Skybound Entertainment, the entertainment company behind “The Walking Dead,” may soon be coming out with live-streaming, interactive cartoons starring characters from its flagship zombie franchise.
Skybound is working with startup Toonstar, which was founded by former Warner Bros. digital-media execs John Attanasio and Luisa Huang. The startup’s free app, which launched publicly this week for iOS, lets users inhabit a cartoon character via facial-recognition technology and then live-stream animated videos on the platform (or record them for sharing). Fans can interact with the creators in real time via chat — an experience Attanasio described as a “next-gen Cartoon Network, re-imagined as mobile, snackable and interactive.”
Later this year, Toonstar’s app will host exclusive live shows from Skybound, which will adapt three or four of its comic-book properties for Toonstar. The companies are keeping mum on what those will be; they gave no assurances “Walking Dead” will be in the mix.
“Real-time interaction allows fans to connect directly with their favorite characters in a groundbreaking way,” said Catherine Winder, CEO of Skybound North, the company’s new Vancouver-based production division. Winder, who is a former Lucasfilm Animation exec, said Toonstar’s platform offers the ability to influence the development of characters and worlds “in a nimble manner typically unheard of in this medium.”
Toonstar (toonstar.com) has raised a round of seed funding led by startup incubator Science Inc. with participation from Greycroft partner Jon Goldman’s GC VR Gaming Tracker Fund, Manta Ray and Social Starts. (The company, whose corporate name is Feldspar Studios, isn’t disclosing the size of the investment.) Based in downtown L.A., Toonstar has seven full-time employees.
The startup’s app was released in beta three months ago, and has attracted more than 20,000 users who have watched more than 500,000 hours of live-streamed content, according to Toonstar. The animation app also is used by several creators on Musical.ly’s Live.ly live-streaming platform, including popular channel PoppyTV.
With Toonstar’s official launch, it now has the ability to live-stream directly within the app: the idea is to make it a destination platform for fans of the startup’s live and interactive cartoon format. The app will continue to support other live-streaming platforms, including Facebook Live, YouTube Live, and Live.ly.
The app currently features six characters: Donald Trump; Hillary Clinton; two stick-figure-like ‘toons (male and female); and two for Halloween, a pumpkin-headed scarecrow and an insane-looking clown.
“Toonstar is at the forefront of making facial-recognition technology accessible to everyone, from kids to professional influencers,” Greycroft’s Jon Goldman said in a statement. “They have created a gateway for the next generation, and we’re excited to partner with such an innovative company.”
Attanasio and Huang, who is Toonstar’s COO, met at Warner Bros. and both served as mentors in Turner/Warner Bros.’s now-defunct Media Camp incubator project. Attanasio most recently was WB’s VP of global marketing and innovation, and Huang was director of digital business strategy and development. The duo first began working on the project that became Toonstar in 2014.
“When it comes to animation, it’s our belief that it’s very underserved,” Attanasio said. “Animation historically takes a lot of time, and it isn’t cheap. We believe we are building a new format.”
So, how is Toonstar going to make money? The free app offers in-app purchases to let users interact with the live-streaming cartoon characters, such as sticks of dynamite or falling anvils. In addition, Toonstar expects to let users purchase premium characters and pay to customize them, while there also will be a tipping feature to let users send their favorite creators digital gifts during a live stream.
Toonstar’s app is available initially for Apple’s iOS, with an Android version in development.