On line shorts
- Fun And Games
- Fun with poo
- Game on!
- The sound of the Wotwots
- Celebrating Diversity
- Seat belts
- Footprints In The Sand
- Pink and Blue
- Celebrating Wildlife
- Getting it wrong is... right!
- Drawing Is Cool.
- Why the hover chairs?
- Hello WotWot friends
Fun And Games
A couple of months ago we were approached by a young start up company called Gamefroot based here in Wellington. They have developed an amazing game system where anyone, even a game Neanderthal like me, can build their own game. So with their help, that’s what I’ve done, I’ve designed and built a WotWot game. The challenge I set myself was to create a game that was easy to play and to understand by our young Wotwot friends, but would also be fun for Mum and Dads, and therefore me, to play as well. It was interesting talking to the guys as they used terms like, ‘number of lives.’ Clearly our game couldn’t have this, the WotWots dying on screen because the young player failed to complete a level in time!! No! And ‘fail’ too, how can it be a game if failure is built in? So it was an interesting experience for all sorts of reasons. Classic game play is all about failure and reward, about doing something in the nick of time or crashing, burning, dying in the attempt. It’s interesting that these kinds of games, races against odds, against the clock, have become the most popular. So for the WotWot game I have built in the fun without those negative connotations. Have a play and tell me what you think? I’ve made it in three levels so our young friends can have fun and succeed and progress. But at the third level it’s challenging enough to frustrate Mum and Dad too – I hope. And the great thing about the system these young guys have come up with is- I can tweak the complexity myself based on your feedback. So if it gets too easy, let me know and I’ll make it harder. Fade out on Martin’s evil chuckles.
Fun with poo
Poos are funny, right? Not quite so funny in the nappy years for Mum and Dad, that seemingly endless stage of being on watch for the suddenly exploding nappy which only five minutes beforehand was completely dry! But for kids, pooh are very funny. If we need the reward of a big smile from a friend’s toddler we all know that a well executed raspberry will do the trick. In those first years poos are such a big part of their life; food in, food out; nappy changes; overzealous applaud from proud parents for filling the potty at the appointed time, (the baby not the parents.) So when it came to getting a script all about poo for the Wotwots I should have been delighted, and I was. But I was nervous too. The script came from my daughter Terri, a wonderful writer who has written over half the WotWot scripts. The script was funny, laugh-out-loud funny. And we knew without a shadow of a doubt that the kids would love it. But for a producer, the big concern is always what the gatekeepers will think of it, the broadcasters and parent lobby groups, especially for a show like the WotWots which plays in over 90 countries from the US to China, from Brazil to the Middle East. How do other cultures view the poo issue? Would the US broadcasters reject it? We decided that the episode met all our own standards, it didn’t talk down to our audience, it was comic, it was engaging. So we went ahead. And the good news – not a single broadcaster has had an issue with it, it has become one of the most watched eps wherever it gets streamed – a firm favourite. And that is great, so often in this business we over edit and over sanitise our kid’s shows for fear of losing one market or another. The WotWots poo episode shows that all over the world people are pretty much the same, if something is funny in a good celebratory way, not offensively funny at someone’s expense, then we all share the same funny bone.
A frank admission – I am hooked on new technology, but only when it allows us to do amazing new things in new ways, or old things in new ways. But I’m also slow to adapt; I like to wait and see if there is real merit, if the technology opens new doors of opportunity or is just a sparkling trinket full of shallow bells and whistles. So I’ve been watching the growth and maturity of the tablet world, and in particular the stunning growth in pre-school material, with stunned delight. As a writer and illustrator of children’s books for over 30 years I’m also wary. My own love and attachment to the physical book is so deeply rooted in a lifetime of delight in page-turning, that the Luddite within me is cautious about what this brave new world of technology will mean for the future of the physical book. But young children have no such scruples. They want knowledge, they want experience, they want the ability to dive headfirst into story worlds and immerse themselves in whatever can be found there. And suddenly with tablet technology they have something that obeys their most sophisticated personal interface with the world – their little forefingers. We have explored this space now, and our first venture, a digital book, was given the prestigious Parents Choice award which was a huge thrill. If you want to check it out it’s an iPad app called Lanky Landing Legs. The positive feedback we received emboldened us to make our first game app that we have specifically targeted to our 1 to 2 yr old WottyWotters. We learned from watching this age group play with other apps that the key is to reward their motor skills every time. So in this game children tickle SpottyWot. If they miss, then SpottyWot sighs and shakes his head, but if they tickle the screen in the right spot he laughs and wriggles. So something happens even if they get the touch movement wrong, but the big reward happens when they get it right. And if the child can learn to put together a series of very fast precise finger strokes then SpottyWot can be spun right around in his chair. There is a second window in the game that mirrors the Sneak a Peek Periscope from the show. It’s a simple hide and seek game where children can swipe the viewfinder to search a picture of the Zoo outside. If they spot part of a hiding animal, they tap the screen and the animal appears. So it’s a very simple game that a child can play without parent help. I would love to get your feedback so we can to learn how to explore the potential of this amazing world.
