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Storyboard: best of the month in vfx, animation and motion graphics

In this month’s round up of the best in animation, motion graphics and vfx, Weave flies close to the sun for the BBC; RSA and MPC tear it up for Sony and Rogue and The Mill swarm to Lexus

Weave vfx
Comet of the Century
Weave VFX created the star of the show for BBC2 Horizon special Comet of the Century that explained what would happen when the five billion year old comet Ison passed by the Sun late last month. Weave used a combination of 3d and compositing to visualise the ball of rock and ice as it went perilously close to the sun. The vfx director was Jason White.

Rogue/The Mill
Rogue’s Sam Brown and The Mill made this spot, Lexus Swarm for CHI & Partners. It was shot in Vancouver at various city locations including the Museum of Anthropology. The bespoke quadrotors created for Swarm took their design cues from Lexus cars and were shot mostly in camera with The Mill adding animation to give the machines more personality.

Lexus - 'Swarm - Amazing in Motion' from Rogue Films on Vimeo.

Lexus 'Swarm' Behind The Scenes from The Mill on Vimeo.

RSA director Rob Blishen, MPC and 180 Amsterdam built this paper universe for Sony PlayStation’s new Vita game Tearaway. The game is set in a 3D world made of paper, so the team made a real-life paper world at 1:12 to scale. A live action hero was dropped into a stop motion animation created on the set along with discreet 3D and 2D work and set extensions.

Second Home
My Motorbike
This is Second Home Studios’ contribution to the CITV Share a Story project in which kids’ stories are animated for the channel. Stop frame short My Motorbike was written by eight year old Alex Holt, a simple tale of a boy who dreams of motorcycle adventures whilst playing on his scooter in his back yard. It was directed and produced by Chris Randall and Waldemar Werbel.

Table Manners
Rebecca Manley’s new short, Table Manners, is her first foray into live action puppets. It was created for C4’s Random Acts.

Table Manners from Rebecca Manley on Vimeo.

Passion Pictures
O2 Sim spot

Passion director  Lobo goes on a journey through India, Bangladesh and Pakistan for VCCP’s O2 international SIM ad.

O2 "Memories" from Lobo on Vimeo.

MTV rebrand

Brand agency DixonBaxi created a new look, positioning and strategy for the Finnish commercial broadcaster MTV.

MTV 3 | Roller Derby from DixonBaxi on Vimeo.

Jump Design
One Show Titles

Lee Jacobs of Jump directed the Christmas special of The One Show logo and titles – a preview of the newly refreshed graphics package. The 3D was built In C4D by Duncan Tune who also composited the titles in After Effects.

The One Show Titles - Christmas from Jump Design on Vimeo.

Posted 11 December 2013 by Jon Creamer

Chris Chibnall on The Great Train Robbery

Broadchurch writer Chris Chibnall found that despite its iconic status, much of the drama of the Great Train Robbery was still there for the taking. He tells Jon Creamer how he pulled the job off

Chris Chibnall’s The Great Train Robbery (World Productions for BBC2) divides into two separate 90-minute films, A Robbers’ Tale that focuses on mastermind Bruce Reynolds and his team of criminals and A Coppers’ Tale that puts DCS Tommy Butler and The Flying Squad centre stage.

Why did you get interested in this story?
We’d just finished doing United, the film for BBC2 about the Busby Babes. It was the first time I’d done a story based on real events. I loved finding the narrative and finding the characters. Often we’re not very good at dramatising post-war British social history. We don’t mythologise our recent history and especially not stuff that’s maybe a bit working class.

Was the idea always to have two discrete films?
Always. My initial thought was it’s not a two-part drama, it’s two films that are connected. I didn’t want to be intercutting the police and the robbers. I wanted to follow the characters’ journeys in each film.

Were you worried it’s too well known a story already?
As soon as I started reading in detail, a lot of the things you think you know aren’t true and there’s a lot more detail that places it in context. It’s become myth. On the robbers’ side the post robbery narrative has taken over – the escape from prison, the journey to Rio, can the police get them back? But the event, the planning and the night itself are in the background a bit.

