When The Barefoot Bandits began airing on New Zealand television earlier this year, it was one of a very few number of animated series to be made in that country. Others such as the adult-oriented bro’Town ended in 2009, and Thunderbirds Are Go is of course based on a well established property.
The Barefoot Bandits is already in production for a second season by its makers, Mukpuddy Animation, which are also looking to pitch a third season and a spin-off movie. Cartoon Brew caught up with Mukpuddy director Ryan Cooper to discuss all the challenges of getting a children’s animated series made in New Zealand, and then building up a studio to complete it.
To get a taste of The Barefoot Bandits, watch a clip from the first season, below.
The series, spun off from a one-off holiday tv special called Missing Christmas that Mukpuddy produced in 2012, takes place on Ngaro, a quiet island which holds many secrets unlocked by a group of kids who call themselves ‘The Barefoot Bandits.’ Mukpuddy’s pitch to broadcasters was a Kiwi Goonies. It aired on prime time on TVNZ, a rarity in New Zealand for a children’s series.
“We came in under the children’s funding round, which is normally not for prime time, but once we starting delivering scripts, they realized that it was suited to a family audience rather than only young children, which was secretly our hope all along,” said Cooper.
Mukpuddy was able to make the show with backing from the government broadcasting funding agency NZ on Air, but Mukpuddy retains the rights to sell it overseas. NZ on Air require a percentage of profits up until the original budget is matched, but place no restrictions on where the show is shown outside of New Zealand.
Mukpuddy began in 2002 with just a handful of employees working on short-form animated projects before scaling up in 2015 for The Barefoot Bandits. “The hardest part of expanding to a bigger studio for the TV series was trying to retain what made Mukpuddy special to us,” said Cooper.
“There was a very ad-libby nature to our work that came from ridiculous time constraints. At one stage we were producing a five-minute cartoon a week with two of us animating and the other designing characters and backgrounds. But so far, it’s been smooth sailing, and I think it’s because we’ve put a lot of trust in to the people we’ve hired.”
From the original three Mukpuddy owners—Cooper, Tim Evans, and Alex Leighton—the studio ramped up to 14 artists to make ten 22-minute episodes for the first season. Bandits was animated in Flash and composited in After Effects. “It allowed us to get a nice level of depth to certain scenes and do focus pulls, and add lighting where needed,” explained Cooper.
Work on the second season of The Barefoot Bandits continues. Mukpuddy made a successful pitch to continue the series when they were halfway through production on the first season in July of 2015. They received the green-light before the first episode even went to air.
“We also plead the case of our crew who we didn’t want to have to let go while we spent a year prepping for a second series,” said Cooper. “Having been a struggling studio for so many years, we’re very aware of the stress animators, and artists in general, can be under when they have a dreaded short term contract floating over their heads.”
Mukpuddy is pursuing a third season as well as a movie based on the show, possibly featuring a space hero the kids from the series watch on television. It has also recently sold the first season to Channel 10 in Australia and Cooper notes they are working on other sales internationally.
“We’re hugely inspired by the beautiful work coming out of Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon,” said Cooper, “and hope we can make something intimate and special to us, that will be able to entertain audiences around the world.”
Find out more on the official Barefoot Bandits web site.