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‘The Barefoot Bandits’ – An Interview with Mukpuddy

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The Barefoot Bandits is a brand new animated comedy adventure series created by the New Zealand based animation studio Mukpuddy.  Season One has been airing this year in a prime time slot, on Television New Zealand‘s channel TV2.

The show follows the protagonist trio of Tane, Fridge and Riley who live on the little known island of Ngarno.  Unbeknown to the quiet townsfolk that call the island their home, Ngaro has long been full of many mysteries – until one day, Tane, Fridge and Riley decide to take it upon themselves to uncover all of the islands secrets, talking on the name ‘The Barefoot Bandits’.

Meet the Barefoot Bandits

Tane is the sensible guy that really holds the group together.  With the many qualities of a good leader he does his best to remain calm and level-headed in difficult situations – even when faced by a hoard of zombie vegetables!  He can empathize well with others and adopts an objective approach to solving mysteries.

Cool, positive and cheerful, Tane is often the one that can make quick decisions when the going gets tough.

 

 

Riley simply can’t get enough of adventures!  When Fridge is quivering in fear by the prospect of exploring a dark cave or even when Tane is a little unsure at times, she is there the drive them on, brimming with enthusiasm along the way.  Despite the extraordinary discoveries the trio make in each episode, Riley is always hoping to find something even more fantastical around the next turn.  But what she really hopes to find above all is aliens!

Brave, fearless and intelligent, Riley is always there to help the boys out when they’re stumped for ideas!

 

Fridge is definitely the joker of the pack!  On the surface he is full of confidence with his quick-witted attitude.  But when faced with the adversities of adventure we get to see that he’s really a big softy and is easily made fearful and jumpy by the slightest of things.  Like Tane and Riley, Fridge is enthused by the many wonders their discoveries unearth, but he would be quite content just stuffing his face and sitting in front of the TV watching ‘Tumeke Space’.

Eccentric, Glutton and an extrovert, this madcap guy can keep his friends entertained in any situation!

 

These three characters form a very appealing and effective group dynamic.  Tane has a sort of ‘pure’ and objective quality about him when it comes to adventures and this really helps anchor the narrative – allowing us, the viewer, to see the story unfold through his eyes (or perhaps he is just the character that I can personally relate with the most?)  Then you have Riley who can always provide a dose of logic and scientific grounding when the boys haven’t quite got things right – and what a brilliant character she is.  There is still so much inequality in gender representation and it is so refreshing to see a female character that isn’t limited by the absurd stereotypes that flood our everyday media.  Riley is a credible role model for female viewers, demonstrating that girls and boys are both equally capable of pursuing the same things in life.  And then there is Fridge, who is not only the great comedian of the group but also a counterbalance; punctuating all of the potential dangers they encounter throughout their adventures.  He is a complex character who likes to hide beneath a veneer of confidence (or another persona completely) and turn his vices (in his case his love of food) into a coping mechanism or a reason to escape a situation where he feels threatened.  We can all identify in some way with Fridge’s traits and I think this character is a catalyst for interesting storytelling.  He also delivers many hilarious one-liners such as,

I think I’m going to vomate.  Which is a combination of vomiting and fainting!

and,

Awwhh! My Cankle!

When I first watched The Barefoot Bandits I was immediately taken back to my childhood.  Each episode reminded of the many films and TV shows that I grew up with, from The Goonies (1985) to The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show (1983 – 1985).  In particular The Barefoot Bandits was also reminiscent of one of my favorite 80’s film The Explorers (1985), which follows three boys who encounter aliens after building a spacecraft from a discarded fairground Waltzer car.  Perhaps this is because films like these opened my imagination to the possibilities of adventure – at a time where me and my friends were building dens in the woods, going out looking for ghosts and exploring all the places unknown to us on our bicycles!  Of course, Tane, Fridge and Riley’s adventures are much more fantastical, encountering a ghostly sea captain when hunting for treasure (in episode five) and discovering a totalitarian society of glow worms deep under the ground.  Throughout the show there are so many great references to sci-fi, fantasy and adventure films of the 80’s. Episode seven, Night Of The Living Vege brilliantly parodies zombie movies of the time and has shades of Gremlins (1984) and Critters (1986).  Every episode that I have seen has sent the fond memories of childhood flooding back to me – and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them as an adult too!  This show is clearly for the whole family to enjoy, with humour for the kids and plenty of jokes for the adults – and it’s great that it’s full of Kiwi slang such as ‘bro’, ‘choice’ ‘egg’ and ‘sweet as’.

