THE BIG INTERVIEW: Anne Wood, Ragdoll Productions & Victoria Bushell, DHX Brands

Samantha Loveday

By Samantha Loveday

January 19th 2015 at 9:00AM
UPDATED January 19th 2015 at 10:20AM
THE BIG INTERVIEW: Anne Wood, Ragdoll Productions & Victoria Bushell, DHX Brands

We talk about new pre-school show Twirlywoos, from creation to consumer products.

Firstly, can you tell me the idea behind Twirlywoos? What was the creative inspiration for the show?

Anne Wood: The idea behind Twirlywoos was to make children laugh by showing them comic situations that they would understand because they grew directly out of young children’s experiences of the world.

Can you explain the thought process you went through deciding on the key elements – such as the mix of live action and stop frame animation, the pacing of the series, etc? How important is humour to the series?

Wood: The thinking behind Twirlywoos was developed in association with Professor Cathy Nutbrown, a specialist in early years’ education. She analysed for us what it is that young children pay attention to. The comedy is that often this is not what adults see. So we combined a child’s point of view through the Twirlywoos characters, with an adult real world. We chose not to tell the story through narration. Everything in Twirlywoos depends on a child’s own interpretation of the visual comedy. The space we leave on the sound track before commenting allows the children to intervene or to use language directly themselves, which is a very important part of the style of the show.

What were some of the main challenges you've had during the creation of the show? And how have you overcome them?

Wood: It was challenging for everyone working with stop frame, particularly against white backgrounds. It was also a challenge to find the best way of colour grading because Ragdoll were using technologies we had not encountered before. However, our partners, Mackinnon and Saunders, N-Vizible and Narduzzo were all wonderful to work with and the whole of the production has been a very happy collaboration.

The pre-school market is exceptionally crowded with great shows – how have you made sure that Twirlywoos stands out?

Wood: We always hope our show will stand out because of its overall look. In Twirlywoos the use of stop frame characters in the real world gives it a significant difference.

What learnings did you take from working on Teletubbies, ITNG and Abney & Teal when creating Twirlywoos?

Wood: Every Ragdoll show grows out of the one before. Steve Roberts and I had just finished working on Dipdap so the Twirlywoo characters and their sense of movement and relationship with the camera came out of Dipdap.

How different is in the children's animation industry in the UK now then when you first began your career?

Wood: When I began my career there was a wonderful animation almost cottage industry in the UK. Great pioneers like Oliver Postgate, Bob Godfrey, John Coates and King Rollo were the first to craft short series of ten to 13 episodes at a time. Now the industry is multinational, requiring millions of pounds and the capacity to run off hundreds of episodes.

How will you look to extend the look and feel of Twirlywoos into consumer products?

Victoria Bushell: Twirlywoos has a distinctive and colourful visual style which naturally translates to consumer products. As well as the characterful leads: Great Big Hoo; Toodle Oo; Chickedy and Chick  the series features a diverse array of characters such as Peekaboo, the Stop-Go car, the Very Important Lady, the Marching Band, the Quacky Birds and the Box. The diverse characters, setting, situations and funny sounds give us a huge amount of opportunity to create a great range of products which will appeal to every child and give the brand a unique look and feel in the competitive pre-school market.

Are there certain elements of the show – the humour for example – which are absolutely vital to get across in the products?

Bushell: The humour is a big part of the series – its core DNA. It is pure slapstick, laugh-out-loud comedy in everyday situations that children respond to. It is this shared humour that empowers kids and gives them confidence in their world and their learning, which is central to the brand and its values. The characters are curious and there are regular surprises, so discovery is also an important aspect. The packaging through to the products will evoke the essence of the show - Silly Fun, Full of Surprises!

How many licensees have been signed to date?

Bushell: There was considerable interest in the property following BLE and we’re really happy to have been able to appoint a strong line-up of first licensees kicking off with Golden Bear, master toy partner and adding Gemma International (greetings cards and partyware), Ravensburger (puzzles and games), GB Eye (posters), Fashion UK (outerwear), Rainbow Productions (character costumes) and DreamTex (bedding). These are just the deals we have announced, there are more to come.

Which other categories would you like to move the brand into?

Bushell: It’s important that fans can experience the programme beyond the screen, so where it makes sense, we will develop the whole world of Twirlywoos so fans can enjoy the brand anytime, anywhere.

How important will the run of Toy Fairs be for the brand?

Bushell: There is great momentum for Twirlywoos right now so the Toy Fairs are timely, and we have a fantastic master toy partner in Golden Bear who have creators Anne Wood and Steve Roberts making an appearance at London. With the series set to air on CBeebies next month, we will be looking to the Fairs to help accelerate the consumer products programme building up to Licensing Expo. It’s going to be a busy few months.

What would you most like to have achieved in terms of the consumer products programmes for Twirlywoos by the end of 2015?

Bushell: By BLE we anticipate having appointed licensees in all major categories giving us a strong cross category offering for retail. First up will be toys which will hit shelves in July this year.