Now airing on Cartoon Network, the French and Belgian co-production My Knight and Me is just one example of the prospering trend of cg-animated programming being made for television in Europe.
The show, which is set in the Dark Ages with a hearty mix of over-the-top and comical action and stylized design, is directed by Joeri Christiaen and is a collaboration between France’s TeamTO and Belgium’s Thuristar, who had previously worked together on the series Plankton Invasion.
Production at TeamTO has been particularly busy in recent years, with the studio working on titles such as Angelo Rules, Oscar’s Oasis, Sofia the First, PJ Masks, Raving Rabbids, and Calimero. It’s also in the middle of the second season of Skylanders.
Work on My Knight and Me came out of Christiaen’s short 850 Meters, which features a knight from the same era. The project was pitched at Cartoon Forum in 2012.
“Joeri wanted to use his character like an actor, in a way,” explained TeamTO head of production and executive producer Corinne Kouper. “He wanted to use the same character through several projects. For the show we widened the story and ended up with a stronger relationship between the father and son, and also a teamwork theme.”
“What I liked the most,” added Kouper, “was the fact that the female characters, even in this boy-driven series, were very strong, especially the daughter as a rugged princess and the Queen Mother.”
My Knight and Me followed a traditional production cycle, with some animation done in 2D at Thuristar, and the cg work distributed between TeamTO’s Paris and Bourg-les-Valence (near Lyon) studios. After the writing process, boards and animatics were produced. Voice-overs were then recorded in both French and English before final animation was completed, undertaken by a team of 44 animators. The production time for the 52 x 13-minute episodes was around 18 months.
Having completed an animated feature (Yellowbird) prior to My Knight and Me, TeamTO took advantage of some internal pipeline developments for use on the show. That included moving to a Pixar RenderMan rendering workflow, somewhat rare in TV production.
“RenderMan really improved our lighting,” said TeamTO president and CEO Guillaume Hellouin. “At the beginning it was not easy because in RenderMan you have to build your own shaders. It’s a high learning curve, but when you do it you get to keep using that library. You can tailor and re-use and re-develop everything.”
Hellouin and Kouper also suggest a point of difference for the show is its stylization. It’s clearly in the realm of cg animation but occasionally looks more graphic in nature, often with plain backgrounds. The idea here was to clearly separate the characters from their environments.
“In some cg shows, the characters are lost in the background,” said Hellouin. “We wanted this show to have the characters pop off screen. We focused on the characters, and we really stylized the background in order to make a contrast with the characters.”
My Knight and Me has already aired in France, Belgium, U.K., and other countries. It premiered earlier this month in the United States on Cartoon Network, and has been picked up by CN parent Turner for other EMEA, Latin America, and Asia-Pacific channels.
Meanwhile, TeamTO, is looking to continue to expand. The studio now has offices in Los Angeles and Beijing and has several of its own properties in development, along with continuing third party animation projects.
“The studio has evolved a lot in the last few years,” said Hellouin, “basically because of the success of the shows. We reached 360 people in 2016 and will be full again before next summer.”