CANNON FALLS -- Jessica Woken keeps herself busy as a freelance writer, mother of a 2--year-old, cartoon strip creator and now the brains behind an animated cartoon for children titled "Le Mieux & Amis."
The main cat is named "Le Mieux," meaning "the best" because, according to Woken, cats tend to think that they are the best. "Amis" means "friends."
The animated series will use the characters that appear in Woken’s strip titled "Le Mieux." The strip runs online and in the Cannon Falls Beacon.
While Woken's son sat next to her, contently eating a cookie and taking in the sights of the Cannon Falls coffee shop, Woken explained her project and where she hopes it will go.
“The comic strip is based after this cooky cat that thinks he’s this world-class artist and he wants to try to do new things,” Woken said.
Along with Le Mieux the show features his friends: Le Mieux's house mate Bunny, who has a dry sense of humor, a raccoon that invaded their house, a neighbor cat who’s Hispanic and a cat from Asia are some of the characters that will join in the fun.
“So there’s this whole little group of characters and they sort of revolve around trying to figure out each other and they all come from different places and so that sort of feeds into the multicultural feel,” Woken explained.
When Woken’s son was born she decided to take a hiatus from the weekly cartoon strip.
“During that time I had a lot of time to think and a lot of cartoons to watch," she recalled with laughter.
While watching the cartoons she realized that there were not many that focused on art/
“There’s a lot of cartoons about traveling, you know just social engagement, but not a lot, or any that I’ve seen that focus really on art itself. On, what happens when you mix red and yellow paint.”
So, Woken, reached out to her sister who wants to one day work for a company like Pixar or Dreamworks.
The sisters applied for and were awarded a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board to turn "Le Mieux" into a cartoon for kids.
Woken and her sister began work in January 2019.
According to Woken, they had a lot of progress in the first six months.
“And then about mid-year, we couldn’t quite figure out why the things wouldn’t work on the animation software that we were using,” she explained. “Come to find out, there is some glitch in the software itself. Some kind of malware, some kind of thing. And so, around July we realize that we couldn’t fix whatever it was and we had to scrap everything that we had.”
Along with losing their work, the sisters lost followers who had been excited about the project at the start but, as the months went on without art and progress to show for their work, people began to lose interest. Around the same time they had a Kickstarter for the project, but because they didn’t reach their goal (which, Woken stressed, was a high goal) they didn’t receive any of the money.
“But nevertheless, life goes on,” Woken said with a shrug. “We started fresh, I had to rehash some budget stuff with the state arts board and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to rework our goals so that it’s a little bit less lofty.’”
Now the sisters are on pace to reach their new goal and they are making better progress than they were before starting over.
The Stage 1 completion date is scheduled for June 30. Around that time Woken will present her work to the Minnesota State Arts Board. At the event the character will be showcased, interactive displays will be up and Woken will talk about her work and hold a Q&A session with the audience.
Currently, the Le Mieux project is in the middle of a fundraiser through Fundly.com. With this site the sisters will receive any money that is donated, even if the goal is not reached.
Stage 2 is to create a full cartoon, which is planned to be about 5 to 7 minutes. Woken says that her “super goal” is to have a Christmas episode. Then, the end of January is Le Mieux’s birthday so she wants a birthday episode.
There is already a theme song written and recorded and a unique font was created for the opening and credits.
Woken assumes that one of the hardest parts of Stage 2 will be casting the character’s voices because many of the characters are multicultural and multilingual. Woken also hopes to cast local actors and people interested in trying it out.