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DuckManBoy Behind The Scenes

Thanks to everyone who has watched and shared DuckManBoy so far. It was an honour enough to be a Vimeo Staff Pick but it’s now become one of Nickelodeon’s most viewed International Shorts. Here’s some material around the making of DuckManBoy, including a podcast interview Ian and I did with Skwigly Magazine‘s Ben Mitchell:

PRE-PRODUCTION:

Originally DuckManBoy started life as an off-the-cuff pitch for Channel 4’s Blap series. It was a much more adult orientated version of what we pitched to Nickelodeon, involving a man-child addicted to savoury meat shakes facing up against Fat Barry, an evil pub landlord. There were a lot of things we really enjoyed about the pitch, particularly the influence of the low-budget nature of the 1960s Batman. We also wanted to make the most of the mixture of mundane and surreal that’s encompassed a lot of our work.

At the time it was called Duckman. We hadn’t heard of the 90’s TV series of the same name. Still haven’t watched it.

When we found out we were one of 8 pitches selected from over 600 submissions we set about refining the story and characters. We spent a lot of time working on the dynamic between the characters and their own motivations. Specifically, Dwayne needed to be motivated enough to drive his own plot, but still retain enough flaws to make him absurd.

A lot of the writing process was spent replacing foes with equally left-field characters who better served the plot. Originally, a crew of Nuns looked after Dwayne (“Nun&Nun&Nun&Nun&Duckman“) before we pitched to Nickelodeon. We then changed them to be evil minions. The very good point was quickly made that the U.S. are particularly against the idea of religion in kids’ entertainment. Ian subsequently reinvented Fat Barry as naturist-gone-insane, Richard Battenburger, ruling over an army of zoo animals. Suddenly all of the ingredients of the story were literally using themselves up, which freed up a lot more time for energy and jokes. It also meant we were making a kid’s short based in a sort of nihilistic abattoir – in a good way.

DuckManBoy Character progress

The design style took it’s cue from Don’t Fear Death, with an eye to fit the characters in more elaborate watercolour style backgrounds. In terms of character design, Neil, started his stern life almost fully formed. He felt like the perfect embodiment of someone clinging onto their dignity but by their very nature can’t. Having a daft duck’s head also puts him through a kid’s perspective of how adults are always trying to be adults. Neil became the irreplaceable part of the film and so the other characters started to follow his lead.

Dwayne took the longest to work out even down to his proportions. In the end I was happy with the style of scruffy kid who might turn into a stoner one day, but it would have been nice to have completely cracked his look in the way that Neil manages to sums up his character.

Battenburger was a lot of fun to design because his personality shifts so much. He quickly established himself as a flabby riff on David Attenborough with a dash of Alan Whicker thrown in. He was also an excuse to have most of the main characters wearing suits…. Maybe Dwayne should have a suit too.

CASTING:

Ian’s already written about our experience of the casting and voice recording HERE. In brief, we like to prioritise specific casting so that the characters’ performance can really live. Recording sessions are always the most exciting part of productions. The script, rhythm and character foibles are all set in place. It draws a line under many tweaks of the script, and it injects a huge amount of inspiration for the long manual slog of animation production. When you’ve captured a performance from a great cast like Rasmus HardikerMike Wozniak and John-Henry Falle you feel obliged to try to match the gold they’ve given you.

DuckManBoy Cast Photo

 

Animation Production:

As usual all of the scenes were animated in Flash and composited in After Effects. Flash was the first animation software that I learnt and I still use it for most productions because so many other freelancers have access to it through the Adobe Suite. Which means that people are either already trained up on it or have access to it when working remotely. It’s certainly never been perfect but hopefully it will be slowly redeemed now that Adobe have refocused on it as ‘Animate CC’.

We had a few people working in the studio. Ross Butter was on board for the longest. He travelled down from the Highlands to to help lift a good chunk of the animation. He also designed all of the animal henchmen, including Hendrick riding a meat trolley pushed by Party Cow. We sent him off with at least a fortnight’s worth of Polish cheese and a duck caller.

Other notable shoutouts go to animator Tom Lucas, who I now call the Miracle Man Of Cardiff, and Vanessa Hill who powered through the vast majority of colouring of the film.

Ross Butter and Hendrick

Leaving CheeseDuck Caller

 

BACKGROUNDS

The watercolour effect for the backgrounds came about as way to be more ambitious with the style but not compete too much with the central characters. The washiness of watercolour lent itself to a more stained, shabby world. The backgrounds were drawn in Flash so that it would be easier to control how characters interacted with them. The line art was then given texture and painted in Photoshop. After a search I found some watercolour brush presets designed by Michael Koran. You can download a copy of the brushes at his Stumpy Pencil blog. The results were surprisingly believable and the technique was quite forgiving. I’ve now discovered Kyle T Webster‘s watercolour brush pack which is really flexible and can produce very realistic results for the right sort of job.09 Lair wide shot 08 Zoo07 Skyline 06 Bedroom high angle 02 TV Sponsored

11 Portrait Curtain

Music:

Rob Connor created the music and Mark Ashworth did the sound, working in a similar way to how they did on Don’t Fear Death.

