Monthly Archives: March 2012

SmashFace

In one of my articles from last year on Dad.ie, I mentioned one of the problems even the most responsible parent has with TV shows that may not be age-appropriate (or even appropriate in any way ever) – we can pick and choose what our children watch but we can’t really shield them from what other children are watching.

Since writing that article, my once-little Daisy has moved up to ‘big school’ and when that happened there was a pretty big explosion in violent expression. Not actions for the most part, but definitely words. Now kids are kids and they aren’t always nice to other kids. But you know the way big content producers make sure children know the brand and the elements unique to their product? Well, the side effect of that is that it often makes violent influences pretty easy to track.

Like the lightsaber example in my article, this isn’t just kids exploring violence as part of being kids. There are often sources, influences, inspirations. A huge amount of action shows for kids older than my girls, for example, don’t just show violence as an acceptable solution, they make it the solution of heroes. The way of champions.

It’s what the good guys do.

But I guess I do need to face one thing: TV didn’t invent violence. It’s obvious, I know, but important to point out. Just because studies show a relationship between viewing violent television and aggression (and they do), that doesn’t mean television can be a scapegoat for all the evils of the world. Same with music, or videogames or Ozzy or Lionel Ritchie or anything else.

The Vikings didn’t watch Power Rangers.

The Spanish Inquisition didn’t listen to Judas Priest.

The Huns didn’t play Grand Theft Auto.

They discovered violence all by themselves.

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But that doesn’t mean we can’t aim for better, right?

That our biggest threat is still ourselves, that people inflict pain and death on other people around the world all the time bugs the hell out of me. It is not something we should just take for granted. Not something we should accept. Look at the amazing things we can do and how far we have come already. We’re pretty fantastic in so many ways, and can do so much better.

Unfortunately, as the Vikings, Spanish Inquisition and Huns have shown us, removing television violence isn’t going to solve the world’s ills. I wish it were that simple. But we do know people learn from the television they watch as children. So, as an idea, how about this – let’s not make it worse. Positive messages, showing alternatives to violence, reinforcing how amazing we all are and that, as it happens, not everyone is out to get you, may go some way (even a very tiny way) to eventually leading to a time when we’re all just good to each other.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

With COSMO up and running, my job shifts into managing a production. Sourcing people to fill those last few roles, hiring them, scheduling the production and setting up systems to work within that schedule, tying up those last few loose ends (I don’t like loose ends) and running the preproduction as the countdown begins to full-on production. Getting this show produced. During this time, the little indulgences become important. They keep the creative brain cells firing and help achieve a management/creative balance along with the writing and directing.

So today, after a fun Paddy’s Day weekend with the family, here is a little gallery of iPad doodles. Some of you may have seen a few of them on Twitter (find me on Twitter here). Imagine them presented with that Tony Hart music.

A huge amount of the concept work for COSMO was created on an iPod Touch and the iPad and this is one of the iPad pieces, so not really an indulgence here. Keeping the images small naturally tends to lead the design to a cute and chunky look so this method worked really well for the show. This is Cosmo and her Dad on Mars and it established the design for their buggy. I may have shown a bit of this one before but here is the whole thing.

Another COSMO image next. This time, on stormy Jupiter…

Next up is a tiger in the zoo. This particular tiger is a character who has been with me for quite some time. It’s like he keeps coming back to me, demanding his own story. I haven’t quite found it yet.

Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. This next image illustrates the potential dangers of the transporter. I love pixel art. Adore it. There is something beautifully pure about creating an image square by square. I’d really like to explore the form further and see where it takes me. This one is a rather simple one but, once the pixels were in place, I added some textures and amended the colours a little. This was all done on the iPad using about four apps from start to finish.

I do love my Star Trek!

My favourite movie monster now. Behold the terror…

Another pixelart image now and another Mars picture, albeit not COSMO related. Here are a couple of space explorers making the decision to do the only thing they can. The more I have been working on COSMO, the more I see just how much interest there is in space from little girls. In a world bombarded with princesses, little girl astronauts seem like a far better role model to me. So here they are…

And here they are again on Venus. Venus is a fascinating planet. It’s incredibly hostile and that actually made it quite difficult to write about when developing COSMO. Very few child-friendly stories involve acid rain. Nevertheless, I managed it and we now have two stories about the searing toxic yellow world. And yes, the acid rain is featured. I’m looking forward to seeing what we learn from the Venus Express.

Last up for my little gallery is a drawing of my family. Me, Daisy, Alice and my lovely wife Meabh.

So there it is. My little gallery. If anyone is curious, most of them were made in the Brushes app and the pixels were done in an app called Tiny Pixels. Hope everyone has a great and very productive week ahead. Go create something amazing!

Toys1

An old story from back in 2009 here. I didn’t have this site up then so here it is, a few years late…

As Chairman of the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland’s Animation Alliance, I had to address the Guild at the 2009 AGM. Just an update on what our group of directors was doing and how things were in our end of the entertainment world. I mentioned at the time that, after a meeting with the Irish Film Board’s then Chief Executive, I came away concerned by what I felt was a dismissal of television for young children.

At which point, someone chimed in that it possibly had something to do with children’s television just existing to sell plastic and that the IFB shouldn’t be supporting it.

How does one react to that?

