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  Toonhound's interviews
   "Jez like that!" - Toonhound talks to Jez Hall

  Jez Hall
fesses up
  about Wibbly Pig,
Freakish Kid,
Philbert Frog fandom, 
  and more...
 Cluckie the Vampire Chicken and a host of characters welcome you to Toonhound's interview with Jez Hall

   Jez Hall is a storyboard artist, animation designer, animator and director with a
   professional CV that spans three decades. His credits include a whole stack
   of shows for Cosgrove Hall, including Noddy, Rocky and the Dodos, Animal
   Shelf, Rotten Ralph and Victor and Hugo, alongside the likes of Philbert Frog,
   Angelmouse, Rubbish King of the Jumble, Hamilton Mattress, Zot the Dog
   Christopher Crocodile and Tiny Planets, and more. He's currently one third
   of Freakish Kid, a busy production triumverate based in Manchester who
   recently produced a series of supremely looney short films starring Cluckie
   the vampire chicken, for Nickelodeon UK (you can view them here). Freakish
   Kid worked on the CBBC series of Muddle Earth, when it was still under
   development. There's a new Arabic series on the table for them, too, and
   an adaptation of 2000AD/Rebellion's Rogue Trooper character is another
   production they're circling and hoping will come to fruition through them.
   But whilst we wait that gem, there's also Mick Inkpen's Wibbly Pig. Jez
   recently snorted over to Wish Films to direct 52 episodes of this oinkingly
   lovable new preschool series...
   "Wibbly Pig" (copyright Wish Film / Mick Inkpen)

   Have you seen Wibbly Pig's series yet? - It's
based upon the phenomenally
   popular picture books from Mick Inkpen (he also brought us Kipper and friends).
   There have been 1.7million Wibbly book sales in the UK alone. The TV series
   is produced by Wish Films and 9 Story, and it's got bags of preschool charm.
   It's been airing on CBBC, but if you've missed it, the first Wibbly DVD is
   now available...

   Meanwhile, if you're a Toonhound regular, you'll know that The Hound has
   a great ribbeting softspot for Philbert Frog and his Noggit Wood pals. The
   series was produced by Fat City Films in 1993, and Jez was the storyboard
   artist. It's just hopping daft fun, and it's equally daft that only one series of
   thirteen episodes were ever made. Jez clearly thinks it's daft, too, because
   he launched a Philbert Facebook page in celebration that everyone needs
   to sign up to, at once!

   Now, let's interrupt proceedings with a confession. This interview is late.
   Very late. The Hound actually spoke to Jez back in the Summer, but so
   much has happened over the intervening weeks - work committments,
   technical issues with the site, and whole bunch of offline difficulties in
   The Hound's life. Well,
suffice it to say, this has been pushed back.
   But when we spoke, Jez had just completed that marathon run on
   Wibbly Pig and that Arabic show.
And what started off as a brief email
   exchange snowballed into a big fat run of questions that start right back
   at the beginning of hi's career, when he was working for the UK comics

  "Cluckie the Vampire Chicken" character poses

   The Hound talks to Jez Hall...    (18.07.10)


   Jez, you wear a hundred different production caps. You're a storyboard
   artist, animator and director. But right back at the beginning of your
   career, you were working in comics. What kind of things were you doing?

   After College I went to Marvel UK. I tried out for lots of things - Transformers,
   GI Joe... My first real work was inking on Ghostbusters... Really nerve wracking.
   These fantastic drawings in front of me. I knew nothing about inking, I just had
   a brush and ink and that was it. I just had a bash, really. They were nice fellas
   there. Great. They let kids like me have a go, and had faith in them. It went
   pretty well.

   My main ambition was to draw for 2000AD. To draw Judge Dredd. My hero was
   Mike McMahon. I used to copy his stuff all the time when I was a kid. I never
   did get to work for 2000AD. Later in life, though, when I was in animation, I took
   over the Count Duckula strip in Sunday Magazine for the News of the World.
   There were some great guys that used to do that: Vin James and Malcolm
   McGookin who passed it on to me. Malc actually gave me my first dip pen.
   And nibs and paper. Top man. It was a great little job. I think I did that for
   a few years.

   So how did you move into animation, and what was your first gig?

