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Cheshire native Doug Vitarelli moved to New York City more than 15 years ago and took up residence near Central Park. It became a regular stomping ground for him and his family but, most recently, it has become the inspiration for perhaps his most interesting project yet.
Vitarelli, an animator who has worked on everything from television commercials to broadcast graphics for NBC, was tucking his son into bed one night when the youngster asked him to tell a story. Vitarelli didn’t have any children’s books on hand, so he decided to use his imagination.
Out came the story of Olifant, a green dinosaur living in Central Park and getting into all sorts of trouble. His son loved it — so much so that the next day, and the next, and the next, the young boy asked his father to tell him more about Olifant and the escapades he was up to.
“I began to think to myself, ‘Boy, these are kind of fun,’” remembered Vitarelli. “On my way to work everyday, I would begin to write them down. I thought that, if nothing else, my son would get a kick out of them when he got older.”
For two years, Vitarelli kept the story of Olifant going, scribbling the next short tale into his notepad on his way to the office. Finally, surveying his work, Vitarelli had a revelation.
“I looked at it and thought, I might have an animated series here,’” he recalled.
From that was born “Where Is Olifant?,” a series of tales that follow the green dinosaur through Central Park as he interacts with other interesting animal friends and tries desperately to avoid the prying eye of a scientist, out to prove Olifant exists.
Vitarelli’s series is available online at www.whereisolifant.com. It is the best vehicle to introduce his story, Vitarelli explained, and, hopefully, the series gathers such a following that someone will be willing to give it a wider audience.
“I talked to some people about the series and, while a lot of people liked (the idea), no one really bit,” he explained. “I really wanted to continue on with this so I said, ‘Let me make a Web site.’”
The idea for an animated series was not new to Vitarelli. He had toyed with other ideas in the past, but none of them clicked. Each time he tried to conceive an idea, it felt forced. However, the story of Olifant just flowed from the very beginning and has come easy to the veteran animator.
“It was organic — that’s the best way I can describe it,” he said. “The other times I tried to create ideas, they felt very contrived. This one just felt right. I just fell
in love with the project.”
The process of trying to get an animated series off the ground was an eye-opening experience for Vitarelli. He spoke to a lot of people and got a lot of good feedback, he stated, but never hit “the right place and the right time.”
“The first thing you learn is you have to find the right station for the right project,” he acknowledged. “MTV is not interested in a story about a dinosaur that is for 6-year-olds. You have to go to places like PBS or Nickelodeon. It really is a matter of ‘Does your project fit?’”
Most importantly, the experience of trying to sell his new idea brought home one simple point: people needed to see what he was talking about.
A year ago, Vitarelli began the process of developing the Web site that would serve as Olifant’s new home. He admits that it was “much tougher than I thought,” and required a lot of time and care.
“It takes a lot of time to create all of the artwork,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be second-rate.”
The process culminated last month, when www.whereisolifant.com finally launched. There are currently three stories on the site, with another scheduled to be posted tomorrow. Visitors can click on each one to see a unique story about Olifant’s adventures. In the first story, called “Rainy Day Swing,” Olifant tries to enjoy his time in Central Park despite a rainstorm bearing down on the region. Building a swing for himself and his friends, park animals enjoy the day despite the weather — that is, until one of them decides to be greedy and hog the swing for himself.
Each one of the stories includes animated characters set to the backdrop of real pictures from Central Park, and the Web site also includes links to activity and game sheets that can be printed and enjoyed by youngsters.
Since Vitarelli has a full-time job as an animator, and also serves as a professor at a local college, finding time in the day can be difficult. However, his commitment to the series has forced him to carve out an allotted amount of time daily.
“You realize you really have to plan your day,” he said, admitting that he spends a few hours each morning on the series, between the time he drops his children off at school and when he has to go to his own job. “I know that if I can put in two hours a day, that’s not a lot, but over the course of a year that’s hundreds of hours.”
The plan right now, according to Vitarelli, is to spend two years working on the series and producing at least 10 new stories a year. Hopefully, after that amount of time, people will begin to look for the new stories and a following can be formed.
He also admitted that an online game connected to the series would be key, as so many children now gravitate towards some form of Internet gaming.
“I’m hoping people find it and really enjoy it,” he said. “After that, we will see what happens.”