This is my last week at Geronimo Productions. A chapter ends and a new adventure begins. I can’t help but think back to what we have achieved over the years, how much has changed and of all the little moments that defined not just the studio but who we have become.
For one particular moment, I go right back to the beginning, so many years ago…
It was the end of my second year in animation college. Sullivan Bluth had just closed down. But there were new studios popping up. I gathered my portfolio and turned up to one of these – Monster Productions. I met a young, pleasant yet intimidating producer (I was young – everyone was intimidating to me), Gerard O’Rourke. He was running the show and one would expect him to know what he was doing except he had this crazy idea about starting me off as an animator. Did he not realise I was still in college? How new I was?
Well it was a struggle, I’ll admit. But I got better. I had to. Cut to many years later and I am working side by side with Gerard as a children’s content specialist, forming and moulding shows with an impressive catalogue behind us.
Maybe he knew. Perhaps that is why he gave this nervous young student a chance? Was he thinking, I’m going to give this kid a shot because one day we’ll build a studio and we’re going to make great things together? Could he possibly have known how long we would be linked and what we would achieve?
No. He couldn’t have known. He didn’t have to know. What Gerard did on that day was create the potential for all that to happen. He took a chance on a person and suddenly that path came into being. It led to great things. Over the years, I have seen Gerard give so many people their start and, each time, he creates a potential future. It doesn’t always lead to anything. That potential is not always realised but the opportunity is there and, so often, interesting and unexpected things are the result of those chances taken.
When we take a chance on a person or even take a chance on an idea, we create a new potential future. It is like planting seeds that, one day, could grow to be something wonderful. We can’t know the results and it would be wrong to constantly look for them, but we can create the potential. And so we should.
This is just one of the many things I have picked up from Gerard as we built what would become Geronimo Productions and I will always be grateful for the opportunities. I have a long list of personal achievements filed under the heading “if it wasn’t for Gerard…” and, at this stage, I am hoping he has a similar file with my name on it. Gerard and I will, no doubt, work together on many projects in the future and will always be linked by our strong catalogue of shows.
At the end of this week, one phase ends and a new phase begins. What am I doing? I am taking a chance on an idea. New aims, new missions. Interesting things are coming. And in the meantime, I am always here to talk projects, content, scripting, preschool and more so do feel free to get in touch.
Many years ago, back in an earlier generation of Monster Animation, I introduced what I liked to call ‘Pizza Friday’. Basically, I liked pizza and by making it a thing and getting everyone else on board, I ensured I got to have it each and every week. Pizza Friday.
Around the same time we bought a huge box set of Muppets on VHS and, every Friday, we would eat pizza and watch The Muppet Show. If I remember correctly, we may have thrown Pizza Wednesday into the mix for a while too…
Pizza and Muppets. A wonderful combination.
Years later, when Pizza Friday was but a distant memory I found that, whenever I smelled pizza, I thought of Muppets. Whenever I saw Muppets, I smelled pizza. Actually right inside my nose – the real smell of pizza. Not just any pizza, but the exact pizza we got from that one pizza place. It was that strong.
Through basic repetition, my brain has been programmed to link Muppets and pizza. Just as I link The Smiths and George Takei (that’s a whole other story). One instantly leads to the other and it’s not a conscious thing. It’s sensory. Visual of Gonzo, smell of pizza. Instant.
Our brains can make connections so easily. And those can be positive connections, negative connections or connections that don’t matter one way or another (like The Smiths making me picture Mr. Sulu). It is rarely conscious. I’m aware of the Muppets/pizza link but how many other associations have we made throughout our lives that we can’t pinpoint? And what effect are they having on our lives?
The obvious one that people mention is because so many of us share this is eating sweet things when feeling bad. A not-always-positive action which is often traced back to a childhood association of sugary treats rewarding good behaviour. But that’s just one example of many. We have so much to deal with in a creative life, so many doors to push open and often face so much resistance that we need to be our own champion. We can’t afford to sabotage ourselves. But what if a negative association is holding you back? What if failures or judgements in childhood or early adulthood have led to associations that prevent you from trying certain things? Or what if a misdirected positive association is causing you to repeat the same mistakes over and over again?
