He who controls children's content in the next ten years will control the world

Famous writer and producer O’Roy, who has released more than two dozen popular children's books and animated films, spoke about the process of combining his work on literary projects and their screen adaptations and shared the secrets to creating commercially successful projects for children.

Today you are considered one of the most in-demand children's authors. Many outstanding universes, such as the "JingleKids," "Dreamers," and "Tommy the Little Dragon," have come from your pen. At the same time, you have produced several dozen animated projects for a variety of audiences. Tell us, please, how do you combine the role of author and producer?

It's a very interesting experience — seeing your characters come to life not only through illustrations in a book but also on the TV screen. I'm very happy to be a part of this process. In any project, it's necessary to maintain constant contact with your target audience — children and parents. In this respect, it's easier for an established author than a screenwriter who’s creating a project from scratch. The books are already popular among children; they've already fallen in love with the characters. These are important elements for the success of any future animation project. And when a book becomes popular, work on all the other elements begins: genre of animation, style, tone, colors, characters. Animation also allows me to go beyond the purely creative process and actively engage in the business side of things. In particular, I look at every screen adaptation through the lens of its economic feasibility.

Do you mean speaking with investors?

Not only with investors. I'm actively involved in the technical nuances. After all, it's important that our characters can continue their lives beyond the screen, becoming a child’s favorite toy, for example. To this end, we are still in the development stage of communicating with potential licensing partners: manufacturers of games and toys, food products, and school supplies, and many others. Moving in this direction is no less promising than selling the license of a cartoon itself. According to Euromonitor International, worldwide merchandising sales grow by an average of $690 million every year. No wonder The Walt Disney Company has occupied the top spot in License Global magazine's rankings of the world's largest companies by sales of licensed merchandise (from which they made $54.7 billion in 2019). According to other estimates from the same publication, merchandise turnover for Animaccord, the creators of "Masha and the Bear," amounted to $327.3 million in 2018. So today, a successful Russian brand can earn more than $300 million a year.

How do writing a book and working on an animation project differ from one another?

Literary works, as a rule, are created alone; the computer becomes your only friend. And the time frame involved can be quite lengthy — sometimes the story takes shape in a few weeks, but sometimes it takes years. You are left to your own devices. You can become distracted and switch to something else. The deadlines are much tighter for animation projects. It's a continuous process that requires full commitment. You have to sacrifice weekends, holidays, vacations, and sometimes even sleep. And not just the author alone. The entire team is fully immersed in the project. Development takes at least a year, then the series is launched, and during this time, you and the team become a big family, sharing all the sorrows and joys equally. The world and characters you've created gradually become close to not only you but to everyone working around you. The characters come to life and new series, new stories, and new seasons are written for them. It's an amazing feeling. Having said that, books and animation have something in common. In creating all my projects, besides the mandatory commercial component for the investors, I pay attention to social issues. For example, in "Jenny’s magic shop" the main character Bear Blam is a personification of special needs children.

The series will help children learn tolerance for those who might look and behave differently than everyone else.

Your debut animation project, "JingleKids," was a huge success and won first prize in animation at the San Diego International Film Festival. It, and other series, like "Tommy the Little Dragon," are enough popular in the Baltics, Spain, Turkey, China, Latin America, Russia and even Israel. What, in your opinion, is the secret to the international success of a domestic animated production?