How did you research the films?
There’s a lot of information on the robbers’ side but there was next to nothing on the police side. On the robbers’ side there were dozens of books and accounts that would often contradict each other because you’re dealing with people who don’t want to tell the truth. When it came to the police, Tommy Butler never gave an interview. We found three minutes of him on a Scotland Yard archive film. We went to the national archives, we raided all the news archives for footage. A really great research historian called Andrew Cook had unlocked a lot of the case files from the robbery. A lot of new information in that second film is based on first hand memos from Tommy Butler to his superiors. We talked to the surviving members of the gang like Steve Moore. Peter Jones worked under Tommy Butler and Ted Bentley worked for the finger print department at Scotland Yard. They had a lot of great stories about Butler. What was really exciting for me was there was a character here who is pivotal in this major historical event and he’s never appeared in a drama before

What other references did you bring in?
In a facile way, at pitch level I’d always said if the first film is Ocean’s Eleven the second film is Zodiac. But actually we weren’t really talking about many filmic references because the stories were so clear and unique. What you’re trying to do is evoke the time rather than that theme park sensibility.

Was the period itself important to you?
Everything changes in 1963 as Larkin said. You’ve got Profumo, The Beatles, Wilson in the wings. It’s the point when modern Britain erupts out of post war austerity. The first film is the new generation coming to take society by storm, the second is about the old order trying to hold on.

Did you have to add much to aid the drama? 
Not much. One big thing I fictionalised is a scene in a cafe right at the end between Butler and Bruce, which owes a lot to Heat. But it’s not what you add but what you leave out that is the big decision. You can’t show the hunt for all the robbers as that would be 14 arrests. In the first film it’s the nine months before the robbery, the lead up to the robbery, the robbery itself and then two or three days after it. The big decision is what period of time you focus on and that helps define the story. There are a lot of very compelling characters who are left on the sidelines – Buster Edwards and Ronnie Biggs are in the background. You always know you’re on to a good thing having to leave stuff out that’s good.

You always exec produce as well as write, why?
I think I can help curate the script to the screen. It’s about being a filmmaker from start to finish so your voice is there throughout. You have to work with very secure producers. Insecure producers want to muscle the writer out but brilliant people are always happy to collaborate in my experience. Anybody who doesn’t do it like that is losing a resource. Why would you not try to include the person who had the idea in the first place. It’s one of the reasons I don’t work in film. I’m lucky that people like Paul Abbot and Russell T Davies kicked that door down for people like me to walk through. It’s my responsibility to make sure the door is still open for the next bunch of people coming through.                                       

Broadchurch writer and exec producer Chris Chibnall’s latest is two complementary films, “not a two parter” on the Great Train Robbery of 1963. The first film tells the story of the gang who planned and carried out the heist, the second tells the story of the police team assembled to catch them
Broadcaster BBC1
Production A World Production for the BBC in association with Screen Yorkshire, Lip Sync Productions and Content Media Corporation
Stars Luke Evans, Jim Broadbent
Writer Chris Chibnall
Exec producer (World) Roderick Seligman
Producer Julia Stannard

A Robber’s Tale

Julian Jarrold
DoP George Richmond
Editor Mark Eckersley

A Copper’s Tale

Director James Strong
DoP Gary Shaw
Editor Billy Sneddon

Posted 10 December 2013 by Jon Creamer

Storyboard: best of the month in vfx, animation and motion graphics

In this month’s round up of the best in animation, motion graphics and vfx, Momoco gets its teeth into Dracula, Trunk folds over Jaguar and Gorgeous twists reality for Honda

Dracula titles

Designer and director Nic Benns created the opening sequence for Carnival Films’ Sky Living/ NBC drama Dracula starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers.The titles use a shadow puppet theatre concept that introduces the show’s characters and Victorian London. Threads run outward from each figure while cogs turn in the periphery of the screen and the reveal shows Dracula manipulating everything and everyone in the city. The process involved a greenscreen shoot with Jonathan Rhys Myers while backlit silhouettes and lace elements were shot on trace then composited with 3D models in After Effects.

DRACULA Titles from MOMOCO Film Titles on Vimeo.

Honda spot

Chris Palmer of Gorgeous is behind the launch spot for Honda’s new SUV and its  ‘surprisingly’ low emissions and high fuel efficiency and is made up of a series of optical illusions that make “the impossible possible.” The agency was McGarry Bowen and post was at The Mill. The grade was by Seamus O’Kane and it was cut by Paul Watts at The Quarry.

