Monthly Archives: February 2011

Wouldn’t it be amazing if there was a show for preschool children full of fun, comedy, adventure and songs?

What, there are plenty of those?

Oh.

Well… what if that show taught children about the Solar System? Real facts about the planets?

Introducing COSMO – new show with plenty of laughs that teaches young children about the Solar System. Eight colourful planets to explore. Each one, in its own way, totally amazing! Even Earth, that little blue planet you call home!

Cosmo lives with her Mum, Dad and little brother, Sol. She is just like any little girl or boy, except for one thing: Cosmo (or Cosmological Explorer Unit to use her full name) is built to withstand any planetary conditions. And, along with her family and a rather unstable computer system called GIL, little Cosmo takes children on an amazing journey through the Solar System!

Cosmo bounces across hot rocks on Mercury! Tries to holiday on Venus! Goes swimming on Earth! Climbs mountains on Mars! Flies among the clouds of Jupiter! Collects ice in Saturn‘s mighty rings! Wraps up warm on Uranus! Even tries ice skating on Neptune!

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COSMO covers the eight planets (sorry Pluto!), while also adding an episode each about the Moon and the Sun. The show is story and character-driven with plenty of fun and silliness. So the show can be enjoyed by boys and girls even if they have absolutely no prior interest in planets and space.

But, as children find out more and realise that, actually, what they are learning about the planets is real, we think they’ll want to find out more!

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COSMO brings astronomy to children. Creating an interest in planets, our place in the Universe and in science.

Astronomy for children.

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Want to know more? Questions? Views? Leave a comment or get in touch via the contact page above!

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RoobarbDirector

Cartoon enthusiasts (adults, I should point out) often lament the disappearance of certain cartoons or modern censorship of cartoons. Old movies not being rereleased, wartime shorts being swept under the carpet, Noddy characters being ‘retired’ and many old stories being sliced, chopped and sweetened. Times change and it can be quite sad if parts of your childhood get left behind when that happens.

Above is one of my favourite Roobarb images from the Calveley/Godfrey original.

So much character. A lovely drawing, so spontaneous. And one that I kept close to me when I was directing the second series. We couldn’t put a cigar in his mouth these days, of course. And that’s fairly minor compared to some of the changes in children’s entertainment. You don’t have to go too far back to find the level of violence, racism and just about everything else is completely on another scale.

Going even further, pre-television, to the real children’s classics, where wolves ate grandparents and, well, everyone ate everyone else, it’s easy to see the difference. Back when most of those stories were written, the life of a child was uncertain. Survival rates were low. Many children didn’t make it to adulthood. Those who did lost family and friends along the way. As my mother once pointed out to me, stories often had to do more to prepare a child for death than prepare them for life.

Luckily, most children in the Western world now have a far better survival rate. Dealing with death beyond the loss of a hamster is not something most have to face on any kind of regular basis. Many of us frown upon the violence of our ancestors, the racism, the intolerance.

We did a lot of things in the past we simply don’t do now.

And, hopefully, we’ll do things even better in the future. We move forward. In doing that, we have to leave that behind which is no longer relevant. We have to let it go to make a better world. A more fun world, a more tolerant world, a more expressive world. A world filled with laughter, confidence and exploration.

Times change.

That’s a great thing.

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Wouldn’t an off switch on children be fantastic? I know a huge amount of airplane passengers would be very grateful but, even in the home, I could see them taking off in a big way. I can only imagine what Sunday mornings would be like with an off switch…

Well, we have the next best thing: television (you saw that coming, didn’t you?). But… as much as I wish for an off switch, the idea of television as an off switch for children creeps me out a little. So what do I do? Have a read and find out:

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HERE: THE OFF SWITCH

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If you’re wondering what all that has to do with the image above, well, the answer is nothing. Just thought you might like a pretty picture. I’m all about space these days. All being well, you’ll find out why soon (no, unfortunately I’m not going to space).

To those off to Kidscreen in New York today, hope you have a great time. I wish I going too actually, though I’m knee-deep in writing right now. If you spot Monster Animation’s Gerard O’Rourke, be sure to ask him what he has brewing.

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THE OFF SWITCH

I know I am not the only parent who has wished for an ‘off’ switch.

Just reach around to the back of their neck and *click* ahhh… calm… Now, I can finally tidy away the toys. Now, I can just sit and read with a cup of coffee. Now, I can just pop them in the bath, wash them, dry them and get them dressed before *click* turning them back on again for a story.

We have the next best thing though.

Turn the television on and, suddenly, all is calm. No other activity compares. Bubbles come close. It says something about the power of television that it’s that close to an off switch.

As a parent, that power scares me.

Sometimes I get quite uncomfortable with how much television my children watch. I know I’m not alone in that. As it happens, I like television. I’m not about to get rid of it.

