Farnaz Esnaashari-Charmatz (centre) and motion puppets (Shimmer and Shine) at the Cape Town International Animation Festival.Picture: ENRICO JACOBS

Gone are the days when cartoon creators were almost synonymous with phantoms, existing only in a ghostly image of a man somewhere in the studio leading the pack.

The pack of Shimmer and Shine, Nickelodeon’s animated preschool series, was created and co-produced by Iranian-American Farnaz Esnaashari-Charmatz. 

She has been in post production of a series of kiddies shows such as Dora the Explorer and Go Diego, among others.

The series plot in Season 1 was about a young girl named Leah who was granted three wishes by a genie. Leah’s wishes have a ripple effect and every day she has to fix them. The show has aired for three uninterrupted seasons.

Farnaz is in the country from Los Angeles for The Cape Town International Animation Festival, where she is among the guests headlining the event. It started on March 3 and ended on Sunday March 5.

She is very hands-on. “I’m critical of everything, including myself. That’s what drives us to try and always do better,” she says.

“I think it’s kind of good to always be critical of things but then also take pride in what you do at the end of the day. I’m always thinking like, okay, the change from Season 1 to Season 2, was awesome, it was awesome to get to go to Zahramay Falls. Now what? Like how do I keep the audience interested and wanting to see more.’’ 

Growing up, Farnaz had a wild imagination, and she credits that as something that led her down this path. “I have always been very creative and imaginative. I remember when I was little, I would walk home from school and I would just make up songs for myself all day long, and I would sing across town,’’ she recalls.

As a young girl, she was always trying to create things out of different materials she could get her hands on. “I made like a bouquet out of a construction paper, and I sprayed the whole thing with perfume for my friend. So my brain has always just worked that way. If I weren’t creative, I don’t know what else I would be doing.”

Before she created the show, she did a lot of research, going around schools in her area to gauge the level of interest in cartoons from children.

“I found it really insightful. It was kind of interesting to see how much kids change from one year to the next in terms of what they like, what makes them laugh, what is acceptable and what’s not. Watching kids connecting with the show and whatever the format is, is such a good feeling because it just reminds you that you are doing it for them. And if they love it, then you are doing a good job.”

She hopes that Shimmer and Shine can teach children resilience and a spirit of working together and supporting one another to overcome obstacles, and to be kind to one another.

“If you notice in the show when the wishes go wrong, nobody is ever critical of each other. When our bad guy does something not quite nice they are never mean to her.

“Everybody always continues to work together and be kind, and really that’s what kids take away from Shimmer and Shine, how to be kind and work together,’’ adds Farnaz.

The number one fans of the show are her seven-year-old son and five-year-old daughter.

“Princess Samira is named after my daughter Samira, and Shia the lightning genie is named after my son. My husband thought it was really cool, that they have genies named after them. I said imagine one day, all these kids in the world growing up with this show will one day meet my daughter when she is a grown woman out in the workforce, and somebody goes, ‘Your name is Samira? I used to watch a show that had a princess named Samira, and she will be like, ‘Yes, that’s me.’ Like, who gets to do that? That’s really cool.”

Shimmer and Shine is on DSTV (Nickjnr) 307, weekdays at 07:30 and 15:30