John Attanasio, CEO of Toonstar, said his goal is to create “a new Cartoon Network.”
Attanasio and his co-founder Luisa Huang were both executives at Warner Brothers, so they both worked under the same corporate umbrella as the Cartoon Network. Attanasio said the key to Toonstar’s approach is to create animated content that’s “mobile, snackable, interactive.”
Specifically, the startup’s iOS app allows users to customize cartoon characters and then animate them using their own facial expressions. The resulting cartoons can be livestreamed (both on Toonstar itself and other services like Facebook Live, YouTube Live and Musical.ly) and viewers can interact by adding their own animations, such as dropping an anvil into the scene.
This may remind you of animojis, the emojis animated by facial recognition technology that Apple announced last month. However, Attanasio said the two services are trying to do different things — animojis are communication tools, while Toonstar is all about entertainment. (Plus, you don’t need to wait for an iPhone X to use Toonstar’s app.)
He also argued that the facial recognition technology needed to do this kind of thing has existed for a while now. What’s new, he said, is “this idea of a selfie culture,” which Toonstar extends by allowing users to transform themselves into other characters, and even entire casts of characters.
The Toonstar app is coming out of beta testing today. The company says that during its three months in beta, the app attracted 20,000 users, and the cartoons created were viewed 50 million times.
The company has also partnered with Skybound Entertainment, the company behind The Walking Dead, on an initiative to turn several Skybound comics into Toonstar shows.
“We’re excited to partner with Toonstar because we believe cartoon livestreaming has many unique advantages from both a consumer and production perspective,” said Skybound North CEO Catherine Winder in the announcement. “Realtime interaction allows fans to connect directly with their favorite characters in a ground-breaking way.”
Eventually, Attanasio hopes that Toonstar not just another channel for animated content, but a source of new intellectual property: “Maybe the next Rick and Morty comes from Toonstar, maybe the next Bojack Horseman comes from Toonstar.”
The startup has raised a seed round of undisclosed size led by Science Inc., with participation from Jon Goldman’s GC VR Gaming Tracker Fund, Manta Ray and Social Starts.