The sound of the Wotwots
One of the key ingredients of any show is the sound. Not just the music, but all the different sound elements and how they integrate to give a unique sound picture that defines the world. When this is done really well it should be possible to listen to just the sound effects and mood music and tell immediately what show it is. It’s often called the sound landscape. We knew who we wanted for this role, and we just hoped he was available and keen. David Long is a distinguished musician with a great CV of work as a composer, songwriter, recording artist and performer. We showed him some clips of the WotWots and he fell in love with the show, and so did his young pre-school son who took a proprietary interest in it from day one and made sure it was the most important job on his dad’s schedule every day. David worked closely with Theo the director in defining the landscape as Theo wanted to mirror the glass and brass steam look. So even though it was a spaceship, we didn’t want to use computer generated sound effects or what can be best described as electronic synthesised music. So all the sounds in the ship were recorded and sampled from steam trains, brass switches and other pre-computer types of engineering. For instance the sound of SpottyWots’ printer is a recording of an old foot peddle operated sewing machine. David then decided to record brass instruments like tubas for some of the little signature sounds of moving parts inside the ship. This allowed him to compose the music with the same sound landscape based around wind instruments. The result is a unique sound landscape that adds to the distinctive nature of the WotWots show. Thank you David and the amazing team you gathered round you for this venture. (And to your boy who demanded you stay on schedule because he wanted to hear the results hot off the press every day.)
The WotWots can be seen in 92 counties and in many languages. SpottyWot and DottyWot play on thousands of screens from Poland to Korea. For the creative team here in New Zealand this is a huge thrill. But it is also a humbling one – we have achieved the first step in our long journey to make the WotWots household names, characters who can be ambassadors for the premise that lies at the heart of the show. And it is this: we want to promote the celebration of difference and diversity. In the first two series of the show the WotWots are exploring the rich diversity of life here on planet Earth. Through books and future series we discover the reason why. All WotWots head off from their home planet to see the wonders of the universe because when they grow up they can choose what they will be. We travel back with them to their planet where they visit their many exotic Uncles and Aunties. These colourful relatives have chosen all kinds of forms, colours, patterns and attributes. Some have antlers, some wings, some have four legs some have flippers – but all WotWots delight in these differences. They celebrate the richness and colour that comes from diversity. What could be more important than celebrating this message with young children in a hundred countries here on planet Earth.
So please let us know your thoughts. SpottyWot and DottyWot will meet all kinds of eccentric characters who have chosen to wallow in mud, or nest in treetops. I would love to see what quirky creatures your own children can create. Send us your drawings and a name for your character and we will post our favourites up on the site every month.
This is an emotional WotWot topic, and I don’t want to distress anyone who has had the terrible misfortune of having a child injured in a traffic accident. But I’d like to draw the attention of all our Mums and Dads and grandparents and caregivers to something we have deliberately embedded into the WotWot show. Whenever SpottyWot and DottyWot go outside the spaceship in their hoverchairs, they ALWAYS buckle up their seat belts. This was a bigger and costlier decision that it might first appear. (Good Eureka moments and ideas often are!) It meant we had to cope with all the continuity bloopers we made as our heroes exited and re-entered the spaceship. We didn’t make the wearing of belts a big narrative element or a specific story event – except in the first episode where we deliberately demonstrated it as good behaviour. The idea was to make it the norm, to have it as an unspoken part of their lives and their routine, something they did quite naturally and spontaneously because that is what smart creatures do. My hope and expectation was that parents would see element and use it as a discussion in the car if they were having issues with any of their children rejecting their restraints, harnesses, seat belts etc. By showing how the WotWots are always happy to be wearing their seat belts our hope was that they would be used as good role models that parents can point to. Email feedback has shown that this is happening, but I’d like to now step it up a level and get your feedback on an idea – and I’ll start it as a discussion on the WotWot facebook page. Shall we post images and clips up on this site that show some of those WotWot seatbelt moments very clearly? That way the modelling of the behaviour is just a click away if an exasperated parent wants to show a reluctant passenger how SpottyWot is very happy and proud to buckle up his seat belt. So please click into the discussion on our Facebook page and drop me a comment, or click ‘like’ if you think this is a valuable parenting tool. If enough people would like it then I can organise a way to have this teaching element housed inside the WotWot site. Conversely if you think it’s a bad idea, that we shouldn’t be engaged in behavioural and social engineering on these issues, then please still enter the dialogue and let us get a healthy debate underway. WottyWotWot.