   I did comics and freelance illustration for a while. Then I applied to Cosgrove Hall
   after an add in Creative Review. I sent them lots of comic book samples and
   character drawings and stuff, and I got a job as a storyboard assistant to
   Vince James. But I was snaffled by someone else, soon as I got there, which
   wasn't any fun, really, and kind of put me off the whole thing. But Vince rescued
   me and I had a whole lot more fun after that.

   It was a great education for any young lad, being stuck in a studio with all these
   amazing artists. You kind of learn fast. You have to, really, otherwise it can be
   very hard. I once came into the office one morning and Vince had blown up
   some of my clean-up and put it up on the pin board with "what the ****s this!"
   written on it. It was a terrible drawing, though. But it was great working under
   Vin, he taught me so much. I owe him a lot. So I was a storyboard assistant
   at Cosgrove Hall. I think it still says that on my union card, actually.

   Everyone has their cartoon heroes, who are yours?

   I didn't really have any cartoon heros early on really. My art heroes were a
   mixed bag... Mike McMahon and Cam Kennedy from 2000AD... I actually
   exchanged a few emails with Mike last year. Hes a really nice bloke. Others
   were Frazzetta, Sid Mead, Brad Holland, Searle, Lucian Frued, Alex Toth,
   Edward Hopper, Paul Cezanne, Albert Uderzo, Saul Bass, Henry Moore,
   Picasso, Layendecker, Rockwell, John Buscema, Tracy Emin... Loads of
   them, if I think about it. I'm joking about Tracy Emin.

   Animation heroes came later. As a kid it was Chuck Jones and Tex Avery.
   But now there's just too many to mention. Oscar Grillo would be there.
   Vince, too.

   I've got to ask this, you've got Disney's Gargoyles series on your list of
   credits. That was a great, dark series that was ahead of its time, I
   thought. What did you do on that, and how did the work come about?

   I got to work on Gargoyles through a friend of mine. Really nerve-wracking.
   It's strange when you are freelance, no matter how long you do it, every time
   you start a new gig it's like you've never done it before.

   When I did the Gargoyles thing it was a long long time ago and I was a kid,
   really. I was quite rubbish at storyboards, looking back on it. I wasn't really
   ready for it. But I did a couple of shows. No idea now which ones. But they
   used to split them up between a couple of guys. They sent some samples
   through of what the other guys had been doing - Amazing stuff!

   Well... I tried my best, let's put it that way. I only did two shows but like
   I say, I was a young guy and still learning. It was great experience for me.

   As you know, I'm a great green Philbert freak. Can you tell
   us a bit about his hopping history. Where did he come from?

   I think most people that watched Philbert loved it. The history of it really is
   it's Vince James' baby. Its him all over. I think he used to draw it when he
   was a young lad. It was something that had been with him a long time,

   For the show we had some fab scripts by Phil Jackson - a top man!
   And the amazing voice talent of Rob Rackstraw. Then of course, Mark Mason's
   animation. Yes, he did do a show a week (see Toonhound's Philbert page).
   He's a very clever fellow. Great draftsmen, very charming drawings. I've worked
   with him a few times since.

    "Philbert Frog" from Fat City Films (1993)

   Given that you've started a Philbert Facebook group, I'd say you quite
   liked the fellow. Was a second series ever planned - maybe he could
   be revived somehow?

   I dont think they'll be any more Philbert. I dont even know who owns
   Philbert anymore...

   Can we get into your storyboarding head for a bit. I'm interested in
   the thought process involved, and the instinct that enables you to
   translate an idea from script to screen.... The angle you take...
   Knowing what works best...

   I think I get what you mean. I think its experience that lets you know
   what does and doesn't work. There are very solid film making rules obviously,
   but when you've drawn a lot of story boards that knowledge is locked in there.
   It's hard to define your thinking process really, you just know, you just do it.
   Thumbnailing the board, for me, is the best bit. Its the most immediate part.
   You don't worry about drawing nice. You just blast through the story.
   Sometimes you have to pull up and work out some difficulty, but for the
   most part you get through it in one sitting, if you can. I think that's how
   you get good pacing. Doing it more instinctively like that. My first thoughts
   are usually the best. I've drawn so many damn boards!

