Last Friday, Amazon Prime premiered Annedroids, its third original kids show following Creative Galaxy and Tumble Leaf. The live-action/animation hybrid features a kid scientist named Anne (played by Addison Holley) who conducts experiments in her junkyard lab with the help of her human pals and a trio of CG-animated android assistants. Amazon Prime Instant subscribers can now stream the first seven episodes of the series, with 19 more episodes to come at a later date.
The series was created by J.J. Johnson (right) who, through his production company Sinking Ship Entertainment, has also created children’s shows such as Are We There Yet? World Adventure and Nick Jr.’s Dino Dan.
Johnson recently spoke with Cartoon Brew about science-based kids’ programming, the challenges of making live-action/animation hybrids, and why not understanding the animation process can work to a producer’s benefit.
Cartoon Brew: What inspired you to create Annedroids?
J.J. Johnson: I wanted to do a science show for a very long time, but I couldn’t figure out an avenue to do science in the way that I think kids like science—with explosions and [that] kind of chaos. Obviously networks are going to be concerned that kids seeing kids do that are going to try to emulate it and hurt themselves. I took a little while to get to the idea that some of these things are dangerous, but the character—who built her own robots to perform her experiments—is smart enough to know that she needed something there in between herself and the science.
Cartoon Brew: Was developing a series for online streaming different than one for traditional broadcast?
J.J. Johnson: The challenge I see when your show’s on a space like Amazon is that a kid turning into Amazon Prime has their choice of every TV show, and also every movie, and so we have to be able to deliver an experience that lives up to feature [quality]. We’re desperately trying to make grander stories more impactful, with more heart, and visual effects that rival what kids see in cinemas.
Cartoon Brew: This is your second live action/animation hybrid show? Is that a medium you enjoy working in?
J.J. Johnson: Honestly it’s a nightmare making these. It’s awesome, but at the same time, we’re not doing a green screen shoot; we’re actually out in a real space for Annedroids. We have a set that’s an acre-and-a-half and we have multiple androids that our cast is reacting to [and] our cast ranges from kids who are 6 to 13. It’s like a double-edged sword; we’ve got a live-action shoot and animation on top of that, and it takes an extremely long time to actually incorporate the animation—about four or five months from the time that we deliver our live-action plates to our animation team at Sinking Ship. In the end, we’re aiming for something that feels cinematic and hopefully we’re getting close to that.
Cartoon Brew: How familiar are you with the animation process being used on the show? Do you know what programs are being used for the CG?
J.J. Johnson: I respect animation, but I’ll be honest with you, I deliberately remain ignorant about how the [animation] team actually does it. [Laughs] I always feel bad when I’m directing and I have the characters running through water in a moving shot with explosions happening. I’m like, “I have no idea how they actually are going to pull that off!” I think if I knew a little bit more about those challenges then I’d be less eager to do those types of shots. I would feel so guilty. It’s insane the degree of sophistication that that team operates on; the quality that they are pulling off is just spectacular.
Cartoon Brew: You mentioned earlier that networks are very concerned about subject matter, did Amazon have any concerns that influenced the content or tone of the series?
J.J. Johnson: [With Nick Jr.'s Dino Dan] there was a lot of concern on the network’s part that kids would find the show scary, so we actually went in to test in a kindergarten class and asked kids specifically what do you like about dinosaurs. Ninety-nine percent said they liked them because they were scary [and] I think it just reinforced the idea that kids are a lot more sophisticated than we give them credit for. [AnneDroids is] one of the few transitional pre-school shows that has an overarching storyline in whcih one episode clearly evolves into the next one. It was really Amazon that led the way on being supportive of that idea. We see a lot of kids that are watching shows that are well above their age, and I think that’s mostly because we’re not matching the degree of emotionality they have in their lives. It’s insane how smart and sophisticated kids are, and I hope Annedroids is hitting them at that level.