Deep Ocean Science for Older Kids! The Adventures of Zack and Molly, The #DeepSeaDuo

Zack (left) and Molly (right) in “The Adventures of Zack and Molly” provided by ECOGIG.

Zack (left) and Molly (right) in “The Adventures of Zack and Molly” provided by ECOGIG.

A marine scientist and the creator of the “Sherman’s Lagoon” comic strip met up at the 2015 Blue Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit, and together they hatched an idea to reach kids about the deep ocean through short-form media. Three years later, the result is a new short film series “The Adventures of Zack and Molly,” which highlights the Gulf of Mexico and the importance of healthy deep oceans.

Thirteen film festivals from around the globe have selected the just-released three-part series for viewing, and the film series already has received the Best Animation award at the New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival and the Best Shorts Competition Award of Excellence for Nature/Environment/Wildlife. The Best Shorts Competition recognizes media professionals who demonstrate exceptional achievement in craft and creativity and contribute to profound social change.

“The Adventures of Zack and Molly” follows the story of a young man who is more interested in the small world of his smartphone than the larger world around him. Zack’s online request for a roommate is answered by Molly, a tech-savvy Dumbo Octopus on a mission to tell the world about the importance of the deep ocean.

The creative partnership is between University of Georgia’s Dr. Samantha Joye (UGA Athletic Association Professor of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Marine Sciences), Sara Beresford and Emily Davenport (UGA education and public outreach coordinators), and artist Jim Toomey (an award-winning cartoonist and filmmaker).

Dr. Joye is the director of the ECOGIG consortium (Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf) funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, which places a strong emphasis on education and outreach. “The ECOGIG program allowed us to invest in public outreach in an unprecedented way,” said Joye. “It has been incredibly exciting to have the opportunity to work with Jim to develop a novel way to reach the public – especially kids! – and share the importance of our work on deep ocean ecosystems and its relevance to ocean health.”

Jim Toomey’s popular comic strip “Sherman’s Lagoon” has an underwater theme and explores environmental issues in a way that appeals to adults and children. Toomey has produced videos for the United Nations and the Pew Charitable Trusts and World Resources Institute, and he has been featured by many of his clients, including Wired Magazine and National Public Radio.

Education and public outreach coordinator Sara Beresford explained why they chose animation, “The collaboration with Jim lent itself naturally to that. We felt like we had a unique opportunity to tell this story using the fictional set-up of Zack and Molly exploring the deep ocean together, particularly since the target audience is older children (ages 10-18) and adults with a sense of humor. This project represented a new direction for Jim, too — telling a story with new characters in an animated film format – and I think he had a lot of fun with that.”

There were hurdles during the initial efforts, though, as Beresford continued, “The thing that surprised me was how challenging it was to take the breadth of the work done by the ECOGIG consortium and figure out a story to tell and a way to tell it. How do we talk about these deep-sea ecosystems in a way that would appeal to your average 11-year-old? It took us over a year to figure that part out.”

After coming up with the general idea for Zack and Molly, they had to decide what kind of characters they would be and what they would look like, among other things. It took another year to complete the films, which included writing scripts, creating storyboards and animation, and keeping the video length to under a few minutes.

The reviews have been very positive, including this by a KIDS FIRST! Film Festival adult reviewer, “Wow! Great film! The Gulf of Mexico is such a hotspot of biochemical activity. [The film] touches upon fairly complex technical and scientific issues, such as energy production, oil exploration and underwater drilling. The message is to respect our environment, both the visible and invisible parts. I give this wonderful short 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 10 to 18, as well as adults. Film programmers looking for an inspiring and extremely well produced film about oceans and ecology will love this one!”

You can watch the “The Adventures of Zack and Molly” and access a learning guide and various education resources at http://ecogig.org/zackandmolly.

By Nilde Maggie Dannreuther. Contact maggied@ngi.msstate.edu with questions or comments.

************

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit http://gulfresearchinitiative.org/.

© Copyright 2010-2018 Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) – All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is encouraged with acknowledgement to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI). Please credit images and/or videos as done in each article. Questions? Contact web-content editor Nilde “Maggie” Dannreuther, Northern Gulf Institute, Mississippi State University (maggied@ngi.msstate.edu).