Interview: Blinky Bill - Making Animation
Blinky Bill is a 3D spectacle with an all star cast and plenty of humour
This weekend, one of Australia’s best-loved cartoon characters, Blinky Bill, is hitting the big screen with an all star Aussie cast. Screen NSW catches up with producer, Barbara Stephen, of Sydney-based filmmakers Flying Bark Productions, to talk about the evolution of Blinky Bill the Movie from concept to completion.
Blinky Bill has been around since the 1930s. How did you make his character and the story relevant for today’s audience?
It was a great honour to be asked to produce a film with the much loved, iconic children's character Blinky Bill - much loved by a vast audience of great grandparents, grandparents and parents alike, each of whom had a significantly different experience of Blinky. Our greatest challenge has been to balance our desire to pay homage to the original characters created by Dorothy Wall in the 1930s and also the wonderfully re-imagined Blinky of the 1990s created by Yoram Gross, while ensuring this new film would excite and entertain a new generation of children and their families. Making the film relevant to today’s audience has required change; it's obvious the historical pieces differ greatly in the look and feel, and overall style of storytelling adopted by great animated films of today. I believe we have crafted a story which will meet the high expectations of a contemporary family audience, by creating a fun, fast-paced adventure, a great Aussie road movie with a host of hilarious Australian characters and of course featuring many of the wonderful original characters in their brightest light. The comedic tone and aspirational storyline, as well as the CGI adaptation of Blinky, offer an opportunity to experience a character with a more realistic feeling than ever before. The beautiful fluffy fur, a wide range of facial expressions and more dynamic animation help to make Blinky an adorable, loveable rogue who children will aspire to be . The Australian voices and colloquial Aussie-phrases will offer a unique experience for a local and international audiences.
Will the film appeal to Blinky’s original grown up fans?
We wanted to make sure there was something in the film for everyone, and so set out to make a film with an unashamedly Australian sense of humour. Our incredibly talented cast shared our vision and revelled in the opportunity to poke fun at some of our uniquely Australian quips and quirks. There are many laugh out loud moments, especially thanks to David Wenham's hilarious and ridiculous portrayal of Blinky and Nutsy's neurotic sidekick, Jacko the frill-necked lizard. The film opens with a classic Aussie scene of 'crickets playing cricket' (based on the original book), voiced by Australia's best known cricket satirist, Billy Birmingham of The Twelfth Man fame. Adults will immediately recognise the cultural reference and understand that the film has an 'edge' that they can relate to.
The film has a dream voice cast, can you tell us how you got them all onto the project?
The idea of producing a Blinky Bill movie for today's audience really appealed to the cast. They absolutely loved the script and felt that it was a project they could share with their own children and grandchildren. Ryan Kwanten plays Blinky Bill, Toni Collette voices two sassy emus Cheryl and Beryl, Robyn McLeavy as Blinky's best friend Nutsy, Barry Otto the dastardly Goanna Mayor Crankypants, Deborah Mailman as Blinky's Mum, Barry Humphries as Wombo and Richard Roxburgh as Blinky's Dad. We were absolutely thrilled with the calibre of iconic Ausralian talent attracted to the film; the finished product is a testament to their passion for the story and love of the characters they voiced.
Everyone loves Richard Roxburgh as a detective in Rake, how did he go as a koala?
Roxy plays Blinky’s Dad, Bill Koala. His performance is so warm and engaging - my Dad saw it and loved him. From the very first scene, he's established as a local legend and Guardian of Greenpatch. Bill Koala is unashamedly ocker and we love him for that.
CGI is not cheap, how did you plan to finance a film like this in Australia?
Flying Bark is an independent producer and so raising funding is always a challenge. We were lucky to have some fantastic pre-sales in Europe, which allowed us to bring support to the project and gain financing. Having such an amazing cast was also attractive to investors. The biggest challenge was financing the film without a major studio, but with a lot of work, we managed to crack that.
Flying Bark has also had great success this year with Maya the Bee, how did this boost the film?
Maya the Bee Movie enjoyed a wide release in Europe reaching a huge audience. The worldwide box office of $28 million really set a solid foundation for Blinky. Track record is really important, so it was great to have the success of Maya up our sleeves when pitching Blinky. We are seeing a global trend of franchising films from children’s classic book series. For that reason, we chose films that we knew already had an audience across time zones and territories.
In terms of production what challenges did you face?
In the very early stages of story and character development, there was definitely a challenge in finding the right balance between old and new. In creating the film, we wanted to make sure we stayed true to the essence of the character but also ensure Blinky was developed in a way that was aspirational to kids. When you are producing a film at this budget level, there is also a challenge in setting up the technical pipeline and understanding some of the limitations of an independent production company.
We hardly ever see Aussie characters in CGI, how important do you feel it is for Aussie kids to relate to this film?
One of the reasons we went into producing family films was because we felt that there weren't enough films being made in Australia that have Australian accents and that reflect Australian culture. Earlier this year Paper Planes did well and it shows that there is an audience of Australians who want to see these stories. I think that Blinky Bill is particularly iconic and I think it’s a unique opportunity for kids to see an animated film that is based on an Australian set of values, settings, animals and characters.
Blinky Bill the Movie is in cinemas nationally this week.
Check out www.blinkybill.com.au for more information.
Watch the youtube video