Paula de Abreu on Ray and Manny and starting an independent studio


Paula de Abreu on Ray and Manny and starting an independent studio

Paula de Abreu is a Brazilian 2D artist based in Barcelona and the owner of Estudio Paulares, an animation studio focusing on Portuguese-language children’s animated content across platforms. Estudio Paulares first reached critical acclaim for the sci-fi animated series Gato the Cat. Now the studio is focused on expanding their educational Ray and Manny franchise with an animated series, inclusion in the mobile game Bubble Veggie, and a podcast.

Ray and Manny are a brother-sister duo learning lessons intended to be useful for a young audience. Bubble Veggie promotes healthy eating habits, while the animated series focuses on themes of environmentalism and wildlife conservation. We had the chance to talk with de Abreu about developing Ray and Manny as well as the ups and downs of running an independent studio.

The pilot episode of Ray and Manny produced by Estudio Paulares.

How would you describe your role on this project? And what did a typical day in production look like for you?

Paula: I’m the creator of the project and I’m also the producer. I have been in animation for fourteen years. I worked mostly as a background artist, and I got the chance to work writing on a few shows. That led me to the opportunity to get the funding to develop my own pilot. Very low-budget funding.

And then I did Gato the Cat, also made in Toon Boom Harmony. It got a lot of awards. With this, I got more funding to develop something bigger. That led to creating Ray and Manny. There was a mobile game and a TV series pilot, and it expanded. There’s funding for a podcast for public teachers.

It’s way more than I alone would be able to handle, but it’s good. I’m really enjoying the process. Whenever I get funding to develop more stuff, I gather a team. Since I’m in this industry, I already have a lot of colleagues. 

So mostly I try to gather up friends, with the funding to try to develop the new content that I have. The goal is to do that as long as I can. As long as I can get funding, I’m going to keep trying to put more friends into the project, to try to keep telling the story. 

It’s a very important story for me to tell because it’s based on me and my sister. The thing is, she and I are completely different and opposites, almost like we are from enemy species. So that’s why I came up with two blood-related siblings that are a greater rhea and a maned wolf. 

They’re actually siblings from the same mom and dad, but still they came out completely opposite. But they love each other because they are brother and sister. They have to love each other, even though they hate each other at the same time. 

Especially when the dynamic is two siblings. Once there are more siblings, it can dilute the relationship. When it’s just two of them, you go to extremes of love and hate, especially when you’re kids.

The pilot episode of Gato the Cat produced by Estudio Paulares.

Ray and Manny is told through a variety of different mediums. How have these mediums informed the storytelling process?

Paula: There are two things I try to tell through Ray and Manny. One thing is my relationship with my sister. One of the few things that we have in common is that we love nature, we love animals, and we love the environment. 

All of the mediums have one goal: to try to teach through fun. It explores a lot about the relationship between the characters, and them living on a magical island with animals from endangered species. Neither of them like the place. They were forced to go there because they didn’t have a home. 

But still, it’s all about teaching kids about animals from endangered species, and trying to replicate Bubble Veggie, which is about eating vegetables. The goal is to educate in a fun way – about animals, about good habits. We try to communicate through animals and nature. 

Has this been a solo project?

Paula: At the end of the day, I’m the one that’s gathering the funding, I’m the one that’s doing the scripts, I’m the one that’s actually coming up with the characters and the backgrounds.

But it’s impossible to do animation alone. So I’m very blessed to have people that really believed in the project. And I’m glad I got funding. But even without it, I knew they would be very interested in trying to help me find ways to make it happen. 

If you look at the credits for the pilot, there were forty animators. That’s a lot, because we did it in a very short time. The deadline was very tight and a lot of friends from the industry wanted to help me. So it’s not a solo project. There are many hands.

You mention that the goal is to teach through fun. What’s the target age range for Ray and Manny?

Paula: Ideally, it’s six to nine years old. It’s not too ‘preschool.’ The humour is a little bit more sophisticated. But at the same time, older than that, the kids start to lose interest. I tried to show it to a ten-year-old. He watched it and said, “It’s too funny – more than necessary.”

But it’s hard to measure the target age because the generations change so rapidly. The target gets younger and younger over time. As they’re getting more native to technology, kids are getting more and more access to information at an early age. 

I guess very soon the target’s going to change again to two years old, because they’re going to be geniuses. The most important thing is to make something that I would like to have seen. The good thing about it being an independent project and having no strings attached is having this freedom to just tell my story, to not be too worried about the revenue and income. 

What are some of the other benefits and challenges of producing Ray and Manny independently?

Paula: I think the downside is that to be alone is a very scary thought. The teams are very big in animation. You have to have a big team, so you have to handle a lot of money. I have a lot of responsibility. It’s a lot of pressure to be the producer in the art part and the production part, and to coordinate people.

For me, it was very energy-draining to do everything. The thing that I wanted to do my whole life was to be an artist, but I also wanted to tell the stories. So I also ended up in this production part. When you’re working in a big studio, you already have someone to do that for you. 

But I will never sell my project to a company. The freedom that I have to tell the story is something that I don’t want to lose. I know that companies need to think about how to sustain the studio and how to keep paying the crew. They have to make decisions that maybe I wouldn’t want. 

The good about this project is that I never stopped being a freelancer. I never stopped working for other companies. So I already have an income. I have financial stability. So I’m not seeking a profit from the project. What I’m seeking is to be able to tell my story. It’s very tiring, but I think it has worked in the end. 

Were the characters initially designed for Bubble Veggie? If so, how did the format inform the character design?

