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Q Pootle 5: From Book to TV Series

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If you are familiar with children’s author and illustrator Nick Butterworth (Tales From Percy’s Park, Jasper’s Beanstalk), you will probably have heard of Q Pootle 5 and Q Pootle 5 In Space, which follows the adventures of a small friendly alien and his friends on the planet Okidoki.

Produced by Snapper Productions and animated by Blue Zoo, Q Pootle 5 will be making it’s animation debut on CBeebies at the end of July. We caught up with Nick and Ben Butterworth about the process of taking a book to the screen.

q-pootle-5 1

Questions for Nick

As the author of so many very different books, what was it about Q Pootle 5 that made you want to take that particular idea and create an animated series?

Q Pootle 5 seemed to be an ideal candidate. Apart from being an appealing little chap, as an alien, he was not culturally tied (as would be, for example, a Beefeater or a London bus driver) and so would have greater potential to appeal to international broadcasters. It also offered a new, or at least relatively unexplored, territory in which to create stories for young children.

Could you tell us a little about the process of taking your two books and adapting them to the screen? What changes did you make for the different medium?

The first decision I had to make was to let Ben in! Authors are used to being proprietorial with regard to their work so it was the first step towards an inevitable and necessary collaboration with a large number of people.

Together, Ben and I addressed the many aspects of the wider world of Q Pootle 5 which had not already featured in the books, but would be essential as a framework for the creation of a multi episode series. Who were his friends? Where did they live? What did the home planet look like? All these and many more questions had to be thoroughly explored. Our ideas were very much along the same lines and gradually things took shape. It was hugely enjoyable and we sparked each other off in a way that led to ideas being developed that we probably wouldn’t have come up with on our own.

To go from writing two books to an entire series must have taken some adjusting. Could you tell us a little about the writing process – did you write all the episodes or work with a team of writers?

Ben and I have written a fair few of the episodes but, with responsibility for so many diverse areas of the production, from the creative to the business side of things, there would be no way that we could write fifty-two stories.

A couple of other writers that we knew and respected, helped us to find a small group of other writers who were also in tune with the ethos Ben and I had established for Q Pootle 5. This group has made one of the most important contributions to the whole project, creating the narratives that drive every episode.

Questions for Ben and Nick

How involved are you during the animation process? How close is what we see to your original vision?

We’re very involved in the animation process. We both think very visually about storytelling, so it is inevitable that we have in mind how a story might work on screen, and we created the characters so we have definite ideas on their performance. That said, we are always open to ideas. The experience Blue Zoo brings to the series is partly why we wanted to work with them in the first place.

It’s absolutely great that this show has been made entirely in the UK – what led you to that decision, and not the more common co-production route? (And how did you achieve it, assuming that the decision was made before anyone knew that the UK animation industry would get the tax break!)

At the time we were seeking finance for the series, there was no animation tax credit. Potential co-production partners we met with, envisaged some, or all, of the animation being carried out abroad where tax breaks were available. But we felt that British animation was second to none and if we were to achieve the high quality we were after, the series had to be made here.

We wanted as much creative control over the series as possible. We were keen to avoid too many voices having a say over the editorial direction of the project, which might lead to unwelcome compromises. The success of any production is ultimately down to what you see on screen. The risk that time or language differences might lead to our not being able to communicate effectively with our team, or oversee the production design in the way we wanted, in order to finance the series or save money didn’t make sense to us. It was the tail wagging the dog.

What made you decide to use CGI, as opposed to the more 2D look of the book?

We didn’t feel there was an overwhelming case for trying to exactly reproduce on screen what was appropriate for the books. We gave ourselves the luxury of a clean slate and considered all the options that were open to us. CGI gave us a great opportunity to create a whole world, or in this case galaxy! The ability to move in three dimensions and the opportunities this gave us to enrich the stories was very appealing. We could create something that felt authentic and all-encompassing, enabling our audience to really enter the world, and therefore, the stories.

We understand that Snapper Productions is a family company – how are your roles split and what are each of your responsibilities during production? 

The whole production has been very collaborative and there is a lot of overlap. Development was a process of bouncing around ideas, shaping and honing and throwing things out!

Naturally, Nick is responsible for the overall design of the series and has a huge amount of involvement in the designing of props, big and small, during production. Even then, however, we discuss the design of most props.

Ben oversees the scripts with head writer Lee Pressman, but nothing ever goes beyond the springboard stage if Ben, Nick and Lee aren’t happy with it from a story point of view and Adam Shaw, series director, feels comfortable that this is a story we can tell. Nick will then comment at all stages of the script.

All stages of animation are reviewed and approved by both of us, as is the music and sound design. Voice records are directed by our voice director, Dave Peacock. We often have a lot of input into the sessions, as we are so close to the characters and the stories.

Ben works closely with our brilliant production manager, Margo, and behind-the-scenes is an unsung hero, Annette (Nick’s wife and Ben’s mother). As associate producer, she is across a number of different areas of production, from scripts, episode delivery and finance – she’s been incredible!

What is next for Snapper Productions?

A holiday would be nice! We finish Q Pootle 5 in February next year and we have a number of ideas in development, for children, families and grown-ups. We’re keen to make high-end productions, be it live action or animation, for the big and small screen.

Q Pootle 5 is produced by Snapper Productions with animation by BAFTA-award winning animation studio Blue-Zoo. The series will air weekdays on CBeebies from 29 July at 8.15am.

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