News Column

Making 'Toast' with Fighting Words ; Brown Bag Films team up with some young writers to create an animation of their story and app

May 16, 2013


On a rainy night, a magical jar of hazelnut spread walks over to a toaster and makes it come to life. But then, the toaster goes psycho, and pursues an innocent young man named Bob Knucklehead, who lives with his cat, Mario. Mario is not impressed.

I wish I thought of that scenario. But I didn't. I couldn't. I'm a writer, but I'm a grownup one. That truly imaginative, original and completely delightful idea was dreamed up by a group of kids, aged from nine to 11. I was lucky enough to collaborate with them to bring the story of a psycho toaster to life as a short animated film. And now, it's going out into the world as a downloadable app, so everyone can enjoy this twisted tale featuring one Mr. Nutmaster Hazelnut, a colourful snake who can grow wings, and Bob Knucklehead's aptly named cousins, Handhead and Foothead.

Last year, a plan was hatched between Fighting Words and Brown Bag Films. Fighting Words was to gather a group of kids to write, design, direct, and perform in an animated film. The Brown Bag team would guide them and provide technical support and expertise.

Soon, I and some colleagues found ourselves at the Fighting Words centre with 12 kids, dreaming up a story. Led by the dynamic volunteer na Kavanagh, the kids democratically (though not without some healthy disagreement) figured out the basic elements of their story, according to the Fighting Words methodology: first, come up with a main character, then give her/him a best friend, a greatest ambition, and a greatest fear. The ideas were flying fast and furious - a toaster, ninjas, a microwave . . . no, a witch- microwave, a dog, a cat . . . no, just a cat, a jar of hazelnut spread who can talk . . . definitely a talking jar of hazelnut spread!

After the story was hammered out, some kids focused on the details of the script while others drew images of their characters and backgrounds. Then, we took the artwork back to Brown Bag, where our animators had to figure out how to turn the raw creative output into something that could be animated smoothly and beautifully. I can't tell you what they did or how, because I can't animate myself out of a paper bag. But, through their hard work and sheer wizardry, the psycho toaster and Bob Knucklehead started to come to life.

A few weeks later, the young auteurs came to the Brown Bag studio for the next phase of the project. There were voices to be recorded, music to be performed, and more artwork to be drawn and tweaked.

Next, the pieces were put back in the hands of the Brown Baggers, who devoted more time to putting it all together into a short film. Characters were rigged for animation. Explosions were animated. Music was mixed. Various things that I don't understand took place. And we were lucky enough to have a special guest, the great Irish actor Liam Cunningham, on a break from shooting Game of Thrones , come in to record the narration.

At last, the film was complete, and it was time for the world premiere, complete with popcorn. The kids came back to the Brown Bag studio, along with their parents and siblings, and a hush fell over the crowd as the film began. The kids watched, eyes wide and getting ever wider, as their ideas truly came to life, flickering across the screen.

When I'm working on a series, I get consumed by a million details, from writing to rewriting to commenting on artwork to rewriting to guiding the music. Sometimes it's easy to fall into patterns. But these kids had no patterns. They wanted to see what might happen to a psycho toaster, so they told a story about a psycho toaster. Their lack of inhibition and self-doubt was creatively invigorating.

And whatever in the world inspired them to make The Weirdest Thing in Toast and All of Mankind , those kids were an inspiration to me.

Sascha Paladino is Lead Writer and Consulting Producer of Henry Hugglemonster , based on the book by Children's Laureate of Ireland Niamh Sharkey, produced by Brown Bag Films and currently airing on Disney Junior

The Weirdest Thing in Toast and All of Mankind is available at the App Store for 1.99. Proceeds go to Fighting Words

(c) 2013 Irish Times. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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