Merry Christmas (or holiday of your choosing) to everyone who has visited the site, everyone who left a comment, everyone who got in touch, everyone with an interest in making good content for children and everyone already making it, and to everyone who just loves doing better. I hope you have a wonderful holiday and an amazing 2012!
For those in Ireland, just a heads-up that the Fluffy Gardens Christmas Special will be airing on RTE2 on Christmas morning (the 25th, like you didn’t know) at 7.55am. It’s a lovely Christmassy story, even if I do say so myself, and your little ones will really enjoy it. It’s actually the fifth year running that it will show for Christmas on RTE so it’s a bit of a tradition now, like mince pies and falling asleep in front of the TV.
If you do catch it, I hope you and your children love it.
Cosmo is go! Monster Animation has officially closed the financing on my new show, Cosmo, and we’ll be moving into production early in the new year. A huge thanks to everyone who helped pull it together, especially the Irish Film Board and RTE. I couldn’t be happier to be bringing this animation show to children. It’s one that will entertain, make children laugh, have them up singing and dancing. On top of all of that, it will introduce children, boys and girls alike, to the Solar System. A group of absolutely amazing planets, especially that little blue one we call home.
Who knows, maybe this show will lead to a whole new generation of astronomers, scientists and more. At the very least, it will spark questions and a new interest and understanding of just where we live and our planetary neighbours.
And it’s going to be fun all the way through!
I have been developing this show for about two years now. It has felt like an epic journey already, but it’s one that’s just beginning. We’re going to be putting together a fantastic team at Monster Animation and giving everything we have to this show. 2012 is going to be a good year.
You’ll be hearing more about it soon but here’s a little look at what to expect…
A time of giving gifts and receiving gifts. Really though, we give and get gifts all year round and maybe Christmas is a time to acknowledge that and think about all those wonderful gifts we’ve been fortunate to get, and those we have chosen to give.
Some of the most amazing gifts I have been given this year have come from those working with me on my new show, Cosmo.
Simon Crane, a wonderful artist, animator and director, offered me ideas, designs, fun and character. These aren’t just his job. These are gifts and he gave them openly. Thank you, Simon. Jenny O’Brien, another amazing artist, gave me gifts of colour and texture for our planets. Jonathan Atkinson gave me the gift of sound, beautiful and absolutely unique music that gives Cosmo a feel all of its own. Young Ali Lyons gave me the gift of Cosmo’s voice ‘ enthusiastic and honest. And so many others gave Cosmo-related gifts, especially the gift of support and encouragement, which people all over the world have given freely. Even if I haven’t named you here (space issue!), I thank you all for your gifts.
Words of support, offers of help, simply a kind word at the right moment, or even a critical word at the right moment. These are all gifts, from family, friends, colleagues, peers, from everywhere. For me, it has been a year of gifts. And I have been given so much more than I could ever give back.
But I try.
This year, we gave Punky to the world, a lovely little show about a girl who has Down syndrome. It’s picking up momentum internationally and, if you haven’t seen it yet, you hopefully will very soon.
And, for most of the year, I have been preparing something new. Picking all the right elements, packaging them together and wrapping a shiny bow around it. This is Cosmo of course and, as I write this, Monster Animation’s producer Gerard O’Rourke is working hard with many of the show’s supporters to pull everything together to make sure this is a gift we’ll be giving to children in 2012. It’s a gift of fun, laughter and, even more than that, an introduction to space and the Solar System. This is something that, for the right children, will be a gift that stays with them. Just yesterday, I was feeling a little overwhelmed with an ever growing ‘to do’ list. I took a mental break, listened to a relaxing album (by Antonyme, if you’re curious), wrapped myself up warm, and went outside to find Jupiter. Even with just binoculars, it looked amazing. So big and bright in the clear sky, with its four biggest moons sparkling around it.
It was wonderful. Like a gift from the Universe to me. A reminder that we’re part of something amazing. I don’t know exactly what that something is, but I do know it’s amazing.
Staring up at that planet and its moons somehow removed all pressure. I felt calm. Just marvelling in the beauty of the night sky, and our place in it. That feeling, the sense of wonder, the desire to know more and really be amazed by it, is something I want to give to children. Sure, there’s fun, good stories and great songs but, hey, lots of shows have those. This introduction to space makes it something more.
