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Toot the Tiny Tugboat: Interview with Ruth Fielding (Lupus Films) & Jon Rennie (Cloth Cat Animation)

// Interviews, News

Toot the Tiny Tugboat, a delightful, new pre-school series for 4-7 year olds, will be sailing onto Channel Five’s Milkshake! from Monday 20th October at 6.35am (and Tuesday 21st October on S4C).

Conjuring up a world of salty sea winds, melting ice-creams, flapping bunting and beaming sun, Toot the Tiny Tugboat transports its young viewers to a classic seaside holiday destination.

Ahead of the launch, we caught up with the producer, Ruth Fielding (Lupus Films), and Jon Rennie (Managing Director at Welsh animation studio Cloth Cat Animation) to find out how the series came about and how it was made.

Ruth Fielding discusses production and development

“Toot the Tiny Tugboat” was adapted from Sebastien Braun’s book “Toot and Pop!” Could you tell us about how the adaption came about, and who approached who?

Harper Collins approached us with Sebastien’s book and we loved it the moment we saw it. Once we’d optioned it we set about expanding the world of the harbour and switching the characters Toot and Pop so we had a tiny but mighty hero in Toot. Ian Carney our head writer invented new characters and expanded those that appeared in the book so that we had the potential and scope to come up with 52 new stories for the tv series.

The 2 years that spanned “Toot” being pitched at Cartoon Forum in 2012 and it being broadcast next week is common for TV projects. Could you breakdown for our readers how those 2 years were spent in terms of funding, any further development and production?

Before we got to cartoon forum we applied for some MEDIA development funds to make a pilot episode and write some scripts. The pilot then became our currency to fund the series. We talked to different potential co-producing partners, eventually settling on the brilliant Cloth Cat as they brought with them access to Welsh funding. We explored numerous funding routes, creating hundreds of budgets and finance plans whilst continuing to write scripts and assemble our creative team ready to start production. It always takes longer than you think it will to fund a series and you need to keep focused and determined to make it happen.

Aside from being broadcast on Channel Five’s Milkshake!, “Toot” was also produced for Wales’ S4C. Could you tell us why you chose those broadcasters?

It’s more a case of why they chose us! They obviously liked the pilot and believed we had the right creative ingredients to make a great series. Channel Five offers a great commercial platform from which to launch a preschool brand and S4C is one of the only broadcasters in Europe that offers digital fund monies to help create apps and websites alongside a TV series and that was attractive to us.

As “Toot” was co-produced with Cloth Cat Animation, which responsibilities and parts of production remained at Lupus Films?

Lupus did scripts, voices, storyboards, design, music, direction and lead producing. We have a team of 7 in our studio in Islington, London, working on Toot and a whole host of freelance talent working remotely. We’re also training a number of roles ‘on the job’ with the benefit of our Creative Skillset Challenge fund monies.

What is next for Lupus Films?

We’re about to start production on our very first feature film, Ethel & Ernest which is based on Raymond Briggs’ book by the same title.

Toot the Tiny Tugboat (4)

Toot the Tint Tugboat 2


Jon Rennie discusses animation production

How did Cloth Cat Animation become involved in “Toot the Tiny Tugboat” and at what stage were you brought in?

I’ve known Ruth and Camilla for a few years through our connections on other preschool series so we were honoured to be approached by them during the development period. We immediately saw the potential of Toot and, as CelAction specialists, we knew that we could handle the full production process from our Cardiff studio. Also in our favour was the excellent support from the Welsh Government, S4C, Twofour Rights, who are distributing Toot, and also Gorilla who are providing dubbing and online services. As a combined package, we were able to give Lupus a full production service in Wales and securely deliver to multiple broadcasters.

Could you tell us about the animation process used on this show, and what software was used?

Toot the Tiny Tugboat is a CelAction-based 2D animation show and is fully finished in the software. Our team have been CelAction specialists in Wales for over a decade, working on a number of large series for international broadcast. In addition to this, we’re using a cloud database software called Ftrack to not only organise our production but also automate a lot of our rendering and edit management. We’ve used systems like this in our visual effects work, most recently in the latest series of Grandpa In My Pocket, so we were glad we finally had an opportunity to use it on a 2D animation series. It took a bit of work to program it to work with CelAction but it’s been smooth sailing during production and we aim to expand it for future series. Other than that, we make use of Photoshop CC to work with the assets sent to us from Lupus.

Cloth Cat have been very busy working on other TV projects pver the past year (Boj, Wildernuts) – would you say the animation industry is well served and growing in Wales at the moment, and do you find yourself having to bring talent in from elsewhere?

Yes, we’ve very fortunate to have two years’ worth of work over a number of productions and we’re very grateful to the Welsh Government for their support on a number of those. Our skill base is very varied and we’re at home with 2D or CG animation, VFX or motion graphics. We’re also now producing interactive apps and games for Boj and Toot, a natural extension of having programmers together with the animators so that they can share assets. This variety of skills has enabled us to bring in new talent and experiment with new workflows, something that we would have struggled to do outside of Wales. Most of our crew is local or have now settled in the area. In addition, we have great links with the local universities and Skillset representatives so we were able to bring new graduates onto Toot and train them in the production process directly.

What is next for Cloth Cat Animation?

Cardiff is a fantastic city to live and work in and we’re very fortunate to have excellent links with S4C and BBC Wales and we now have quite a few different projects at various stages of development. It was a big step for us to expand into animation but the effort has paid off and we’re now looking at expanding into new premises. All sides of the company are keen to collaborate so new ideas come from different directions all the time. We’d also like to have a good balance of our own IP and co-production with other creators. I think it’s key that the UK industry looks beyond the stop-start production system and builds up the momentum to roll onto new productions. Our staff have given us a great deal of loyalty over the past few years as we worked to get Toot in production earlier this year so we want to repay them their support. There is a thriving community in Cardiff again and we want to build on that.

Toot the Tint Tugboat 3

Toot the Tiny Tugboat is a Toot Enterprises Production for Channel 5 and S4C, in association with Lupus Films, Cloth Cat Animation and Boom Kids. Supported by the MEDIA fund, SDML and the Welsh Government.

Items mentioned in this article:

Toot and Pop! book

Toot and Pop! book


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Lewis Heriz
@themooks @skwigly Yeah! That's when it becomes << actual magic >>
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James Howard
@lewisheriz @skwigly That first time you see it move is such a buzz and then you add sound and it just enters a whole new stratosphere.
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Lewis Heriz
@themooks @skwigly I know it's kind of obvious, but I used to see it as 'important but secondary'. I don't see it as secondary any more.
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James Howard
@lewisheriz @skwigly Sound does bring it to life.
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