Honda Illusions, An Impossible Made Possible - New CR-V 1.6 Diesel Video from Rodrigo Alvarez Yanes on Vimeo.

Blue Zoo
Rugby league

Blue-Zoo directed this trail for BBC Sport’s coverage of the Rugby League World Cup 2013 following on from the ad it created for the Rugby League Challenge Cup. It stars stylised giant low-polygon rugby characters that invade the UK and battle it out for the trophy. Modelling and animating in Maya was led by Dan Edgely and it was composited in After Effects by Charlie Batho.

BBC Sport - Rugby League World Cup 2013 from Blue Zoo on Vimeo.

Jaguar film

This paper and pencil film is director Rok Predin’s latest for Jaguar. FP Creative ordered a film for the new Jaguar C-X17’s global debut at the Frankfurt motor show that showed off its new all-aluminium technical architecture. The piece is a mix of hand-rendered 2D lines with 3D rendered elements. It was produced by Richard Barnett.

Jaguar C-X17 from Trunk Animation on Vimeo.

Chocolat Luxe

MPC was behind the stunning effects in RSA director Johnny Hardstaff’s latest spot for new Bailey’s Chocolat Luxe drink. The smoke effects, underwater models and cascading chocolate rivers were made from an  amalgamation of shot elements, live action and CG. The agency was 101 London. Producer was Tim Wild and the grade was by George K.

Baileys Chocolat Luxe / Forming 60" from 101 London on Vimeo.

Dia De Los Muertos
Ticktockrobot’s Simon Armstrong directed this film, written by Ben Young Mason, for Houston Symphony’s multimedia concert experience.

Short film Mute explores a world populated by people born without a mouth. It’s directed and created by Job, Joris & Marieke.

Creative Nuts
Sky Challenge

Creative Nuts’ rebrand for Sky Challenge  has a series of characters  watching TV together that portray the range of shows on Challenge.

Challenge Ident - Muscle from Creative Nuts on Vimeo.

This is S4C show NiDiNi [We’R’Us] where real kids talking about their lives are animated. It was directed and produced by Hywel Griffith.

Posted 13 November 2013 by Jon Creamer

Small screen drama: shooting from a kid's perspective

Kids indie Darrall Macqueen had to shoot fast and low when turning Topsy and Tim into Cbeebies’ first ever live action drama. Maddy Darrall tells Jon Creamer how it was done

Darrall Macqueen was tasked with making a show that spoke directly to three to six year olds by keeping the child characters centre stage. That meant finding a filming style that would be on their level, and would be quick enough and flexible enough to keep performances fresh as well as fitting in with the limited hours they could be on set.

A child actor’s time on set is very limited, how did you work around that?
We’ve filmed with this age range before but never as leads and that’s the difference. We made a commitment they would be in every scene and we had to come up with ways of achieving that because the limitations on filming with such young children are quite restrictive.

How did you keep the kids’ performances fresh?
How we would cast it and film it was really considered upfront before we started writing. We knew we wanted the kids to be on screen in every scene, and that we would need to build a set and find a way of filming them which meant they could go almost anywhere on the set and treat it as a real house.

How is the set designed?
We’ve built a set that mirrors a real house location we found. We used translight backdrops so it feels very real and we’re not entering too much into the world of soap. We have lit it so you can shoot 360 degrees and the children can literally go anywhere they like without there being problems.

Is it important not to give the child actors too much structure? 
We cast seven year olds to play five year olds. I don’t know how much you can expect a seven year old to really act at that age. It’s more a propensity towards being able to take a story and a feeling into their brains and being able to portray that with a large group of adults around you with cameras pointing at you. What we didn’t want was to stop that flow and naturalism. The way we shoot is very different from most adult dramas. It’s very improvised. We block the cameras and the adult artists but we never rehearse on set with the children. They come in, they know their lines and we go for it and we try to capture it on their first take. They can go anywhere they like, they can do what they like, pick up what they like. The adult actors have been cast deliberately so they can fill the gaps and improvise around what the children might career off doing. That’s given us something really natural.

How is it shot?
We’re shooting on one main camera, which for a first pass is on their faces primarily. We’ve got at least one camera hidden behind a trap. We tend to come round for a second pass immediately and do the whole scene again from a 180-degree angle so it feels a bit more drama than fly on the wall. We haven’t gone too hand-held. We weren’t trying to create a zoo TV feel. The camera is quite considered.

