Young children’s TV is a really hard path to tread. Trying to be both fun and educational may soung like trying to have one’s cake and eat it, but with the right level of quality, it’s do-able.
The latest to try is Toby’s Travelling Circus, which is coming to Channel 5in September and features the adventures of Toby, a seven year-old boy who is the leader and ringmaster of his family’s travelling circus and fairground.
The creative director of Komixx Entertainment (the production company behind the show) and one of the minds behind so many children’s TV classics Richard Randolph talks to us about the upcoming release of Toby’s Travelling Circus and everything about British animations place in the present and the future.
So, to those who might not know, what exactly is the role of a creative director?
Well, I think it’s very similar to being a creative director in any business. Essentially what I’m trying to do is co-ordinate the activity of all the people working around me. With us making children’s shows, and in particular Toby’s Travelling Circus, which is a stop frame animated show we have to make sure we get the program to the quality levels that we want to put out. I think as a creative director my job is make sure the writers, directors and producers and the rest of the team involved in creating these shows work together.
What was it when Channel 5 commissioned a second series of Toby even before a single episode has hit the air?
We were really impressed. It shows the confidence that Channel 5 had in the series from the word go. They knew what the team were capable of doing and when Jessica Symons, the commissioner there started to see the work come through and she thought ‘This is terrific.’ From our point of view, it gives us tremendous confidence in the material that we’re producing.
You’ve been in the animation industry for some time now, how did you get started in it?
Well, probably, like most people’s careers, accidents happen. I got involved to start off with my brother in law Andy Walker who was involved in 2D animation who worked with some people over at Aardman Animation. Andy and I through our family ties got together and we started Ealing Animations and we went on to produce a number of different things. He then went his way, and I continued on making educational shows and animation with Ealing.
Ealing created so many classic kids shows, but what’s your personal favourite?
Someone said the other day talking about the characters ‘How do I pick my favourite child.’ It’s very difficult to choose, there was lots of excellent stuff we produced. We got a lot of fame out of Old Bear Stories which was just a terrific series, but the things we did for Grisly Tales for Gruesome Kids was some of the best stop frame animation that ever went through the studio. I loved El Nombre too, I still do.
What was it like when Old Bear Stories won a BAFTA?
Well it’s fantastic to have been recognised. It was a bit of a shock if I’m honest, judging from the competition at the time. Old Bear was just a wonderful series that kids definitely enjoyed, we got huge ratings and it was a super show to work on and it was the first stop-frame show I produced. I just got very lucky.
Why do you think stop-frame animation has such a greater presence in Britain than anywhere else?
It goes way back to Ray Harryhausen, but we’ve always seemed to enjoy it. It’s a difficult art form to work with and it demands an awful amount of patience and skill, yet people over here have always enjoyed working in that particular medium. Because we’ve been good at it, it’s always meant that the next generation coming on have also wanted to work with. To be honest with you, what Cosgrove Hall did and what Aardman do is just terrific, it’s unbelievably impressive and we have lots of credibility with stop-frame animation worldwide.
You talked then about Aardman, what impact do you think they have on British animation?
Well, obviously it’s a tremendous boost. It’s generates an awful lot of talent because a lot of the people I work with originally at Ealing are now with Aardman. So small studios benefit to a certain extent. Certainly the animators benefit by maybe starting in slightly smaller studios and then working through to working on international features and from there point of view it’s absolutely fantastic.
From our point of view, it’s terrific because it generates a huge amount of confidence and from an investment point of view that helps as well. Obviously we have to get outside funding to produce the shows and I think it’s very important that they realise that the quality of the show is second to none.
You’ve been behind many great kids TV shows, what’s the secret to getting it right?
We’re telling stories, so the important thing is to get your script right from the word go. So that’s where you start. You get a strong team of writers in, you make sure you’ve got a terrific story and then you have the fun bit. You make sure all the designs, the puppets, the sets the special effects are just right at the top end and then you know you’re going to produce a cracking show. I have to say with Toby that it ticks all of those boxes.
With animation now a global art form, where do you see the future of British animation?
Well, I don’t think it relies on stop frame, its part of the equation. CG, flash animation, drawn animation will continue to be popular with generations of children coming through. So, I see particularly over here, and it’s nice that the government are considering tax breaks for the animation business along with some of the other TV stuff, it will give us a much sounder financial footing which we need to continue the business through.
Creatively, if you see the student films, if you see all the things coming through, we’re still producing absolutely super animators and they’ve got a lot under their belt and they’ll become good animation directors as well.
And lastly, what are your plans for Komixx?
Well, we want to continue on with Toby. We’ve got 104 episodes to make and then we want to generate similar shows of the same high quality. It won’t just be stop-frame; there’ll be other shows that involve CG and flash animation. We just want to produce the highest quality children’s entertainment that we can.
Toby’s Travelling Circus debuts on Channel 5 this September
FemaleFirst Cameron Smith