This week sees the online launch of DuckManBoy, the latest animated short from director Louis Hudson and writer Ian Ravenscroft, AKA Dice Productions. With their glowing comedy track record featuring such excellent work as 2011’s All Consuming Love (Man In A Cat) and 2013’s Don’t Fear Death, the team since produced DuckManBoy for the Nickelodeon International Shorts Scheme, effectively adapting their trademark absurdity to a younger audience.
When it came to producing DuckManBoy, how did your approach differ compared to your prior shorts?
Ian Ravenscroft: I think the difference with DuckManBoy is that it was commissioned by a kid’s broadcaster and it was meant for kids, which is a different mindset to making a festival film or making something that makes just us laugh. So translating our humour to something that is not gonna break a child’s brain for the rest of its life was a bit of a challenge!
Louis Hudson: I remember we spent a lot of time working out what our type of humour is. A lot of it is the unspoken stuff which takes a long time, and that went out the window. So a lot of it is gag-based, which I think works perfectly for it. It just means it’s got a really quick pace, because you have to fit all the dialogue in, which is the fun bit. We made sure it wasn’t a shouty thing either, because there are lots of [shows] where personalities are replaced by kids screaming at each other, and I think we made it enough that you have a motivated character wanting to do stuff, but he’s still deluded, and he has a brother who’s an accountant who doesn’t have time for this…
IR: At the very least I hope we’ve created the only accountant-based kids’ TV character!
Did the concept for DuckManBoy exist before your involvement with the Nickelodeon Shorts Scheme or was it created specifically for it?
IR: We had done two films for Channel 4 and then we came up with the idea for DuckManBoy to pitch to Channel 4 as a pilot for an adult animated series.
LH: We got feedback basically saying “It’s mental, but we’re not going to do it”!
IR: The first version of DuckManBoy was quite adult, the main character was quite old.
LH: He was fairly disturbing, really, sort of a manchild!
IR: A manchild that drinks lager and lives at home with his mum. I think the first challenge was to age it down to twelve-year-old kids’ level of acceptability, rather than the kind of ‘adult’ Channel 4 audience that we had originally intended it for. I think that we were quite lucky that we had this bizarre concept and some of the bizarre bits stuck, I think.
What’s especially nice about the film, as with your earlier films, is its distinctly British sensibility…
LH: It was important to do that. We debated whether to have American voices as well, because that would make it more acceptable to executives and audiences, but it is very British so I think to have made it American would have involved tweaking the script. It just felt right to be British, and how many other chances are you gonna get at doing a pilot that’s all British?
IR: We’ve got this grandiose supervillain who’s constantly undercutting himself and constantly being exposed as not as grandiose as he wants to be, and we’ve got a wannabe superhero who has no powers and is just useless – and then the sidekick who actually is an accountant and doesn’t want anything to do with anything. I think that’s a very British thing, a superhero-based short where no one has powers and the villains are rubbish and everything is mundane.
How did you find the overall experience of the scheme?
LH: A lot of credit has to be given to Alexi at Nickelodeon. He gave everyone a lot of freedom and just wanted everyone to be able to express what they wanted to do. You get the most interesting results that way.
IR: He’s making a really smart decision to be creator-led, which has to be the way forward. The independent animation scene at the moment has so many great, talented people out there who are all really unique, and the only way you’re gonna stand out is letting these people tell you what should be happening. So hopefully some of these shorts turn into full series.
LH: There was that particular comment by Cartoon Brew recently, but I think a lot of these series could be developed further to the next level. It’s a really good way for people to express the direction they could go. We made an interesting example of entertainment for children, but we’d then need to go through the process of “how does this story work over 52 episodes?” – that would have been a nice process to look at.
IR: Making a short is so different to making an episode of something, or designing a series. I think we made a conscious decision with this not to be cynical about, not to try and make something that is clearly just a pilot taster, we just wanted to tell a story with some characters. I think whether that backfires or not doesn’t really matter; we stayed true to telling a story properly.
Nickelodeon’s 2016 Animated Shorts Programme is now open for submissions.
Keep your eyes on Skwigly next week for the full Dice Productions interview on the next episode of the Skwigly Podcast. To see more of Louis and Ian’s work visit diceproductions.co.uk