Monthly Archives: December 2012

2013 is going to be an exciting year for me. Many of us at Monster Animation have been working hard over this little holiday season to get the last few episodes of our new show finished and 2013 is the year it gets released to the world.

For me, Planet Cosmo is more than a new cartoon show. This is the culmination of everything I have worked on and worked for since I began making children’s shows. It is the result of years of practical experience, years of research and so many intentions, goals and dreams. A preschool show full of laughs, smiles, songs and fun that introduces children, boys and girls, to whole other worlds, each one amazing in its own way. And not just fantasy ‘ these worlds are real. A show to entertain and inform. And hopefully inspire.

All in just fifteen episodes. That’s almost three and a half hours, a Peter Jackson feature, so not that insubstantial.

I always count myself lucky that I get to form a show from nothing, a blank page, and take it all the way to the finished picture across every part of the process. Yes, it’s a heavy work load but it comes with so many advantages. A unified vision for one thing but also each step always has the other steps in mind. I don’t write without picturing how we in the studio actually make it happen on screen, for example. I don’t think a show of this type could be made on the budget we have without that. Our resources were tight and we aimed high.

Thanks to the amazing people we have working on the show right now, we reached even higher.

So, yes, I’m excited about letting Planet Cosmo out into the world in 2013 and, once we finish the show, I will be putting my faith in Monster Animation’s producer, Gerard O’Rourke, who should be shouting about about it from the rooftops, getting it to the right broadcasters and having it seen by as many young children as possible. Because I know from our testing already that children are going to love this animated series and it’s really good for them. So if you see him, or indeed me, at an event, ask to see some Planet Cosmo. And if you’re a parent, keep an eye out for it.

So what of the rest of the year? Well, we at Monster will be making series 2 of Punky, written by Andrew Brenner and directed by my very good friend and colleague, Simon Crane. I have an awesome little collaboration between a fantastic electro artist and my daughter, Daisy, to work on (more on that when Cosmo is finished). And I will of course be busy working to create the best, most fun and good children’s content that can possibly be made. And, on my little blog here, I will continue to write every Monday. So if you have any questions or topics you would like me to cover, feel free to let me know.

I hope that 2013 brings you exciting things, progress, fun, new projects, and all things good for children everywhere. Have a fantastic year and, as always, thank you for stopping by my little corner of the web.

Dec 24

Wishing…

I wish those things above for you this Christmas/holiday season. This morning, I began to write a much longer list of things I wished for all of us, for you, me and for the world. Some were as broad as peace and others were more detailed – more active role models for our girls, for example. And then I got to one wish I realised would lead to all the others. The one wish that, if it came true, would bring us to where we need to be and far beyond.

So this, on Christmas Eve 2012, for all the survivors of the Mighty Mayan Apocalypse, is my wish for the world -

Progress.

That’s it. A world that improves, strives to get better with each new generation. A world unafraid to change, to leave behind old outdated notions and one that builds a better world for all of us. Men, women, every single child on the planet. And, hopefully at some point, on other planets too. Not one of us excluded.

In the words of Bill and Ted, “Be excellent to each other”. Merry Christmas all!

The extent of my sadness about last week’s events cannot be put into words. So much on that tragedy and what should be done has been well covered elsewhere and my little site is simply not the place for it. But in the last couple of days, I find I keep coming back to two thoughts that are relevant here. Thoughts that have been articulated here before in different forms at different times and yet I find I need a reminder every now and then.

The first is true whether you are dissatisfied with some element of your career, want to make your story or script better, want a production to go more smoothly or, yes, even want to avoid repeated tragedies large or small. It is this -

In order for anything to get better, change must occur.

You may fear change and the uncertainty that comes with that. You may feel things can get worse and that change brings risk. It does. But the bottom line is, for things to get better, change must happen. No matter how small or large a thing you want to improve, you must instigate change. You must embrace it. Dive into it. Not just talk about it. You must do it. Do it now. If it doesn’t work, change again.

Because if you keep doing things the same way, you will get the same results. Progress and improvement require change.

My second thought is for all those of us who make content, entertainment or products for children. Children are amazing. They are creative, innovative and innocent. They are wonderful right now and each one has the potential to become a wonderful adult and change the world in a positive way. Through what we do each day, we can reach those children. We can give them so much goodness. We can enrich their lives. We have to. This is our duty and responsibility when we decide to reach out to a young audience.

This is about making a meaningful connection and giving children something positive. Something that makes their lives better. For today and, for those children who make the journey, for tomorrow.

Even with all the tragedies and horrendous things that go on in our world, I think people are pretty amazing. We’re capable of amazing things and I hear stories of goodness every day. That gets lost sometimes among the reported horrors. But perhaps in the grand history of humanity, we’re still in dark times. Each one of us can be a beacon in that darkness. Like a lighthouse. And why would we want to be anything else? Not one of us should be in this business without having the best interests of children, of people, at heart at all times.