I hope they enjoy it.
Gifts are everywhere, and I find the more they’re recognised as such (whether receiving or giving) the more we get from them. The more they can enrich all our lives.
This Christmas, or whatever holiday you choose to celebrate, I hope you get all the gifts you want. Like, really want. More than that, I hope you have the opportunity to give the gifts you really want to give.
Last week, I posted about safe children’s content and how that does not equal bland. As safe TV is something I tend to talk about quite a bit, a few have asked me how television can possibly be safe and yet still have any sort of edge?
Well different people probably have their own ways of getting there but, for me, I have found that it comes down to one of my main working methods. It’s a thinking I apply to animation, writing, just about everything. Here it is -
Work within your limits.
Now this is a dangerous thought in ways, because I have found that many don’t know where their limits are. Many will totally undersell themselves and under-perform because they see their limits, or their perception of limits being set for them, as being far more restrictive than they actually are.
But, if you can really know and trust where your limits are and set them yourself at the beginning of a project, it’s a great way of thinking.
Here’s an example I often use to animators of how it applies. Look at the animation in the television version of a Disney film, like the Aladdin cartoon show or something like that. Compare that to a stylised Cartoon Network style show like the old Dexter’s Laboratory. Usually, Aladdin’s TV show animation will look much worse. Now, technically, there’s much more in it than in Dexter’s Lab but Aladdin was designed for a movie budget, and looks great when it has that budget, whereas Dexter was designed from the ground up for a television budget. Aladdin becomes something you know should look different, should look better, but it’s compromised and feels incomplete.
Dexter works within its limits and, as a result, can reach the absolute top of that limit. It comes out looking better. Complete. Uncompromised.
Same is true for the creation, writing or directing of a show and how it applies to safety/blandness.
If you write a story or feature characters that aren’t age-appropriate, you will have producers cutting you off at the knees, broadcaster or distributor notes making you tone it down and remove whole chunks. And what you’re left with is a shell ‘ a show or episode left without its soul. Without its edge. Something that feels incomplete. Like, if only…
But, if you pick your limits and know them, keep it age-appropriate from the start but try to maximise the fun, silliness, humour, adventure, whatever within those limits, then you’ve got a good chance at ending up with a safe show that isn’t bland. Safe with a spark. The key factor here will end up being responsibility – it requires you to own the responsibility of where the lines are in your content, not a broadcaster or anyone else. So if you push limits (and pushing limits is good), you know they’re your limits.
Just on another note, Irish animation company Kavaleer are celebrating 10 years in business and had a big birthday celebration last Friday. A wonderful gathering of almost (but not quite) everyone in Irish animation and a really great night. Good to see everyone there and to catch up with some friends and peers I haven’t seen in some time. Congratulations to Andrew, Gary and all at Kavaleer! You can catch their latest excellent show, Abadas, which explores words with children, on CBeebies.
And finally, you can read my latest article on children and the power of labelling on Ireland’s parenting website, Dad.ie, right here – LABELLING.
I aim for shows that are safe for children. That parents will be happy letting their children watch. That was my first requirement when coming up with Fluffy Gardens. Cosmo has more of a comedy edge but I still want it safe for sensitive children.
Does this mean the watering down of children’s entertainment? The censorship of all that’s fun and interesting? The removal of the very things children love the most?
No. No, it does not.
Yes, there are some shows out there that seem absolutely soulless. Maybe they are. Perhaps they’re the products of committees or several years of conflicting notes. I don’t know.
But television that is safe for children does not automatically equal bland, dead television.
Most striving for better television or educational content are not trying to turn your children into grey, boring automatons. It is not some conspiracy to make your children conform.
Besides, that’s what school is for, isn’t it?
Yes, I believe children’s television should be safe and age-appropriate. I think, ideally, it should educate. But, in doing so, I also think it should challenge. It should provoke thought. Independent thought. Ask children to think about the world they live in. To think about who they are and maybe even present some positive messages to give them the confidence to be who they are against the opposition they will face at times in their life.
For that, if anything, children’s television needs a spark.