   The show we're working on now is an Arabic show and it's quite a lot different.
   We have very tight deadlines. We have to turn them around very quickly. The
   characters can take a while to say something. The English translation can be
   pretty small, so you throw in a pose for that, but the actual audio could be
   200 frames, so when you cut the animatic you have to break it down a bit

   For me, I like to cut the animatic as well. Im a big fan of doing the whole thing.
   I can't see how somebody who hasn't drawn the board can cut the animatic.
   I always think, too, that directors should always try and do their own boards
   or, as we did on Wibbly Pig, provide fairly comprehensive thumbnails for
   the board artists.

   I have to say, on Wibbly we had Alessandra Sorrentino and Alfredo Cassano
   as the two main board artists on the show. We had some other guys out in
   Africa who did some great stuff as well. But the boards Ale and Alf produced
   were the best boards I've ever had. Great couple.

   "Wibbly Pig" storyboard

   Is it different storyboarding for stop-motion. I imagine you
   have far less freedom to roam, so to speak?

   Stop motion is a different thing, yes. You obviously are dealing with a physical
   set, with camera set ups. So you'd often have a camera guide from the director
   to stick too. I always drew too many poses, which the animators usually ignored.
   I think, at the time,  boards by 2D guys were a new thing to a lot of stop-mo
   animators. Before, they'd just have stick man things with notes from the director.
   I'm sure they brought people like me onboard to please investors and
   broadcasters. Give them some pictures to look at.

   I've done quite a lot of stop motion boards, predominantly for Cosgrove Hall,
   but the big job was Hamilton Mattress with Barry Purves. Fantastic fellow, and
   obviously the boss of stop-motion. I don't think Barry also had too much need
   for detailed storyboards. Again, I think it was more for investors maybe. I dont
   know, he seemed to get by fine with his own boards. Obviously it was all
   in him and he could translate that to his animators. I think producers often
   get twitchy on a more commercial project, like Hamilton, and they like to
   know what they're getting. The last thing they want is an artist doing his thing.
   That can cost money. I used to sit with Barry and he'd act things out. I'd draw.
   A very different way of working for me. Great fun though. We produced
   mountains of drawings. A lot of it ended up in the bin as things changed
   and got hacked around. It was a great thing to work on. My desk was on
   the Chicken Run set at one point later in production - coolest desk ever!

   Another great puppet thing was a film with the late Paul Berry. I did a lot of
   work on that, but the film was never made. A great loss, losing Paul. I was
   talking to a friend the other day who said Paul's film the Sandman was the
   reason they got into animation. It had a big impact on me, too.

   "Wibbly Pig" storyboard

   Okay, so let's jump right back to the present day. How did you and
   Wish Films come together for Wibbly Pig. Were you there at the
   beginning, or did you join up once the funding was in place?

   I got together with Wish through a fantastic producer, Karina Stanford Smith.
   A good friend. All down to her really. She obviously said good things about me.
   Said I could do it. I had no idea if I could do it. I may have been a crap director.
   Only one way to find out. I think I did a pretty good job. Not every show was
   great but I was very pleased with Wibbly, on the whole.

   It's a great thing making a show, you know. You're making these things,
   directing or art directing, doing boards. It's a lot of time and effort. Really long
   hours. A lot of guys dismiss things from the sidelines that don't seem up to
   scratch, but anyone that gets something made and on screen has done okay.
   They've worked hard.

   That's a sentiment I've taken very much to heart, here at Toonhound.
   I don't have time for all those partypooper critics who deride every new
   film or series that comes their way. If you can haul yourself out of that
   development pool and into production, with all those hurdles, and
   eventually on to our screens - well - that in itself is something to
   celebrate. But I'm interupting here, so let's get back to Wibbly...

   Well, when I got on board I think funding as pretty much in place. We had no
   pilot so we had to kind of move quickly and get the show and workflow sorted
   out fast. The animation team at 9 Story in Canada did an amazing job.
   They nailed the look.

   Having those kids voice the series, was that something that was built
   in from the start, or did you toy with more traditional narration?

   The voices were all Will and Ian the producers, they handled the auditions.
   They are both exceptions in the producing world. In my experience, anyway.
   Very clever, talented men. Strong ideas about things, but very appreciative
   of your own talent and keen to let you do your thing. Protective of me and
   the show when called for, also. They let me do my job. I also had Sandra
   Foran, Rachel Perry and Will Jordan looking after me. Great people at Wish,
   they really know their stuff.