But I think, for people like me, there are two things we can do -

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a) Have our children watch less, and carefully chosen, television.

Yeah, okay so perhaps some broadcasters aren’t going to like me suggesting we restrict television. But many broadcasters are parents and most who aren’t parents love children. I’m sure they want the best for them. They know that, just because they broadcast 18 hours of children’s television a day, they shouldn’t expect every child to watch it for 18 hours a day.

And…

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b) We can strive to make better television.

If we’re going to have children watching television at all, let’s make it good television. Thought-provoking, educational, enriching, challenging, artistic. Television that presents children with new words, new concepts, new ideas.

So they come away having been entertained, but also having learned something. Something real. Even better, perhaps having gained a thirst for more knowledge. I know some people out there are already working towards that. Some only have the best interests of children at heart. I would love to see that become every person in every area of children’s television.

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AND PARENTS…

Parents, you can play a role in that. Make your view heard. With the internet and email, it’s pretty easy these days. I can tell you that it’s often very difficult for show creators to find out what is really working when the shows are out there in homes. So, positive or negative, let people know. There may be little they can do then and there but you can be sure they’ll remember when it comes to their next show.

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So, whether as a parent or as someone creating children’s television, we need to think of television as a very active choice.

Rather than an off switch.

All that said, if any scientists have worked out a way to fit an off switch to a child, please get in touch. I have two test subjects who I think it could work wonders for.

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I found these Lego ads while browsing a while back. Not even 100% sure they’re genuine or if they were used but they’re great. Have a look -

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Children are remarkable at interpreting symbols. These Lego ads are absolutely spot-on. Children can look at a few blocks and see a dinosaur. And, even if there is nothing really there to make sense of, a child’s mind will try. So in a complex pattern, they could see countless images, each child seeing something different.

A child seems to want to put a form to abstractions.

This is important to bear in mind when creating something for young children. What you consider art could be open to far too much interpretation to a child. Your hair design could have some children seeing snakes. Your background design could have children trying to make sense out of a wood pattern rather than watching the characters.

Thinking in simple symbols is very important.

This is part of why I think Peppa Pig is such a hit. Look at how clear the forms are -

And yet, even here, my daughter once asked me why Mummy Pig has spiders on her eyes.

Feb 3

Punky

While I have been busy working away on a new show (more on that soon), Monster Animation has not been quiet. Far from it. The crew at Monster have been producing a brand new, and rather important show called Punky.

Punky is a preschool show about a little girl who loves to dance, loves music, hugs and, of course, her family ‘ Mum, her brother Con, and her rather cranky Grandmother, appropriately yet lovingly called Cranky. Punky also happens to have Down syndrome.

As far as I know, that makes it the first broadcast television show in which the title character has Down syndrome. Punky, however, is not a show about issues. Having Down syndrome is simply one of many, many elements that contributes to who Punky is: a fun-loving little girl.

Created by Lindsay J. Sedgwick, the show is beautifully written by Andrew Brenner, creator and writer of the preschool hit, Humf. Now, anyone who knows Humf will know instantly why Andrew was perfect for Punky. With Humf, Andrew managed to perfectly capture a child’s perspective, giving children lovely stories in the way they see life. But, more than that, Humf has a wonderful honesty about real life. Andrew has brought the charm and the honesty to Punky. And, with that, plenty of humour.

And with the perfect voice (Aimee Richardson) Punky comes to life as a very real little girl.

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I am not directing Punky. In fact, it will be the first Monster television show not directed by me, demonstrating that I am not half as indispensable as I thought I was (dreams of Godhood shattered) but also demonstrating the talent we’ve built in Monster over the years. The series is being directed by Simon Crane, a good friend, long-time colleague and very talented animator/artist/director. He took the beginnings and designs (by Ciara McClean) and is very much making the show his own.

Of course, having been the creative director in Monster for as long as the company has been in television shows (and longer), I have been helping out where I can, working with Andrew on the stories (must be said that that really just amounted to me reading his stories and writing him a mail telling him how much I liked them), offering advice on animatics and the various aspects of production, working with Jonathan Atkinson on the music (again, listening and writing nice emails) and generally keeping an eye on things.

Seeing as I’m listing off the credits, I feel one of the largest credits of all has to go to my long-time (well, always) producer, Gerard O’Rourke. Gerard championed the show. He saw the potential. And, I’ll be honest, the show was a tough prospect at the start but Gerard believed in it every step of the way.

And he was right to.

It has been lovely watching a show form around me. Letting the visions of other people shape it and watching what I would have done differently. Or what I would have done exactly the same.

And letting it happen like that has given me the time to work on something completely new. Something I’ll introduce here soon.

Punky goes on air in Ireland on the 3rd of May on RTEJr. Doubtless, other countries will follow after that. Look out for it.