Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Genius That Was Pocoyo

If you've ever worked on a TV series, you know the limitations. The budgets are tight and the schedules are short. There is always the danger of attempting something too ambitious for TV or letting the limitations restrict everyone's creativity. Either way, the end result is mediocrity.

Usually, the first casualty of TV schedules and budgets is the animation itself. Whether it is subcontracted to a low wage studio or not, it still takes a lot of time to get done. Shows often throw the animation overboard, relying instead on the scripts, the audio tracks and the designs to keep the audience entertained.

Occasionally, though, somebody decides otherwise. Pocoyo is a pre-school cgi show made in Spain. The creators, Guillermo García Carsí, Luis Gallego and David Cantolla, made conscious design choices that free them up to move the characters. What are they?
  • No backgrounds
  • Little to no dialogue
  • A limited number of characters
Most TV series will have the characters go into new environments at least occasionally. That requires design and in cgi also requires modelling, texturing and lighting. By eliminating backgrounds all together, there's a significant time and money saving.

Many pre-school shows just use a narrator. It makes it easier to create versions of the show in different languages in that there is only a narration track to replace and it can be done with only one performer, not a cast. The lack of dialogue also forces the animators to communicate visually.

By limiting the number of characters, once the design, modeling and rigging of the characters is done, that's it for the series. No new neighbors, visitors, villains, etc.

As the design, modeling, rigging and texturing jobs are limited in scope, the money normally spent on them can be put into performance. The Pocoyo characters move in distinct ways. Their rigging is excellent, resulting in playful shape changes and funny movements.

In addition to these creative choices, the show has something that's hard to write into a budget or schedule: charm. It's just fun to watch. There are pre-school shows I find deathly boring or puerile. Pocoyo is a show that doesn't need apologies. It works for pre-schoolers, for their parents and certainly for animators.

Two other things are worth mentioning. Where many North American shows now default to 11 minute episodes, Pocoyo is roughly 7 minutes per episode. That gives the show a snappy pace where other shows feel padded to fill their running times. The other thing is that for years, the conventional wisdom was that holds don't work in cgi. Pocoyo proves they do. It's not the cgi that makes holds feel dead, it's the designs and style of movement. Pocoyo's designs are cartoony enough and the movement stylized enough that holds work. That's another money-saver, too.

The first season is the best. Unfortunately, when it came time to do another season, somebody decided to "improve" the series. While Pocoyo is a perfect example of "less is more," somebody decided that less wasn't enough. Characters were added and so were environments. Instead of Pocoyo and friends living in limbo, they now visited cliché environments like the sea bottom and outer space, making it just another pre-school show.

While the original vision lasted, however, Pocoyo showed that there are artistic choices that can overcome TV's budgets and schedules. As TV budgets continue to shrink, animation doesn't have to be sacrificed unless the producers want it to be.

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