The Guru Effect

Global success story for Canadian animation

As the leader behind Toronto-based Guru Studio, Frank Falcone has long championed homegrown animation talent. The result is some of the best animation on the small screen.

Guru Studios
Frank Falcone
1992, 1991
Computer Animation, Art and Art History
Founder and Creative Director, Guru Studio

A case in point is the preschool series Justin Time created by Brandon James Scott. Guru Studio turned an idea from Scott’s student days at Sheridan into an award-winning global hit. Scott (left) and Falcone (right) are pictured above at Guru Studio. The success of Justin Time, along with the studio’s other series Paw Patrol and Dinopaws – international winners in their own right – have cemented Guru’s growing reputation as an incubator of top-tier animated children’s programming. “The fact that we can make hit shows with international reach in Canada is a game changer,” said Falcone, who graduated from the Art and Art History program in 1991 and the Computer Animation program in 1992.

Guru employs about 270 animators, many of whom are Sheridan-trained, including Director, Harold Harris and Creative Supervisor, Yurie Rocha. Although it is growing, “Guru is still a relatively small studio, with more accessibility to management to help you get your idea in play,” said Falcone, who founded Guru in 2000. “Our creative development team and our production staff are full of seasoned entertainment professionals who know how to grow an inspiring idea, if the creator has the talent, the work ethic and commitment to see it through.”

Frank Falcone

Clearly, Falcone saw all of those qualities in Scott who landed at Guru after graduating from Sheridan’s Bachelor of Animation program in 2007.(Scott is also a 2003 Art Fundamentals graduate.) Encouraged by the studio’s freshly launched New Ideas Program, Scott pitched the concept of a travelling space boy originally conceived as the basis for his final year’s film at Sheridan.The young animator was thrilled when Guru gave the project the green light. Mary Bredin, Guru’s Executive Vice President of Content, developed the series with Falcone and Scott. Harris was then brought in to direct.The result was Justin Time, which features a young boy named Justin who goes on make-believe time travelling adventures with his imaginary friend Olive and a playful lump of magical clay named Squidgy.

Frank Falcone and Brandon James Scott share their thoughts on nurturing tomorrow’s hits.

Since its launch in 2012, Justin Time has gained an increasingly large audience that spans the globe. The first two seasons of the series have been licensed in over 70 countries, including Canada, the United States, Germany, England, France, Australia, and China. The show was commissioned by Disney Junior Canada and has been broadcast on top U.S. platforms including Universal’s Sprout Channel (where it was No. 1 in its timeslot), NBC Kids and Netflix. More episodes will come on line next year in Canada on Disney Junior, and in the U.S. as a Netflix Original Series.

Catch some clips of Justin Time below. Netflix will air new episodes in 2016.

Over the past three years, Justin Time – and the team that brought Scott’s idea to life – have also earned a steady stream of industry accolades: a 2013 Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Preschool Animated Program, two Canadian Screen Awards (Best Performance in an Animated Program or Series in 2015, and Best Preschool Show in 2014), the 2014 Shaw Rocket Prize for Best Preschool Series, and six Annie nominations, the industry’s top honour.

Making hit shows with international reach in Canada is a game changer.

Frank Falcone

Justin Time

It’s all been part of what Scott terms “a wild ride.” He recalled one experience in particular that drove home Justin Time’s impact.  He was in a hotel room in New York City watching an episode of the show on NBC in 2014. During a commercial break, a segment aired featuring Michelle Obama teaching children how to make sandwiches. “The First Lady of the United States and the show I dreamt up were broadcast seconds apart on one of the largest television channels in the world. Years of hard work by so many people building something seemingly out of thin air – and then, a small thing like that happens and you feel it was all worth it.” The Justin Time story is concrete proof that “you can find success from something you are scratching out in your sketchbook right now,” added Scott. “Big things do happen from humble beginnings.” 

Guru group
Sheridan-trained “gurus” at Guru Studio, from left: Harold Harris, Frank Falcone, Yurie Rocha and Brandon James Scott
aside newer
Straight from the source: Brandon James Scott gets some advice from his character “Justin”.

It also helps to have the right environment to pitch new ideas, said Scott who didn’t feel like he was throwing himself to the wolves as the new kid on the block. “I wasn’t knocking on a strange door of a big studio, hoping they’d give me a spare second. I was answering a call from a colleague who sat at a desk 20 feet away from me. This was a great opportunity.” Falcone is keen to keep the door open to fresh ideas, continuing to gain inspiration from both the current and upcoming talent pool in Canada. “This is the most exciting time that I have seen in all my years in the animation industry. Its depth, breadth and sophistication is unsurpassed.”

Follow Guru Studio on Twitter: @gurustudio
Follow Frank Falcone, Brandon James Scott and Harold Harris on Twitter: @frankfalcone @brandonmighty @happyharoldh