New animated childrens’ series, Zabezoo. Ears ‘N’ Tail will premiere this November to viewers across the United States.
The main characters are a furry little girl, Zabezoo, a creative and charming mother, Bunny Mom, and an intelligent astronaut father, Monkey Dad. The story articulates values of equality, friendship and family.
Zabezoo was created by an international team of animators and has already gained the love of young viewers, collecting several film festival awards. LA WEEKLY asked Zabezoo’s co-producer and author, serial entrepreneur Eugene Lobachev, about the project’s mission and perspectives in the United States.
Eugene, which role do you initially identify yourself with? Are you a producer? An author? An artist?
“First and foremost, I am an entrepreneur. To speak more precisely, I am focused on startups. My strong points consist of creating ideas, setting business processes in motion, and launching a project to its large-scale voyage.
Performing ordinary tasks inspires me less than creating. Once all the main procedures are set, I prefer to delegate the routine to a qualified operation manager. Thereafter, I dive into launching a new startup, only working on past projects as a development advisor.”
What is the novelty and uniqueness of your latest project, Zabezoo?
“Zabezoo. Ears ‘N’ Tail is an animated sitcom that immerses viewers into a positive and friendly universe of an adorable child. Zabezoo is an unusual little girl that was born into the multiracial family of Monkey Dad and Bunny Mom. She inherited her Mommy’s elegant bunny ears and dynamic character, plus her Daddy’s acrobatic skills and the amazing, flexible tail that allows her to climb trees.
Each episode depicts a story of Zabezoo exploring some new and unfamiliar situations, and problems that she easily solves with the support of her friends and parents. Our mission is to acquaint our core audience, mainly preschoolers, with ideas of love, friendship, and tolerance—as well as to convey the message that diversity is beautiful.
All of us differ from each other and being ‘different’ in something means being extraordinary; means possessing a kind of ‘superpower’ and is rather a benefit than a disadvantage.”
Do you remember the exact moment you came up with the idea of Zabezoo?
“Honestly speaking, sometimes I think that I’ve nurtured this idea throughout my whole life. Certain fragments of the big picture accumulated in my mind, waiting for the right moment.
We have traveled all over the world with my wife Anna, and the common tendency we noticed was that children from racial minorities—especially those who look or behave at least slightly different—find it more difficult to communicate and get along with their peers. They might not be accepted into the community and might suffer from psychological isolation.
As a result, those children have a higher chance of withdrawing into themselves or cultivating aggressive feelings towards the world. Children in multiracial families, that are ‘not black or white enough to identify themselves with either black or white’ often experience this problem. So, we decided to devote our story to such a character.”
What were the main challenges, including financial, technological and business-risks? How have you been able to overcome?
“I would like to quote Zabezoo’s co-producer and my wife, Anna, who often reminded me that we were not novices when we started the production, because we had already seen tons of cartoons throughout our childhoods. Our visual experiences were beneficial to our entry into the entertainment industry. But on the other hand, we were totally laymen in the field of animation when we began two years ago. I am glad we started by seeking out advisors who were proven industry professionals and were able to guide us throughout the intricacies of the animation business.
When it comes to difficulties, I have to mention that we launched Zabezoo right at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the lion’s share of people were working remotely. During the staff’s transition to home-offices, most animation studios faced a massive drop in productivity and creativity level, which seemed like a challenging and curious case to me as a manager. I have broad experience in IT teams management, which is why I decided to build an animation studio in the same way I would build an IT startup. We hired a team of remote employees and initially organized our communication proceeding from the remote location of each team’s member. This decision gave us a significant advantage over existing animation companies, who were still focusing on reforming existing processes.
In the situation of limited budgets, we could not originally afford ourselves to grant employees with high salaries. So, like any other Silicon Valley startup, we developed a program that let our employees become co-owners of the studio. As far as I know, we are still one of the only animation studios worldwide that proclaimed such an approach. This initiative helped us attract prominent names and brands to the project, as well. Zabezoo’s title song was created by one of the greatest Russian composers, Maxim Dunayevsky, whose songs sound familiar to kids of several Soviet and post-Soviet generations.
It took us around 4 months to create the minimum viable product development of our pitch-bible, which describes the series’ universe, as well as draw characters and animate the pilot episode that premiered in the European Film Market during the European Berlinale Festival. Zabezoo went on to win Best Animated Series at two American festivals as well; Kids International Family Festival and Epic ACG Festival.
After the initial presentations, we reached agreements of cooperation with the largest Russian-language streaming platforms and several TV channels in their upcoming season. Once we confirmed a stable and proven demand for Zabezoo, we started production of the whole season, consisting of 26 episodes, 5 minutes each.
