Animalia: articles

Graeme Base

Animalia is a real animal act on show

GRAEME Base may be an award-winning author and illustrator, with a gaggle of much-loved children's books to his name, but his profession was put into perspective when his son started school.

"Someone asked him 'what does your dad do'," Base says,

"He said, with a wistful look on his face, 'he stays home and colours in'. What a fantastic job specification, and I guess I do; it's a wonderful job."

Animalia is perhaps Base's most famous title. It took the English-born artist, who now lives in the Melbourne suburb of Middle Park, three years to create the beautiful book.

Now the work has been turned into a children's show, which will premiere on Channel 10 this weekend. Its 40 instalments tell the tale of Alex and Zoe and their adventures in Animalia.

"Of all the books I have written I thought Animalia would be the last one that could be turned into a TV show, because it has a whole bunch of characters who don't meet each other and it doesn't have a story," he says.

"My friend Doug MacLeod, who has written for shows like The Comedy Company and Kath & Kim, wanted us to do something together and when he said he thought Animalia was the one I was gobsmacked.

"He said the critical thing, which I couldn't see because I was too close to it, was to unhitch it from the alphabet and unhitch it from the English language. The spirit of the book is a love of language, but a love of language in general and not one language in particular."

Base said he and MacLeod

"needed to take it somewhere new, to create the dynamics and jeopardy and excitement between all these favourite characters".

"We cherry-picked all the favourite characters from the book, who were from 26 different worlds and never met each other, and flung them into the world of Animalia.

"The catalyst is the little boy, who is now Alex, and he picked up a friend in Zoe, and that in itself is a nod to the alphabet, with A and Z."

It has taken eight years for Animalia to make the transition to the small screen and more than 300 people worldwide have worked on the project.

The scripts were written in the US, and the voices recorded in Los Angeles, but the bulk of the work to create the animated series was done in Queensland with teams of people working long days in darkrooms at the Warner Studios on the Gold Coast.

The work that has gone into creating Animalia is similar to the efforts that go into making a movie, like Happy Feet, and the team of animators has actually made the equivalent of eight feature films in just 12 months.

Base says there have been "lots of surprises" in the making of Animalia, especially when it comes to the personalities of animal characters such as Tyrannicus Tiger, Zed and Zee the Zebras and Iggy Iguana.

"I think a book is like a lake and you get in a rowing boat and, at any point, you can stow the oars and linger over a view or paddle back and take a look at something again," he says. "But a TV series is like a fast-moving river, if you miss something it's gone.

"I sure don't want to be a TV producer and I am watching (executive producer) Ewan (Burnett) go grey before my eyes. He has a hard job of balancing the creative with the financial and the political.

"Making the book is the only thing I could do. I don't have the skills for (working on the TV show) because it's such a team sport, but there are some incredible artists translating my illustrations into something that will work in 3D on the screen."

By Sarah Nicholson
November 05, 2007
The Courier-Mail