   52 episodes must have felt like a mountain to climb.
   How long does it take to turnaround each tale?

   52 episodes were a mountain, yes. Like I said before, its an enormous
   undertaking. No idea how the Canadian team got the animation done on time.
   Especially with me bugging them. I think it was two teams overlapping with a
   two week turnover for each show, for animation. It's like that through the whole
   production. Multiple overlapping team. Poor Will (Jordan) was always juggling
   the shedule around...
   Mick Inkpen is such a big name in the preschool world, did he have
   much input on the series?

   Mick Inkpen really liked the show. Very happy with it. He gave me a signed
   book with a nice little note, anyway. Wibbly was animated in Flash. The book
   had a strong look which we had to get and Wib himself was tough to nail.
   An illustration can differ greatly through a book. We put together a bible of
   the best most Wibbly Wibblys and tried to work out a turnaround of him.
   It was very tricky, the front view was nailed as was the side, but they were
   very different, proportionally. In the end we cheated. If in doubt cheat. The
   rendering looked very like the book images, thanks again to the Canadian
   folks. But, yes, Wibbly was a great experience.

   Will tells me Wib is doing well internationally. Its on in 17 countries now and
   so hopefully some merchandise will come out soon and I can get some
   free toys!

   "Cluckie the Vampire Chicken" storyboard

   So now there's the triumvirate that is Freakish Kid, how did the
   three of you come together?

   Greykid (as they were) were looking for someone to do some storyboards.
   So I dropped a line to Stu Gamble and he liked what I did, so I started working
   with them on Cluckie (The Vampire Chicken!). I totally dived in to it, interfered
   in any aspect I could. It was a great first thing to work together on. So often
   in the past I'd go full steam on a project, produce lots of images, trying to cover
   every aspect of the show - pose it out, time it, paint colour keys, etc. Then
   I'd be shut out from that point on, and the final thing was (nine times out of ten)
   rubbish. My efforts had been misunderstood, badly carried out, or ignored.

   Obviously this happens, being freelance. If I was directing these things you
   make sure you were understood, but working on something for a short time
   frustrated. The bad part was, I was starting to do less. I was a bit jaded, I think.
   The great thing about Freakish Kid is they make the show better. They
   understand what you're doing. The team are amazing. Stu Gambles' the man!
   And with the fantastic Dan Ballam (ex creative head of Cartoon network) involved..
   why wouldn't I want to be part of it? Its a good feeling. We've many things
   happening, its very exciting.

   I loved what you did with Muddle Earth (you can view their work here).
   How come you didn't get to do the series?

   We kind of thought we were going to get the series. It turns out a few others
   thought they were also. You live and learn, though.

   Cluckie is FK's first standalone production. And it's fab. There's a really
   hungry feeling about those films, like this is your first Freaky baby and
   you really want to go the extra mile to show what you can do...

   Clucky was a great job. I think there is a hungry feeling about them, yes.
   I think we are. I know we wanted to flex out muscles a bit. As ever, the budgets
   weren't great but we thought it was worthwhile to go overboard with them.
   The scripts were always over length, so it was a real job to cram everything in.
   It was good because it meant there was no fat in there. Any scene that doesn't
   progress the story went. Which is the way it should be, but the way it generally
   isn't on most TV shows. They are full of fat.

   "Cluckie the Vampire Chicken" from Freakish Kid

   Maybe it's just me, but, I can see a kind of screwball theme that
   underpins a lot of the projects you've worked on. And it's certainly to
   the fore in Cluckie...

   Screwball? Never really thought about it like that, its just the work I've been
   lucky enough to have. I think I've been freelance for so long its been hard to
   develop my own thing. I've got better at my job. But personal work or style
   is always in the back seat. My sketchbooks are often nothing like my work.
   A lot darker. But doing your own thing and exploring other things feeds your
   brain and always bleeds into your real work. But I do naturally go toward
   funny stuff, yes. I find it naturally easier to draw... Which can become dull.
   I'm not sure if that makes sense. But it can be extremely easy to repeat
   yourself. But Cluckie, I think, is Stu and myself. I think in humour and style
   it's a good example of where our tastes cross. Anyway, with the computer
   as my crutch I can draw better now. So I do sometimes like to go down less
   screwball routes. Maybe I could draw Gargoyles now. But I love drawing in ink,
   with rags and sticks and spray cans - anything that gets me away from
   the computer.

