Jane and Her Dragon Interview

Author Martin Baynton and animator Richard Taylor take us behind the scene’s in qubo’s hit series “Jane and the Dragon.”

Watching “Jane and the Dragon” on qubo with my kids has been one of my favorite Saturday morning activities for the last year or two. Not only is the storyline captivating, but I love the breaking of stereotypes as Jane trains to become a knight in her medieval world. She and her comrades deal with issues kids today relate to such as honesty and friendship. And, to my mothering heart’s delight, negative behaviors in the show are discussed at the end of the show with suggestions of how one should have acted in that situation.

 

“Jane and the Dragon” is a CGI animated series based on the much-loved books by Martin Baynton. In addition to the fabulous storyline, viewers are treated to stunning animation filled with rich color and texture. The visuals are so breath-taking that it isn’t much of a shock to discover that it was done by Weta, the company that also worked on the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

CP: Martin, please give a brief summary of your background, including how you went from Electroencephalography to writing children’s books.MB: My parents always encouraged me to write and to draw from an early age. I remember that all my best marks at school were for my story writing and anything to do with art. At secondary school I also discovered the joy of science, and so I had a very balanced education, but in the end my love of storytelling won out, and I left my job at Barts Hospital in London only a year after qualifying. I have never regretted the decision as it meant I could work from home and be a full time writer and a full time dad with the privilege of being able to spend every day with my two children as they grew up.CP: Where did you get the idea for “Jane and the Dragon” and how did it evolve into a TV  show?MB: The idea for the original books was because I wanted to write a story about a girl who wanted to follow her dreams despite the expectations of her family and friends. And then a young girl told me how she hated fairy stories because the girls were wimps; they waited around for a prince to come to their rescue with a wedding ring. So the idea for Jane sprang from those two themes originally. And to my great delight the books have remained in print for twenty years so I would talk about Jane to two generations of readers, mums and their daughter. Often that talk would be about making Jane as a cool TV show. I have to be honest and say I’m not a big fan of much of kids TV, like many parents I had to search to find things I would want my own children to see, so when I finally decided to bite the bullet and step into the role of TV producer and adapt Jane, I wanted to make a show that would meet all my own aspirations for what great drama could and should be for children. That’s when I went down to visit Richard at weta after being blown away by the extraordinary work he had done making the first of the “Lord Of The Rings” trilogy. We both had exactly the same ideas about making children’s TV, it was a wonderful experience from the first day to be surrounded by a team with so much commitment to quality and to storytelling.CP: Richard, please give a brief summary of your background including how you got into animation.RT: I come from a small rural community in New Zealand. I always wanted to make things with my hands, creating and inventing fantasy worlds. My wife Tania and I established a film and TV effects facility in New Zealand with two friends and we began servicing the creative industries with our technical and creative services. We have established a company called Weta, in Wellington, New Zealand and we have been integrally involved in a number of major feature films including – “The Lord of the Rings,” “King Kong”, and “The Chronicles of Narnia.” For our work Weta has received 6 Oscars and 5 Baftas.I have always had a great passion for children’s television, probably stemming from my childhood days watching shows such as the “Thunderbirds,” “Captain Scarlet” and “Space 1999.” Therefore, when we finished creating LOTR we felt the time was right to realize this dream and begin building our own Children’s Television Production facility at Weta. Our fortuitous meeting with Martin, the skills of our producer Andrew Smith and our creative partnership have further reinforced our desire to make the best animated children’s television we can.CP: One aspect that really stands out in your show is the deep colors and beautiful, rich texture in the animation. Please talk a bit about the animation and how you do it.RT: We wanted to help raise the bar, that’s the honest truth of it. Children should be able to watch a world that is every bit as rich, and colorful and beautiful as the best that is on offer in adult TV. Our designers started by analyzing the way Martin had illustrated his original books. We wanted a picture book style and aesthetic that would feel as if the book had opened and the characters had come to like. It meant creating a whole new way of producing CGI animation, which tends to have a rather flat and plastic look much of the time. The result is a tribute to our CG supervisor Trevor Brymer and the wonderful design and modeling team we have here who approached this with the same delight and enthusiasm as they would for a major feature film.CP: Please share an amusing/interesting anecdote from the filmmaking process.RT: We had a wonderful group of designers working on Jane, many of them being the same exceptionally talented people that had designed “Lord of the Rings.” In fact these people ultimately completed more pieces of design for “Jane and the Dragon” than we did for the whole of the three film trilogy of LOTR. Regardless though, we were struggling with some of the subtle design sensibilities of the Jane world and especially the female characters. That was, until we had the great fortune of hiring an immensely talented woman called Rebecca Tisch who at the age of 17 joined our team and became instrumental in capturing the unique and quirky characters that inhabit Jane’s world. We where so enamored by Rebecca’s contribution that we dedicated a character to her, and Pepper the cook is modeled after this wonderfully talented young New Zealander.CP: What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned in story writing and filmmaking that you would like to pass along to other producers and writers?RT/MB: The heart of it all is story. You can’t save a bad story with pretty pictures or clever effects. Audiences young or old want to engage with the characters and the journey those characters are on. If the characters aren’t engaging or sympathetic everything else is just empty packaging.CP: What, in your opinion, is the unique edge that makes “Jane and the Dragon” a series that kids and their parents should watch over others?RT/MB: I think it’s the fact that there is a full half hour of real storytelling with layers of complexity that mirror the real world. Jane and her friends face the same real challenges that all young people face, and there are no simple right or wrong answers. Jane always does her best with the best of intentions and sometimes her enthusiasm lacks mature judgment and she gets herself and others into hot water. But she always learns and she always does her best. I think that is the key to Jane and the reason that we get such wonderful emails from teachers, grandparent and the kids themselves – it’s because Jane is a true “warts and all” heroine with a big heart.CP: Is there anything you would like to add that hasn’t been addressed about “Jane and the Dragon?”RT/MB: One of the things we set out to do and are very proud to have achieved is that whole families chose to watch Jane together. With so many TVs in some homes, and so much choice there is a trend away from sharing time as a whole family. We are thrilled at the number of emails from families who tell us that Jane is a show they all look forward to watching together. It’s like sharing a book with your children, they love to know that something they enjoy is not just approved of, but is enjoyed by Mum and Dad, and that they can talk about it together as a family with the same common references. Do you remember when Jane did such and such? Sharing time and sharing stories is a way of sharing common truths and common values across the whole family. We are all immensely proud of how Jane is achieving that.

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