How did you get the camera down to the child’s eye view?
Everything’s shot at a metre height and we really stick to that with no exceptions. We ended up customising an electric wheelchair to make a dolly (nicknamed “Betty” by the crew). It was constructed by our DoP, Simon Reay, who was looking for a way to film at a metre high, and follow the child cast around set but with a different feel to the more usual choices of handheld on an Easyrig or via Steadicam.

Why not just use Steadicam?
We could have gone Steadicam though that probably would have cost us a bit more than we could have afforded on a regular basis. But even with Easyrig cameras or handheld they tend to very much keep up with the kids so they’re moving with the kids all the time. The wonderful thing about this improvised dolly is it’s just fractionally behind them, so we’re always giving the impression it’s not a camera led show and that the kids are in charge of whatever we’re doing. It’s quite subliminal but you can really tell when you watch an episode that that’s what we’ve set out to do.

Did kids TV budgets also inform the need to move fast?
It’s a tight ship, which is again why we had to develop a shooting style that helped us do that. The adult actors have never filmed on anything so fast. They’ve got to be on their toes. It’s like live TV or theatre for them where you’ve got one chance. As well as doing drama, our camera and sound team have all worked in documentary. That’s a really useful starting point. We felt we needed people who understood not just how to make soap or drama, but people who are much more able to go with the flow and react.               

CBeebies’ first live action drama, Topsy and Tim, is based on the original 1960s books by Jean and Gareth Adamson that feature a brother and sister and their everyday lives. Baby Jake indie Darrall Macqueen shot the 60x11-minute series at Twickenham studios.
11th November
Production Company
Darrall Macqueen
Kay Benbow, CBeebies controller
Richard Bradley, Jack Jameson, Matt Holt
Production design
Anthony Howells
Simon Reay
Dave Ingham, Diane Whitley, Gillian Corderoy, Chris Parker, Laura Summer
Fiona Robinson
Exec producers
Maddy Darrall, Billy Macqueen for Darrall Macqueen. Michael Towner for CBeebies
Twickenham Studios
The Farm
Sony F3 recording on to AJA Kia Pro Mini 422 ProRes HQ

Posted 13 November 2013 by Jon Creamer

On the wild side: TV natural history gets viewers closer

Natural history TV has always endeavoured to get the viewer closer to the natural world. But audiences are demanding ever more immersive experiences, and producers are rising to the challenge. Jon Creamer reports
For a long time now, natural history TV has faced criticism that while other television genres tried new approaches, new formats, and interbred with each other to create new hybrids, high end natural history stood apart, content to rely on technology, rather than storytelling, to wow audiences.

At the same time, major blue chip natural history buyers like Discovery found they could get big audiences with cheaper, docusoap shows that could be made in bulk, relatively quickly. This year, Discovery announced it was pulling out of its long-standing joint venture with the BBC that spawned breathtaking series such as Blue Planet.

But whether those criticisms of natural history TV ever rang true, they don’t now. Natural history producers are finding new ways to tell their stories while, of course, still using the latest technology to show the natural world in ever more fascinating ways. Natural history television has embraced the idea that simply showing audiences spectacular pictures of spectacular animals is no longer enough.

 “It’s a new competitive era now,” says Atlantic Productions ceo, Anthony Geffen. “Before you just made a film about a blue whale and everybody would buy it, but people are very demanding now. It’s almost as if natural history’s been around the world and we’ve seen everything and now it’s about how can we see it differently? There’s a much broader range of people getting involved and we’re seeing some really clever approaches.”

The drive now is to make ever more immersive shows. “The key is to create an immersive experience, something more visceral,” says Wendy Darke, head of the BBC Natural History Unit. “How do you allow audiences to get in to the natural world more and more and feel as if they are ar are actually there?”

