Native Language Production Powered by Toon Boom

"Harmony is a high-end production tool which
blows everything else out of the water." — Jerry Thevenet, JerryCo

Native Language Production Powered by Toon Boom

JerryCo Animation, Canada's first 100% aboriginal owned and operated animation studio, combines traditional animation techniques with the latest in computer animation technology to provide fast, timely, and affordable animation production in 2D and 3D. JerryCo has produced close to 200 x 30-minute episodes of animated programming since its inception in 2004. Their latest project, The Deerskins, Season 1 and 2, which is currently airing in four countries,is fully produced using the Toon Boom pipelineand showcases aboriginal culture, language, and characters.

Jerry Thevenet, who is of both European and Innu descent, has always had a profound interest in his aboriginal heritage, heads JerryCo. Acting as writer, director, producer, illustrator, and editor, Jerry introduces Canadians to one another, celebrating their similarities instead of their differences through creative storytelling, colourful aboriginal characters, contemporary situations, and subject matter.

His core team includes Eric Heroux,his 'left' and sometimes 'right' hand, responsible for production supervision, production management, production coordination, and animation. "Eric is extremely organized and one of the main reasons the show gets done. Eric helped put together the studio and team, and makes the whole thing possible. He has trained animators all over the world in Harmony. He's invaluable," stated Jerry Thevenet. All the animators have upwards of 25 years experience in the business and many have been instructors teaching Harmony to animators around the world. Please meet Jerry's "Dream Team" and what makes them so special: Christopher Goodkey,"The Anchor"; Rick Thomas, "The Visionary"; Zee Risek, "Youthful"; Paul Trineer,"Joy to work with"; Denis Doucet, "The Master Illustrator"; and Marc Poirier, "Jack of all trades".

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As a 13 x 22-minute episode series for each season, available in English, French, and Mohawk,The Deerskins tells the story of a native family that is forced off the reserve and into a working class town where the predominantly white neighbours have some pretty strange notions of what native people are all about. One part Simpsons, two parts Jeffersons, and a touch of Family Guy­­, The Deerskins is the perfect remedy to cure yourself of those reservation blues!

Cultural Relevance

The Deerskins represents one of a handful of situation comedies on television that truly has an aboriginal voice. There are very few live-action, let alone animated series that have rich and successful aboriginal characters that dispelaboriginal stereotypes– a father who is a world famous actor, a mother who is a gifted surgeon, a daughter who is a supermodel and civil rights activist, and a son who is a boy genius and self-made millionaire. These are the kinds of role models aboriginal people are craving. The cultural relevance of The Deerskins is enormous.

Recorded in Mohawk, for which less than 5,000 speakers remain, The Deerskinsis an important native language production.

The series includes approximately 50 characters, however only two very talented artists do all voices: actor Paula Davis and Mi'kmaq writer Shawn Youngchief.

"Our studio does not operate like a traditional studio. Animators can contribute a lot of creative input. If one comes up with a funnier idea that sounds right and better, then it's accepted. The production is a very collaborative endeavour and each one feels invested in it," explained Jerry Thevenet.

All of the shows are animated using Toon Boom Harmony. All backgrounds and characters are illustrated directly in Harmony as well. Storyboard Pro is used to figure out and plan difficult scenes.

The production workflow is quite straightforward. Once Jerry finalizes the script, actors record the voices. Then Jerry picks the best pieces of audio and gives them to the animators. Each one receives the soundtrack and script and may change the scenario, depending on how they interpret the audio. "The show is all about improvisation at all levels. This is why I wanted to keep the production in Montreal. Also, the animators are all very experienced. When they have the creative freedom, they actually deliver faster! When I write, I keep in mind the time it takes to animate the scenes. During editing, we keep the best scenes," explained Jerry. "The closer you are to production, the better control you have. If the story is very loose, the show forms itself along the way, hence the importance of working under the same roof and have a great communication. As a group, we discuss each script all the way through final cut and this process has proven very efficient for us," he added.