Trickier still, what if you don’t know what those associations are? What if they are so buried in your subconscious that they’re now impossible to identify?
For me, what I do is remember that pizza equals Muppets. And to make that association, one deep in my core on a sensory level, all it took was to put the two together on a regular basis for the period of one VHS box set.
It was that easy.
And if we can do that, surely we can replace or reprogramme any other association by working to create all-new ones. Ones that work for us rather than against us. If something is hard to do, or there’s something holding us back, a hesitation, we can put that task together with something we enjoy. We can reward the positive, the difficult and even the unpleasant but necessary with things that mean something personally to us – whether that is about treats, games, Muppets, pizza, Mr. Sulu or anything that can contribute to the buzz of satisfaction we get knowing we have achieved something worthwhile. Before long, we have a positive association. And at that point, we’ll just enjoy the doing.
As we work, we can create rewards and, with them, all-new associations. Sooner or later, we’ll begin to replace the old ones whether we knew they were there or not.
I have been Creative Director of Geronimo Productions (formerly Monster Animation) for well over ten years. During that time, we took Monster from being a small studio making commercials to being a studio with a mission, with a drive that reflects my need for the highest-quality children’s programming and an impressive catalogue of shows – Roobarb & Custard Too, Fluffy Gardens, Ballybraddan, Punky, Planet Cosmo and more. Along with producer, Gerard O’Rourke – who I have worked with for eighteen great years – I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved with this studio, what we have built and all the content we have created and produced.
And now I announce my resignation as Creative Director of the company.
Why? Well, the short answer is simply that it is time.
It is time to explore other avenues. Time to build and manage new content within new frameworks. Time to open myself up to different collaborations. Time to make a new leap.
With Geronimo Productions, I have achieved what I set out to achieve all those years ago. It is now a studio that is very different to the one I took on when I stepped into the role of Creative Director. One with tried and tested methods, a strong catalogue with so many success stories and new shows that I have no doubt will become the next success stories. The studio has its own momentum and drive and will flourish.
And for me, on top of the business of building a studio with Gerard, creating and refining production methods, guiding the creative vision and choosing and managing projects, I have seen more than five shows – over 23 hours of television – shaped, pitched, produced and sold. My own Fluffy Gardens went to over 100 countries and Planet Cosmo is now building its own sales with a wonderful reaction from the industry and, more importantly, from children and parents.
I have been and will continue to be a champion for positive preschool entertainment across all areas from creation to screen and beyond.
And so it is time.
I will be with Geronimo Productions for the next month, making sure that the current Geronimo projects are all in good hands and will support them and lend my expertise after I leave. Geronimo Productions will continue to deliver great shows for children and I wish them every success in the future. Thanks to Gerard and all Monsters and Geronimites past and present for being with me on this journey.
As many of you will have seen, it was announced last week that Monster Animation & Design has changed its name to Geronimo Productions. Monster Animation, started by owner and producer Gerard O’Rourke, has been going for 17 years and I joined very early in its history, taking the position of Creative Director of the company more than ten years ago. From there, we took Monster Animation from advertising into broadcast television, starting with us producing Roobarb & Custard Too and then creating Fluffy Gardens and moving us through Ballybraddan, Punky and now our new show and my latest creation, Planet Cosmo. All the while, I have been overseeing the creative vision of the company, building the studio methods and systems and creating, moulding, nurturing and producing shows.
We have come a long way together.
The name change is something Gerard and I have discussed for many years (mostly because of international confusion with another Irish Monster) and, with a brand new show launching, the time finally seemed right to make the switch. So this week, we’re working hard as Geronimo Productions to finish Planet Cosmo and you’ll be hearing a lot about that very soon. The studio at Geronimo is gearing up for more Punky (I’m serving as script editor at the moment with Andrew Brenner writing) and everything is moving forward with a new name and a new identity.
Will it bring exciting things? I think it will. It’s going to be a big and rather interesting year for all of us.
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.