Well, if I’m anything to go by, one initially gets flustered and then explains that television for young children is the most important television of all and cannot be dismissed. Children are learning, they do watch television and the television we make for them can affect their whole world view. And more eyes are seeing our shows each week across the world than probably any other content from Ireland.

As for selling plastic?

What likely rubbed me up the wrong way most about this accusation is that, for portions of the global industry, it is true. It often has to be true because the economics of making a children’s show rarely work on their own.

All the more reason why public funding bodies must get involved in supporting GOOD children’s television. Television that exists to provide children with good quality, enriching age-appropriate entertainment. Culturally-relevant, even better. Educational, better still.

The more support that’s there for local content, the less children’s shows are bought in from elsewhere. The less those shows have to rely on licensing and merchandise to justify their production costs. The less anyone needs to think about selling plastic. Children’s shows selling plastic is precisely why local funding bodies can’t dismiss one of the most important areas in programming.

Today, several years after that little AGM incident, we have a new animation team starting on COSMO. It is going to be a busy day and an exciting one. Because we’re all working together on a show that exists for one reason: to give children the absolute best. We are very fortunate that it can exist for that one reason and, as it happens, we have the Irish Film Board to thank for that, especially Emma Scott and Andrew Meehan. The IFB were so supportive of COSMO and put so much faith and funding into the show that it simply would not have happened without them and it is why we get to make a show right here in Ireland, with an Irish creator, writer, director, all the top-line creative processes being done here in Ireland, the animation team being right here and, from a business perspective, all ownership remaining right here. For all the right reasons, it matters to Ireland and yet it’s a show that can give to children all over the world. If Fluffy Gardens is anything to go by, it will travel.

Right now, our little area of children’s TV is the poster child for Irish production in many circles.

The support makes all the difference. It makes a difference to sustainability, to the types of shows we can make and the reasons we make them. It makes a difference to children here and, hopefully, to children everywhere.

TipsForAnimators

Our new Cosmo team begins next week and we’ll be getting straight into some animation. A new team. It is going to be fun, creative and challenging. A good time then to offer my list of 8 things that I would like every animator who works with me to learn. Here they are…

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1 ‘ BE YOUR OWN QUALITY CONTROL

We all have our own internal quality control. Working in any hierarchy can cause us to disengage our own quality control and rely on the next person up the chain. That is not how you get the best results. Get a scene to its absolute best first. When your animation director or director is looking at a scene that is already excellent, we can all get it from excellent to magical together. Taking a scene from stinky to acceptable isn’t quite as rewarding for anyone. So be your own quality control. It is just about working at it until it’s great.

2 ‘ TREAT EVERY SCENE INDIVIDUALLY

Act. Feel. Experience the scene. Sound like method acting? Well, it is. We don’t move the same every time. Life isn’t like that. Animation should create life. Characters shouldn’t just move, they should think and feel. Treat each scene like a unique moment, because it is. The same old tricks won’t always work and definitely won’t make your work better. Get fresh and get creative!

3 ‘ DRAW

Even if it’s not your strength. Even if there isn’t a huge amount (or even any) drawing required in the style of animation you’re working in. In fact, especially if that’s the case. Drawing is usually a far more direct communication between your brain and the finished product than any software so drawing can help you keep a sense of the whole. It can pull you back to thinking about the characters like characters, lives, not just pieces or menu options. Draw.

4 ‘ BE PART OF A TEAM. ACTIVELY

That scene you’re struggling with? There’s an animator beside you who has probably finished a scene just like it. It is so easy to get buried in your scenes. Don’t let that happen. Talk about your work. Learn from the strengths of those around you, and pass on your own strengths. Get active about making this a team.

5 ‘ DELIVER ON TIME, EVERY TIME

Don’t miss deadlines. Seriously. Ever. Deliver on time. If you do great work that is delivered late, all that will be noticed is that it was delivered late. Remember that delivering on time usually means factoring in fixes, whims of directors and losing a folder somewhere along the line.

6 ‘ BE RESPONSIBLE TO YOUR AUDIENCE

Never forget who you’re working for. No, not me. Not our producer. Children. Try to see your scenes not from the point of view of the person making them, but from the point of view of a young child watching them. Put yourself on the other side of that television. Know why you’re making shows, scenes and characters come to life. That sense of purpose will make your work more enjoyable and make it much, much better.

7 ‘ BE YOU

You are most valuable when you are great at what you do, not just great at what everyone else does. Bring your strengths to your scenes. Surprise us with a little bit of your personality in a scene, your personal touch. Animators are often expected to be chameleons for very good reasons. But everyone has their own history and interests, everyone followed their own path and every single animator has something that the other animators don’t. Don’t suppress that. Explore it. It is what will make your scenes special.

8 ‘ YOU ARE BETTER THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE

Sure, we get the odd cocky animator coming through the doors on occasion. But mostly, I find what can hold animators back is a lack of confidence in their abilities. We are all so much worse at evaluating ourselves than we are at evaluating others and that can cause us to get flustered and tied up in scenes, making them more complicated than they should be while we convince ourselves we can’t get them to look the way we want them to. Well here’s the thing: I have only hired people I know can give me great scenes and most companies are exactly the same. You have the know-how. You have the ability. You are a good animator. All you have to do now is make your scenes demonstrate that.

And really, that just comes down to point 1, bringing this list full circle.

So there you have it. 8 things any animator working with me should learn. 8 tips for my animators starting on Cosmo, and perhaps animators elsewhere.