That new approach is not to tell audiences something, but to drop them in to the action. “It’s a change in relationship with our audience,” says Darke. “Classically we approached it with the ‘voice of God’ where we knew something you didn’t and we told you the story of the landscape or animal you’ve never seen before. Then we went into the detail. And now our relationship with the audience has to be on the level.” Newly announced NHU shows like Oceans will try to do just that and new techniques will be dedicated to achieving that eye level approach. Technologies like octocopters, small, hovering radio-controlled gadgets that are useful for cheap aerials can also take a camera up close to subjects that would have proved difficult before. Icon’s md Harry Marshall has just come back from Ecuador where he used the gadgets to fly a camera through the rainforest canopy. “It’s getting shots we could never have got. In the past you had to climb up a tree, string a wire across 300 metres, put the camera on a pulley and it inevitably snagged. Now you get a glorified toy and fly it around the forest and get the most amazing shots.”

And crucially, give the audience the feeling they are in the thick of the action. And that’s important because the audience’s relationship with TV is changing, says the NHU’s Darke. “So many viewers are watching along with Zeebox or the Twitter feed, they’re responding to what they’re seeing and having a parallel conversation. The audience is engaging. The more we can engage eye to eye allows it to be a partnership.”

That eye-to-eye engagement also increases the audience’s empathy with what they’re seeing on screen. And creating that empathy seems to be more and more on producer’s minds. Natural history filmmakers are attempting to grab viewers beyond the core fans and core demographic and trying to do that by borrowing aspects of drama – making animal characters that the audience can root for. “Empathy is significant,” says Darke. “If you care it has value and meaning and you want to engage again and again. Animal drama is a new area we’re pushing into.”

Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield’s Disney feature doc Chimpanzee led the way, focussing on the story of one animal and his struggle. But that’s hard for natural history filmmakers who are wary of anthropomorphising animals. It’s a fine balance between showing a creature’s human traits to let the viewer empathise more with it, while not pretending the animal’s human. “Broadcasters are interested in the anthropomorphism of animals,” says Oxford Scientific Films’ head of development. Peter Collins. “It’s always a tricky area for us. You don’t want to impose human characteristics and behaviour too much. But there is a definite fascination with animals that behave in a seemingly human way.” And it’s a popular approach, and one way of gaining audiences put off by the classic take.

Of course, another way to immerse audiences in the natural world is through 3D. 3D seems purpose built for natural history TV but its uptake by broadcasters and producers has been patchy. While Sky still makes a big play of its 3D content, the BBC has abandoned the format for the foreseeable future. So many producers are also steering clear. But then those that have embraced the format are surging forward. Oxford Scientific Films’ Pandas 3D special has just gone out on Sky and its Meerkat 3D hit last year. “We feel natural history in 3D works extremely well,” says OSF’s Peter Collins. “The audience feels utterly immersed in that habitat. With the meerkats film you felt like you were in the Kalahari. It really adds something to the story and and makes it more accessible and appealing to the audience.” Atlantic Productions is a past a master of the format, pushing the technology further and creating lightweight rigs to fly among birds and macro rigs for shows like Kingdom of Plants and Micro Monsters. But the company’s also had to create a new business model to make the films work financially with an Imax release alongside TV and other digital platforms. But it won’t be long before the format really kicks in, says ceo Anthony Geffen. “The problem is there isn’t a lot of good 3D content. Even though millions of people have a 3D ready TV, they’re not watching in 3D because there isn’t the content. Sky’s growing well but the game changer has to be the new glasses-free 4K 3D TVs. They’re remarkably good.”

What isn’t having a patchy uptake among high-end natural history producers is 4K acquisition. Shooting in 4K has almost become the de facto standard. “Why would you go three weeks up the Congo to some remote lake and not shoot in a format that’s not beautiful and future proof,” says Icon’s Harry Marshall. “The investment in getting these shots is far greater than the cost of investing in the new technology and ensuring it has a long shelf life.”

And ensuring the content can go further than the living room if needs be. “When we think about producing content, we’re thinking of content in a platform agnostic world,” says the NHU’s Darke. “If we have a fantastic story we want to be able to put it on a big screen or take it into tablet form.”

Though pretty much no one is watching content in 4K right now, the consensus is that they will be soon enough and, once they are, even HD content will find it hard to compete. “We’re now reaching an era where the BBC’s great series were not even made in HD. Those series will be around as archive but I think some of the great subjects will be remade,” says Atlantic’s Geffen. “If I go to my 50-inch screen I want the best experience, otherwise why am I watching it on a 50-inch screen.”