For the opening sting we gave the brief of a surf/garage version of the 60s Batman theme, and Rob nailed it. Also, an impressive amount of craft went into orchestrating the bad-guy lair theme so that it co-ordinated with the jokes and different tones. A lot of the humour comes from people bigging themselves up and being immediately undercut, so demanded a lot of drops in the music and playing around with percussion.

Mark’s work really brought everything alive. Like last time, we focused on a realistic soundscape so you could really feel the environment. The exception being Neil’s duck-torrets. The call is actually a sample from a poor quality YouTube clip of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson. Mark did a great job of cleaning it up, but it still retained a dirtiness that made it really jar in the best possible way. We gave both Mark and Rob duck callers to integrate into what they were doing, but when it came to Neil there was no need. Here’s Rob noodling around with the newly found lyricism of duck call samples:

 

Nickelodeon UK:

We can’t understate how thankful we are to everyone at Nickelodeon for believing in us and letting us go through this process. Particular thanks go to Alexi Wheeler who’s emphasis was on being creator lead. We started out fully expecting everything would have to change, but all of the notes and meetings were very limited and concise. The rest was left to us to express ourselves and work in the way we felt best. That was really empowering and helped us retain the personality that we were going for without second-guessing what was expected too much. Here’s a present I painted for Alexi afterwards:

DuckManBoy WatercolourHere’s the full cast and crew credits:

Rasmus Hardiker – Dwayne
Mike Wozniak – Neil
John-Henry Falle – Sir Richard Battenburger

CREW:
ProducersLouis Hudson & Ian Ravenscroft
Director – Louis Hudson
Writer – Ian Ravenscroft
Additional WritingRob Frimston

Animation – Louis HudsonRoss ButterTom Lucas, Matt Walker
Studio AssistantsVanessa HillAlex JolliffeWaheeda Rahman

MusicRob Connor
SoundMark Ashworth
Dialogue RecordingSoho Square Studios

Executive in Charge of Production – Alexi Wheeler
Production Co-ordinator – Matt Kilroy
Consulting Producer – Suzanne Lang

Special Thanks to Nina Hahn, Jules Borkent

 

If for some reason you haven’t watched it yet, here’s DuckManBoy:

Vimeo Staff Pick for DuckManBoy

Our Nickelodeon short, DuckManBoy, has finally gone online and within a couple of days it became our 4th Vimeo Staff Pick!

As a curated website that is geared toward creators it’s a real privilege to be featured on the front page of Vimeo. Having that Staff Pick badge is as nice as any festival laurel because we’re aware it has been chosen by someone who sees tons of great work daily. The exposure we’ve had from the Staff Picks have changed our career and the way people receive our work so we’re really grateful that the people at Vimeo keep thinking our work’s worth their attention.

Vimeo Staff Pick

Skwigly Advent Calendar

We’ve had Ross Butter in the studio for the last few weeks animating on DuckManBoy. As he was leaving we collaborated on a heart (and lung) warming Christmassy GIF for Skwigly Magazine’s Advent CalendarI think it was the first time I’ve ever jammed on the same scene with someone. It’s nice having a little idea and then just piling things on top of it without worrying about the consequences.

Don’t worry Rudolph. Santa will need his oxygen mask… any… second… now…

Also, here’s Ross looking like he just invented Christmas.
Ross Butter

Introducing the cast of Duckmanboy

As you may or may not know, we’re making a new short film for Nickelodeon called Duckmanboy. And as with most short films, we need a cast. And now we can reveal it.

Please be introduced to Rasmus Hardiker as Dwayne, John-Henry Falle as Sir Richard Battenburger, and Mike Wozniak as Neil (flanked by Louis and me).

DuckManBoy Cast

 

DwayneDwayne – Rasmus Hardiker

Rasmus Hardiker plays Dwayne, our naive, gung-ho, half-duck wannabe hero.

Rasmus is an actor and voice artist that has appeared in many sitcoms and animations. You might recognise him as Steve Coogan’s sidekick in Saxondale, or from his roles in sitcoms Lead Balloon, The Wrong Door and Funland (which I think is criminally overlooked). Rasmus is also an established voice talent and is soon to be appearing as not one, but two of the Traceys in the rebooted Thunderbirds Are Go series.

