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     Three Little Piggies!...
      * Peppa Pig*
      * The Big Knights *

      The Hound gets animated
      with Astley Baker Davies!

   Peppa Pig from Astley Baker Davies
    BIG talent                 BIG interview
    ABD past and present...    ABD talk to The Hound...
     Peppa and the Parrot - a visitor from "Jolly Roger" perchance?


    BIG talent...

     They're big in animation circles, and what's more they're most enthusiastic about
     their work - especially their current production "Peppa Pig". The three big fellows
     concerned here are Neville Astley, Mark Baker and  Phil Davies who each give
     their surnames to their company name of Astley Baker Davies.

     Mark Baker and Neville Astley have been collaborating since 1994. Mark
     had previously directed two Oscar-nominated films "The Hill Farm" and "The
     Village", whilst Neville arrived from a successful career in commercials.
     In 1998 they brought us the piratical delights of "Jolly Roger". This fabulous
     little film garnered yet another Oscar-nomination, and served as a springboard
     in to the triumphant BBC series The Big Knights. This gem featured Sir Boris
     and Sir Morris, brave knights abroad in the modern-medieval realm of Borovia. 
     The show was a big fat hit with those who caught it, shoehorned at odd times
     in to the BBC schedule, and the knights won themselves a most enthusiastic

Sir Boris and Sir Morris - The Big Knights!   Mark, Phil and Neville

     And now there's "Peppa Pig". Peppa is an altogether different creation, a high
     profile pre-school series produced by newcomer to the team, Phil Davies, and
     snapped up by Five and Nickelodeon. Peppa and company are just your regular,
     everyday suburban family, except that they're pigs. Though the target audience
     is younger, fans of the film makers will instantly recognize the distinct design
     and animation on show. Like the "Big Knights", the series is created using
     Celaction. Big round characters are juxtaposed on screen with mini midgets.
     Most noticeably, the stars heads are brilliantly flattened, with the eyes appearing
     on the same side of the face - and heck, Daddy pig even sports a whisker
     beard and spectacles, just like Sir Morris!

     52 episodes of this curly-tailed series have been commissioned, and the team are
     current mid way through production, up to their eyes in scripts and storyboards.
     With so many episodes to play with, they've been able to shoehorn in lots of fun
     for fans of their work - like a splendid guest appearance by the parrot from
     "Jolly Roger" - and be you a big piggy or small piggy, it's certainly a series to
     snuffle out and enjoy!...

     Peppa in bed  Three little piggies: Astley Baker Davies...

    Mark, Neville and Phil took time out from their crazy schedule to share a few
    words with The Hound, and as always, my questions are presented
in bold.
    I'm sure it doesn't need explaining, but with the answers, M&N stands for Mark
    Baker and Neville Astley, whilst Phil is of course, producer Phil Davies...


So tell us, how did "Peppa Pig" come about?

   M&N: When "The Big Knights" ended we wanted to make a series for preschool
   children. "Peppa Pig" is basically about a young child and her family but the fact
   that all the characters are pigs gives us a bit more room for humour and mischief.

   What kind of mischief?

   M&N: Well the starting point for the stories was the everyday lives of 3-4 yr old
   children. We tried to come up with as big a range of storylines as possible, from
   the obvious (playschool, flying a kite, at the beach) to such things as Peppa
   helping Mummy Pig work at her computer. As in any family, there are tensions
   and sibling rivalry.

   You created 13 episodes of "The Big Knights". For "Peppa Pig" you're
   putting together 52 - that's a Big Leap!

   Phil: Yes, for me it was quite a task of calculating the best and most cost effective
   way to get it made and how that might work within the constraints we had set
   ourselves. For some kind of perverse reason I actually enjoy this kind of challenge!!

   Was the production kept "in house"?

   Phil: Yes indeed. We really wanted as much of the process as possible to happen
   in our own studio. I know from experience that as soon as a part of the production
   process happens outside the studio, that’s when the problems start. As a
   consequence, we came up with the following plan for the production:

   We actually animate 2 episodes every 2 weeks with 2 teams of animators.
   They seem to have managed this OK with not too many late nights!! Each week
   Mark and Neville storyboard an episode of Peppa. Yesterday they storyboarded the
   episode “Daddy’s Movie Camera”, for example. This then goes to our wonderful
   production assistant Lucy who scans each episodes storyboard and gives it to our
   editor Ben, ready to make the animatic (or as some people call it "Leica").

   Lucy does all sorts of things around the studio – from making tea to pulling out
   sound takes from the original sound recordings. Ben then cuts together the
   animatic with the sound that we recorded last year with the voice artists with
   Mark and Nev Directing. He also edits the first assemblies and the fine cuts
   for each episode. For those of you that are interested he uses Apples “Final Cut”
   software to edit the series. While this is all going on our design department has a
   rolling design schedule. Even though the "look" of Peppa is fairly simple and clean,
   there’s an enormous amount of design in each episode. The episode “School Play”
   is a particularly design heavy episode...

     Yum! - Doughnuts for Peppa and company!

   Moving around the studio next is Layout, we have one person (Glen) who lays out
   each episode from the storyboards that Mark and Neville provide. After Layout the
   animators are assigned their scenes by the Director of Animation, Joris. He’ll also
   help out if there is something particularly complicated to do, or sometimes take on
   difficult scenes himself. After the scene is animated it goes to Ben the editor for
   incorporation in the final episode. The person that manages this weekly mayhem is
   Claire – she is the calming influence that steers us through each weeks production,
   as well as handling many of the technical aspects of our production. For example,
   Claire coordinates the daily rendering of the scenes from the animators.

