Animating the iconic cast of Hello Kitty & Friends with Split Studio and Sanrio


Animating the iconic cast of Hello Kitty & Friends with Split Studio and Sanrio

Hello Kitty and her friends Cinnamonroll, Kuromi and My Melody have appeared in everything from cartoons to fashion collections. Rising from cute cartoon cat in the 1970s to a global pop culture icon, Hello Kitty and her pals inhabit an extended universe from which a world of shows, toys and merchandise have been born.

Responsible for crafting a corner of this amazing extended universe is the animation team at Split Studio, an animation and game studio based in Brazil, known for their work on Rick & Morty and Is Anybody Out There? We were fortunate enough to speak with Jonas Brandao (studio head and executive producer) and Henrique Lira (series director) on the process of bringing the beloved Sanrio characters to life in their two animated series, Hello Kitty & Friends Supercute Adventures and Sweet Moments With Hello Kitty.

The pair touch upon how they use Toon Boom Harmony’s drawing tools to capture the Hello Kitty art style, as well as the process of using deformers on the characters’ limbs to create easy movement between scenes. With Harmony’s rigging resources, they are able to create multiple scenes featuring the characters in many different outfits and themes. This allows them to work efficiently with the team at Sanrio to bring these lovable stories to life. Added to that, Brand Manager and Hello Kitty co-director Erin Rivera shares her thoughts on the process from Sanrio’s side.

Read about this super cute animation project in our interview below!

An episode of Hello Kitty & Friends Supercute Adventures. SANRIO and HELLO KITTY are trademarks of Sanrio Company Ltd.

Hello Jonas and Henrique, please introduce your work for Sanrio and your roles on these animated shows!

Jonas: Hello! I’m one of Split Studio’s owners. We’re an animation and game studio from Brazil and the US and we’ve been producing shows for 12 years now. We started working with Sanrio a few years ago, first with Sanrio Brazil, for which we produced the shows Sweet Moments with Hello Kitty and Hello Kitty Chef Star, both originally for Sanrio Brazil’s YouTube Channel. Then we started working with other Sanrio’s offices across the globe, such as Sanrio US. 

They’re the ones behind the Hello Kitty and Friends Supercute Adventures series we proudly produce for the Hello Kitty and Friends YouTube channel.  We’ve produced about 60 episodes so far, and I’m an Executive Producer of the show. 

Henrique: Howdy! I’m Henrique Lira, the director of Hello Kitty and Friends Supercute Adventures series. I’ve been directing the show since Season 2 (we’ve just started Season 5), and it’s a pleasure to talk about it!

What does a typical day working on the shows look like?

Jonas: Everybody starts by wearing a bow and dressing in a very super cute way and… Being serious now, a typical day is very busy. We deliver a new episode every single week, so you can imagine how many simultaneous processes we do to accomplish that. It’s a lot of work, but we really enjoy making it. After all, Hello Kitty is such a vibrant character and globally known, so it’s a privilege to be able to work with such a loved character and such a great team from Sanrio.

Henrique: That’s for sure! Well, speaking of processes, I usually start the day by having a talk with our teams (mostly production, storyboard, art, and animation teams), where we align on our priorities for the day. Following that, I have many meetings where I give notes on things that are being done and brief things that will start soon. I oversee deciding the best approach for specific things and keeping attentive to people’s needs, as they often have questions and suggestions. We’ve got more than 40 people involved at the show on Split’s end. 

What is the process like collaborating with the team at Sanrio?

Henrique: Working with the Sanrio team is just great, and I couldn’t ask for a nicer client — they’re kind, fun, caring, comprehensive, and they give us a lot of freedom to create. They understand the processes and our production limitations very well. We work on a weekly feedback system, where every Tuesday we receive their notes on our work, and we have another 3 to 4 days to execute the changes and send them the material for further comments. It’s a very organized process and it works well. We’ve been doing it successfully for more than 4 seasons now. 

Jonas: Because storytelling is our business, we’re in charge of giving shape and life to their cute stories, but they’re very participative in each process. Besides what Henrique mentioned, I’d also like to add that one thing I love about working with Sanrio is that they have a huge knowledge of branding and Japanese culture, of course. They offer so many insights, which is great. We’re always learning new things from them.

Designs of Hello Kitty & Friends characters used in the Supercute Adventures series. From left to right: Hello Kitty, My Melody, Keroppi, Purin, Chococat, Kuromi, Cinnamaroll, Badtz-Maru and Pochacco. Provided by Split Studio and Sanrio Company Ltd.

How would you describe the Sanrio art-style?

Henrique: Kawaii! Couldn’t exist a better word to describe it, honestly.

