Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Go Go Gorillas!

I met John Celestri at Nelvana in Toronto, even though we were both New Yorkers by birth. At the time, John was animating on Rock and Rule. In the years since Nelvana, John has worked for a variety of studios including Don Bluth.
Currently, he’s the COO of Grace Global Media Corp. which is trying a new variation on an established business model. Lots of cartoon series spin off merchandise or themed locations. Lots of brands spin off cartoon series. Go Go Gorillas! was created to simultaneously be both a retail brand and an animation series.

The first facility opened last December 3 in Danville, Kentucky. It’s 30,000 square feet housing a restaurant and indoor theme park, which contains a rock climbing wall, an arcade, mini-bowling, bumper cars, blacklight miniature golf, party rooms and an educational space for classes to use for field trips based on Kentucky’s core curriculum . The characters are the Avenging Apes of Africa, a group built around the themes of ecological and social responsibility.

The company’s goal is to expand the number of facilities and once there is a steady cash flow, build an animation studio that will create a featurette a year to explore the characters’ stories, as well as create arcade and video games for the chain. John is committed to using drawn animation for these films and to doing it all under one roof in Danville, with no outsourcing.

The website is located here and the center is located at 2900 South Danville Bypass, Danville, KY.


Anonymous said...

I can admire the effort, but why not start with appealing character designs that aren't scary looking?

John Celestri said...

Hi, Mark. Thank you so much for posting the article. I twice tried to post a longer comment today, but it didn't show up either time. Perhaps it is too long?

John Celestri said...

Mark, I'm trying to post my comment in two parts. I’m hoping this can start an interesting line of conversation. In that light, I’d like to response to the question posed by Anonymous: “why not start with appealing character designs that aren't scary looking?”

I’m assuming that this comment is referring to the photo taken of the costume mascot Morocco (our lead character). Morocco is not scary in person, in fact, he is very popular with kids young and old, some of whom (preschoolers) grab his hand and want to take him home.

The Avenging Apes of Africa should appear scary because they are powerful half-humans, half-apes. But I have very carefully worked out the various characters’ personalities and I know that the performer wearing the Morocco costume is interacting with customers at Go Go Gorillas! in a manner based on Morocco’s personality, which makes him appealing.(End part 1)

John Celestri said...

This brings up the point: what makes a character appealing? Is it the physical appearance or the actions that create appeal? Handsome human actors can have repelling personalities just through the way they conduct their private lives or by the way they interact with their fans in public.

On the other hand, not so handsome actors can be enormously appealing based on their onscreen performances.

Design "appeal" is in the eye of the beholder. I personally don't like the bland cookie cutter designs that dominate 2D animation. I prefer designs with bit to them, but that can be softened thru the character animation performance.

In the case of the Avenging Apes, these sibling baby apes physically mutated into what they are through no fault of their own. So in this case, how would a half-ape, half-human design not be scary looking?

In many ways, my response to Anonymous’ question is pretty much an aspect of what the Avenging Apes of Africa series is all about: Being good stewards of one's self and of the planet…do the very best you can with the talents, abilities, etc you are born with…do the very best with the hand you have been dealt. This is the subject matter my studio will concentrate on. Hopefully this and a solid financial footing created by cash flow from the Go Go Gorillas! Fun Center will attract veteran and young animation talent.

Anonymous said...

The designs don't appear to have been based on anything other than other cartoon shows from the early and mid eighties They don't even look like gorillas. They look like hairy humanoid cartoons. Very unappealing. And I would say this goes for the costumed character, but primarily the cartoon ones.

John Celestri said...

OK, Anonymous. Fine. That's your opinion. Ultimately, it's the customers'/audience's reaction that will hand down the final judgment.

Brubaker said...

Hopefully you'll get a studio out of this. We could use more animation studios outside Hollywood (and Danville, KY is only 300 miles away from where I live, which is as close as it can get)

John Celestri said...

The business plan is to develop the fun centers, then the studio...growing Go Go Gorillas in Danville, then launch the 2nd one in Lexington, then the 3rd in Louisville. This is planned for the next four years. After that, we will carefully launch Go Go Gorillas into the surrounding states.

The most important thing is to NOT expand faster than is prudent. The animation studio staffing will reflect the profits from the fun centers. We will first secure the financial stability of the company so that we can weather the ebb and flow of cash flow. Then, when I know the money is in the bank, I will slowly hire on crucial staff, who can wear many creative hats.