To all of my friends and colleagues genuinely working to make the world a better place for children, whether I know you personally or not, you have my love and respect. And to any parent who is part of this recent tragedy or dealing with their own losses, wherever they may be, my heart goes out to you and you are in my thoughts.

Peril

Mild peril. A staple in much of children’s entertainment. Then a big happy ending. But what stays with a child? The peril or the happy?

I first observed this personally when my eldest girl, Daisy, was still pretty small. A funny and mild as mild can be episode of Pingu was on. Something bad happened to Pingu (probably because he did something a little naughty, that rascally penguin!) and then it all turned out fine at the end. All Daisy took away from the episode was that Pingu was sad.

Much later, the same effect was observed with Happy Feet. The one part that registered? The scary seal. The happy ending was totally wasted on her.

I was reading some research into educational television that said children take in information best when they’re emotionally invested in the show. It seems so obvious.

So, applying that to general entertainment whether with or without any educational value, when are children going to be most emotionally invested in a film or show? During the ‘relax folks, the world is great and everything is okay’ parts? Or during the ‘OMG run, something is going to eat us!!!’ parts?

You might be looking at your child (or indeed your audience) thinking, this is great, they’re really hooked by this show, whereas what they’re seeing is effectively a horror film for kids. The ‘mild peril’ parts may be the only parts that stay with them when they go to bed that night. I am not saying with this post that peril should be avoided or your show must be toned down into nothingness. Not at all. In fact, the more inventive among you may find ways to use this positively somehow. But what children take away from your show at any given point in the episode is always something to consider. Especially when you’re dealing with a younger audience, who might not effectively verbalise what they feel about the show.

More often than not, children remember the scary stuff.

Today I present four more recommendations from the bookshelf that should be of interest to anyone developing or producing content for children -

Creating Animated Cartoons with Character by Joe Murray

I first bought this book back when it was an ebook PDF direct from Joe Murray’s site and instantly bought the book again when it got a proper print run. From the creator of Rocko’s Modern Life and Camp Lazlo, this book is another that goes through every part of the process from creation all the way to the screen. Yes, this is full of practical advice, basic steps and lists of “dos and don’ts” that any content creator needs to know but it has more than that. What makes this book different is Joe Murray’s personal point of view. This book in many ways is like the grounding voice of reason that we all need to hear sometimes and that just comes through in how it is written.

Being very much on the small independent side of things, I have actually had an easier time than most but let’s never kid ourselves that this is an easy business. It is not. It can feel heartbreaking at times. Joe Murray knows this and part of the book almost feel like a reflective part of his older self is writing a letter to his younger self – there is much we can learn from this Joe Murray.

G Is For Growing by Shalom M. Fisch and Rosemarie T. Truglio

G Is For Growing summarises thirty years of Sesame Street research. Sesame Street tests EVERYTHING and has done from day one. With testing and how they chose to use the information that came from that research, they managed to create a wonderful balance of entertainment and education that set the template for just about every educational show that followed. While this book, being written by academics seemingly for academics, doesn’t quite achieve the same level of balance, it contains a wealth of information that will be of use to anyone making children’s shows. So much can be gained by looking at the research that led to great shows like Sesame Street rather than just looking at the shows themselves and trying to reverse engineer them. G Is For Growing is like the Sesame Street source code.

Anytime Playdate by Dade Hayes

Offering a look, as the full title states, Inside the Preschool Entertainment Boom, or, How Television Became My Baby’s Best Friend, this book is a great read both from the perspective of a content creator and as a parent. A parent himself, Dade Hayes makes it his mission to find out just what goes on behind the scenes in the children’s television business – the story behind the content his young daughter seems so hooked on every day. This book explores the good, the bad and the ugly of the industry and, even though written from a very personal viewpoint, feels very open-minded, inviting the reader to come to their own conclusions about what he finds out.

And even for those of us in the industry (at least for those of us on the more European side), there is the odd surprise here and there, and not all of them good ones. For the content creators, his exploration into the development of Nick’s Ni Hao, Kai-lan is of particular interest as it, like so many other shows over the last ten years, aims to repeat the success of Dora the Explorer. A very well-written and enjoyable read.

Sesame Street: A Celebration – 40 Years Of Life On The Street by Louise A. Gikow

This is a wonderful celebration of Sesame Street, packed full of information, stories and fantastic pictures. It is a real treasure, exploring the show from its creation all the way to today (well, 2009). Beautifully designed and laid out, it is one of those books that is just a treat to pull down from the shelf and open up on a random page.

And for those of us in children’s television, it is an inspiration. I put Sesame Street up there as the best children’s television show of all time and it still has so much to teach those of us producing content for children. While there are other books on Sesame Street of great value, such as G Is For Growing above, in my view this book is the most enjoyable.

That’s it from the bookshelf for this post. As always, aim to learn and get better at what we do. Our audience will benefit and, if they benefit, we do too.