What tools and techniques within Harmony do you find useful to achieve that style?

Henrique: Sanrio has a very vectorial art style, so it fits very well with Harmony’s drawing tools. Besides that, being able to put deformers on their arms and tails and being able to have drawings substitutions for everything surely makes the work easier.

Jonas: Also, the show often presents the characters in new outfits or costumes, so we find Harmony’s rigging resources very useful, once it allows us to reuse assets between different versions of the same character, in opposition to having to build a new library set for each version every single time. 

Character turnaround of Hello Kitty provided by Split Studio and Sanrio Company Ltd.

With such strong characters, how do you use animation to give each of the Sanrio cast a unique personality?

Henrique: I have to say, the voice acting helps a bunch here! As a lot of the characters — like Hello Kitty, Chococat, and Pochacco — don’t have eyebrows or a mouth, it sometimes makes it very challenging to express their feelings. We must do our best with their body language/acting to help convey emotion. Graphics and abstract backgrounds (for instance, a ‘sad’ background) also help us emphasize the message we want to pass.

Jonas: Animation is the natural environment for Sanrio’s characters. We always make sure the characters’ poses and staging are telling the audience about what those characters are like. Another thing worth mentioning is that Hello Kitty’s universe is all about cuteness, so we also must make sure we use the right animation aesthetics to convey their personalities and move the story. That means we cannot use exaggerated expressions or poses SpongeBob-like, as it doesn’t match the brand’s style. There’s a level of sweetness that needs to be conveyed in each character. 

The Sanrio characters are beloved by a multi-generational audience of all ages. What part of this huge Sanrio fanbase are ‘Hello Kitty and Friends Supercute Adventures’ and ‘Sweet Moments with Hello Kitty’ aimed at?

Erin: Our audience for the series spans across several generations: Generation Alpha (6 to 11-year-olds) and our Gen Z and Millennials (18 to 34-year-olds). With the introduction of our characters to Generation Alpha and the nostalgia from Millennials, we are aware of how our series impacts each group. The Generation Alpha audience loves to connect with relatable and aspirational content, so we feel all the different character personalities in our series connect with this fan base. Our Gen Z and Millennial audience have their own memories of the brand and our series creates a new way for them to see their favorite characters talk and interact with each other for the first time. We love seeing how our series has touched the hearts of so many.

How do these shows fit into the lore of the wider Sanrio world?

Erin: The episodes thoughtfully help tell our brand story and reinforce our philosophy of friendship and kindness. The Hello Kitty and Friends Supercute Adventures series also helps give our audience a better understanding of our characters. Through their unique personalities we tell stories and share lessons that are true to the brand and welcome our audience into our Sanrio Universe. This helps them connect with the characters and our brand on an engaging level.  

Sanrio started in the 1970s. How have the cast and their story modernized over time?

Erin: With the Hello Kitty and Friends Supercute Adventures series, our characters talk and interact with each other. The characters have evolved but the core values of friendship and kindness remain constant. These stories are new to our audience, and we are excited to expand each character’s personality through thoughtful storytelling. Hello Kitty and Friends are now part of an animated universe and they get to celebrate birthdays, holidays, and daily accomplishments together as friends. Sanrio’s content has come a long way from the 1970’s to now and this is an exciting time to see your favorite characters come to life and be inspired. 

What are the core values that Hello Kitty & friends represent?

Erin: Hello Kitty and Friends represent friendship, kindness, and inclusivity. These are the core values of Sanrio and what our characters represent weekly on the Hello Kitty and Friends Supercute Adventures. Together they create a safe space for our audience where they can learn and have fun.

Backgrounds from Hello Kitty & Friends Supercute Adventures, provided by Split Studio and Sanrio Company Ltd.

What do you think is the secret of Hello Kitty and Sanrio’s universal and lasting appeal?

Erin: Hello Kitty and Friends are relatable and undeniably cute. They are easy to fall in love with and hard to forget. Our audience expands across a range of generations because the brand truly follows you throughout your life. Their message of friendship and kindness is universal, and their appeal is long lasting. 

Any final words on ‘Hello Kitty & Friends Supercute Adventures’ and ‘Sweet Moments with Hello Kitty’ or on future Sanrio projects?

Erin: We hope everyone enjoys all the episodes from Hello Kitty and Friends. We look forward to creating more content to welcome everyone into the world of Sanrio. This is just the beginning! 

  • Ready for more Supercute Adventures? Be sure to follow Hello Kitty and Friends on YouTube.
  • Want to learn more about the creative teams behind the production? Be sure to visit Split Studio and Sanrio.
  • Is there an adventure that you need to animate? Artists can download a 21-day trial of Harmony Premium.

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