EXCLUSIVE: Interactive animation studio Toonstar is launching an AI studio for digital creators following a strong response for its series with TikTok and YouTube star Parker James.
Toonstar Creators Studio will aim to co-produce low-cost animation franchises through partnerships with popular digital creatives, using an AI-powered production engine that produces professional-quality animation quickly.
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It will also provide AI community creation tools that create close fan engagement and new forms of interaction and participation in projects, and extensive world and franchise-building expertise.
Toonstar, which is led by co-founders John Attanasio and Luisa Huang, will evaluate creators on an individual basis on their creative concept, potential for animation adaptation, and target audience and social reach.
The studio’s creation comes on the back of L.A.-based Toonstar’s collaboration with Parker James, an online creator from Texas.
Their StEvEn & Parker animated series reached 100 million views 20 days in November 2023, taking 12.1 unique viewers each week. Episodes, which follow a loveable and ageless character called StEvEn, are now being released in Spanish, Japanese and Portuguese thanks to AI natural-language dubbing tech.
James voice records his episodes on an Apple iPhone, with his family also voicing characters, before Toonstar animates them before release.
“That is the blueprint,” said Attanasio, Toonstar’s CEO. “We found Parker on TikTok, where he is using a voice changer to create their cute character. They were cute skits with potential for animation, so we started testing shorts on TikTok, which did really well. We moved that to YouTube and his channel went from having 10,000 subscribers a year ago to 2 million. Including Spanish, it gets 26 million unique viewers and on a monthly basis it gets over 60 million unique viewers. There was a model there.”
Toonstar claims its proprietary animation technology makes production 80% faster and 90% cheaper than industry norms, and believe this tech and the emergence of AI for production purposes will open the industry up to new storytellers and unlock new IP.
“The goal is to build the next generation of hot IP doing that using these new technologies, AI and machine learning, and the other part is to unlock opportunities for new creators and voices,” said Attanasio.
“The reason for those goals is you look at entertainment today, you see there is consolidation and fewer projects getting made and we think there will be more of that. It limits opportunities for creators and storytellers.”
Huang, Toonstar COO, said Toonstar Creator Studios added: “Animation has traditional been incredibly exciting, but takes a long time. From a cost and time to market stand point, it was just so limiting, and a category that was really only feasible for projects with huge budgets that were tentpole-focused. AI and machine learning lower the cost, and you can turn things around so much faster.”
She said partnering with “those creators who really understand the beat and know what appeals to the younger generation — those whose bread and butter is making that content.”
AI’s impact on the creative and production processes is becoming an increasingly hot button subject, and it was among the main issues in the writers strikes in the U.S.
Attanasio, a former Warner Bros. Entertainment marketing VP, said Toonstar management and creative partners, including a writer with “major studio experience,” had been experimenting with how the likes of ChatGPT can aid the creative process, but acknowledged its limitations.
“ChatGPT or other chatbots aren’t going to write the next great script of their own but they are really helpful and can play different roles that bring efficiency,” he said.
The Toonstar managers are banking on the continued growth of animation in the digital space, and see their model as changing the fabric of the Hollywood model. “We love the Parker James story — it’s a really great beachhead for the Creators Studio,” said Attanasio. “In context, he’s a kid from Texas who is absolutely annihilating the viewership The Simpsons and SpongeBob get per episode.”
Of course, those properties have a cultural cache way and earnings power way beyond most animation brands, but Attanasio was bullish. “Granted, this is shorter form but it is still a significant order of magnitude larger than what those properties can get,” he said. That’s mindblowing, but also a big opportunity.”
Huang added: “It used to be you’d have to move to LA, rent a tiny apartment and get a job as a waiter, while you work on your career. Parker is able to do this from his small town in Texas. Location is no longer a barrier if you don’t want to up your life and move and still have creative aspirations.”
Away from its Creators Studio, producer and story platform Toonstar has been working on projects such as Space Junk, from Workaholics co-creator Dominic Russo, Jon Heder and Tony Cavalero. Heder is also attached to a series based on the collapse of crytobank FTX, starring T.J. Miller.
Toonstar is repped by Jason Newman and Brett Etre at Untitled Entertainment.
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