12/07/12 by Sascha Paladino
Posted in Animators
I wish I thought of that scenario. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I’m a grownup. That truly imaginative, original and completely delightful idea was dreamed up by a group of kids, aged 9-11. I was lucky enough to collaborate with these kids to bring the story of a psycho toaster to life as a short animated film. And now, it’s going out into the world, so everyone can enjoy this twisted tale featuring one Mr. Nutmaster Hazelnut, a colorful snake who can grow wings, and Bob Knucklehead’s aptly named cousins, Handhead and Foothead.
One of the great things about working at Brown Bag Films is the possibility of interesting and unique collaborations. Late last year, a group of us went to visit the headquarters of Fighting Words, a brilliantly concieved creative writing centre founded by the Irish writer Roddy Doyle and Seán Love. Fighting Words aims to help students of all ages to develop their writing skills and explore their love of writing. All tutoring is free. Doyle was inspired to create Fighting Words after seeing the American writer Dave Eggers’ 826 program 826 Valencia, which similarly encourages kids to express themselves through the written word.
We sat in on a session where a group of kids from Dublin worked together to write a story. I was inspired by the way kids were empowered by writing, and then had their stories immediately published so they could bring them home. It reminded me of another wonderful creative organization in New York City, with whom I’ve worked for many years, The 52nd Street Project , which similarly uses theater to empower kids.
The Brown Baggers and the Fighting Wordsters found a creative kinship and we quickly hatched a plan to make something together. Working with Fighting Words’ resourceful and creative Education Director, Orla Lehane, we would gather a group of kids to write, design, direct, and perform in an animated film, and the Brown Bag team would guide them and provide technical support and expertise.
Soon, we found ourselves at the Fighting Words centre with twelve kids, dreaming up a story. Led by the dynamic volunteer Úna Kavanagh, they democratically (though not without some loud disagreement) figured out the basic elements of their story, according the Fighting Words methodology: first, come up with a main character, then give the main character a best friend, a greatest ambition, and a greatest fear. The ideas were flying fast and furious – a toaster, ninjas, a microwave – no, a witch-microwave! – a dog, a cat – no, just a cat! – a jar of hazelnut spread who can talk – DEFINITELY a jar of hazelnut spread who can talk!
After the story was hammered out, some kids focused on the details of the script while other kids drew images of their characters and backgrounds. Brown Bag artists Shane Collins and Nicky Phelan encouraged the kids to draw whatever they wanted, and gave useful feedback that was both happily taken and gleefully ignored. Which was all good! It was the kids’ project, we were just there to bounce ideas and share opinions.
The kids focused on their artwork, and as they drew and colored, they fleshed out the story even more. The narrative of the psycho toaster grew more and more interesting.
Then, we took the artwork back to Brown Bag, and a team of volunteer animators, led by animation director Shane Collins, had to figure out how to turn the raw creative output into something that could be animated smoothly and beautifully. I can’t tell you what they did or how, because I can’t animate myself out of a paperbag (though that might make an interesting short film, hmm…if only I could animate it…). But through their hard work and sheer wizardry, the psycho toaster and Bob Knucklehead started to come to life.
The next week, the young auteurs came to the Brown Bag studio for the next phase of the project. After getting a quick introduction to the animation process, it was back to work! There were voices to be recorded, music to be performed, and more artwork to be drawn and tweaked. Volunteers from both Brown Bag and Fighting Words provided support, and the kids buckled down, excited to be a part of this process.
Next, the pieces were put back in the hands of the Brown Baggers, who devoted more personal time to putting it all together into a short film. Characters were rigged for animation. Explosions were animated. Music was mixed. Various things that I don’t understand took place. And we were lucky enough to have a special guest, the great Irish actor Liam Cunningham, on a break from shooting “Game of Thrones,” come in to record the narration.
At last, the film was complete, and it was time for the world premiere, complete with popcorn. The kids came back to the Brown Bag studio, along with their parents and siblings, and a hush fell over the crowd.
And then, we watched the film on the big screen. The best part of the process was watching the kids, eyes wide and getting ever wider, as they watched their ideas come to life, flickering across the screen.
And then, the kids took a well-deserved bow.
When I’m working on a series, I get involved in a million aspects the show, from writing to rewriting to commenting on artwork to rewriting to giving direction on voice acting to rewriting to guiding the music (and oh, did I mention rewriting?). Sometimes it’s easy to get consumed by the details and fall into certain patterns.
But these kids had no patterns. They wanted to see what might happen to a psycho toaster – so they told a story about a psycho toaster. Their lack of inhibition and self-doubt was creatively invigorating.
And whatever in the world inspired them to make “The Weirdest Thing in Toast and All of Mankind,” those kids were a total inspiration to me.
Sascha Paladino is Head Writer of 'The Happy Hugglemonsters'
Fabulous. I’ll never look at my toaster in the same light again.13 July 2012 by Lucy Murphy
Wow!13 July 2012 by Gramby
WISH WE HAD DONE THIS AS KIDS. CAN WE STILL DO THIS AS ADULTS?
HOW ABOUT A TREE HOUSE THAT SPEAKS HEBREW AND IS A LAUNCHING PAD TOASTER WEAPONS TO TAKE OUT IRAN-NUCLEAR-PROGRAM?14 July 2012 by CELIA & STEVE
Can you buy fighting words in Easons dublin14 August 2012 by mary quinn
Hi Mary, the short film isn’t available for sale yet. It is being entered into international festivals at the moment, but we’ll keep you posted!14 August 2012 by Jennie Stacey