In the macroscopic universe of a forest, one bristly chestnut burr and one smooth chestnut set out on an epic road trip to return to their Daddy Chestnut Tree. Weekend hikers, be warned: this is no Sunday stroll in the park! Neither squirrel claws, nor mud, nor toad slime will deter the sisters from staying on their path. Our two heroines will quickly realise that discovering the world happens far from one’s roots.

Burr & Chestnut
Directors: Car­o­line Vic and Gaëlle Vivi­er
Authors: Car­o­line Vic and Gaëlle Vivi­er
Producer: Sophie Saget (Andarta Pictures, France)
Format: 26 X 11’
Target audience: Children (6-9)
Techniques: 2D digital

Burr & Chestnut is a 2D animation TV series project that transforms the popular “forest-wanderer” theme for preschoolers into an attractive adventure story for primary school children (ages 6 – 9). The work has depth by combining several layers, such as the variety of unique places/areas in the story’s universe, the calming colour palettes, and the background art with various elaborate expressions.

During Cartoon Forum 2023, we interviewed Caroline Vic and Gaëlle Vivier, the directors and authors, and Sophie Saget, the producer, of Burr & Chestnut.

Interview with Car­o­line Vic, Gaëlle Vivi­er, and Sophie Saget

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?

Car­o­line Vic: I think the audience will be charmed by the duo of Burr and Chestnut and their siblings’ dynamic. They have very different personalities, but when it comes to help a mushroom in distress, they both hurry up to the rescue! We’ll discover the forest through their eyes, at their level, and I think this change of point of view will be appealing to kids and their family. I hope they’ll want to follow our two little friendly seeds and jump into their adventures!

Gaëlle Vivi­er: As Caroline said, seeing the forest in “seed size” creates a unique point of view for the audience. For a chestnut, a tiny puddle becomes a huge lake to cross. We’ll discover with them this unknown universe, way too big for them! Great adventures await our two sisters, and we’ll use comedy to tell their amazing stories. All the ingredients are here to catch people’s eyes!

The universe of the story

HN: Where did the initial idea of the story come from?

Car­o­line Vic: The idea was born in an animation school, back when Gaëlle and I were sitting next to each other during classes. We were making up stories with original characters in between schoolworks to our creativity. One of the stories came from tales of a forest of my childhood near the place I grew up in Auvergne, France. Gaëlle and I both shared a fondness for nature and folkloric legends, and with this inspiration we stumbled upon the idea of giving life to two little seeds going on big adventures in the forest.

Gaëlle Vivi­er: At the same time, we discovered a Japanese tale where two characters, Ashinaga and Tenaga, learn how to live together, one having huge legs and tiny arms, the other having long arms and tiny legs. We liked the idea of a duo helping each other out in a hostile world, despite their differences. And so, the idea of Burr and Chestnut as a sister duo was born. We took inspiration in elements and situations we love, like natural ecosystems, road trips, funny yet kind relationships… comedy and poetry were the icing on the cake!

HN: What are you taking care in the most when you develop the story?

Car­o­line Vic: The most important thing for me is to develop Burr and Chestnut’s adventures within the rules and boundaries we established for our universe. For example, our heroines being seeds, they can only speak with trees, other seeds and mushrooms. They can’t talk to bugs and other insects, and that’ll be a challenge for them, so we’re trying to come up with creative ideas to make this communication thing work between species. I think that keeping those kinds of rules in mind while making up stories adds a lot of charm to the series.

Gaëlle Vivi­er: We really wanted to create a coherent universe based on the forest we love to stroll in. In our world, there’s no magical trees or fairies, we focus on showing a realistic organic life, without human traces in it. We don’t want our forest to be a mirror of a human society. We placed ourselves in our heroines’ shoes and imagined how those chestnuts, at their level, live, behave, and think. When a seed is tired or hungry, it doesn’t need to go to bed for a while or eat some cake. What it needs is a good sun bath and a refreshing drop of water!

Through Burr and Chestnut’s journey you will discover the amazing and invisible life of all the species living in the woods!