Posted 25 October 2013 by Jon Creamer

Behind the scenes: Chris Shepherd's The Ringer

Animator Chris Shepherd is back with a new short – a mash up of gritty Loach-ian 
live action and stylized 70s Hollywood gangster flick. Jon Creamer reports

Chris Shepherd, the animator behind shorts including the David Shrigley designed Who I Am and What I Want and the live action/animation mix of Dad’s Dead is back after a long hiatus with a new (long) short, The Ringer. The film is a mix of live action and stylised animated fantasy sequences. It was shot in the UK and animated in France.

The Ringer ---- coming soon to 57th BFI London Film Festival, Cork, Abittbi Temiscamingue and Bruz. from chris shepherd on Vimeo.

Why come back to making shorts now?
I’ve written three feature films for different people and they’ve all entered development hell and never happened. I had one that went on for five years. After that period I thought ‘I’ll only be alive once so I’ve just got to make some films.’ My earlier films are more idiosyncratic, they’re more me. I’m back in that zone. I’m not trying to sell myself as anything. I’m just telling the story. Some people do it as calling cards, I just want to tell a story.

Is the story autobiographical?
It’s inspired from things that have happened but it’s not reality. I met my dad quite late in life and it’s inspired by that. I’d like the audience to figure out what’s reality and what’s not.

How did the film come about?
I’d made another film called Silence is Golden with Nicolas Schmerkin from French studio Autour de Minuit. Then I won the Canal Plus international award in 2010 for another film Bad Night for the Blues, so we managed to get the money together for this one from Canal Plus. My stuff’s always been quite popular in France. It’s great over there. It’s a bit like the way it used to be in Britain in the 90s. The funding structures are different.

How were the live action sequences shot?
The standard live action was shot in about four days by Simon Tindall on an Alexa. That was a straight drama shoot. We shot the stuff outside in Woolwich and the other bits in Soho. I wanted there to be a contrast between Chris the animator’s world and his dad Danny’s.

What about the fantasy sequences?
The blue screen shoot we did on 7Ds in Camberwell Studios. I downloaded the blueprints of a Mercedes and had chairs made by furniture makers called Hendzel and Hunt and they built a brilliant gearbox as well. In other scenes we just had key props. Then with Justine Wright (Last King of Scotland) we cut it together like a piece of drama.

What look did you want for the fantasy sequences?
I wanted it to be like 70s film posters. The film is about dreams and reconciliations. It’s about the dream of cinema. Danny wants to be a writer and both characters have aspirations, essentially hollow dreams. It’s in the reality that the father and son never really come together but in fantasy they do. It’s the Hollywood utopian dream, everyone’s happy in a Hollywood film. I was using the fantasy imagery to say that.

How did you work remotely with the French animation studio?
I worked by email and Dropbox, I designed stuff in England, then it went over to Clermont Ferrand where Autour De Minuit has a studio and we worked like that for six months on the animation. I would do guides like set ups and we just conferred as we went along. We bounced it back and forward. I’d take their files and start adding stuff. It was purely a visual communication we were doing. Mainly I’d use pictures to explain. I did animatics of everything as well. They were so fastidious. The detail in that animation is amazing. The rotoscope on the characters is all hand drawn, all of Big Tony’s tattoos and so on. They worked hard on it, people will think it’s a computer program but it was so 
hand crafted.

Was it hard to have the animation made in another country?
As I’ve got older I’m becoming a bit more mature as a filmmaker. As an animator you’re like a god. You think ‘I can create anything I want.’ But I’ve done a lot of live action recently and in live action you’ve almost got to embrace the unknown. You don’t know what’s going to happen. I always have scripts and storyboards and everything but when it comes to performance you’ve got to have a bit of space. I tried to have that philosophy for the animators because they’re like actors. If they have a bit of space they’ll give it more and get into the character. The Ringer is being shown at The London Film Festival, on Canal Plus and festivals around 
the world

The Ringer tells the story of a long lost father who comes back into the life of his animator son to try to get him involved with his crazy gangster genre film script, The Ringer, but also to form a connection with him. The film is a mix of live action and rotoscoped 70s film poster stylishness produced by Shepherd in the UK and Oscar winner Nicolas Schmerkin of French studio Autour 
De Minuit.
John Henshaw, Kieran Lynn, Dave Sommer, Milo Quinton, Priscilla Adade, Nicholas Gerard-Martin
Nicolas Schmerkin, Valentina Brazzini, Chris Shepherd
Chris Shepherd
Chris Shepherd
Simon Tindall
Justine Wright
Sound designer/mixer
Andy Humphreys
Ollie Davis
Justine Wright
Julien Bonnafous
Francis Canitrot
Damien Climent
Cyril Costa
Autour de Minuit