Last week as the Curiosity Rover landed successfully on the surface on Mars, at Monster Animation we were battling the odds hoping to achieve our own Martian victory – to finish our very first episode of Planet Cosmo, in which Cosmo and her Dad climb the mighty Olympus Mons on Mars. Being honest, getting that episode together often felt like climbing a mountain and there were times it felt like we would never get there. So often we looked up but the peak was out of sight. And so we carried on.
Well, we made it.
We didn’t just conquer that one episode. We finished two, adding an episode in which Cosmo finds herself on the surface of Mercury. Two episodes. What we have now is no longer just a collection of elements – animation, backgrounds, voice recordings, songs, effects. We have a show. A real show.
Sure, we still have thirteen more episodes to make and there will be small things to improve even in these finished episodes (production of a show almost always reveals improvements that aren’t found in the first episode completed, it’s what I call First Episode Syndrome) but it is so important to acknowledge the victories, especially ones as important as this. It is vital to take time to really appreciate the successes, no matter what needs to be done next. Those successes show us just what we can achieve when we push ourselves further. Holding on to the victories can keep us going when production gets tough. And this one has been tough.
The victories show us why we did it in the first place.
Seeing the episodes finally come together and being able to watch them from start to finish, as they’ll be aired, leaves no doubt that this is all worth it. The Planet Cosmo team is doing an amazing job and should be very proud. And now as they work away on those individual elements, they’ll have an even greater understanding of where their pieces fit and the importance of each part of the process. For me, I wanted to deliver a fun show for children that introduces them to the planets and I can see we’re doing just that. A victory.
Every production has its own victories, big or small. Be sure to acknowledge and enjoy them.
By the way, if you’re at the MIP TV market, a Planet Cosmo episode pr two should be available to view there so check them out. If you’re not attending, it will be a while later before they make it out into the world but I can’t wait to show all of you. I’m taking a break for a couple of weeks so just a minimal update next week (assuming the schedule posts thing works). Hope you all have a fun and productive couple of weeks, full of victories.
When my daughter Daisy was younger, TV shows were real to her. They were like whole other worlds and the characters existed, albeit behind a layer of glass. At five, she still loves TV but now knows they are created, acted, drawn and produced. She has a pretty clear understanding of the process and what I do for a living. And yet the characters are still alive to her.
The other day, she was watching Punky – Monster Animation’s show about a little girl with Down syndrome – when she came out with a question: “Daddy, why did you make Punky have Down syndrome?”
In a way, the answer was very easy. There are children who have Down syndrome and they should be represented on television and it’s good for children and parents to see a little girl like Punky. But the way the question was phrased gave it a specific spin – why did you give Down syndrome to Punky? Not making a particular positive or negative judgement on it but aware that, if you were Punky herself, this decision would be a pretty big deal.
Not long after, she asked why I made Cranky so grumpy. This question came from a different angle in that Daisy very much disapproves of Cranky’s biting one-liners. This one was a decision that affected Daisy herself.
Of course I could point to creator Lindsay J. Sedgwick and writer Andrew Brenner, who both had a big part to play in defining these characters, but that would have been wrong because she could have been asking about Cosmo or anyone in Fluffy Gardens. What was important about the question was the very clear sense of responsibility.
We create characters.
We give them life and we make them who they are, for better or worse. We make decisions on how they’ll act and react, whether we’re writing words to put in their mouths or even just animating a single scene. Everyone involved in the process plays a role in bringing these characters to life. And then we show them to children.
Different people will take away different things from that life we create and some characters, lines and even whole shows won’t suit some children. That’s to be expected and it’s why it is important that parents play an active role in choosing content for their children. Nevertheless, we are responsible for who we create and what we show to the world. We’re responsible for the scenes we animate, the lines we write, the details we add to a background, everything. And what’s more, we’re not just responsible for what an audience might take away from the show. We also have a responsibility to these characters. In some way they’re like teenagers screaming “I didn’t ask to be born!” but we brought them to life anyway. Are we doing that with honesty? Sincerity?
It all comes down to us and the choices we make. That’s what makes content creation so amazing. All of us involved in even the periphery of the process can make a difference and contribute. And then we own that responsibility, both to our audience and the little lives we create.