The Secrets of Sunflower Valley The Secrets of Sunflower Valley

Australia’s Pixel Zoo Animation, recently acquired by MGA Entertainment, has released a new pilot for its adolescent targeted series The Secrets of Sunflower Valley and an accompanying making-of video.

The Secrets of Sunflower Valley is planned a series of short, cg-animated episodes meant to mimic the look of classic kids’ stop-motion animated shows. According to the show’s producers, the idea was to create something like Postman Pat meets Happy Tree Friends.

Sunflower Valley’s target audience is kids who’ve aged out of the first show but might not be ready for some of the themes from the second. It’s rare that we see something that is so carefully animated to mimic a shiny, big studio kids’ show that clearly steers away from that audience.

Check out the pilot here:

Pixel Zoo has also released a fun behind-the-scenes video that shows a bit of the work that went into putting the pilot together.

Pixel Zoo has a strong history of adapting real-world merchandise properties into animated films and series. With MGA Entertainment, the company has worked on films including L.O.L. Surprise! The Movie and L.O.L. Surprise! House of Surprises, as well as series including Rainbow High, Mermaze Mermaidz,, Let’s Go Cozy Coupe, and L.O.L. Surprise! Winter Fashion Show, the latter of which landed on Netflix last October.

The Secrets of Sunflower Valley is their own original property though, and the company is currently looking for possible distribution and broadcast partners.

We recently spoke with the series’ director Jordan Higgins and producer Sebastian Gonzalez about the show, its intended audience, and using Unreal to give the show its polished look.

Cartoon Brew: Do you already have a platform or network attached? What’s the plan for distribution beyond the pilot?

Higgins and Gonzalez: Currently, we do not have any distribution deal for The Secrets of Sunflower Valley . We plan to keep developing the show internally and gradually releasing more episodes on Youtube as they are completed, building a community that can watch and enjoy it as much as we loved making it. Keep an eye out for the next episode coming out later this year. However, we are also still actively looking for other platform partnerships and opportunities.

It’s rare to see a clip of this quality, that looks so authentically like a big network kids’ show, but that is definitely not for young children. What audience were you thinking about while working on this pilot, and did you face any pushback from partners or distributors when showing them your work?

Higgins and Gonzalez: Well thank you so much for the kind words, it really means a lot. This pilot is a testament to the absolutely crazy talented team we have here at Pixel Zoo. Most of the service work we do is for children’s content, specifically the toy industry.

Jordan Higgins
Jordan Higgins

So, we already had the extensive knowledge and experience to get that polished look and feel we were after. As for the audience, we aimed at around the 8 – 10-year-old demographic. It’s got some spooky/horror genre elements to it, but the action and violence aren’t any more than you’d find in an old Tom and Jerry or Looney Tunes episode. We saw there was a bit of a hole in the market for content like this – for the child who has outgrown Postman Pat and now wants to see him get maimed. Parents and children alike can watch together in anticipation of how this crazy horror action is going to turn – and can be satisfied there will still be a wholesome ending. It’s somewhere in between Pui Pui Molcar and Happy Tree Friends.

As for pushback, basically, there was none. Our own studio executives loved the concept and trusted us fully to bring it into reality. Having a project that really felt like it belonged to the team was a great feeling. We initially started showing it around at Kidscreen Summit back in February, and the reception was great, certainly catching most people off guard, but in a good way. We’ve had quite a few exciting conversations since.

What were some of the major challenges you encountered while working on this project, and how did you overcome them?

Sebastian Gonzalez
Sebastian Gonzalez

Higgins and Gonzalez: Ultimately, time and budget were the main challenges. We were given a modest budget, and an end date, and anyone from the studio working on it had to find time in between their existing service work quotas. Fortunately, over the six-month schedule, we were able to make It happen just in time. Some items we would have loved to include, and extra story beats had to be cut in order to get it done – but overall I think we avoided any real compromises. We’re all extremely proud of the episode and are already into the production of the second episode.

How long have you been working with Unreal? And what made it the right engine for rendering this project?

Higgins and Gonzalez: We’ve been using Unreal as a render engine for a few years now, on a number of shows. Using it for The Secrets of Sunflower Valley made several items really simple. Things like all the fire and smoke effects are very quickly and easily iterated and adjusted, you can tweak them in real-time. And even though the set and characters of the show are very stylized, the shaders and lighting are meant to imitate a real stop-motion set and real-world materials, something unreal is really great at achieving. Getting that final look just kinda fell into place. Everyone just clicked and got the right idea of what we wanted it to look like right off the bat.