As a bonus, Rasmus is from our neck of the woods. He’s a Birmingham lad and it’s nice to have more Brummies portraying half man, half duck superheroes.

 

Neil

Neil – Mike Wozniak

Mike Wozniak plays Neil, an uptight half duck accountant and reluctant sidekick and older brother to Dwayne.

Mike is a stand-up comedian and actor. He was nominated for the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award in 2013 for his live solo show. He is also a regular cast member of Channel 4 sitcom Man Down with Greg Davies and the late Rik Mayall. Mike has appeared with another former Dice collaborator Kevin Eldon in his BBC2 sketch show It’s Kevin.

He is often seen sporting a glorious moustache.

Battenburger

 

 

Sir Richard Battenburger – John-Henry Falle

John-Henry Falle plays Sir Richard Battenburger, the kindly, revered TV naturalist with a dark secret.

John-Henry is an actor and comedian who is one quarter of sketch group The Beta Males and 100% of The Story Beast, a character in the thrall of mythology and lore. We first met John-Henry at London Comedy Film Festival in 2013 when we as judges selected his film Womble in the top 3.

John-Henry has been seen in The Boy With Tape On His Face’s comedy pilot and is soon to feature in Bill, the Horrible Histories feature film. We urge his casting in many other things. He’s very good and a lovely chap.

 

The Process

And now, for anyone interested in the process of animation or filmmaking, I thought I’d talk about how we go about casting for a comedy short. It’s one of the most fun parts of the process for us alongside the voice recording itself.

We tend to start the casting process with quite specific ideas of people we know or have seen live or on TV. Recommendations also help from people in the biz.  Often, we’ve written the parts with people (or voices) in mind so that gives us a strong starting point.

When it comes to choosing people to audition it’s all about the voice and the character. Name, popularity, and look don’t come into it. If they’ve got the right voice and the comedy chops to interpret the script then they’re the right person for the role.

We particularly like working with comedians. We’ve been lucky to work with some great alternative comedy talent so far (Mayall, Eldon, Long, etc). Comedians have a natural sense of timing and can add to the performance in ways that some voice artists cannot. That’s not to say pro voice artists aren’t good. We’ve worked with some great ones and their versatility and range is the thing that marks them out as special. For this project, we thought comedians and comic actors were the way forward.

So after some head scratching and research we held the auditions at Nickelodeon’s London HQ and we saw some very talented people. We gave a 20 minute slot to each performer in the Spongebob room and did a recorded read-through of the script, with Louis and I filling in the other parts. It’s a testament to the skill of the actors to react to our terrible line-readings and fluffs.

We give a small amount of direction in auditions, but mainly want to see the performer’s interpretation of the material and their energy. Animation often requires quite big vocal performances and sometimes it can be difficult, even for actors, to break out of their shell and go nuts. Cartoons are often big, vivid worlds, so the voices and performances often have to be too. In this case, we wanted to mix big and wild, with some understatement and restraint.

After the audition we took the tapes away and listened to the takes, combined with the self-taped auditions that were sent to us by performers that couldn’t make it on the day.

Following some deliberation and thinking about the characters we had difficult decisions to make.  In the end we decided on our core cast of three based on their unique angle on the voices. The voices we’ve ended up with aren’t exactly what we initially thought, but that’s fine. We go into casting hoping to be surprised. Sometimes you can’t prescribe a voice to someone, you just have to hear it and decide from there if it fits the bill (duck pun intended).

Once the formalities of contracts and fees are sorted it’s onto the voice recording which hopefully I’ll talk a little bit about in another post. We’re really happy with our cast and the performances we’ve captured, and all that feeds into the next stage of production. Onwards!

We’re making a short for Nickelodeon

Louis and I are extremely pleased and excited to be able to say that we’ve been commissioned to make an animated comedy short for Nickelodeon!

Dice Productions Nickelodeon Animated ShortsNick took over 600 pitches from around the world for the Nickelodeon Animated Shorts Program 2014 and we’re in the top 8, so we are very proud to be part of the tiny selection of international shorts to be produced.

The shorts will air on Nickelodeon as well as on all Nickelodeon platforms, and will also be considered for long-form development. Louis will be directing and animating and I will be writing and producing.

Here’s the first image of our short DuckManBoy…

Duckmanboy

The new short commission comes after our recent shorts Don’t Fear Death and Gregory is a Dancer which we wrote, directed and produced for Channel 4. You can watch them on our videos page. It’s our fourth original film commission alongside a whole host of other projects.

The announcement was made by Nickelodeon at Cartoon Forum. Here’s the news at Variety, Kidscreen and Animation World Network so you know it’s legit.

To keep up to date with our progress, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Vimeo and YouTube channels.

Let’s make this thing!