   So that's the production process smoothed out, but what about storylines.
   Has it been tough coming up with so many story ideas?

   M&N: It was surprisingly not too difficult to come up with 52 ideas, mainly because
   all the stories revolve around family life and everyday experiences. In fact we have
   already come up with another 52 stories for the 2nd series!

   Phil: I always love the way Mark and Nev undervalue what they do – they have a
   remarkable talent for coming up with ideas that interest and engage with audiences
   of all ages.

   Has "Peppa Pig" changed since the pilot?

   M&N: In essence no, as the pilot was the template for the series. Everyone
   seemed to like the simplicity of the pilot so we have tried to maintain that.
   However technically the series is far more complicated than the pilot due to the
   demands of the stories and locations.

   There are big plans afoot with licensing, aren't there?

   Phil: Yes. Contender Entertainment Group have big plans for Peppa. We’re
   already seeing proofs for the first 2 picture books that will be launched next
   year (2005) and the first 5 toy lines are well into there development phase.
   We’re absolutely delighted with Contender and their plans for the series. The
   stuff we’ve seen to date is really high quality and well thought out. People should
   start seeing things in the shops next year. Nickelodeon and Five already have
   Peppa areas on their websites and Peppa’s own website is nearing completion.
   There is already a simple painting game at www.peppapig.com.

   Let's move away from "Peppa Pig" now. Can you tell us more about that
   other BIG project you were developing recently; "The Big World"?

   Phil: "Big World" was a series that was developed at the same time as Peppa – it’s
   great! – and may well surface in a few years time when we have some free time to
   think about it some more.

   And then, of course, there's "The Big Knights" - still a fan favourite.
   When did you discover Borovia?

   M&N: "The Big Knights" characters came first, Borovia came to us during the script
   sessions as we got to know Sir Morris and Sir Boris. We needed to create a place
   that was far enough away from modern Europe to allow for the existence of dragons,
   ogres, trolls and witches. The real breakthrough came when we realised that "The
   Big Knights" could be set in the present day. This allowed us to also incorporate
   such things as dodgy nuclear power stations, televisions and mobile phones.

   You had a fabulous voice-cast for the show...

   M&N: Yes, we were writing with Brian Blessed in mind as Sir Morris from early on.
   The difficult thing was to find someone with an equally powerful voice to play his
   brother, Sir Boris. When David Rintoul (the Shakespearean actor) came in to test
   read for the parts we quickly realised he was born to play Sir Boris. In fact, we liked
   David’s voice so much we got him back as Grandpa Dog and Dr Brown-Bear in
   "Peppa Pig"!

   How come we only got one series?

   M&N: Ask the BBC…we’d love to do another series!

   And how about a DVD? The Knights came out on video, but we've not
   yet had a shiny disc to view...

   M&N: There are plans for a DVD

   So now, let's hear more about yourselves. For a while there we had
   Mark Baker and Neville Astley, otherwise known as Astley Baker.
   When did Phil come on board?

   Phil: This is a curious story because in the 80’s I met both Mark and Neville
   while I was working full time at Middlesex Polytechnic, but weirdly Mark and Nev
   maintain that they never knew or met each other at Middlesex. I was responsible
   for a tiny animation department from 81-87 at the Cat Hill campus. Neville was a
   student at Middlesex where he made the wonderful “Mobile Home”. He left in 1985,
   and then in 1985/6 Mark came to teach the students part time while he was making
   “The Hill Farm” at Film School. So they missed each other by a matter
   of months!...

   M&N: We first met whilst working as sequence animators on the TVC special
   Granpa in 1989. After that we occasionally worked together on commercials
   at various animation studios in London. Then in January 1994 we set up in a
   small studio in Soho as Astley Baker. We worked mainly on commercials but
   right from the start it was our intention to develop TV series, and in 1995 we
   started development on "The Big Knights"...

   Phil: So I’d known Mark and Neville for many years when we got together to set
   up Astley Baker Davies Ltd in 2002. I suppose it happened because Mark and
   Nev were looking for someone as Claire Jennings, their producer on "The Big
   Knights", had moved to HIT entertainment. I was also looking for pastures new.
   For much of the 90’s I’d been producing animation for Channel 4 TV, and of course,
   in 2001 Channel 4 closed its animation department, so I was at a bit of a loose end.
   Incidentally I’m still producing the occasional short for Channel 4’s AIR scheme.

   M&N: After finishing "The Big Knights" in 2000 we put all our efforts into developing
   new ideas. Over the next year we developed 7 projects, of which "Peppa Pig" was one.
   Development is a very exhausting process - writing out a complete project-including
   concept, characters, storylines, design.. – and all this without any guarantee that
   it will actually be made.

   Actually, I was thinking about those earlier films "The Hill Farm" and
   "The Village". Have you thought about rounding out a trilogy?
   You could make "The City" next!

   Mark: Maybe ..but I was thinking more on the lines of "The Forest"!

   So whats next for the three of you?

   Phil: Well ….. we are hoping for a second series of "Peppa Pig". That would
   be wonderful. But if it doesn’t happen we have a number of other interesting
   ideas to pursue...

   Or BIG ideas, indeed. Gentleman, thank you very much for your time!

   And with that, our three little piggies went back to the production trough.

   Neville, Mark and Phil were splendidly generous during our exchange, and
   they kindly supplied The Hound with all of the images you see on this page too.
   "Peppa Pig" is a top series from a top team, and like I said earlier, is well
   worrth setting the video for.

   Meanhile, you can find out plenty more about Mark, Neville and Phil on
   their official site...

     - Till next time!
      Pooch again!   

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