   Needless to say, we want more Cluckie. Have Nickelodeon
   talked about more?

   Sadly, I think that's it for Clucky. I'd love to do more but animation
   executives move in mysterious ways.

   So what's up with Rogue Trooper. Your test footage is spot on.
   Where is that at, right now?

   I'd always loved the character. I'd spoken with Stu about approaching 2000AD,
   little knowing that lots of other studios had been trying the same things for years.
   And I found out that Jon Doyle and Steve Maher of Firestep were working on
   something, so I called Jon and had a chat. We did a test, animating a Dave
   Gibbons cover - just a cycle animated by our lead animator Zoli. I think the
   whole thing took about 4 days. Because of that they decided that Rogue
   was going to be one of the projects.

   I'm not sure what I can say other than that. As far as I know, funding is still
   being sort. Jon keeps in touch, but you have to forget about it until it happens.
   Most things don't, for one reason or another, come off. But I'm hopeful. They
   asked me to direct, so I really, really hope it does. That would be a dream
   project for me. I know the character inside out, the old version anyway.
   There's a new more extreme version now. Great artwork but definitely more
   bloody than when I used to read it. I say "read", but I just used to drool over
   the amazing art of Cam Kennedy. Me and a friend of mine met up with
   him once in London. My friend did the talking. I was totally star struck.

   Do you have a favorite show that you've worked on, one
   you are most proud of?

   God, I must've worked on nearly 50 shows! I can't say I'm proud of many
   of them. Jack and Marcel. Directed by my mate Marc Gordon. That was
   a fantastic show. I did around 50 boards for that. They were only shorts.
   Thats was one of my earliest experiences of being given some freedom to
   have fun. I did a few shows with no script, which was tremendous!

   Philbert Frog, obviously. Great fun. Mostly for the experience of working
   and sharing all the cigarettes with my friend Vince James. I was passively
   on maybe 20 a day, I think - Cheers Vin! - Also Aileen Rastrick and Michelle
   Grainey. They had the girl room (tidy, plants) and we had the boy room
   (pig sty). Fat City FIlms was a great place. Lots of great people passed
   through its doors. I think the fun of the place shows in Philbert...

   Clucky the Vampire Chicken. Because of the fantastically satisfying outcome.
   It's one of the nicest things I've worked on so far. The closest we've come I think.

   And we'll end with the obvious question. What's next for you?

Finishing this Arabic show and then a holiday. It's a great show, but we're
   all extremely tired. It's been a tough project for everyone concerned. Lack
   of budget and time is, as ever, the enemy. Still, we are nearly there. I gather
   there's a lot of buzz about it. Even though I understand zero Arabic it has
   some real laugh out loud moments. Mostly due to the comedy violence.
   And it looks great thanks to the animation team at Man and Ink and the
   CG team at Flix, in Manchester. Both working extremely long hours.
   Hats off to them. We're hopeful of a second season of that.

   There's also lots of other cool projects lining up. 3d stuff, other peoples shows,
   our own ideas, obviously. A new studio in Manchester also. Which is where
   I'm based. Some of the work is done there now actually but as more projects
   start we can really set down there and build a major animation studio. I'm very
   excited about that. I've lots to look forward to, and lots I want to do, after the
   "Cluckie the Vampire Chicken" from Freakish Kid


   And so endeth our little interview that took such a long time to arrive online.
   Once again, I can only apologise to Jez for the delay and thank him profusely
   a) for his patience, and b) for his generosity in agreeing to talk at such length
   about his work.

   Oh, and we really must thank Jez again for the fantastic storyboards and
   screen grabs he's let us use to illustrate his Q&A. You can keep abreast
   of all of Jez's latest projects and employment via his blog, and that fab
   Freakish Kid web site, where you really must catch up with those
   cluckingly-good Cluckie shorts, Rogue Trooper clips, and
   everything else...

   Till next time!

  The Hound says "Stay tooned!"

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