Barefoot_Bandits_Characters

One thing in particular that I am really impressed by is just how polished the show looks and the appeal of the visuals in general.  All of the visual aspects are incredibly well thought out and fit together perfectly.  The character designs are sublime and cleverly designed – you could render them all as silhouettes and each and every character would still be easily recognisable.  The detailed backgrounds have a ‘hand-painted’ and slightly textured aesthetic that provides a softening backdrop – guiding the eye to each character and creating an environment that we can believe the characters are truly part of.  The colour palette is carefully executed – incorporating vibrant tones with the hues of nature so to be eye-catching without being overbearing.  And then there is the animation!  All of the characters are beautifully animated and from the very first episode I found myself drawing parallels with the shows I grew up with – in particular the work of John K such as The Ren & Stimpy Show (1991 – 1996).

Check out this time-lapse video of the character ‘The Alien’ being rigged in Flash.

With a talented voice acting cast including John Rhys-Davies as ‘Captain Cragglechin McScuttlebutt’ and Rhys Darby as ‘Mayor Dennis Gob’, The Barefoot Bandits ticks all the boxes for a hit TV show.

Meet the Directors

The Barefoot Bandits was produced by Mukpuddy, an animation studio based in Aukland, New Zealand.  Mukpuddy specialises in 2D and it was founded by the three animators Alex Leighton, Ryan Cooper and Tim Evans who created and co-directed The Barefoot Bandits.

Ryan Cooper leads the scripting side of the show with Nick Ward.  Cooper wrote the theme tune with rap musician Tommy III and provided many character voices such as ‘Frida the Seahag’ and ‘Uncle Moa’.  He is also the co-producer and co-animation supervisor along with Tim Evans.

Tim Evans also works as the editor along with Aleksander Sakowski – who he works with to provide all of the show’s compositing.

Alex Leighton is responsible for all the character design and worked on the stories with Evans, Cooper and Nick Ward.

Prior to The Barefoot Bandits, Mukpuddy created Pocket Protectors – a series of five minute episodes following a young boy called Ollie who inherits a pencil case only to find that the stationary inside transform into tiny robotic heros!  This imaginative parody of Transformers was created for WhitebaitMedia and plays on TV2‘s WhatNow.  They have also created other short TV series for WhitebaitMedia including Sparkle Friends, Lanky Lampton and Roodie Toodie.

Muckpuddy have also taken part in New Zealand’s 48 hours film competitions – which literally involves making an entire film in 48 hours!  These include Dead End Job (2014), Camp Fear (2007), Meanie Pants (2011) and Love in Decay (2012).  ‘Camp Fear’ was the first ever animated film to make it into the competition’s national finals – winning the Auckland Final!

Q & A

We were able to catch up with Alex Leighton [AL], Ryan Copper [RC] and Tim Evans [TE] and they were more than happy to talk about their exciting new show…

Barefoot_Bandits_Directors

I understand that you guys met thirteen years ago while you were studying on the same animation course.  How valuable was your time as students and how did you start working on animations together as Mukpuddy?

RC: Our time as students was invaluable. We all started our animation course not knowing each other and in our 2nd year we finally crossed paths and our interest and shared sense of humour instantly made it a perfect team-up. We spent the following years on our course coming up with skits and show concepts for fun but then as we approached the end of our course, we knew we had to capitalise on this passion and decided to give the world of internet cartoons a go… and so Mukpuddy was born. While the whole internet cartoon didn’t really work out initially (as New Zealand wasn’t really ready for that type of thing) we kept chugging along by offering everything we could, from music videos, to commercial work, to running our own movie magazine (that was sponsored by a local theatre chain), all the while continuing to develop our own ideas. We did what we could to stay in the game until people started to notice.

What is the animation industry like in New Zealand?

RC: Back when we first ventured out on our own… it was fairly small. It’s still small now, but it’s growing. In recent years a lot of the Dreamworks TV series were being animated here (until that went elsewhere), but most of the animation work in NZ is commercial.

Your name Mukpuddy certainly sparks intrigue and is very memorable, but I must ask, is there a meaning behind the name?

AL: Ha ha… Nope… no meaning really, just a silly made up word. We wanted something that would stick in people’s minds. Being big fans of the work of John K, and in particular his efforts in the early 2000s, we wanted a word that sounded as cool and fun as his ‘Spumco’… not sure if we achieved that but yeah that was our thought process.

All of your animated films that I have seen share a distinct visual style that really takes me back to the works of animator John K.  How did you develop this great style and what have been your major influences?

AL: Cool thanks dude, yeah we probably wear a lot of our influences on our sleeves for everybody to see but definitely the early nineties Nickeloden stuff was a huge influence on the 3 of us growing up. Ren & Stimpy and Rocko’s Modern Life definitely showed us that modern cartoons can still be as silly as the classic stuff. Like a lot of kids that grew up in the 80s and loved to draw, our collective love of Star Wars and The Muppets and the works of Jim Henson almost single handedly pushed us towards this type of industry and together as friends, and were actually the first things we bonded over when we first met at animation school.

