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Wednesday 29 Oct 2014

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Octonauts – executive producer Kurt Mueller describes the creative journey of The Octonauts

Barnacles, Peso and Kwazii

CBeebies' brand-new animated series about a crew of underwater heroes, The Octonauts, is all about the importance of teamwork. And teamwork from a group of talented people based in the four corners of the globe is exactly what it took to bring the series from page – it's based on the beautiful characters by Meomi – to CBeebies' screens.

New York-based executive producer Kurt Mueller describes the creative journey of The Octonauts:

"One of the most challenging aspects of making The Octonauts has probably been communication. We're based in New York, our animation studio is in Dublin, we've got writers in LA and London, our home office and co-producing broadcaster are in London and the overseas studios are in South Korea and India so, as you can imagine, there are many opportunities to get it wrong," says Mueller.

"Fortunately, we've worked with a lot of these folks before and have built up a level of mutual trust and a creative short-hand. Plus, they're all brilliant, which never hurts."

The Octonauts are based on the beautiful characters by Meomi. How did the inspiration for an animated series come about?

"Meomi bring to their work a wonderful blend of pop cultural influences, many of which are TV-based," explains Mueller. "You see elements of Star Trek, old Japanese cartoons and Thunderbirds running through the books, so it wasn't a huge leap to envisage an animated TV series.

"The unique hook for us was how deftly the books leverage all the best conventions of sci-fi and action as a means of transporting pre-schoolers deeply into the world of oceans and the dazzling creatures that live there.

"We were fortunate enough to work with a pair of truly gifted marine biologists, Lara Ferry and Michael Graham, who also consulted with Pixar on the making of Finding Nemo."

What were the challenges of adapting the existing characters for screen?

"The biggest challenge was probably bringing these cute critters fully to life," says Mueller. "We were attracted by the notion of super-cute characters with real depth and heroism. The character development was handled by a brilliant writer named Stephanie Simpson, who wrote reams and reams of hilarious, compelling back story.

"Visually, we worked closely with Meomi and the folks at Brown Bag Films to adapt the flat 2D art of the books into a more life-like 3D style that would give us physicality for the big action sequences and enough expressiveness to hit the emotional highs and lows."

What makes The Octonauts different from other animation series?

"The series aspires to a more cinematic look and style of storytelling than much of what's currently out there on preschool TV.

"We've channelled the educational content into faster-paced, higher-peril action stories that have a real boy energy. My four-year-old son was instrumental in helping us check this element. Our hope is that the show and website provide a totally immersive experience for preschoolers."

Finally, does Kurt have a favourite Octonaut?

"I'm a fan of Kwazii because, well, who wouldn't want to be a daredevil cat with a mysterious pirate past?!"

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