Paula: It changed a lot. The first idea started with my graduation project from college. I was a graphic designer, so nothing to do with animation. I made a children’s book. Then I did the cover and I tried to reimagine a story from Aesop’s Fables. It was the story of The Fox and the Stork. Initially the characters were for that.

And then I thought about my sister and me and how I could tell the story. I decided to expand the character design from that. And then I came to something more Brazilian.  Instead of a fox, I chose the maned wolf, and an emu, which is also a South American bird. 

All my ideas, I think I had already when I was young. Now I’m just recycling old ideas that I had fifteen years ago, ten years ago. 

It’s satisfying in a creative career to see these projects come back and get their moment.

Paula: And it feels like they have a life of their own. I feel that they are real because they’ve been in my life for so long, even though they are in the drawer for a while. From time to time, they surface again and I look and them and say, “I could tell this story in a different way.”

What techniques and programs did you use to make the series?

Paula: For the backgrounds, I used Photoshop. The props and the animation itself is Toon Boom Harmony. The storyboards were done with Storyboard Pro. And oh my God, Storyboard Pro is amazing. 

And it’s so good how [Harmony and Storyboard Pro] are connected, because with Storyboard Pro you export the files in a way that allows the animators to already have the little files to animate exactly their scenes. It makes everything very easy.

What were the most challenging or most interesting aspects of production?

Paula: The schedule, because it was very challenging. For Gato the Cat, there were just three people that did it. It was an eleven-minute pilot. And because it was so low-budget, it was a very small production. There was me doing the editing and storyboard, there was one animator, and one guy doing the soundtrack. 

We spent a whole year on Gato the Cat. We had some time to do everything. Not much funding, but a lot of time to do everything. It was, of course, very challenging to do the first pilot. It was a lot of responsibility. I was waking up at night going, “What am I doing? I’m not a producer! I’m an artist! Why am I doing a pilot?”  

But when it came to Ray and Manny, it was very scary because the budget was very good but the timeframe was very short. We had so little time to make the pilot and the game. In total, it was four months. 

Most of the time was in pre-production, on the script and everything. I also wanted to make something very high-quality. The original song was something completely out of my comfort zone. And on the production side, to be able to handle everything, to do the accounting, to present to the investors and everything.

The marketing was something I’d never done before. And, of course, as an artist, instead of actually using the budget for marketing, I said: “No, it’s okay if I use the money from marketing to supplement the animation. I could use more money in the animation.”

And they said, “Sure, but you still need to get four million views in total reach.” So I started to try to come up with creative ways to try to show the project and the sponsor’s logo in any ways possible. One good thing was sharing the rigs on Gumroad. I shared them and I also mentioned the sponsor, so I had a lot of visibility because of that. Instagram is also a very good tool, though I hate to use it. 

Mostly the marketing was the biggest challenge other than the production itself. It’s always a struggle for an artist who just wants to draw. And also the pitch – the pitching process is so hard for an artist. You’re supposed to be behind a computer all day – that’s what I’ve been taught to do. 

Having to go in front of a crowd and talk about the project is so hard. It takes a lot of social energy and a lot of practice in the mirror to be able to make those pitches.

You mentioned sharing the rigs for Ray and Manny on Gumroad. Was that specifically a marketing decision?

Paula de Abreu: Kind of, but also, from the beginning, even before the marketing campaign, it was something that I wanted to do. The animator who worked on the pilot for Gato the Cat shared the rigs for his own original character for free. I thought that looked like a great idea. 

Then that idea just went away, and when I was doing Ray and Manny, I thought about sharing the rigs. I had such a rushed time, and I thought, “If I share the rigs, maybe it would be a way to find animators that have the skill to work and help me. So we’re going to spot the ones that naturally know how to animate and hire them on the project.”

I wanted to share, I wanted to do the marketing, and I wanted to search for talent to help me to finish the pilot. It’s also good to get to know people from the industry. The most important thing about animation is to never get into your own bubble too much, because new people arrive in the industry all the time.  We need to always be fresh and be alert to the new talent that’s arriving and to absorb them into your crew so you won’t be old. The worst fear of every artist is to be dated. 

I did not expect sharing the rigs on Gumroad to have that big of a reception. I didn’t know that many people were into rigs. It was very cool.

How would you describe the reaction to the series and Bubble Veggie so far?

Paula de Abreu: The short was very good. I liked it a lot. It was a different reception than I got from Gato the Cat. Gato the Cat got a lot of appraisal at festivals because it was a very out-of-the-box idea. So we got attention for being a little bit different. 

But Ray and Manny, even though it’s supposedly something a little bit more generic, because it talks about the environment and has talking animals, it got so much more attention. I was not expecting that. I think nature and sustainability and environmental themes in general are getting a lot of attention right now. Little kids like to consume it a lot.

It got so much more attention actually for funding. It’s gone way bigger than I expected. I had my expectations low because of Gato, but then blew out of proportion for me a little bit, in a good way. I was surprised. 

And it was a little bit scary, to be honest. I used a very simple structure for the mobile game, and I wasn’t aware how addictive it was. So I saw it first-hand. I gave [Bubble Veggie] to my cousins to play it, and they were obsessed. It’s sometimes scary to see the power of the mobile game. 

  • The full Ray and Manny pilot episode and official trailer are available with English subtitles on YouTube. Bubble Veggie is available through Apple’s App Store and Google Play. Access the mobile game’s Linktree here.
  • Interested in putting the Ray and Manny rigs through their paces? Both rigs are available to download on Gumroad and artists can install a free 21-day trial of Harmony Premium to get started.

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