Even before they became parents themselves, Scott Tornek C’87 WG’95 and Alexandra Martinez Tornek C’90 found that many children’s movies and television programs contained more age-inappropriate innuendo and comments than they were comfortable with. Believing that other parents had the same concerns, they decided to start making their own programs and movies—ones that would stress what they call “universal family values.” Their goal was to “re-invent the television and develop programming that could introduce babies and toddlers to a fun experience that they couldn’t get anywhere else,” in Scott’s words. And So Smart! Productions was born.
Their first animated video—“So Smart! Sights & Sounds,” in which simple shapes and moving patterns are transformed into familiar images to a classical-music soundtrack—touched a chord and garnered lots of press and positive word-of-mouth [“Alumni Profiles,” December 1997]. Soon they were selling through retail stores and so far have sold more than a million videos in 22 countries. Along the way, they have won more than 30 national parenting and media awards, including three Best Video of the Year awards from Parentingmagazine.
In addition to his master’s degree from Wharton, Scott Tornek has a background in film and journalism. Alex, who does much of the illustrating for the animations, has a background in illustration and fine arts and did some graduate work in clinical psychology at the University of Miami with babies in depressed environments.
The videos, designed for children up to age six, contain entertaining story lines with plots that teach such values as sharing and tolerance; inappropriate material need not apply. Through what Scott refers to as “emotional learning,” the children become attached to each character and learn through that attachment.
The Torneks have just completed work on their first real foray into preschool programming, a series called King Otis and The Kingdom of Goode. As McFlicken, a selfish creature who lives in a tree, learns to share his tree worms and wing-repair glue, the young audience learns about sharing.
“We produced 96 minutes of broadcast-quality animation in six months, complete with originally produced songs, in-house animation, script-writing, and direction, with only a team of four core people,” says Scott. “We are now meeting with top strategic partners to expand into broader markets. In addition, we have three other series in development (one was optioned for broadcast) and are now meeting with broadcasters, book publishers, and toy companies and are poised for tremendous growth.”
Today, the Torneks are not only running a business but raising a child themselves. Needless to say, four-year-old Matthew Tornek—and his friends—are So Smart! viewers.
—Jonas Raab C’03