Jan 27, 2023Press Releases

Atomic Cartoons on adapting Pinecone & Pony for animation

Pinecone & Pony is a new series that follows the adventures of a young girl named Pinecone, and her cute, flatulent pony. Together, Pinecone and her pony explore what it means to be a warrior and how to challenge expectations. The series draws from cartoonist Kate Beaton’s picture book, The Princess and the Pony. The team at Atomic Cartoons worked with Kate and DreamWorks Animation to adapt her book as an animated series, which premiered on Apple TV+ in April 2022.

We caught up with the Atomic Cartoons team — including Wayne-Michael Lee (series director), Dana Rose (producer), Keith Chamberlain (builds supervisor), Nadine Westerbarkey (studio creative director) and Joel Bradley (head of production) — to learn more about the creative decisions and production process that went into the series.

How familiar was the Atomic Cartoons team with Kate Beaton’s work before starting production on Pinecone & Pony?

Nadine: There is quite a fanbase for Kate Beaton’s work at Atomic Cartoons, and so there was tons of excitement for the opportunity to collaborate so closely with Kate on this project. Everyone at Atomic had a shared dedication to staying true to the spirit and core of her work in Pinecone & Pony.

Wayne: I have long been a huge fan of Kate’s work. Back when Kate was doing Hark, a Vagrant, I used to attend her panels at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. I never imagined that I would have the chance to work on a show created by her, because that idea was truly a dream. When I interviewed for the role of series director, I met Kate for the first time. That was almost an out of body experience for me; I couldn’t believe it was actually happening!

Dana: I actually wasn’t that familiar with Kate’s work, but it didn’t take long to convert me into a fan. Early into making the series I shared her work with my family, and now we are all fans! And not just of Pinecone & Pony; we appreciate all of her work.

What was it like to collaborate with Kate Beaton on the series?

Nadine: We worked much more closely with Kate than we have on other projects where we’ve collaborated with a creator. What stood out to me right at the start was that Kate’s priority was to set up a team together with Wayne that catered towards diversity and inclusion, and making this project really meaningful for everyone involved. The focus on balance and collaboration was very unique on this project.

Wayne: Showrunner Stephanie Kaliner, Kate and I worked very closely throughout the production of the series. Right at the start, Kate told us that the book was its own thing, and she wanted us to take the concept and story and evolve it into something our own. Kate wasn’t beholden to making the series an exact copy of the book, and this meant there was space for us to creatively develop the story, characters, and world of Pinecone & Pony beyond the scope of the book. Kate wasn’t at all precious about aspects of her original work. She was open to our ideas, which made it really fun creatively.

Dana: Working with Kate was so wonderful. She has such a kind heart. I noticed that she was always checking in with the team to make sure that every artist was feeling good about the project. Everyone really appreciated how much care she had not just for the series itself, but for the people involved in it.

Can you tell us about the team behind the series, and what the production timeline has been like?

Dana: Over the course of a year and a half we created thirty-two 11-minute long episodes. Putting the team together for this was an interesting process because this was the first pre-to-post project for Atomic Cartoons Ottawa. This meant we were ramping up hiring in a number of departments. But we were also right in the middle of COVID-19 lockdowns. Normally we would hire a team limited to Ottawa, but because we were working from home, we were able to hire people from all over Ontario. Rather than working in-person, we worked entirely over video calls.

Wayne: Right at the start of production I had just moved, and I was stepping into my first role as a series director. Not only that, but I was series director on a project that involved a creator I really appreciate and idolize. As you can imagine, it was a bit overwhelming. Luckily, the team was able to collaborate well even though we weren’t all in a room together. Steph, Kate and I seemed to have a mind-meld all throughout production. We were completely on the same page about what we wanted for the series.

How similar or different was Pinecone & Pony to other productions that you worked on?

Nadine: What really made this production stand out to me was how collaborative it was. But it was also because the series is a hybrid mix of comedy and action. Combining those styles together and then casting a team that can carry it can be a challenge.

Wayne: Yes, with Pinecone & Pony we dabbled in a lot of different genres. We even included a spooky, horror-themed episode. Bouncing between comedy and action was a challenge because we had to make sure that characters could transition well between those genres.

Dana: What’s great is that we were able to maintain character development and growth throughout the episodes. And mixing genres meant we could deliver the lessons of the episodes in unique and meaningful ways, without following a strict formula for every episode. The takeaways for each episode weren’t always blatantly obvious, which is what we wanted. We took a creative approach to delivering messages about personal growth. It was refreshing to see a kids animated show delve into this realm because it made the series something more than just an educational series.

Wayne: I’ll add that working on Pinecone & Pony was also tons of fun. I laugh when I think about some of our production gags. For example, at the start of production we instated what we call the “one toot rule.” In the original book, Pony is known to fart a lot. Even though we had the rule, we often had a laugh because the board artists would go overboard with Pony’s toots, and we’d have to remove a couple toots so there’s just one per episode.

Full article here