftesbury and the property was returned to Kaj and I to try and repitch. It was 2008 and at the start of the American recession, so the decision was made to shelve the project indefinitely.
This was the first of many development project experiences I had. I was grateful to Kaj for putting faith in me to at least represent his final series attempt in a professional manner. Substantial money was spent, as it always is in our business, but in the end the market decides what is fresh and new.