Panda Attack! Scott Kurtz talks "PvP" The Animated Series

Scott Kurtz's "PvP" is one of those comics that's traversed both the online and print world with relative ease. The wildly popular online comic is read by thousands daily, while those who prefer the more traditional printed variety can pick up monthly collections of the strips from Image Comics.

But as is the dream of many a comic, it wants to come alive - it wants to be animated. And Kurtz's "PvP" is no exception. With the advent of the Internet and the insane popularity of video sharing sites like You Tube, being animated doesn't necessarily mean you have to get picked up by a major television network or film studio. You can, simply, do it on the Web.

That's what Kurtz will be doing. "PvP" will come alive as a monthly animated series beginning February of 2007. Kurtz has joined with Blind Ferret Entertainment, a start up animation company based in Canada, to produce twelve episodes, each four-to-six minutes long that will be released monthly on the Web. CBR News caught up with Kurtz to learn more about "PvP The Series."

To begin with, Kurtz explained the episodes would use professional voice actors to bring the cast of "PvP" to life and would be animated in a traditional style, versus the Flash animated style so prevalent online. "A lot of the animating in Flash uses something called tweening," Kurtz told CBR News. "It's where you draw one key frame and then you jump ahead to the next key frame and tell the computer to stretch or twirl or rotate it in-between. We won't be cutting corners by using tweening. That's not a frame by frame animating process, which is what we're doing."

Those interested in seeing a teaser of the animation style for "PvP the Series" got their chance when Kurtz posted a one-minute preview of the series on the Web. Once you watch the episode, you'll see why Kurtz likens the look and feel of the series to "The Simpsons" versus the popular online series Homestar Runner," which Kurtz is also a big fan of. "It's not like the current season of 'The Simpsons' because this is the first time we're getting together to do this," said Kurtz. "Blind Ferret has done one animated series in the past where they outsourced the animation to a company that they paid by the hour. For that animation company they did the best they could, but it was one of a million jobs they were working on and the people there weren't necessarily fans or believers in the project. But, what we have now is a lead animator, assistant animators, some clean up artists, producers and professional voice talent all working together, all invested in the project and all fans. It's a collaboration where everyone is really invested. Though I've been drawing these characters for 10 years, these guys are just learning how to draw them now. So, but the end of the year it'll look a lot different, I think, than it looks now."

That evolution during the first year of production is something that equally excites and terrifies Kurtz. "It's very similar to how 'PvP' the comics strip was when I first was self-publishing - it's either going to stand on its own or I'll be out of a lot of money that I spent on printing. Or like what happened when I quit my day job to do the web comic full time - it was either going to be something that worked or I'd have to put my resume out there and face un-employment for six months.

"I think this has an equal chance of being a noble failure as it does to be a big success. If it is a big success, or even if it just breaks even, we've accomplished something. I've learned an important part of the process. We won't have lost anything."

Possibly the most unique aspect of this venture is that it's completely self-owned, self-distributed and self-contained. While some might find that a scary proposition itself, the alternative of entering the Hollywood machine isn't something Kurtz is interested in right now. "It was the opportunity to do this without having to enter into the treacherous process of Hollywood that really intrigued me - where maybe you don't have complete control or the thing starts or it never really comes out because it gets stuck in development hell," said Kurtz. "A lot of people from Hollywood have shown interest in 'PvP,' but it's usually people who want to option it or pitch it around. I've had people pitching it around just because it was easier to say, 'Yeah, go ahead and pitch it' because there's no commitment, rather than argue with them and say no.

"I gotta tell you, I'm terrified of Hollywood," continued Kurtz. "It's not just that it's a big beast, but it seems like it's a real easy maze to get lost in. Everytime someone would approach me they'd say, 'I can pitch this. We can try to hook you up with some writers and producers, then pitch it to a studio.' I would always ask, 'Well, what about producing it on our own and distributing it online or selling it via DVD' and they'd ask, "Well, sure, but who's going to pay for that? Who'll front the money for the animation team? What about the post-production people? How will you pay for the distribution and bandwidth?' That's always the route I wanted to go and that's what Ryan Sohmer and Randy Waxman are doing at Blind Ferret. They do commercials and other animation projects that fund their company, but they believe in 'PvP' and believe my readership will support it, so they'll pay those upfront costs. I get to have creative control, I get to be the producer and it can be my vision. It could succeed and it could fail, but at least if it fails we tried and you can't blame it on Hollywood or an executive suit or anything like that.

