Campbell MacKinlay, part 1

Dood doesn’t have a home; Dood doesn’t go to school and, as far as we know, Dood doesn’t talk. He’s an unlikely animated star, but this Dood is a star nonetheless. He’s the focus of the ‘sketch comedy’ ‘Doodlez,’ which currently airs on TeleTOON in Canada, and Nickelodeon and Nicktoons in the States. ‘Doodlez’ is a clever, unique series of 2-minute shorts, in which a hand (appropriately named ‘Hand’), a pencil and an eraser run Dood through a gauntlet of sketched-out scenarios. He might get drawn into a mile-high freefall without a parachute, or Dood might find himself holding up 1 ton of weights over his head. In the end, Hand always seems to get the…errr… upper hand. (Click to see ‘Doodlez’ episodes – ‘Tubbo’ ‘Genesis’ ‘Masterpiece’ ‘Gone Fishin’)

‘Doodlez’ is produced by Cellar Door Productions of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island (Canada), and they’ve turned to their Charlottetown neighbor Trapeze Animation Studios for the animation. Campbell MacKinley, is currently the hand behind the hand over at Trapeze Animation, and he’s been adding his creative genius to the project since the beginning. You also know Campbell’s work if you’ve frequented the ‘Ain’t It Cool News’ website, where dozens upon dozens of his animated shorts play daily in the upper left-hand corner of the homepage. Cellar Door is currently developing a 7-minute version of the show and Cambell’s gang over at Trapeze have created a pilot episode of the new, longer format. In this new iteration, the all black-and-white aesthetic has been updated to include color accents. This is all on the heels of much well-deserved recognition. ‘Doodlez’ has won two consecutive Gemini Awards for Best Animated Series, a prize awarded by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.

Cold, Hard Flash recently hooked up with Campbell to discuss the world of ‘Doodlez,’ and how his team pulls off such elaborate animation in the Flash medium.

AARON SIMPSON: The ‘Doodlez’ series seems full of drawings, something Flash series aren’t always known for. How much re-use do you rely on?
CAMPBELL MACKINLAY: Isn’t it strange to exist in the animation industry at a time when it is UNUSUAL to refer to a show as “full of drawings?”

On ‘Doodlez,’ there is not very much animation re-use. At no point did we compile a library of animation-loops, though our animators were free to grab stuff from other episodes to use, if it was appropriate. However, we had a very large symbol-library, and most people are shocked to see what our timelines look like. There’s a huge amount of blue and green, especially compared to what I’ve seen from other companies, as we usually run anywhere from 50 – 75% motion or shape tweening.

It’s a very fine line to walk, and from a budget and scheduling standpoint, re-use is very attractive. Personally, I’d prefer every walk or run cycle be specific to the demands of the moment, but I understand why a show would benefit from careful and thoughtful re-use. On other projects, Trapeze has employed very different re-use tactics to very different effect. But ‘Doodlez’ is a show that, at its base, is about creativity, and the pure joy of unfettered animation, and it would be working against itself to have very many shortcuts stand out.

AARON: The series recently strayed away from an all black-and-white look. What spurred the change?
CAMPBELL: Haven’t you heard? Color is the wave of the future!

To be honest, broadcaster demands brought that change about. The general consensus appears to be that our target audience (as defined by the broadcaster) is not interested in watching an exclusively black-and-white show. Having said that, I’m really happy with the use of color as accent. I think it turned out to be something truly distinctive without ignoring what had made it interesting in the first place.

When the shorts first started airing on TeleTOON in Canada, the use of black-and-white turned out to be one of the major identifiers that people would use to refer to the show, so I think it would be a mistake to turn our backs on its use entirely in favor of a full-color show. Why discard something that made you unique and memorable in the eyes of the audience?

AARON: The first 50 ‘Doodlez’ shorts clocked in at 2-minutes, and now Cellar Door, the ‘Doodlez’ producing entity, is pitching the development of 39 7-minute episodes. If these longer episodes end up moving forward, does your team plan on approaching them any differently?
CAMPBELL: We’ve completed one 7-minute short so far. We’ve had to change our methodology somewhat, so that there are more animators working on one episode, rather than the two who were able to take complete responsibility for the episodes of the original shorts.

Beyond that, we hope that the long-form of the show maintains as much fidelity to the original as possible. When something has the appeal that ‘Doodlez’ has, it’s best not to tinker with it too much. Grabbing the interest of an audience is no mean feat, and it would be tragic to lose that connection by making any unnecessary changes.

As well as being involved with the show’s creation, I am a huge fan, and feel incredibly privileged to be allowed to work on the thing. It is the sort of project that people get into animation because of, though not many are actually fortunate enough to ever work on something of its caliber.

It’s been a lot of long, hard hours, but the result has been worth every drop of sweat. Except “Four Seasons…” – that episode kinda stunk up the place.

AARON: How big is the ‘Doodlez’ animation team?
CAMPBELL: During the first ‘season,’ which consisted of 11 episodes, Trapeze was made up of only nine people. At that point we were still being directed by Sean Scott, who created the show. We were split into teams of two: one lead and one assistant, who took ownership of one episode at a time.

When I took the reins as director for the remaining 39 episodes, we hovered around the 20 person mark. For the most part, we maintained the lead/assistant teams, and the idea of one team being responsible for each episode, but also added a clean-up team to take some of the grunt-work burden from the assistant’s shoulders.

The 7-minute shorts will require us to expand again, this time to a team of at least 60. This is in addition to animators we have working on other projects, and so is a pretty big step for Trapeze Animation as a studio.

AARON: Are most of the layouts drawn on paper and then scanned into the computer?
CAMPBELL: The only paper involved in the process is used for rough storyboarding. Every other stage of production (beyond the artists doing thumbnails for themselves) is strictly digital, using Wacom tablets and Flash-MX. By the time we get to the layout process, we are building (or grabbing from the existing library) symbols to be used by the animators, plugging them into layers above the boards.

That’s the end of the first half of the Cold, Hard Flash interview with Campbell MacKinlay, the Director/Writer of ‘Doodlez.’ Check back soon for part 2.

4 Comments

  1. SteveLambe June 9, 2005

    Yahoo! Great to see Doodlez getting some much needed publicity. Congrats on getting the show on Nick, Campbell and crew!

    Whats the story with that photo though? Heh heh.

  2. Anonymous August 20, 2006

    ok this character is about the cutest thing i’ve ever seen!!! when i wach this cartoon i literally laugh out loud!! its one of the best shorts i’ve ever wached!!

  3. I want to be a cartoon animator when I have the skill right now im working in aniboom. those shows are the coolest becuase they have a specialty of no voices but sound effects. does all the animation take a whole lot of work or just middle? do u own a lot of money?

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  1. [...] Flash-animated series headed to Canada’s CBC network in the Fall. Campbell MacKinlay, who was interviewed here back in 2005, is directing this musically-inclined children’s [...]

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