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Super Sushi To The Rescue

Super Sushi To The RescueA Tufts graduate and her husband developed an idea born on a napkin into a new CBS animated series, "Sushi Pack."

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [11.21.07] When little Wasabi runs off after being called just a "condiment" by his sushi companions, they all learn a lesson about teasing. When the power in the city goes off, it's a crisis for a fishy crime-fighting team that needs refrigeration. These are some of the plotlines that play out on "Sushi Pack," a new CBS animated series developed by Tufts graduate Laura Jaffe Espinosa (A'87) and her husband, Leo.

The series, which debuted this fall and is co-produced by American Greetings Properties and DIC Entertainment, follows the adventures of four sushi pieces and a wad of wasabi that use powers derived from their sushi properties to work together and fight evil villains.

The idea for "Sushi Pack" arose when Leo began doodling characters with sushi-inspired names on the back of his napkin in a Japanese restaurant,. The couple, who comprise the Boston-based Studio Espinosa design firm, developed the characters and in 2004 took the idea to Licensing International Expo in New York.

At the show, American Greetings representatives seeking to expand into the entertainment industry "ate up" the Espinosa's idea. Though studios run the risk of losing control of their designs after selling the rights to their intellectual property, the Espinosas say this did not happen with Sushi Pack. The process-which involved Studio Espinosa, American Greetings, and DIC-was collaborative from the start.

"They'd have their whole studio work on it, and then they'd present it to us, and we'd provide our comments [and] additional sketches on it," said Laura. "They turned out to be really very easy to work with, and good people."

The result, said the pair, is something they are very pleased with.

"The writing [by Emmy Award-winning animation writers Tom Ruegger and Nicholas Hollander] is really phenomenal," says Laura. "You could see that it's written for kids, but there's enough flavor in it that there's humor for adults as well."

Furthermore, says Leo, with every episode, "The drawing is better, colors get better, expressions get better."

 

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The show is slated for production for the next two years, with DIC planning to market the property worldwide. Meanwhile, American Greetings wants to use its strong merchandising base to expand the show to books, apparel, and accessories.

"It's funny that something that started [as just] a basic idea, that could have become anything, took this road," says Leo. "And now here, seeing the reaction of the kids and hearing good comments and good reviews, makes you feel...that [this] was the right way to go."

Through the process, Leo took the artistic lead and Laura managed the business end of things. However, her career path has reflected her education at Tufts, where she majored in English and minored in art.

"I always seemed to be in the middle of the words and the art," says Laura, who previously worked in marketing and advertising. "That balance stayed with me from college through my professional life."

Her current focus is Studio Espinosa, which she and Leo formed four years ago. In the studio, the couple relies on teamwork.

"Some of the skills that we have are the same, and we didn't want to step on each other's toes," says Laura. Now, she adds, "We start at a concept together, and he pushes out the design and the art side, and I try to push it out from the writing side and [have] taken on more of a role of the businessperson. And it's challenging, but we try to do it and split the work."

Another challenge for the team is balancing the "fun" of creating new ideas that may not generate immediate profits with the "work" of freelance jobs that bring immediate revenue.

"As time goes on, the balance is shifting little by little,"says Laura. "We're getting to be choosier with things that we're doing, and they tend to be a little more fun. So, things seem to be moving in the right direction."

The shift is evident in many of Studio Espinosa's new projects, including a book written by Laura and illustrated by Leo called Otis Rae and the Grumbling Splunk, slated for publication by Houghton Mifflin in April.

"Having a TV show is like hitting a home run," said Laura. "But if you're swinging for a home run, you also need the base hits along with it."

Profile written by Molly Frizzell (A'09) 

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