Produced fully paperless on Harmony,The Deerskins is done 100% in cut-out animation style with no special effects. "Harmony allows us to do everything we want to do. It offers a lot of bells and whistles but we have to set limits on how far the animators go to keep the quality consistent. The learning curve was easy. Some of the animators had traditional and Flash experience and were up and running in two weeks," shared Jerry.

"The way you preserve assets in Harmony makes it easy to find and track them throughout the production. Harmony is a high-end production tool. It blows everything else out of the water," stated Jerry.

Moving from Broadcast to Gaming to Preserve Aboriginal Languages

Building upon its great experience using Harmony for televised animation content, Jerry and his team decided to consider Harmony to create TEE-PEE-TOC, an immersive, interactive, multilevel game that uses voice recognition software to animate objects in a culturally rich environment.

Taking place within a historical context and featuring aboriginal settings, objects and characters, the timeline traces the evolution of Canada's indigenous peoples, from nomadic hunter-gatherers and fur traders to city-dwelling doctors, lawyers, and artists.

The object of the game is to use words (Cree) to manipulate objects to complete a task. As an example, the player would first be told a word in English, then in Cree. He would then repeat the word in Cree, which would trigger an action if he said it correctly. To complete a level, the player must complete a task that involves five words and five actions. There are 160 levels. When a level is successfully completed, the player will be rewarded with an animated clip, which will include all the words he said and learned. "There will be 300 clips, each one being 3 to 7 seconds long. The 2D characters are immersed in 3D environments. There are about 800 props. All assets interact in an optimized fashion to load up quickly. Originally, we planned to create the game using 3D animation but found it was better to use Harmony to create all the assets," explained Jerry.

The timeline will follow five-year intervals starting at the historic date of 1213 through to the present. The first tasks may be set in a tepee in a native village with the user having to fish for his supper.  By the end of the game, the task may be set in a hospital and the user might be a doctor caring for a patient.

"By repeating a series of words over and over again, we hope that players absorb some of the language and meaning, while enjoying an immersive interactive experience," explained Jerry. According to a number of studies, a person needs to know approximately 800 words in order to be able to communicate in another language. Jerry's intention is for Cree children playing TEE-PEE-TOC to absorb 800 Cree words by the time they have reached the end of the game.

TEE-PEE-TOCis targeted at school-aged children, five to 12 years old. Although the initial product is oriented towards Cree children, in the future Jerry would like to produce a version in all of the 11 main aboriginal language groups and into non-native languages.

Jerry is applying for funding to continue the development of TEE-PEE-TOC, involving Toon Boom during the process and making sure Harmony plays an important role throughout the process.

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A Multifaceted Aboriginal Population

Canada's aboriginal population is not one homogeneous group. It is made up of over 65 different nations, often each having their own distinct customs, language, and traditions. In that it would be difficult to version all of these languages at once, JerryCo would at least like to incorporate each of these separate aboriginal nations into the timeline of the game. For example, in 1213 there may have be Tlingit carpenter carving a totem pole, by 1600 a Dene buffalo fur trader, by the 1800s Louis Riel giving a passionate speech and by 2013 The Idle No More protest.

Historically speaking, aboriginal people do not have a written language. Although syllabics exist today, aboriginal people passed on their language, culture and traditions through spoken word, pictographs or sign language.

Keeping this in mind, JerryCo's goal is to develop a game using spoken word and image.

About JerryCo Animation

JerryCo Animation, Canada’s first 100% aboriginal owned and operated animation studio, combines traditional animation techniques with the latest in computer animation technology to provide fast, timely, and affordable animation production in 2D and 3D. JerryCo has produced close to 200 x 30-minute episodes of animated programming since its inception in 2004. Their latest project, The Deerskins, Season 1 and 2, which is currently airing in four countries, is fully produced using the Toon Boom pipeline and showcases aboriginal culture, language, and characters.