I imagine almost all our other influences are super common among people of a similar age making cartoons now… Walt Disney films were huge, Hanna Barbera and the design work of Ed Benedict, Classic Warner Bros Cartoons and directors like Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett and Tex Avery. As well as a lot of the more modern cartoon makers too. The work of guys like Genndy Tartakovsky, Craig McCracken and C. H. Greenblatt have been huge influences on us.

How did you come up with the idea for the show The Barefoot Bandits?   

RC: So because NZ TV is government funded (through NZonAir) the shows produced here have to reflect NZ in some way. Our ideas are normally a little more international which is why we initially aimed for the internet, but we came up with an idea for a Christmas special set on a tiny and overlooked fictional island off the bottom of NZ, about a kid desperate to get Santa’s attention. It was called Missing Christmas and it made us realise we could tell universally themed stories, with a Kiwi twist. From there we felt we had a cast of characters we wanted to revisit and develop further. So we expanded on what we set up in the Christmas special and The Barefoot Bandits was born.

It is an incredible achievement to have created a show that is on prime time TV!  How did you go about pitching and securing funding for The Barefoot Bandits?

RC: So after making Missing Christmas, we had the luxury of having a one off animated special that essentially acted as a pilot for the series. We put together an extensive pitch that was well recieved and got commitment from a TV broadcaster down here (TVNZ) and once we had that commitment, we were able to present our pitch to NZonAir who make the funding decisions. Thankfully, they went for it.

I can certainly draw parallels with the narrative of The Barefoot Bandits and the themes of family adventure movies from the 80’s.   From growing up in the 80’s did your experiences from childhood serve as an inspiration for the show and of course the main characters; Tane, Fridge and Riley?

TE: Glad you noticed that, yes the eighties are a huge influence on everything we do. We essentially pitched The Barefoot Bandits as a kiwi Goonies.

While not always consciously, the influence of the eighties on the way we make things has always been present in Mukpuddy’s work, we’re just such big fans of films like Gremlins, Back to the Future and E.T, that similarities are always going to seep into the show. We don’t mind though, the eighties are awesome.

Am I correct in thinking that before The Barefoot Bandits went into production, Mukpuddy comprised just the three of you?

AL: Yes indeed. For the most part it was just the 3 of us for 14 years before we got the show. Once we finally got the green light we quickly had to snap up all the local Flash animators, so now we’re a team of 15 including storyboard artists, background artist, editor, compositor and an extra writer. Before this project we did every aspect of that between the 3 of us. Apart from Weta Workshop the animation industry (especially the “making silly cartoons industry”) is pretty damn tiny down here and as a result so are the budgets, so if we really wanted to live our dream of making silly stuff that cracked us up we just had to stay the 3 of us. Small overheads meant we could exist as a business, make short form stuff we were proud of and have a little bit of money to live on… emphasis on “little” though!

What was it like going from a three person dynamic to a larger studio environment?

TE: It was surprisingly a pretty smooth transition. We were concerned at first, being the control freaks that we are, that we’d have trouble handing work over to other people. What we actually found though, was that our team was so willing to push their work to incredible high levels, that we really had nothing to worry about. They were impressing us at every turn and we really only had to gently guide things as everyone completely got what we were trying to make. It helps that our crew are absolutely amazing. We put a lot of thought into who we hired, and this really helped us in the long run.

The dialogue in the Barefoot Bandits comes across very ‘free’ and natural, which is very refreshing.  Is this intentional and were there any instances of improvisation from the voice actors at times?

TE: We’ve always been big fans of a more natural style of dialogue, and the combination of Ryan’s writing and the actor’s regular improvisation has really helped us achieve that. We noticed that other shows have a tendency to cut out the little ‘ums and ahs’ of regular speech, and we prefer to leave it all in there. It really helps keep a more organic nature to the conversations.

As long as the actors get the general gist of the lines correct, we let them bring their own voice to the dialogue and improvise as much as they like. Our job is just to keep an eye on the overall picture and make sure the improvisation works in the greater scheme of things.

I understand that you are currently well into production of Season 2 which is fantastic news!  Can we expect any other exciting animated shows from Mukpuddy in the future?

TE: At the moment, we’re very much focused on getting series 2 done. We are pitching more concepts though, including series 3 and a potential spin-off, so we’ll hopefully have some news in that department soon.

Barefoot_Bandits_Now_Showing

To find out more about The Barefoot Bandits visit thebarefootbandits.co.nz or alternatively you can catch it every Saturday at 8.40am (GMT +12) on TV2 or on TVNZ OnDemand  

Check out Mukpuddy’s Youtube Channel to see plenty of behind the scenes videos and be sure to visit their website mukpuddy.com

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