A little over a decade ago, crowdfunding became a lifesaver for animators. The process was lauded as a platform for artists to pursue their own projects rather than being stopped in their tracks by studios that wouldn't greenlight their show. Seibert of Frederator Studios called the period the "golden age of internet animation." Hit crowd-sourced series include Urbance, Bee and Puppycat, and international ones such as Under the Dog and Little Witch Academia 2. However, with the popularity of original series on Netflix and the muddy waters of the aftermath of many delayed Kickstarted projects, interest in indie internet animation series seems to have plateaued.
This March, animation vet Steve Ahn turned back the clock with Blossom Detective Holmes , which finished off its Kickstarter campaign with $195,693 from 2,718 backers, making it one of the top 25 most-backed animation Kickstarters to date. Supporters could feel comfortable with Ahn's track record; his impressive resume includes DreamWorks' Voltron: Legendary Defender, Nickelodeon's The Legend of Korra, and Fox's The Cleveland Show to name a few.
Ahn began the roadmap to his independent miniseries in 2015. Building from his experience in South Korea and emigrating to the U.S. to pursue a degree at Cal Arts, Ahn guides audiences along the journey of Skylar Holmes and her partner Jamie as they solve mysteries in a small town. After teasing his new series for about over half a year by providing sneak peeks at conventions like Anime Expo and Kumoricon, he launched an online campaign on GumRoad to capitalize on growing interest in non-American animation. Ahn's team is a mix of American animators and global talent.
What makes Ahn's Blossom Detective Holmes unique? First, the series' two female leads speak in Korean and are voiced by the same person. The show's solid first episode brings in elements unusual to Western audiences. Drawing from his own experiences as a father, Ahn incorporates clues and plot elements from his experience raising his daughters. Immediately after his launch party hosted in Koreatown, Ahn took the time to connect with SYFY WIRE and reflect on his long campaign.
The pilot episode of Blossom Detective Holmes is available now.
Why did you choose to have your series in Korean instead of English?
There were several reasons. First, there's a budget issue since this is an independent project. I wrote the script in Korean and it's my first project outside of any control; I wanted it to be a reflection of who I am. I've studied English for 11 years, but Korean is my first language and I thought, "Who cares?" I wanted to be true to myself. I know anime fans are used to listening to Japanese with English subtitles so the fans are okay with watching a show through subtitles. I do get some negative criticism about it.
Can you tell us more about that?
When I started working on this project, I had left Voltron and some people were hyping it up like it was supposed to be the next big thing. They were confused once they saw what the project was. I think some American fans questioned why it was in Korean even though it was made in America. Korean fans asked why there are English subtitles. We do want to dub it in English but it requires more money and we'd prefer to focus our efforts on more episodes.
What is it like to run your own Kickstarter?
Friends have warned me about how tough running your own Kickstarter campaign is. They weren't kidding. I wake up and look at my phone. And I keep refreshing my browser to see what happens. It's an all-day job. You learn new things because you're doing it all by yourself.
Is it possible that you'll make more episodes than what you Kickstarted?
I want to finish the story first. Worst case is, I'm using my own savings and it may cause the project to lose manpower and slow production. But I'm planning to release the funded episodes around next summer. It's a little slow but it will definitely happen.
What was the timeline for the entire campaign up until this point?
I spent about a whole year in my home. The general production for the pilot was about six months and about three months was preparing the Kickstarter campaign. Lastly, it was about one month for the marketing. It's tough but I'm making what I love to make. I'm seeing growth in me every day; it's rewarding personally. I'm gaining different experience than what I would at a studio.
You brought in many interesting aspects that Americans aren't used to seeing in animation. In "Selfie with a Mysterious Stranger," Skylar talks about the scent of a mother who has recently given birth. Where do you draw those ideas from?
I have two daughters and when my wife and I studied about raising children, I read that babies can't see when they're born. In order for them to know their mother, they recognize their mother's scent for breastfeeding. Some people have said that it feels weird and I see why. But it's based on a fact. It's showing how Skylar has an acute sense of smell from a distance, which is why she can catch the smell of a new mother. Her deductions from the scents are based on her memories.
As Americans, we do tend to shy away from certain anatomy.
That's the benefit of being able to control your own show. I want Skylar and Jamie to journey through real matters and issues. When I screened the episodes, all the fathers knew right away what Skylar was talking about. I think people who don't have children didn't know.
Have you shown your daughters the pilot episode? How did they feel?
Yes, but not the last scene with the dead body. They were both scared because they're young children. The music is very intense for kids.
Is there an age demographic for this show?
PG-14 to 99 years old. It's definitely not meant for children. I don't think crime mystery works for kids because sometimes it becomes too childish. I wanted to keep a believable level of intensity and drama. There's a lot of rules to make a safe show to kids. Guns, blood, and dead bodies don't meet those rules.
What's the story behind Jamie's camera? Are you calling out our tendency to whip our dependencies on cameras?
If you take a selfie, it teleports you to the place you're thinking of. The story is set in the 19th century, which is before our modern era of cameras. When they take a selfie, they can't retrieve that Polaroid and it leaves a paper trail. Although it's a strong tool, the camera is a liability which adds to the mystery.
Where are Skylar and Jamie? Is it somewhere you've been to or is it something you referenced off the internet?
It's an improvised city. I went to a town called Visby near Stockholm, which are cities that Miyazaki visited to make Kiki's Delivery Service. If you look at that movie, you can see that it's a combination of both. Because I was doing my research there, I had an idea of how I wanted to portray it in my project.
Out of all of your ideas, what inspired you to write this particular story?
I enjoy crime and suspense, but I wanted to add an element of humor and fantasy. You can impress the audience through visual storytelling, yet it may not be more than eye candy. I wanted to make people think on a deeper level and incorporate a message in the show. The two characters are inspired by my daughters and I wanted to leave something for them through the narration. If you're writing a story for a general audience, it may be hard to focus on what you want to speak about. When you're writing a story as if you're writing a letter to someone specific, the message becomes clear. There are fans out there who I want to entertain, however internally there's something I want to communicate to my daughters. Please wait for the completion of the series to see the whole picture.