London based BEAKUS STUDIOS working on Toggle, an Underproduction 26X5 minute animated series: In Discussion with Steve Smith

Could you share about what Toggle is all about? How did you come up with the concept of the series? Toggle is about a group of three characters who live in a tree in a forest and have fun exploring and learning about the world. It’s a 5-minute show for 2-4 year olds, and in each episode the trio face a problem that needs solving, and they do this by creating a brand new character to help them. The series is funny, interactive, and educational in equal measure! We dreamt up Toggle after the designer (Leigh Hodgkinson) ran a workshop for kids one day. She is an author/illustrator, and often goes on workshops about her picture books. She found that sometimes children were put off from drawing by the sight of an empty white page. So this particular time she decided to take along a number of pre-designed shapes, and challenged the kids to make characters from them. The excitement, fun and range of characters they made that day inspired us to write Toggle. We like to think it’s like playing with Fuzzy Felt, but on TV… Please share more about your animation studio, its mission and works undertaken? I started Beakus in 2010 around the same time as my child was born. In a way I had two babies at once! I wanted Beakus to be a home for all the incredible talent I saw around me in London, so I represent a number of great animators. We aim to make truly eye-catching and exciting animation in all media (we make animation in 2D, 3D and even stop-motion) with a range of styles but always with the same high quality. We have made animation for CBeebies (‘Numtums’) and other departments of the BBC, Nickelodeon, agencies like McCann Erickson, museums like the National Maritime Museum, and companies like Google. We’ve also made stereoscopic 3D animation for a forthcoming Monty Python feature, and are currently working with legend photographer Ian Rankin. We’re also making animation for a CBBC series right now… ‘Toggle’ is the second series we have developed, the first being ‘Leo and the Lift’. We hope to be making Toggle in 2013, and we have lots of other ideas bubbling away.! When did you start working on the series? At what stage has the series reached? Toggle has been around just for a few months. It formulated in our minds in April this year. We have a treatment, 1-minute teaser animation, two scripts, and partners for sound and music. We’ve only approached a few UK-based broadcasters at present, which is why MIP is so important. How many episodes is Toggle made up of and Whats the team strength working on it? We are planning for 26, but would happily upscale to 52 depending on the broadcasters needs.  The team has myself with Leigh, co-originator and designer, Sam Morrison as the script consultant, Fonic, the sound designers, and David Schweitzer responsible for giving music. Who has written the entire series? We have two scripts at the moment, both written by myself, but with lots of input from Leigh co-originator and assistance from a Peppa Pig writer Sam Morrison. We are looking forward to developing more scripts with more seasoned scriptwriters soon. Please share more on the research front for toggle? We learnt a lot from animating ‘Numtums’ last year for CBeebies, and we have been able to discuss the project with Elizabeth Jackson who is an educational consultant to the BBC. She gave us amazing feedback as to how the series will support key educational goals for this age group. We’ve also discussed the interactive part of our show with potential partners. What type of animation blend is being used for the series, the techniques? The animation is 2D, but arranged with depth via a multiplane technique in the computer. It’s a mixture of puppet-like cut-out animation and a more bespoke hand-animated style. One of the principals of the show is the limited palette of colours and shapes, so the show looks unique and iconic. Everything is gentle and sensitively animated. The visual simplicity, pace and humour will be similar to ‘Peppa Pig’. We used After Effects for the teaser, which is software we know inside out! We might graduate to CelAction to make the series, but either way we see the tools as a means to telling the story, not a means in themselves. What is the most challenging part in developing the series? I guess attracting key broadcasters is potentially difficult because in a small space of time we need to convey everything that’s in our heads, about how great the series will be! And of course it needs to match their current needs too. We’re not short of ideas so that’s the fun part! Can you disclose about the prime characters and their missions in the series? We have Tib, the lead character, who is a boy. He is the most mature, and steady-headed. He’s inventive, clever and caring. But truth is, he’s not always right. Sid, the show’s girl character, is slightly younger and smaller than Tib, but is more energetic and excitable. She is friendly and outgoing, impulsive and resourceful. She also loves to have fun, and instigates many of the trio’s games. Then there’s Bobble, our baby character, named after his hat which sports a bell on the top. He’s a little accident prone, but has bags of energy and enthusiasm. He’s a bit of a worrier as many things are new to him, but he makes up for that with moments of simple genius, often discovering solutions to the trio’s problems when no one expects it. Example storylines include the Toggles finding the stars haven’t gone to bed in the daytime, so creating a long-armed character to collect them up. One episode sees snow falling over the forest. Bobble is scared to leave their tree, so the others create a sledge-shaped character to show him how much fun it can be! We also have a script about a big puddle of glue that Bobble and Sid get stuck in. The trio creates a spongy character that sucks it all up. When and where are you planning to air the series? We’re open to finding key broadcasters over the next few months. There will definitely be an online presence, and a Toggle App. In time we’d like there to be a range of puzzle-based toys. What is the production budget of the series? We’re working on Ł750K for 26 x 5-mins, excluding interactive. What is different about working on Toggle as compared to other projects of yours? It’s wholly self-generated, with a lot of love. It also represents the culmination of our experience and expertise. We are attached to these Toggles, and can’t wait to see them have a life and entertain children. My 2-year-old, Elsa, talks about them as if they are already real! What are your expectations with Toggle? And how will it contribute to the scenario of Animation? It might sound too grand, but I really hope Toggle becomes one of those instantly recognizable series we all remember from our own childhood. It’s punchy enough to cut through the mediocre projects cluttering up the schedules, and sit up to be noticed! And I want Toggle to have a long and varied life. I want kids to learn with Toggle and trust in the characters, and hopefully one day to come and tell me they liked it! Animation can be many things, and is becoming ever more sophisticated, but to me the look and animation in Toggle is timeless. Like I say, Toggle is ‘like playing with fuzzy felt’… Now how old is fuzzy felt??! Can you share about your upcoming projects? We’re working on many things – we have created animation for a children’s book app, soon to be released, called Animal SnApp; we are animating segments of a new CBBC show; we are working on something special for Amnesty International’s 50th Birthday; we are creating a 7-minute short film in CGI for Collabor8te; we’ve just finished an intro sequence for the new series of Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington’s ‘An Idiot Abroad’… And we’re always developing new ideas of our own too! It’s a busy little studio we have here!   connect@animationxpress.com