Angela Anaconda has a cold and she sounds miserable. It's really Sue Rose, the creator of the animated series and the voice behind Angela, who is sick but on the telephone it sounds like her alter ego is suffering.
But when isn't television's newest animated darling despondent? If the eight-year-old isn't being tormented by her nemesis, the pretentious Nanette Manoir, she is enduring the wrath of her teacher, the cat-eyed Mrs. Brinks.
As legions of followers around the world know, Angela Anaconda is a cartoon like no other. Generated by computer, its cut-and-paste style looks like a child went wild with a set of paper dolls.
And although it is two-dimensional, animators use a 3-D computer program to make body turns, head movements and lip synching seems strangely real.
Produced in Toronto by Decode Entertainment Inc. and CORE Digital Pictures, Angela Anaconda was the brainchild of Los Angeles-based artist Sue Rose and her partner, writer Joanna Ferrone.
The combination of visually arresting graphics and hilarious story lines has garnered some television awards, and the show is seen in 35 countries and dubbed into seven languages.
The finished product is "nothing that I had really imagined," Rose said in a recent interview from her home in Los Angeles, "because I hadn't seen it [done]before. It's absolutely gorgeous."
The awards don't surprise Rose, creator of another animated children's show called Pepper Ann, who knew she and Ferrone had an unusual idea. Although Decode and CORE put their stamp on the show, the concept -- the cut-and-paste animation -- was Rose's.
As an art director for a New York advertising agency, she had played around with collage, an artistic composition of flat materials, such as photographs, paper or fabric.
She got into animation after she and Ferrone created a stylized graphic of a skinny man with a shock of hair and named him Fido Dido. Rose knows she won't change the world with a cartoon, but she knows how important it is for kids to feel good about themselves.
"So our characters, more obviously Pepper Ann and Angela, they're not your typical TV star. They're average. They're not the best looking, they're not the smartest, they're not the most popular, they're not super heroes."
Where Nanette has dimples in her cheeks and perfect Shirley Temple ringlets, Angela has freckles and a chin-length bob. Nanette, the teacher's pet, lives with her parents in a huge ranch-style house with a pool; Angela, who gets more rebukes than praise from Mrs. Brinks, lives with her parents, two obnoxious teenage brothers and her baby sister in a split level with a frog pond out back.
Although Angela always sets out to better Nanette, she inevitably trips up and lands in hot water, which sets off a revenge fantasy -- a cartoon within the cartoon -- in which Nanette gets her comeuppance.
The appeal is obvious. Everyone has had a Nanette in their lives, that one classmate who was not only their intellectual superior, but popular and good-looking, too.
"Mine was Helene," Rose said, naming the girl she trailed all through school in Hudson, N.Y., from Grade 1 to 12. "She was always just one step ahead of me. Always. If I came in second in the dental hygiene poster contest, she would always be first."
Apparently, Ferrone, the co-creator, named the character after a real person, someone whose perfection she had to endure as an adult. This makes Rose laugh.
"I think Joanna truly had a Nanette in her life. Not when she was a kid," she said, breaking out into an Angela-like guffaw. "She was like, 'I'm going to get even with her and name [the character]Nanette."
After Decode partner Beth Stevenson saw four shorts that Rose and Ferrone had produced for Nickelodeon in 1996, she knew the company was looking at its ticket to the big time. And Angela Anaconda has not disappointed: It has allowed Decode, founded three years ago, to go out and start relationships with MTV and the Disney Channel.
"It was great to go out of the gate with Angela and another property, Watership Down, which had some real pedigree," said Stevenson, producer of Angela Anaconda.
Decode approached CORE to do the animation, a bit of a gamble considering that the Toronto company had never produced a fully animated series before: Their demonstration reel featured talking rats from Dr. Doolittle and Canada geese following an ultralight plane in Fly Away Home.
Rose is glad CORE came on board because it was founders John Mariella, Kyle Menzies, Bob Munroe and their crew who tinkered with the idea and turned it into a highly watchable form.
"They are actually using a 3-D program to build these things, but my original ideas was these flat paper cut-outs," she said.
Every character, every hat, every dog, every pizza slice has a real-life counterpart, no matter how distorted the final version may be. For example, when Menzies, the animation director, went looking for blond ringlets for Angela's nemesis, Nanette Manoir, he searched for a picture of Alison Arngrim who played Nellie on Little House on the Prairie. When he couldn't find a good image, he bought a porcelain dolls sold as collectors' items through supermarket tabloids and took a picture of its hair.
"Everything in Angela's world starts out as a photographic reference," said Paul Anderson, CORE's art director. "The art department takes pictures of clothing and landscapes and whatever they can find."
Even the characters were based on real models, although they were morphed into their present, pointy-chinned state using a software program called Elastic Reality. The stick arms are strips cut out from a photograph of a real arm.
The pictures are taken from three angles -- front, side and three-quarter view -- and stored in a computer library where they can be retrieved.
Using a 3-D software program called Houdini, animators can load the different pieces of the cut-outs and switch "angles," simulating movement. When Angela hopped on a merry-go-round, for example, it looked like she was circling around and around, but it was simply different cut-outs from different angles being shown in rapid succession.
Like most animators, artists are encouraged to play with a scene, which Stevenson, the producer, said adds depth to the show.
"You see a lot of stuff happening in the background that generally doesn't happen in animated shows."
For the dedicated fan, these in-jokes are obvious: CORE animators have a penchant for squealing cats and squirrels dropping out of trees, and Angela's father wears a jacket with a CORE logo on it. In future episodes, watch for the chicken gag.
The offbeat series, aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds, is about a vivacious red-head who, although she has her followers, never quite measures up to her arch-enemy, the blond-haired, blue-eyed, French-speaking Nanette.
" Pardonne moi, Angela Anaconda," Nanette says in one show, "which is French for 'get out of my way.' "
It helps that the Toronto actress who provides the voice for Nanette studied French "A lot of it on the show is sort of franglais," said Ruby Smith-Merovitz, a Grade 10 student at Interact, a school for professional athletes, actors and musicians. One of her favourite mangled translations is pomme de terre,which Nanette means to be "apple polisher." (It really means potato.)
It is, after all, a series about real kids, minus the profanity of a South Park or the rebellion of The Simpsons. It also has a nostalgic feel, in that the girls wear dresses and cat-eye glasses, the station wagon has side panels, and the bicycles have high handlebars and banana seats.
That's probably why adults enjoy Angela's antics, as a recent e-mail from a viewer named James proves.
"I am 35 and find the show entertaining and appealing even to an adult like me," he wrote. "Also, I applaud the creators of the art style. It is quite creative or très belle. That is French for, 'Nanette Manoir pales in comparison to my sweetheart, Angela Anaconda.' "
Related Website: http://www.AngelaA.com