HN: Could you please let us know the story behind the visual creation? What are the key or important things for you in terms of the visual design of the characters and the story’s universe?

Car­o­line Vic: If I had to choose one word to describe how we designed Burr & Chestnut, I’d say “organic”. Our vision for the show resides in creating a realistic, living, and breathing forest, even when we make it cartoony.

The very first backgrounds of the series were pictures we took at a forest. When we decided to switch to a full 2D pipeline, we made a point to keep our initial intention and kept real-life pictures we took ourselves as references for the artists. This process allows us to be as close as possible of the light, colours, and shapes that fit our realistic vision.

As for the characters, the most important thing for me is shape and what it tells you about the character. At first glance, you might think that drawing a chestnut and making it a living and breathing character would be easy. But I can assure you, this can be a real challenge! Finding the right shape, defining where and how to place the face, the arms, the legs… For Chestnut, we worked on a shape with angles and pointed edges that reflect her big sister vibe and her need for things to be in order. The little scar she has on her eyebrow shows that her adventure with Burr had a big impact on her! That’s the kind of logic we try to use to make each of our characters unique.

Gaëlle Vivi­er: The characters design was challenging because it may seem simple at first sight, but with one tiny change the design can become completely different. We made a lot of different character design, changing just the form of the eyes or other tiny details, before finding the design we liked.

At first, we wanted to make a hybrid show, with live-action backgrounds and 2D animated characters, but we quickly dropped that idea for technical reasons. We choose to show a realistic forest, a universe swarming with life, and respecting all the aspects and constraints that come from. This choice is quite challenging! Our story takes place in Autumn, so we must find colours, textures, types of vegetations, and lights that fit with this season. There’ll be dead leaves on the ground, spiders’ webs with bugs stuck on it, morning dew… All those little details that will make our world authentic!

Our characters’ design may seem simple at first sight, but all details are very well thought out and with only one tiny change our character can become completely different. We draw a lot of chestnuts and burrs, changing just a few tiny details in each new propositions, before finding the design we liked!

HN: How did this series project start and why did you decide to produce this project?

Sophie Saget: Caroline and Gaëlle pitched us the project in 2021 and it was an instant match! Already enchanted by the characters’ graphic universe, we discovered how they venture forth from their comfort zone in search of emancipation. Within their coming-of-age story that lies inspiring messages about family ties, our yearning for new pastures, and our desire for freedom.

In the course of this unusual road-trip, Caroline and Gaëlle invite us to pay closer attention to our environment and to view the forest with new opened eyes – from a seed’s perspective. The story setting we are working on is an organic forest, swarming with life and stories to tell. This singular seed’s-eye-view perspective gives us free rein to play on the relationship between the tiny and the gigantic, propelling our heroines through their adventures with lashings of cartoon humour, dynamic direction, and encounters with other colourful characters.

We wanted to bring this wonderful universe to life and conquer it with the hearts of all the chestnuts of the world!

HN: What part of the project is especially excited or challenging for you as a producer?

Sophie Saget: Burr & Chestnut is the first cartoon project that we’re developing at Andarta Pictures. It’s exciting to work on something different from our other shows like Ewilan’s Quest or Baïdir in terms of story tone.

Though we are familiar with buddy comedies, it’s quite refreshing to present the dynamic between two sisters, something we don’t see as much as a brother/sister relationship.

The format might be quite unusual, being half the length the market is used to, but things are evolving and we see more and more broadcasters invest in shorter series, so that’s encouraging. We’re also very attached to the semi-serialized aspect. We take at heart to tell a story where we follow our heroines through their emotional journey and how this help them find out new strengths, something that we find in shows we are fond of and take inspiration from such as Gravity Falls, Over the Garden Wall, and Hilda.

The originality of Caroline and Gaëlle’s vision of the forest has already seduced many hearts, and our pitch at Cartoon Forum 2023 offered us a great opportunity to introduce the project to the market. Hopefully we’ll be able to move forward soon in development with new partners on board!

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