Bionic Max is the new slapstick buddy-comedy series commissioned by Gulli and produced by Gaumont Animation, the Gaumont subsidiary run by Nicolas Atlan. The series, written by Thomas Digard and Emmanuel Klotz, is aimed at children from six to 11, and will be ready for delivery starting August 2021. The latest episode was presented at the Annecy Festival.
We talk to series Creator, Thomas Digard, along with Nicolas Atlan, series Producer and President of Gaumont USA, and Cécilia Rossignol, Gaumont’s EVP International Sales and Development.
TV France: Max, a bionic guinea pig, and JC, a goldfish, on the run… How did you come up with the idea for this pairing?
Nicolas Atlan: The idea came from the pair of writers: Thomas Digard and Emmanuel Klotz! Maybe they see themselves in JC and Max! I have known Thomas for a few years now, and I knew him particularly for his incredible talent as a creator and artistic director. He was already at Gaumont when I arrived in 2016. When he showed me the first designs, and when he and Emmanuel pitched the series and their vision to me, I had no doubts! With Bionic Max, I was simply thrilled that Thomas wanted to make his first series with us.
TV France: Young audiences find much to like in Max and JC!
Thomas Digard: Bionic Max is, above all, a series about the friendship between two very different but inseparable characters. I was keen that we take the time to flesh out their characters so that they would be original but also consistent, rich and improbable in their characterization – so that we would have conflict and comedy all the while keeping them appealing to young audiences through their respective personalities. Max and JC both have very attractive qualities, but mainly they have some fascinating and hilariously ridiculous flaws that highlight the strength of their friendship. We worked closely with Gulli to create a pair of characters that stand out through the themes and issues we tackles in the stories.
At each writing session, we tried to create incredible conflictual situations that put our heroes in difficulty, using themes and issues that are appropriate for our audience but which we deal with without talking down to them, making everything cute, or being overly moralizing. It was also important to have speedy spoken dialog and an acting style that is as realistic as possible so that the tone of the show and its humor ring true for young viewers (who, today understand everything perfectly and very quickly!).
TV France: One of the series’ strengths is its colorful and distinctive graphic style. How did you achieve that?
Thomas Digard: I wanted Bionic Max to have a distinct and immediately recognizable graphic style. We drew the characters in a very round style as I wanted it to be recognizable and for them to look jolly. It was important to keep it simple so that we had greater flexibility in the posing – which I wanted to look cartoonish – in order to stay in line with the stories. The use of poster-paint and extreme poses throughout the series helped boost the narration and the humor. The series takes place in a park – but on the scale of a guinea pig. We therefore paid particular attention to the gigantic scale of the set elements that surround the characters. Apart from those establishing the start of sequences, the sets are relatively simple and low on detail but very textured which gives them feeling and character, and they are slightly out of focus, which gives depth and means the viewer isn’t distracted by the sets and instead can concentrate on the characters.
In terms of color, I really didn’t want to fall into classic “green grass and leaves, brown tree trunks” so I removed these colors from our palette. That rather scared the colorists but they made it work well! I wanted a park forest with a bold, intense and positive color theme
to support the appealing personalities of our heroes and the exciting tone of the show.
TV France: Gulli loved the series straight away…
Nicolas Atlan: To be honest, Gulli immediately loved the designs and concept of the series. Pitching was really easy, as was the development process. We were on the same wavelength with the Gulli teams, and we all shared the desire to create a super cartoon with the two hilarious characters of Max and JC. Development went very quickly – it took under six months, if I remember correctly. Gulli gave Thomas a lot of freedom, while always pushing us to take the characters and the jokes in the script further and further! Thomas and our design teams worked hard on the graphic style in order to create a really original and different world. I loved the work Thomas did on the sets and in making the teams change the usual colors used for forests.
TV France: What makes Bionic Max unique and helps it stand out from the competition on today’s animation market?
Cécilia Rossignol: Max and JC take us on fresh new adventures, and that fulfills a need for discovery and exploration – particularly at the moment. Going off into the unknown with Max and JC: what luck! And it starts off strong right from the first episode when Max and JC escape from the laboratory. They find themselves in mad and hilarious situations, but thanks to his bionic body, Max always manages to get them out of trouble!
Bionic Max is a slapstick series – it is pure entertainment with visual gags. And it meets the need for something “feel-good”, which is always reassuring for young viewers. Dealing with little problems throughout a great adventure, and finding a way though using good humor and a desire to see the sunny side of life – those are very positive messages that it is important to share. It all comes back to the universal elements mentioned by Nicolas and Thomas: friendship and solidarity – with a little touch of madness to make it fun!
TV France: That certainly explains why you’ve had such enthusiastic first feedbacks from international broadcasters…
Cécilia Rossignol: Max and JC have already been picked up by international broadcasters, with several pre-purchases, notably MBC in the Middle East, Cartoon Network in Italy, and Gloob in Brazil. Plus, lots of interest from other parts of the world. We cannot wait to be able to present more episodes to buyers and show the entire series during MIPCOM Junior, to which we are delighted to be returning in person in October!
TV France: What can you tell us about Gaumont Animation’s upcoming projects?
Nicolas Atlan: We have quite a few things in progress with various platforms. Stillwater, with Apple Tv+, just won the prestigious Peabody Award for the best pre-school animation series and has been nominated for four Emmy Awards. We just filmed Do Re & Mi with Kirsten Bell, our pre-school musical series for Amazon Prime Video, which should be out soon. We are in the middle of production on Usagi Yojimbo (based on the iconic comic book of the same name by Stan Sakai) with Netflix, which tells the story of a Samurai rabbit. And we are also currently in production for High in the Clouds (with Netflix, directed by Tim Reckart), our musical feature film based on a book by Paul McCartney, Philip Ardagh and Geoff Dunbar. It’s a magnificent project and we cannot wait to share the film, in particular the songs – which were written by Paul McCartney.
We have a lot of new projects currently in development and pre-production. The Gaumont US and Europe teams are doing remarkable work. We are keen to develop even more stories and produce more new projects.