Marty, an 11-year-old boy, is a soldier of Karma and has to punish people for their mistakes using a magic toy. Being inexperienced for such a task, he ends up killing people and reveals his secret. Schoolmaster Karma is disappointed and punishes the boy, forcing him to go to a special institute to be re-educated. There, he is approached by a fugitive ex-student, a girl named Joy. She helps him understand the madness he is involved in and makes him rise against Schoolmaster Karma. Marty and Joy persuade the other students to join them. After several failed attempts, they manage to kill Schoolmaster Karma. A more powerful unearthly entity appears and tells the boy he’s the new schoolmaster.
Director & Art director: Dan Panaitescu
Scriptwriter: Cristian Pascariu
Producer: Anca Damian (Aparte Film, Romania)
Format: 6 x 15’
Target audience: Young Adults / Adults
Techniques: 2D digital / 3D digital
Karma is an animation series project that was pitched at Cartoon Forum 2022 by Dan Panaitescu, the director and art director of the series, together with the producer Anca Damian (known for directing several award-winning animated features such as Crulic: The Path to Beyond and Marona’s Fantastic Tale).
The topic and ideas in Karma arouse a strong interest in the kind of story that will unfold. Its visual design also incorporates interesting ideas that can be found in the unique worldview of the story’s universe.
We are happy to share with you the story behind the project from our interviewee Dan Panaitescu.
Interview with Dan Panaitescu
Hideki Nagaishi (HN): Could you please let us know what part of this animation series you think will be the most appealing or attractive to the prospective audience?
Dan Panaitescu: It is hard to say it before having the entire series done, but we hope that the mystery and the tension that the story is built around will be a strong hook. The art direction is actually developed to emphasize this characteristic of our film and we hope it will also be a reason for the audience to find this production appealing.
HN: Could you please let us know the theme or topic of the series, as well as the outline of the story of the series, in brief?
Dan Panaitescu: The story addresses multiple topics and I hope the audience will enjoy the way we approached them. To us, even if we rarely present it explicitly in the film, the main theme is power. We talk about how power mesmerizes and corrupts people and we also show how hard it is to manage power in a responsible way.
Our main character, Marty, is a kid who is given a huge unearthly power. His daily job is to punish people for their wrongdoings but he fails. As such, he is forced to attend a re-education institute where we for the first time see that there is an entire army of children like him. Because of a succession of unpredictable events, Marty is turned against the monstrous system that empowers him and in the end, he apparently wins. But this outcome will prove to be more a dilemma rather than a resolution.
HN: Where did the initial idea of the story and characters come from?
Dan Panaitescu: The initial idea belongs to Cristian Pascariu who is the screenwriter and co-creator of the series. Reading the first draft of the screenplay, I got hooked by the strange atmosphere that reminded me of Twilight Zone and Tween Picks. These were the two series that stuck me in front of the TV in the early 90s when I was a teenager, and maybe this is why I desperately wanted to do this project.
The script developed a lot from the initial form because we preferred to build a linear story rather than a repetitive episode structure. Still, I’m pretty sure it keeps intact the spirit that made me fall in love with it at the first sight.
HN: What do you take care in the most when you develop the story?
Dan Panaitescu: Storywise, I think it is essential to keep the balance between the hidden details of the story and the action that has a logical development that should be clear to the audience. At the same time, we want to make sure that at the end of each episode the viewers will be eager to watch what comes next.
Character-wise, we have in mind to keep the heroes of our story credible even if they are very special and live in a world a bit different from the real one. For this to work, we didn’t omit the human aspects of their personalities. We also gifted most of the characters with a thin but obvious layer of humor.
Having an education in visual arts and spending a lot of years as an art director, the look, to me, is an integrated part of the story. So visual development is also one of our main focuses.
HN: What is the most important characteristic of the visual design of the characters and universe for the story in the animation series, and why?
Dan Panaitescu: As I mentioned before, our story is built around mystery and tension. And the visual style has been developed accordingly.
At the beginning of the process, we got inspiration from black-and-white noir comics and Ray K. Metzker’s photography, but we ended up with an oversaturated and sometimes violent color palette. The intention we had in mind, was not only to bring the noir style more into our days, which I hope we did, but we also wanted to give more dimensions to the world we create.
But if I had to describe it in fewer words, I would say that the film’s visual style is an edgy colorful noir.
HN: What can you tell us about the music for the animation series at the moment?
Dan Panaitescu: Just like the visuals do, the music has to emphasize and complete the story. And maybe, more importantly, it has to add value to the production. This is why I’m very glad that Electric Brother, one of my long-time collaborators, has joined our team to create the sound design and original music for this film. We’ve been working together for about 15 years and I’m very sure that he will bring a valuable contribution to this project. For now, we have a first draft for the main musical theme which is minimal but catchy. We are already very happy with it, but for the moment it is still a work in progress.