Gallaudet and Pigmental Studios want to do their part to boost the deaf community with the series “Here Comes Mavo”


Media watchers are keen to point out how Apple beat Netflix for the Best Picture Oscar when the TV+ movie CODA scooped the coveted award at last month’s Academy Awards in Los Angeles. Additionally, Troy Kotsur won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of fisherman Frank Rossi. As for the telecast, this year’s Oscars were only the second in history to be captioned. To top it all, interest in sign language has increased because CODA made Hollywood history.

When it comes to the portrayal of people with disabilities in film and television, what Deaf and hard of hearing communities have been through over the past few months is incredible. The popularity of CODAas well as another TV+ property at El Deaf, thrust the deaf community into the spotlight in an unprecedented way. The level of consciousness is stratospheric right now; people with disabilities, despite being the largest marginalized group in the world, generally see scant attention when talking about diversity and inclusion, even from its most ardent supporters. That cultural juggernauts like Apple and the Academy have pushed CODA and the deaf community, for example, in the mainstream consciousness is no small feat. Whatever criticisms deaf people have of CODA– and there are a multitude of them – there is no doubt that the film propelled consciousness to hitherto unknown heights.

Where Apple has CODA and El DeafMelissa Malzkuhn and Marina Martins have This is Mavo. Although currently without a permanent residence—Malzkuhn and Martins are in talks with potential distributors—This is Mavo is hailed as the first-ever anime television series to feature a deaf protagonist and three-dimensional avatars speaking sign language. The show was developed through a collaboration between Gallaudet University Motion Light Labof which Malzkuhn is founder and director, and Pigment Studios, where Martins serves as chief executive and creative director. The couple met in 2015 and have since worked together for, according to the This is Mavo website, “changing the perception of deaf culture in this [is depicted] in media and entertainment.

In a statement released this weekGallaudet and Pigmental Studios officially presented This is Mavo. The series announced by the organizations contains 52 eleven-minute episodes. “[Here Comes Mavo is] centered on the magical land of the Baobab universe. It is here, in her hometown, that Mavo, a curious deaf eight-year-old girl, falls into the roots of a tree, learns to manage her emotions and finds ways to communicate her feelings with the other characters in this adventure. . world,” Gallaudet and Pigmental wrote in the release.

“Three years ago, Melissa and I started using the world and character of Mavo from The Baobab storybook as the basis for a ‘fictional’ television series to use in my class work,” Martins said of This is Mavoin a recent interview with me conducted via email. “It soon became clear that the vibrancy, deaf perspective and clarity of understanding of the ‘growing up deaf’ stories that emerged from the students’ experiences and imaginations gave us the confidence to say, ‘Let’s do it. in one real series”, and This is Mavo was born.”

Both women agree with the sentiment that Deaf and hard of hearing communities are indeed having their moments in the sun right now. All the more reason to push hard This is Mavo and keep up the pace. Malzkuhn noted that it had been more than three decades since CODA star Marlee Matlin became the first deaf performer to win an Oscar, winning Best Actress for her portrayal of Sarah Norman in 1986 Children of a lesser God. With This is Mavothe plan is to continue telling stories from the deaf community, like Matlin and Kotsur did with CODA and Cece Bell with El Deaf. “What we have experienced in recent months is unprecedented, and we do not want it to be a fleeting moment. Really, we hope that means things change and we have more representation than ever before, and that will continue,” Malzkuhn said. “We’ll see authentic castings, castings of deaf people for deaf roles, and we’ll see more deaf-led stories in the mainstream, and we’ll see more roles and opportunities on camera and behind the camera.”

She added: “[The] The deaf community has many compelling stories to share.

The origins of This is Mavo reside in a school setting with film students. For the past five years, Martins has taught a storytelling course at the offices of Pigmental Studios, located on the Gallaudet campus in Washington DC. The Storytelling in Animation course teaches students how to create an animated television series, from conception to character development, plot structure, and more. “My objective [is] always providing students with the tools with which to tell their stories, while gaining experience and the confidence that they are valuable team members in the work environment. They became part of the Pigmental family and engaged in all aspects of the studio,” she said. “The opportunity is to give students a pathway to contribute to creative or non-creative workspaces that are fully confident in their talent and, upon graduation, [know] they belong and will add value to the working community.

Martins explained that Pigmental has a “massive list of feature films and animated TV series in its portfolio” and This is Mavo has grown from a learning exercise for students to a full-fledged series that is being shopped around. Martins said the hope is that the show will “pave the way for a broader body of Deaf-led work to provide authentic, meaningful, and appropriate content for Deaf children and their families.” But the overriding goal is not simply to serve deaf people; the goal is to expose hearing children to a new language and a different group of people than their own. Essentially, This is Mavo strives to be both educational and representative. “Through Mavo, which models linguistic and cultural diversity, hearing children will develop their knowledge of different languages ​​and cultures, and they too will learn and use sign language and gestures,” Martins said. “Learning the signs in this engaging series will be seamless, entertaining and the the coolest thing for deaf and hearing children. One of my goals is to make sign language a language demanded by the hearing community. »

Technologically speaking, a brand of This is Mavo are the three-dimensional avatars that use sign language. Malzkuhn’s Motion Light Lab is responsible for their creation. “[We work] to develop fluid signature 3D characters. We have shaped, refined and improved our approach with custom motion capture technology that replicates the fluidity and complexity of sign language in animation, especially 3D animation,” she said. “We’ve gotten to a point where we’re able to build and create compelling characters that sign and can be clearly understood by anyone who knows sign language.” The lab’s work in this regard is “groundbreaking,” Malzkuhn told me, because it’s hard to realistically capture grammatical nuances — finger and hand movements and facial expressions. The work, however difficult,[sets] a very high bar for more content to come,” Malzkuhn said.

Martins agreed with the power of the lab’s technical power, saying that creating avatars using standard practices was “untenable”. Malzkuhn and his team had the skills to make them look like they did. It was essential because both women wanted This is Mavo work with the many sign languages ​​of the world. “Our custom technology is ready, the audience is ready, and our awesome, experienced and passionate team is more than ready to deliver,” Martins said.

Mavo resonates with Malzkuhn, who has always dreamed of such a character. “As a deaf person, for a very long time, I always yearned for this character,” she said. “Growing up, I watched and enjoyed many animated shows and movies, but in all of them, all the characters speak. With the technology we have now, especially those created in the Motion Light Lab, the time has come for an animated character to finally sign on. Now we can truly make character signing possible for all children.

Scenarios for This is Mavo are in their final stages, Martins said, with production “having passed the very intensive development stage”. She noted that there were ongoing negotiations regarding merchandising and a game. The series has undergone rigorous review in terms of developmentally appropriate for young children. The team worked with several early childhood education experts to ensure the content was accessible and educational for the audience. The plan is to deliver the show in “about 20 months”, according to Martins, and have a worldwide broadcast. Updates on these processes will be announced in the future as they occur.

For women, Mavo’s future is clear. “Our [long-term] The goal of this show is to make this show last for multiple seasons and see deaf and hearing kids embrace Mavo as a hero and a fun character to learn and in many ways,” Malzkuhn said. “I want to see parents engage with their children through this show, especially hearing parents with deaf children. Learning to sign is fun and for everyone!


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