"Maybe I'm doing myself a disservice by not pursuing that [Hollywood] instead of this, but I'm terrified of that," said Kurtz. "Of course, this could lead to that. I know it's not as big a deal as a network show, but it's an important baby step. I can't promise we'll give our fans a half hour episode every week like 'The Simpsons,' but the stuff we're writing is very funny, it has a lot of heart to it and it's true to what we've done with the strip."

Kurtz will be joined by his friend Kristofer Straub as co-producer and co-writer of "PvP The Series." The strip has been around since 1998, which means there's a lot of story to be mined for the animated series, but Kurtz said they won't be following the strip's story exactly. "We're considering this 'Ultimate PvP,' because I think if we just animated the strips I've done before, it would be a hugely wasted opportunity and a disservice to my fans," explained Kurtz. "Of course, there are those who have their favorite moments in the strip and want to see it and we want to put that kind of fan service in there, but we have to change things up a bit. If you watched the preview, you'll notice some changes. Everyone's in cubicles, but in the strip everyone's in offices. We decided that we should start over, so in the animation PvP is a brand new company, everyone's in cubicles and things are just getting started, but the exchange between the characters is unchanged. It makes things fresh for our long term fans. For new people who haven't read 'PvP' before, they won't be missing anything."

That all important fan service is something Kurtz and Straub are concerned with and have found a way to offer long time fans something special. "Since these episodes are so short, we decided not to do a big, long intro each and every week," explained Kurtz. "What we did is create a thing we're calling the logo card, which is just a quick little logo appearance and disappearance, and the first five or six chords of the theme song Kris wrote for it, then some quick, little things will happen. At the end of the preview, you see Brent gets mauled by the Panda. Those will be different in every episode and that's where we'll stick our fan service. You'll definitely see all your favorite running gags, but we're not going to take up precious episode time with it. I mean, how can you not animate the Panda attack?"

The series has already been in development for five months and Kurtz said they've just completed their first full episode and are hard at work on the rest. "We've already scripted through to episode four and have plotted out through the end of the year."

"PvP the Series" will be subscription based, with those who subscribe in advance gaining access to all 12 episodes for the discounted price of $19.95, with the price going up to the regular price tag of $29.95 in 2007. Kurtz did at one point consider giving the series away for free and go with a cheaper animation style using Flash, but ultimately Kurtz decided it wasn't the right direction for him. "We would still have had to find some Flash animators. I tried doing it on my own and had a really difficult time with it. You could probably find a college kid or animation student to work on it, but you can't pay them up front and they might have a life starting and school, so you might have them come in and find they have to leave the project shortly after. This is a difficult task at any level of quality, so we didn't want to go that route."

With the series being distributed on the Web, Kurtz explained they'll offer the episodes in both Quicktime and Windows Media Formats. "And if you'd like to - and I know this was a big selling point for me because I'm a big Mac and iPod nut - you can download it to your computer and put it on your video iPod. What I'm hoping is that enough fans will pay for it, put it on their iPod and show it to their friends and then turn them into fans of the series as well."

Of course, when offering video up on the Web, you run the risk of someone taking those episodes, ripping them and posting them to video sharing sites like You Tube, where Kurtz and company won't make anything off it. Kurtz realizes that piracy is inevitable, but it's not something he's obsessing over. "If it goes up on You Tube, we'll contact them and they'll take it down. That will happen, but I think it's counter productive to spend a lot of time and energy trying to find some way of preventing that because you're not going to," said Kurtz. "What I'd rather do is mobilize the 'PvP' fan base and say, 'Look, I'm not saying you have to buy this, just like I've never said anyone has to buy a T-Shirt or Plush, but we're trying to do something different here. It could be big and could be the next big step for us.' I'd rather foster that sort of attitude so that we have enough people signing up that it doesn't matter as much."

And it's certainly in the best interest of the fans to pay for the series if they want to see more down the line. "And it's not just us - if this is a success and Blind Ferret sees that this is a viable business model, there could be more 'PvP' or the series that you're a big fan of next," said Kurtz.

A one-minute preview of "PvP The Series" is available online here at the official PvP Web site. Subscription sign-ups are being accepted here and offered at the discounted price through the end of the year.

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