Footprints In The Sand
I remember as a child watching old TV Westerns like the Lone Ranger and having my Dad break the spell by pointing out the motor vehicle tyre treads in the sand as the horses raced through the shot. I can only imagine how hard it must have been making a movie such as Laurence Of Arabia – all those shots of untouched dunes that the camels and horses charged across. All those hours of setting up a complex shot with no-one stepping on that pristine sand. So when we decided to set half our new WotWot series on the beach, it raised a lot of eyebrows and questioning hands. Not only did we have the problem of setting up a shot without stepping on the sand within the frame of view, but we had to work out how the WotWots DID make footprints and impressions in the sand when they were digital characters added after we had shot the live footage. The wonderful team here tackled the problem with their usual enthusiasm and inventiveness. They made one plea though: please keep the sand contact to a minimum. So we did, until one show when Theo, our director, had a bit of fun and storyboarded as much contact as he could. He even had SpottyWot dive and roll Commando style down the face of a sand dune. He had expected the animation team to push back and request a revision. They didn’t. They took it as a challenge and delivered the complex and delightful moment in all its glory. It’s just a few seconds of screen time, but it took a lot of effort and good humoured commitment to deliver. It’s been wonderful to see how this sense of fun and this desire to push the envelope has expressed itself on the screen. Everyone who watches the show, even if they don’t understand the mechanics of its production, seem to pick up on this exuberance. Making TV is a team sport, and Theo has built an amazing and committed team around him. I thank them all.
Pink and Blue
Back in the mid eighties I wrote a children’s book called Jane And The Dragon. Jane was a young girl training to be a Lady In Waiting in medieval England, but she had her own dreams, she wanted to be a knight. She challenged all the expectations of her peers, her parents and her King and at the end of the story she successfully becomes a knight of the King’s Guard. At the time of its release the book gathered support from a wide range of groups who were pleased to see a girl protagonist who challenged stereotypes.
From a present day perspective this seems strange, the last twenty years have seen a wonderful explosion in books that celebrate all forms of diversity and the landscape has completely changed for the better. So when we came to design our two WotWots I looked at all the colour pallets being used on other pre-school shows and discovered that everyone was avoiding pink and blue because of the sexual stereotyping. Yet pastel Pink and Blue work so well as complimentary colours, they are wonderful identifiers for very young children. So it was perfect for the WotWots because of the underlying premise that is signalled in the title song.
In my last blog I signalled that we were launching a discussion forum on our facebook page called “Ask the Creator” where I will reveal the larger vision we have for the show. The choice of pink and blue is part of that vision and I look forward to sharing it with you in that forum and beginning a colourful discussion.
In the last few decades, wildlife documentaries have highlighted the terrible plight of animals and the wholesale destruction of many unique habitats. I applaud the message of these programs with all my heart, as a species we continue to behave with a ruthless disregard for the long term viability of the ecosystem and the impact we are having on the creatures who share the world with us.
As adults this is our burden, a burden we must address, but we must be careful not to make shows for very young preschool children that are top heavy with this message. We must make shows that celebrate the joy and diversity of wildlife so children can be in awe of it without confusion or pain. We need a generation of children to grow up with the freedom to love animals unconditionally, not children who shrink away from animal programs because they are too painful to watch. Once they get to an age where they feel empowered to do something, then we can and must present the conservation issues.
With the WotWots I made an editorial decision to have stories that celebrate the joy and diversity of wildlife without any reference to the plight of animals. We need our very young preschool children to grow up with an innocent, carefree passion for wildlife and that starts with celebration and wonderment, not hand wringing. So now that the show is on air around the world, we wanted to find an international wildlife organisation we could support who shared this approach. We chose the Earth Rangers because even though their focus is on a slightly older age group, they take a similar guilt free stance. Their message is that all children can be Earth Rangers and can help look after the planet on behalf of all wildlife. We have begun working with them to see how the WotWots can support their work and how we can create age appropriate wildlife messaging for pre-schoolers.
Getting it wrong is... right!
An important ingredient of learning is to be able to celebrate the discoveries that come from participating, and having the courage to participate means having the courage to make mistakes.
We wanted SpottyWot to be our champion for this. SpottyWot makes up wonderful imaginative pictures based on incomplete information. He doesn’t wait for certainty and he isn’t afraid that he will be judged for getting something wrong, quite the reverse, he bursts into laughter when he discovers what an animal actually looks like, how it differs from his imaginative drawing.
So in the show we have the discovery of facts, the delight at uncovering new information. We learn, for instance, what an elephant’s trunk is really used for. But we also learn that it is fun to imagine what else that trunk might be for, and that exploring alternatives doesn’t have to be about getting something right or wrong, that there is creative fun to be had along the way.