We scheduled an ambitious plan to create at least 2 episodes per month. It goes without saying that creating an episode, from script to post-production, took us up to 3 months each. But as long as we parallel the business processes, and they are performed simultaneously, we reach the required frequency and productivity.”
How have you implemented your IT skill set?
“My extensive experience in the IT industry is the reason I decided to implement IT tools into our animation business. SCRUM and Agile methodologies paved the way towards this idea. We use sprints and arrange daily meetings to discuss current tasks and issues. I even attracted developers from one of my parallel projects to develop our own CRM system. Each of our employees has their own kanban board with an option of live commentaries as well as an ability to both track and sort current tasks.
Our daily work process is identical to the algorithms of IT projects. In IT, a product manager usually splits tasks into subtasks and distributes them among developers. Afterwards, a team leader verifies the work.
In the animation business, the director splits ‘storyboard’ (what we call a rough version of the cartoon) into mini scenes, distributing them among the artists and animators. Then, all of the pieces are reviewed by supervisors and go to the final cut.
We are proudly an international studio that has gathered professionals from all over the globe, including the USA, Spain, Turkey, France, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. We have collected more than a half-dozen time zones. So, our ordinary morning meetings at 7 AM sometimes turn into a midnight rendezvous for several of our members. However, we are already accustomed to this nuance. It may be safe to say that creatives actually prefer to work after sunset.”
Is Zabezoo interesting for an adult audience, as well?
“We enjoy what we call ‘tiny winks’ to our adult audience by leaving an ‘easter egg’—a reference or an interesting allusion. We certainly analyze adult problems from the viewpoint of a child. In the episode ‘Vaccine of Bravery,’ our little characters discuss the myths associated with vaccinations. Someone told them that vaccines were delivered by aliens in order to turn people into lifeless robots. I will refrain from spoilers, as you should rather watch it and see for yourself. But I can guarantee—you will have much fun while watching.
By the way, this episode was included in the competition program of the San Diego Kids International Film Festival. The show sessions will be available on October 29th at Carlsbad City Library. I highly recommend everyone to join this unique atmosphere and watch Zabezoo and other family animations before their official premieres.
We adore to ‘wink’ not only to our viewers, but to our colleagues in the animation industry and even ourselves. One of our animators loves to work within such a harsh schedule that he sometimes accidentally breaks one of the ‘12 holy principles of animation’ as described by Walt Disney. To remind him, our production designer painted the principles on the wall of the Bunny Mom workshop! An ordinary viewer sees a wall, while all of our colleagues capture a rich context, a whole story.”
How have the festival audiences reacted to the screenings?
“The audiences have greeted Zabezoo with warmth. It is worth mentioning that regardless of the venue, all of the film festivals we’ve participated in carry international status, annually integrating hundreds of works. Such a wide variety of participants turns each achievement into a little victory for us.
Right now we have been elected into the long-lists of nominants in 17 international film festivals around the world; including the USA, Netherlands, Serbia, Russia, Germany, Georgia, and many more. We have managed to become finalists four times and winners at least twice.
Such international recognition motivates the entire team to continue creating interesting stories and reaching new goals. But what motivates us even more are the happy faces of our little viewers. We have arranged several public focus screenings of the pilot episodes in preschools—it is a priceless feeling when the kids watch your cartoon without taking their eyes off the screen.”
What is your plan to promote Zabezoo in the USA?
“At the moment, we have performed releases in Russian-speaking countries, so the series is widely available in a limited number of regions. However, we have already gathered more that 50 millions views on YouTube.
At the time of the release, we firmly held our position in the TOP-10 of kids content on IVI, one of the most popular Russian streaming services. Additionally, we were included in the list of TOP-5 Christmas collections. The musical compositions from Zabezoo are in the active rotation of Russian childrens’ radio, and we have recently released a whole music album containing songs from our series.
Right now, we are planning to release the story of Zabezoo in other languages. For example, we have already filmed dubbing in Chinese and signed a distribution agreement with one of the largest Chinese cartoon distribution centers. We have finished dubbing in English and plan to present our premiere at the end of November. We are expecting difficulty in regards to finding distributors in other countries, as well as finding partners for merchandise production, such as books and toys. But we are excited to accomplish this work as it all leads us to further development.”
What advice would you offer to someone looking to enter the animation industry?
I may sound obvious, but I am strongly convinced that one of the main driving forces for any business, including animation, is a team. I may even say that up to 90% of success depends on what kind of professionals you have managed to assemble. The remaining 10% is assigned to the manager.
My advice for anyone who is wanting to launch an animation studio is this: Never underestimate the power of networking, especially when it comes to Hollywood. A bulk of problems might be solved just on the level of the personal contacts. Regarding the creative point of view, I would like to quote the great Alfred Hitchcock, who said, ‘To make a great film you need three things—the script, the script and the script!’ Well, as for me, I would add the fourth component as well: the networking.
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