Going behind the scenes with Rastamouse
Rastamouse. For those not yet in the know, he's all about Makin' A Bad Ting Good. As are Dinamo Productions, the Welsh company behind the stop motion animation for this new hit children's programme. We bartered some cheese in exchange for an interview with joint managing director Aron Evans.
Rastamouse is a new children's animated series following the eponymous crime fighting, guitar playing, skateboarding hero and his band of mystery solving, friends and reggae-playing musicians - the Easy Crew. If you haven't seen it yet, take a look on BBC iPlayer.
The stop motion animation series is based on the books written by Genevieve Webster and Michael De Souza, and the character of Rastamouse is voiced by British actor and presenter Reggie Yates.
Rastamouse characters on set: Scratchy, Rastamouse and Zoomer
Read on to see what MD Aron has to say about the programme and his successful company.
Tell us a little about Dinamo Productions' involvement with Rastamouse.
We first met Greg Boardman and Eugenio Perez, the producers for Three Stones Media who produce Rastamouse, two years ago in Cannes. They showed us the project and told us that they had acquired rights to Rastamouse the book, and they showed us a short piece of film. They were looking for an animation studio to work on Rastamouse, so we had a look at the project and absolutely loved it.
We then had a further discussion in terms of how we could collaborate. We secured help and funding through the Wales Creative IP Fund from the Welsh Assembly and secured the work to Dinamo. It's been a great journey.
Though Rastamouse has only recently burst onto our screens, when did Dinamo first start filming the stop-animation for the programme?
We started the animation about eight months ago. We recruited a load of animators and started off by working with the models; the puppets were coming initially from props company Mackinnon and Saunders, and the first thing that we did was practice the characters' walks to get the them right.
The walks are very important, as was getting Rastamouse to ride the skateboard really well. It took quite a while to get that right, as we needed a specific look to it.
One of the main things for us as a company was getting some of the designs from Genevieve Webster, the illustrator of the books, and then transcribing those illustrations into 3D sets. It did take a while to crack that nut but we were very pleased collectively, and Genevieve was really pleased with the result.
I remember when I took her round the studio Genevieve - being one of the creators of Rastamouse - was incredibly emotional to see the work transcribed into stop motion reality.
What is your reaction to the huge success that Rastamouse is currently enjoying? Did you think that it would be such a hit?
One of the reasons that Dinamo chose to work on this project was the fact that it was so fresh and so different. I loved the rhythm of the language and also the art direction; I found it very attractive.
I think the audience watching on CBeebies have reacted in the same way that I reacted to it initially, I embraced as it's such an original concept and it's such a positive programme - I absolutely loved the scripts when I first read them, which was about a year and a half ago.
I'm not really surprised it's had such a good reaction, I'm really gratified by the reaction, but I thought it was a winner from the beginning.
On the set of Rastamouse
TV episodes are around 10 minutes long; how much time goes into creating each episode?
It's hard to work out actually; presently we're working on seven episodes at any one given time. It's a complicated show to film because there are so many characters, but I would guess that each episode takes about two weeks to film.
Can you briefly describe the animation process to us?
The stop-animation process is exactly like The Fast Show sketch! Tom Edgar, the animation director, sets up the shot and Christine Vestergaard the DOP/lighting director gets it lit nicely and focused and then the animators, when we're happy with the picture, look at the animatic, which is the version of the storyboard with the sound on it.
The animators then match the sound and then literally move the models a frame at a time and animate the characters. It's a laborious but very, very highly skilled production flow.
Did you have much creative input in designing the characters and sets, or were they fairly faithfully adapted from the books?
Initially right at the beginning of production the models were provided by Mackinnon and Saunders but because of the amount of characters that are in the production we have an in-house team that create the clothes for the characters and as a company we also started to build our own characters.
So it's kind of migrated; there was an initial huge and fantastic input by Mackinnon and Saunders and then gradually as the logistics took over a lot of the transcribing of the original designs by Genevieve were then handled by Emily Hartley and Natasha Harrison, who make the costumes for the models.
So our involvement as a company is quite crucial in that process; Emily and Natasha do an amazing job of interpreting the quite simple 2D designs as we have to make them work on the models. It's a very interesting but very creative process.
Behind the scenes with the team at Dinamo Productions
Illustrations of the Rastamouse characters at the Dinamo studios
Do you work closely with the voice actors during the animation process? Are their parts recorded before or after you've done the visuals?
