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Credit where it's due

By Tim Searle 18-02-2015

Animated comedy from the UK is benefiting from a tax credit that means producers can now afford to keep work local, rather than outsource it abroad to cut down on costs.

I’ve been working in animation in the UK for more than 25 years, which I know is ages (a flipping lifetime), but let’s just say I started young. In that time, production methods may have changed hugely, but my desire has always been to produce innovative work that not only looks great, but also entertains.

I started making animation in a lo-fi ‘cottage industry’ kind of way, using practical methods that, although giving a cool and quirky look, really restricted what could be made in terms of the amount of output.

For example, we used to slave over 30-second title sequences for a month or so, such as the intro to the BBC’s long-running topical panel show Have I Got News For You, for which I’ve made the title sequences since the very beginning.

Then, at my production company Triffic Films, we made sketches as well as the titles for cult Channel 4 sketch show Absolutely. This gave me a desire to make longer-form comedy and, when the digital tools came along to allow it, I jumped in.

Since then I’ve made a wide range of comedy animation, including the ITV animated topical sketch show 2DTV, BBC2′s I Am Not An Animal and, more recently, the animation for CBBC’s Horrible Histories.

In recent years there has been a worrying and growing financial imperative for UK producers to get animation made anywhere but the UK. As a result, we saw many brilliant studios close and others only survive by sending all animation production overseas.

I’m proud to be part of AnimationUK, the group that successfully persuaded government to reverse the trend to outsource production work. The recent huge upsurge in production within the UK proves that the tax break was more than effective, but I’d argue it’s not just about economics and jobs, it’s about quality too.

As I come from the position of being an ‘animation maker,’ I’ve never wanted to lose control of the ‘grubby animation bit’ of the production process, as I’ve always known the merits of each part of the pipeline and the need to keep a close eye on every stage too.

I’m no xenophobe – I enjoyed working with a team in Toronto on my previous production, the ITV animated comedy Warren United – but let’s be straight: it’s that financial imperative that drives most international coproductions into being.

My team and I are currently making 52×11′ episodes of the cartoon version of Mr Bean here in London. The first series was made more than a decade ago, during different times and using different methods. It was designed, storyboarded and laid out in the UK by the team at Richard Purdum Productions, with the actual animation being drawn by hand by a team of hundreds in Hungary and beyond.

That first series may have been a huge international hit, but not only was it hugely difficult to make, it wasn’t without its problems from an editorial, consistency, quality and cost point of view.

The digital pipeline we’re using means we can now make the animation entirely in-house in London. That’s not only great news for local employment, it also makes for a better comedy product.

I’m working closely with Rowan Atkinson to ensure the comedy is clicking with the episodes we’re making. It’s about direct communication and being very clear and specific.

I’m aware of the perception that the British can’t make narrative comedy animation for a six-plus audience and I’m hopeful we’ll disprove that daft idea with these new episodes of Mr Bean.

I know so many brilliant comedy writers, performers and animators in the UK. OK, so we may not be too comfy with the US way of writing in big teams or with showrunners, but we do have a specific quality that makes us what we are: original and, erm, funny.

As long as we’re not thrown back into the skewed international landscape that effectively put us out of the game, I’m hopeful British production will continue to enjoy success for the right reasons: our specific perspective and skilled practitioners who are appreciated worldwide. It’s proof that a bit of support goes a very long way indeed.

today's correspondent

Tim Searle Creative director of animation and children's

Tim Searle is the creative director of animation and children's at UK production outfit Tiger Aspect Productions. He has been working with the company since 2013 as series director on Mr Bean: The Animated Series (52x11'), which recently premiered on CITV in the UK. Prior to joining Tiger Aspect, he was head of animation at Baby Cow Animation, which he established in 2001 alongside Steve Coogan and Henry Normal.

He has been in the animation business for 25 years since establishing Triffic Films within months of leaving college with support from The Prince’s Youth Business Trust. He is now a board member of Animation UK, which successfully lobbied the government for an animation tax break in the UK.