Not only is Cartoon Network the provider of original (SAMURAI JACK, the upcoming JUSTICE LEAGUE) and re-purposed animated programming on a 24-hour a day schedule, it's also a true leader in the arena of convergence the interactive setting where online and broadcast media meet. Case in point: the TOONAMI: LOCKDOWN TOTAL IMMERSION CARTOON event.
Beginning Monday, September 17 and continuing for five days, viewers of the popular action/adventure programming block made up of such animated favorites as DRAGON BALL Z, GUNDAM WING and COWBOY BEBOP will be asked to save the TOONAMI broadcast from utter destruction. When a mysterious threatening force immobilizes the spaceship known as The Absolution, TOM, the segment's computer-generated host, will alert viewers and ask for their help in battling the villain through cyberspace translation: a multi-level, role-playing game found at CartoonNetwork.com.
Unfolding through five interstitial vignettes of varying lengths (the first episode is approximately 17 minutes long) shown during the programming block, TOONAMI: LOCKDOWN will follow the adventures of TOM as he enlists the help of viewers to defend his "broadcast center." Throughout the week, viewers will be able to watch their online efforts affect the on-air story as the two intertwine to create what the network has dubbed a "total immersion" experience.
"TOTAL IMMERSION CARTOON is a term given to an event by the network when we do something on-air and online and there's just a lot of different media generated around one different theme," says TOONAMI creative director Sean Akins. "Our first TOTAL IMMERSION CARTOON was last year's TOONAMI: THE INTRUDER for which we did some hyper-interactive TV, games and online comics. We told a story on-air through a series of 3D CGI episodes starring our characters that host the afternoon's cartoon block. It was successful, so we're doing it again this year with TOONAMI: LOCKDOWN. We took what we learned from INTRUDER and focused on the things that people seemed to like and was successful in last year's stunt."
The key players for this year's event are TOM, the 3D computer-generated host of TOONAMI and captain of The Absolution (the craft that coasts through space transmitting the programming block to Cartoon Network viewers), and Sara, the ship's onboard computer and artificial intelligence matrix. Popular in their own right, the on-air personalities originally stemmed from Akins' desire to give the afternoon cartoon series a sense of personality.
"I thought it was important that we had some kind of host in the block some sort of guy that you can recognize," says Akins. "We built our first Tom robot; we built The Absolution; and it was mainly just Tom hosting the show from the spaceship. The Sarah character was introduced last year just because I was like, 'We have to have somebody to talk to. There need to be two characters so that they can talk and say things.' So we made Sarah and now, there are all kinds of little robots we like making little robots. We have a bunch of 3D artists here and a bunch of talented digital artists here and that's just kind of what we do. I created this team that can make robots."
Of those robots are the Clydes, designed to function as floating cameras or toolboxes, and the DOKS, remote-control operated robots that come in three different sizes. It is the last of these androids that ties directly into the LOCKDOWN event and actually spins off from last year's.
"[Last year], I wanted to update the TOM model because he started off looking a little different," says Akins. "We invented this story where TOM got destroyed and was replaced by a new TOM and there's actually a line in this year's event that references that fact. That's actually why Tom made the DOKS as emissaries that can go out and do his dirty work. This way, he doesn't have to go out [to investigate problems] because he was eaten last time."
Piloting the DOKS is the challenge of the multi-level, multi-player, role-playing game the reason why TOM can't operate the machines is explained in the first interstitial. Once a player logs onto Toonami.com, he/she will receive a screen name and be randomly assigned to one of three teams Blue, Green or Red. Each player will have their choice of DOKS and weapons, and in order to help TOM, they must pilot their robot into the enemy craft and release its grasp on The Absolution.
Special codes will be announced each day during the interstitial programming inserted into the TOONAMI block. These codes will allow players to log back onto the game and acquire more power and weaponry. Ultimately, players will reach the final level of play where they will encounter the malfunctioning, enemy craft and uncover why and how it has its grip on The Absolution. With TOM's on-air assistance, fans will attempt to release the ship's grasp before it destroys The Absolution and the TOONAMI transmission once and for all.
"The way the TOONAMI team looked at the project was that we were making a new platform game," says Akins. "We were going to make the cut scenes the CG interstitials that unravel the narrative for the viewer that gets them into the game. So we looked at it like we were making the new Playstation game. At the end of each day, we'll get results for the next morning and we'll make a series of spots that will run that afternoon that will say, 'This team is in the lead. Here's what's going on. Here are some more codes. Go here, do this, etc.' All of that runs in conjunction with the actual episodes themselves, which kind of tell the story a little bit."
With TOONAMI and the cut scene exploits of TOM, Sarah and The Absolution already a favorite among fans, the LOCKDOWN TOTAL IMMERSION CARTOON may just send the programming block's hosts where few interstitials have gone before into its own series.
"It's certainly something we're working on," says Akins. "Right now, we're trying to work on a compelling storyline to be able to do exactly that, but its one of those things like maybe or maybe not. We're certainly working toward that it's a dream of ours, but it's not our decision. If LOCKDOWN goes well, there's no telling."