Posted 23 October 2013 by Jon Creamer

Dinosaur Roar: making a big noise across the platforms

Nurture Rights, the kids entertainment company set up by ex HIT exec Peter Curtis and Nick Barrington has signed a deal with the Natural History Museum to develop and market its pre-school property, Dinosaur Roar!, based on a classic picture book by Paul and Henrietta Stickland. The plans don’t initially include a TV series though, instead Nurture will work with the palaeontology team at the NHM to create an interactive dinosaur property for the under sixes including an online world, a touring dinosaur exhibition an IMAX experience and a licensing programme including new books, apps and more. A deal with Random House has been signed for the publishing programme. Nick Barrington explains the project

Why this book?
All the illustrations from the original book are recognisable as real dinosaurs. Both ourselves and the Natural History Museum thought there was an opportunity to expand the book and create a resource for the under sixes to teach them about dinosaurs. We wanted to avoid humanising the dinosaurs. We didn’t want them to go to school or have mummies or daddies. It had to be based on fact.

Why start without a TV series in the mix?
Because the subject matter is so rich if we just did a straight television series we didn’t feel there’d be enough to it so that’s why we’ve started with a website. Television is a closed format. You’re telling a story and it finishes. Museums wanted something very interactive that kids could really play with. Then when we talked to museums in the US we found there was a demand for an exhibition specifically for the under sixes as well as an Imax experience of about 15 minutes. In the US most museums have an Imax screen.

How did you develop the characters?
We work with the palaeontology team to enhance the designs. We take the real traits of each dinosaur and create a character based on that. It’s treading a fine line where we make it age appropriate but we don’t dilute the dinosaurs. Every quarter we have a dinosaur summit where we talk to child psychologists and literacy experts and we debate our development.

How are the new characters created?
They’re all made in Plastiline initially. They then get scanned, coloured and rigged for movement. Whereas it took Paul Stickland three weeks to do a spread we can do a book in a week. Then we’ll do stories on the website, animation on the website, craft activities, take the subject of dinosaurs and celebrate it across everything not just stories.

Did you bring in new expertise for the project?
We brought in a lot of digital consultants. One of the areas of excitement is working with people outside the TV area like exhibitions people and those with tablet, website, mobile experience and working with child psychologists on play patterns.

How is it different from a TV project? 
What’s been different is the longer development period as everything comes at once. Previously you’d make a TV series then you’d think about the website. Now we’re thinking about the web, the exhibition, the Imax, the storybooks. That’s why the bible is much more detailed. The development period is much longer because you have to have consistency across all your platforms

Will it ever be a TV series?
Our stories could easily be a television series with one story per episode. It’s in our plan but what we’re doing at the moment is making sure each stage is done correctly before we move on.

How do you make money?
We make money from licensing the content and from the merchandise that goes with it so it’s funded the same way as pre-school television.

How will you market it?
Random House has a marketing budget, the Natural History Museum has a marketing budget and so do we. Then we’ll be looking for marketing partnerships with other regional museums. The museum piece is almost replacing the television piece in terms of promotion.

Why try this model?
Partly because we hadn’t done it before and we saw the market was changing. Television is still a massive driver but we see kids consuming media in a different way. We’d seen the success of older age groups with online based properties and thought there was an opportunity for the under sixes. We’ve always loved this book. For us the model of TV coming first still exists but not for this particular property.

Posted 22 October 2013 by Jon Creamer

Interview: All3media boss Farah Ramzan Golant

With her feet now well and truly under the desk, Farah Ramzan Golant, chief executive of the UK’s biggest superindie All3media, tells Jon Creamer about her plans for growth

“I do keep thinking ‘When do I stop being the outsider from advertising?’” So ponders All3media’s ceo, Farah Ramzan Golant about her first months in the TV world.

Well maybe now’s the time. It’s close to a year since she was plucked from a 25 year career in the ad industry where she’d risen to executive chairman of AMV BBDO, picking up a CBE along the way, and deposited into the world of TV production as All3’s ceo.