I will add that both of the aforementioned cartoons have achieved good sales deals on foreign streaming platforms, Netflix and Amazon Prime, which is a real victory for us.
Generally speaking, the main keys to success are, of course, a cool idea and the courage to set ambitious goals for yourself. Only with these things will you be able to inspire a team to the realization of a project. When I say "team," I mean more than the screenwriters, producers, artists, animators, and other representatives of the animation market. I'm talking about experts from entirely different fields — marketers, sociologists, child psychologists, and so on.
There's this widespread belief that budget decides everything, but we've seen many examples that prove the animated film market is a combination of many factors. For example, you should first outline the priority markets for distribution. Every region has its own pitfalls. Pleasing everybody is extremely difficult, so why try? For example, "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh," released in 1977, is banned in China. Anything related to "Pokemon" is banned in Saudi Arabia. To avoid any incidents, we hire Western screenwriters and script doctors at the early stages of scriptwriting. Furthermore, you should determine the age of your project's audience and orient the project around the psychological characteristics of your young viewers. For example, in the world of animation today, the influence of "new ethics" is undeniable — the push to protect children from everything that can harm them and lay the foundations for wrong behavior in the future. This applies to gender roles and any hints of racism, to name a couple of examples. One should also always remember the importance of safety in a plot. Young children follow the examples set by their favorite characters in everything they do. A cartoon should not even accidentally encourage a child to do something dangerous. It's necessary to consider the number of characters — not too many and not too few. They should be diverse in their characteristics, ages, and gender to show children that people are different. In other words, for every project, an entire universe is created not only on the screen but behind it too. I am categorically against the idea of launching many projects in the hopes that one or two of them will make it big. They should all be a hit, or why bother taking up your and others' time? I would quote Mark Twain here, who said, "It usually takes me two or three days to prepare an impromptu speech."

Many authors are sensitive about their "babies" and are reluctant to make any changes to their ideas and original concepts. Your story, however, gives the opposite impression.

Yes, I differ from my colleagues in this regard, in my flexibility and ability to listen to the advice of professionals in their field and not become a hostage to my own "castles in the sky." Over my many years of successful work, I've formed an experienced team that I trust and whose competence I do not doubt. I really enjoy keeping up with the latest technology, gathering opinions from a potential audience, communicating with partners, and, if necessary, making adjustments at the project development stage. I do not believe that all this detracts from the merits of my work. On the contrary, it allows a project to find commercial success, which is important to me, my employees, and any investor.

You are currently working on several projects at the same time.

In particular, along with the company JMS Animation, you are preparing 5 new animated adventure series based on your works. The first two, "Jenny’s magic shop" and "MultiCity," have already been put into production. Does this mean that the market of children's animation is a promising area in terms of investment?

The animation industry today remains one of the most promising investments, growing by 20% per year. Unlike film and television projects, animation studios have been virtually unaffected by the pandemic, quickly adapting to the current situation and setting up remote production. Other factors, too, show that the market will only continue to grow — smartphones and tablets are becoming more and more commonplace in the lives of modern children. At the same time, the attitude of parents, is changing. They are increasingly seeing technology and gadgets as tools to prepare their children for life. The number of online platforms willing to invest in new, interesting projects is also growing. Just during the pandemic, the phrase popped up, "He who controls children's content in the next ten years will control the world." However, there is not enough high-quality content. The number of studios putting out high-quality work is small; you can count them on your fingers. Not many successful projects that achieve real popularity are continued and turned into universes. We want to give modern children new heroes, new stories, and exciting adventures that they will watch with bated breath and want to read books about.

You also announced the release of the VR game "Fatal Flurry," based on your YA novel, "Loaned Heart," which was released at the end of February. What is the reason for your interest in this direction?

I like to experiment with new formats, especially seeing as our industry is not only growing, but also transforming with innovative technological solutions. The development of augmented and virtual reality is a part of this. This project is unique in that the game and novel were created almost simultaneously — "Fatal Flurry" will be released to the international market on the Oculus platform in May 2021. So the conversion of gamers to readers and vice-versa is quite likely.

You've left the "JingleKids" team, having sold your shares successfully. What was it like to part with a project that you yourself created from scratch?

No matter what the project is, be it an author's own or one designed for commercial opportunity, you grow close to it, giving yourself to it completely 24/7. Of course, parting with "JingleKids" was unpleasant, painful, and a darn pity. But, on the other hand, you understand that your "child" has grown up; he needs his own experience, his own progression, so you just have to let him go. I have already let "JingleKids," "Tommy the Little Dragon” and “Super Meow” go, and I will certainly continue to let new projects go. After all, I can say without exaggeration that there are many. So more meetings and partings are always ahead.