It is the same for DottyWot. She will sometimes offer a hypothesis before she sets out to investigate something, she knows that by investigating she will prove or disprove an idea, but she is not afraid of making a suggestion early on before she has complete information. In the show our WotWots are relaxed and comfortable about presenting an idea even if it might prove wrong, because in the show we model the response to that, the narrator is never critical or judgemental, on the contrary, he applauds their participation at every turn. There is no creativity without the courage to make mistakes.
Drawing Is Cool.
When we were kids, both Richard Taylor and I loved a UK show called Vision On. It started as a show for the deaf but quickly became prime time TV. The presenter would draw and paint live on the show. It was almost magical watching an image appear on a blank sheet and I clearly remember its galvanizing response on me, that urge to get up and draw the moment the show ended.
In later years as an illustrator I visited many schools and talked to children about the process of drawing. For very young children the idea that some living breathing person made the drawings that appeared in their picture books was astonishing, in their everyday experience most humans drew about as well as they did. So when we were planning our wish list for the WotWots we wanted to see SpottyWot drawing ‘live’. As you might imagine this was a technical challenge for an animated show, but we wanted it badly enough to solve the various problems.
The feedback has been wonderful. SpottyWot never draws something as it really is. He always embellishes, adds odd elements together or makes wild assumptions about some hidden part of the animal he’s drawing. He always delights in his creations, he never gets upset if he discovers they are wrong, quite the reverse – he’s proud of them and finds his mistakes hilarious. The intention is to encourage children to draw creatively, to relish the process and not be tied to the idea that copying life exactly is a mark of success. Drawing is fun and it’s been wonderful to get that across in the show.
Why the hover chairs?
When the show first aired we had several comments about the chairs and exercise. The comments were well intentioned and questioned the appropriateness of our little heroes sitting in chairs instead of walking around. If the show was aimed at four year olds and above we would have taken a different approach, but it’s aimed at children aged 1.5 to 3yrs and encouraging this age group to get out of chairs and walk around is not an issue, in fact it can be the reverse; asking them to sit still in a chair for more than two minutes can be a real challenge.
The key factor that went into the decision to have hover chairs was developmental. At this age children are still learning the language of visual storytelling, the editing and cutting that we all take for granted. If our show was for an older age group we could have DottyWot seeing an animal through the periscope and then we could cut to a shot of her arriving at the enclosure, they would accept that a little piece of time had been snipped out and our view of the story had jumped to the next important moment. But our younger audience would not; they would see this as two DottyWots, one in the ship and one outside. The convention of cutting and jumping units of time is something we learn slowly in these early years. So in the WotWots all the narrative beats in a sequence are shown. The WotWots will spot an animal through the periscope, they will open the ships hatch, we see them leave the ship, and we have a short ‘travelling’ moment as they zoom through the zoo and only THEN do we see them arrive at the enclosure.
But the show is only ten minutes long so we needed to give the WotWots the means to zip quickly through the zoo. The hover chairs were dreamed up by our wonderful design team to be safe child centric vehicles that our audience would instantly understand. And on the issue of exercise and health we address those directly in some of the episodes, and I will cover those in a future blog. Now, as I approach the other end of the age spectrum, I would really love a WotWot hoverchair myself, the ultimate mobility scooter for scaring dogs and traffic on my way to the corner store.
Hello WotWot friends
Hello to all our wonderful WotWot friends. Over the coming months I shall be using this blog as a way of sharing some of the thoughts and processes that led to the creation of the WotWots. The why, when, where, wot if you like. So, where to begin? Not quite at the beginning – I’ll explain how the key ingredients came about in a later blog. But quite early in the production there was a moment I’d like to tell you about.
Everyone here on the creative team set out to make something with heart and passion that we could pour our talents into and take great pride in, but as the scripts and storyboards and then the characters themselves started to take shape, there was this mysterious evolutionary process that writers often talk about – a moment when the characters are no longer ideas, but become independent of their creators with identities that outgrow their initial descriptions. They morph from interesting placeholder personalities into real characters who start to dictate their performances to the whole team. That moment came early when the director said to one of the writers – no, SpottyWot would never do that. And we all knew it, the whole team suddenly knew exactly how SpottyWot would respond to the problem he encountered in the script. And from that moment on the WotWots became members of our family, and it became a joy to work with them every day. They were alive to us and we started to believe in them and want the best for them, and like a large extended community of parents we started to worry about them, would they be loved when they stepped out into the world, would they be accepted for who they were given a chance to be all they could be.
If no-one liked them there would be no second series, we would never get to work with them again and they would never have all the adventures we were starting to imagine for them. So it was a very nervous collective of parents who watched as their children went to air around the world. It’s hard to express the mix of relief and thrill that we experienced as the WotWots received their first wonderful reviews. They were off into the wide world on the start of their big adventure. And now here we are, they are loved around the world and we have had the joy of making a second series with them.
Bye bye for now, and I’ll be back with a new blog very soon.