Conventionally in terms of stop motion animation the voices are all recorded and then provided to us at the studio so our involvement on that side isn't a great deal really. We do sometimes suggest changes to the script but that's mostly controlled by Greg and Eugenio.
Will there be more series featuring Rastamouse and the Easy Crew in the future?
I'd love if it there were more series of Rastamouse! It's going to be a very interesting time because we don't know at the moment what the audience numbers are, and how well it's doing so it's kind of early days. But certainly it's created a lot of really good PR so hopefully, fingers crossed we'll get more, but we'll see.
What other programmes have Dinamo Productions been involved with?
Last year we were shooting a series called Tellytales in conjunction with Elen Rhys at BBC Wales. That was a series we did for CBeebies and it involved a lot of live action and 2D animation.
We've also been involved with Grandpa In My Pocket, which has been a very successful show. That was all shot in Cardiff and that was a highly rating show and is currently showing on CBeebies. We've just finished a third series of that, and we did all of the GFX [graphic effects] and the animation for that particular series.
We also finished, about a year ago, a series for ZDF and Playhouse Disney called Fun With Claude, which was a 52-part 10-minute show, purely in 2D animation. We've had a very busy couple of years, and certainly Rastamouse was crucial in the development of the company because it gave us a chance to put a stop motion studio together and gave us the opportunity to move over to Treforest.
Details of the various Rastamouse sets and scenery
Can you tell us about any future projects you have in the pipeline? / What are you working on at the moment?
We've got a new show called The Abadas, a commission by CBeebies, S4C and RTE. We're very excited about this show; it's a combination of 2D animation and live action, and the producer is our in-house senior producer Siwan Jobbins, so we're going to be in production of that project in the summer. And yet to be announced is another 26-part half-hour show, but it's a bit early for us to announce that...
How many people work on Rastamouse and what sorts of tasks do they do?
Currently we've got nine animators working on Rastamouse. In the art department, in terms of the set and the set dressing, we've got about five people working on that, plus a lighting engineer, a DOP [director of photography], an editor, runners, production coordinators and myself - it does amount to about 25 people.
A Rastamouse set in production
Pieces of scenery including bread, cakes, loaves, pizzas and pizza boxes
How many different models of the main characters are there, and how do they differ?
In terms of the Easy Crew - so Scratchy, Zoomer and Rastamouse - we've got eight copies of each of those models. Of the other main characters we've probably got about three or four, and also about 12 little orphans - as they're very busy in lots of the shots!
It is interesting shooting stop motion as it's a bit like managing actors, because you've only got a certain amount of characters you can work with. We have a lot of set and puppet clashes, which is an interesting logistical problem.
Also worth mentioning is that some animators work with particular models. For example, Edward Jackson, one of our animators, likes to work with models that are quite loose in terms of their joints - he works with a specific Rastamouse which is a bit looser, whereas some of the other animators like to work with models that are a bit more stiff. Each animator 'owns' their own Rastamouse.
How many frames are typically used in a second of animation?
We're shooting on twos, so we have about 12/13 frames per second, but when we're shooting the skating sequences we shoot on ones - so that's 25 frames per second.
Shooting on twos is faster, you can do it twice as fast but if you're doing a skating sequence for example and you're shooting on twos, you get a kind of strobing effect which looks a little ugly. So if you have any very fast movement it's best to work on ones - it's a smoother action and it's more pleasing to the eye as it's a faster frame rate.
Does Dinamo plan to do more stop motion animation in the future? Is your core business likely to remain computer-generated?
What the future holds is for Dinamo to be a one-stop shop for all types of animation, that's what we'd like to keep on doing.
I've got a number of projects which I'm looking at at the moment which include other stop motion projects. We're also looking at going into the games industry and also feature film work as well.
Is it more labour-intensive to shoot stop motion animation as opposed to CGI?
Stop motion animation looks on the face of it to be quite labour intensive but on any given day a lot of the animators can get through about 12 to 14 seconds of animation, which is really quick. It doesn't sound too quick to the layman but in terms of animation it's very quick!
But with CGI animation you can probably do about four seconds of animation, so it kind of balances out. Stop motion animation is physically demanding and there's a lot of issues in terms of re-use, but with CGI animation you can re-use a lot of the animation which isn't so much of the case with stop motion.
Gladstone, President Wensley Dale and Ice Popp on set
How long has the company been running, and how long have you been based at the Treforest Industrial Estate?
Myself and Owen Stickler started the company in 2004, and we had about six people working for us. We moved over to Treforest about seven months ago, and we've currently got about 85 people working for us.