Former Newcastle student grabs opportunity on Cartoon Network

Pilot stage: Digital cartoon creator Ivan Dixon's concept, Lasso & Comet, has reached the audience testing point. His partner in the project is Greg Sharp.
Pilot stage: Digital cartoon creator Ivan Dixon's concept, Lasso & Comet, has reached the audience testing point. His partner in the project is Greg Sharp.

FOR Ivan Dixon animating cartoons is limitless.

The former University of Newcastle digital design student says animation gives you the freedom to tell any story you want.

“You can design every part of the experience – it’s like OCD version of film-making,” he laughs.

Now based in Melbourne, Ivan and fellow animator Greg Sharp of Rubber House have just released a pilot for their cartoon Lasso & Comet.

The pilot follows Lasso, an energetic, rebellious 13-year-old boy and Comet, a blue ball of rock and ice from outer-space.

Together Lasso and Comet protect their tropical island home from mysterious gigantic monsters roaming the sea.

The pilot contains a deeper “ecological message” with Lasso realising a moral lesson: the world’s environment is connected and he needs to give up his short term gains for the greater good.

The pair were commissioned to make the pilot for international company Cartoon Network.

“We were flown to the United States and got to work on the series in house at Cartoon Network Studios in Los Angeles,” Dixon says.

For around a month and a half Dixon and Sharp got to see first-hand how cartoons are made in the US and consult with show-runners from successful cartons like Adventure Time.

As part of the opportunity they had to pitch to the Cartoon Network board including Cartoon Network’s executive vice president Rob Sorcher.

“We didn’t have voices cast at the time, so we had to do the voices and sound effects ourselves,” Dixon says.

“We wanted to create a big buzz so we ended up inviting people from nearly every show.”

When it came to casting voices Dixon says being in the US aided the process.

Dixon explained that to cast voices you put together a call sheet with the character description and a few lines.

“In auditions you get about 80 voices that sound identical and 20 that have a special quality.”

Voices cast in the pilot include Danielle Brooks (Orange Is The New Black), Rich Horvitz (Invader Zim,Angry Beavers), and young talents Cedric L Williams and 14-year-old Rio Mangini.

“Danielle was the voice we had in mind, so we were really happy,” Dixon says.

“With Rich he’s been in so many of our favourite Nickeloden series – he was so charming and funny in person.”

To create Lasso & Comet Dixon and Sharp were inspired by Japanese anime like Studio Ghibli and Dragon Ball Z and comedy from Western shows like The Simpsons.

Last year, in a huge career achievement, Dixon and fellow animator Paul Robertson designed the opening introduction for an episode of The Simpsons entirely in pixel art.

Ivan’s pixel art attracted the attention of Quan Yeomans from Regurgitator. The connection led to Yeomans doing the music for Lasso & Comet.

Dixon says Yeomans’  1970s-style arcade-like music suited the mixed eastern and western influences of the pilot.

Dixon says the show combines all the things he and Sharp loved as kids: fantasy adventure, giant monolithic monsters, magic and comedy.

The pilot is now in the audience testing phase.