It’s certainly been long enough for her to start putting her ideas on how to grow the federal outfit, already the biggest indie grouping in the UK, into practice.  And she says, the initial signs are encouraging. “We’ve just closed our year-end and, though I’m sure I’m not meant to tell you, we’ve broken through the £500m-revenue mark.” (up from the previous £477m).

But that’s only the start, she says. The private equity backed company had one aborted sale in 2011, but another is not an immediate plan, she suggests. “Private equity is a pretty well documented model so at some point no doubt…” But until then All3 has some growing to do before the shareholders look to exit. “I feel a really strong sense of conviction from the shareholders that I’ve brought something new to the party.”

The plan now is to “make a few big priorities and not get distracted with a million things that a group of this scale could do,” she says. One thing that isn’t a priority is more acquisitions. “We’re always in the market for them but we are already at scale so we don’t have to buy. There are other ways to grow.”

One of those ways is represented by her latest deal that sees All3 taking a stake in comedian Matt Lucas’s indie John Stanley Productions. “Anybody would have wanted to take a stake in that company.” Being a talent magnet is crucial, she says, and “I’m really keen on start ups” as they represent a way to “get ahead of the curve” rather than be following it.

As well as investing in outside talent, she’s also keen on investing in the talent within All3media. Many of All3’s enviable spread of indies are closely identified with their founders and creative leaders, both a strength but also a worrying weakness. “A group this wide and diverse cannot just rest on the leadership of each company,” she says. “There’s always a danger that you forget about the next generation two or three layers down.” So the push is on to find “how we create space for them to have their own development slate, to be more visible to the group headquarters?”

Some have already been given that space, Andy Taylor was set up in digital start up Little Dot under the All3 umbrella and there are more to come. But she’s also interested “in a different kind of umbrella,” where start-ups could be grown under the wing of one of All3’s indies “like a hosted start up. Might a start up do better if it’s hosted inside a creative enterprise rather than inside the holding company? If Objective’s Andrew Newman or Optomen’s Pat Llewellyn could put their arm around a start up, that’s really leveraging our creative strength.”

New talent aside, the other concern for a superindie is keeping hold of the talent it paid the big bucks for in the first place. After all, many indie bosses who’ve had their companies acquired have left soon after their earn out period. But retaining top talent was always a concern in the ad industry too. “It’s a classic leadership challenge,” says Ramzan Golant. “You’ve got to keep your creative leaders motivated and incentivised.” Partly that’s about  “brute reward” but also about apportioning credit. Creative people “need to feel not only that they’re going to be incentivised and rewarded, they want recognition for their work.” And also that All3 doesn’t crowd them too much. “They have deep pride in their companies. There’s a fierce sense of tribalism.” But despite their independence “there is a recognition of their dream and how you’re going to help them get there.”

Part of that help is a crucial part of the group’s expansion plans. The launch of All3Media America in January, the company’s LA based studio, is there to offer All3’s indies a bridgehead to the US. “There were individual companies west and east coast. We’ve been there for ten years plus but it was a benefit to create this infrastructure so the operating companies who are not yet in America can get off the tarmac straight into the campus.” And work through an All3Media America that already has “deal precedents and upstream relationships. NBC, Fox and CBS have all bought shows from us.” But All3Media America won’t just bring UK formats to US networks. Stephen Lambert’s Million Second Quiz for NBC is a US original. The show garnered tepid ratings on its initial outing but was a good statement of intent. It’s time “to challenge the perception that you’ve got to make it work here and then make it bigger there. Some things you might make there first and bring home.” Either way, the key is to keep experimenting. “When you’re successful that’s the time when you have to guard most against settling into old habits.”

Farah Ramzan Golant joined All3media in November 2012. Before moving into television production she had a 25 year career in the advertising industry, rising through the ranks of AMV BBDO, Britain’s largest advertising agency to become CEO in 2005. She was a member of the BBDO Worldwide Board based in New York and in 2011 was awarded a CBE for services to the advertising industry.She currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the National Theatre, the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Group and the Advisory Board of the Cambridge Judge Business School.

This interview first appeared in Televisual's October edition

Posted 22 October 2013 by Jon Creamer
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