THE MAKING OF MR BENN’S SAFARI ADVENTURE

Have you seen our new TV advert featuring Mr Benn on safari? We’re so excited to have sent him out on a brand new magical adventure with his new best friend Eddie the dog! It took a lot of work to create a story for Mr Benn that was just right for bringing the classic TV character into the present day, which creative consultants The Chase and animation company Nexus Studios took charge of. We spoke to The Chase and Nexus’ Felix Massie, the advert’s director, for a look behind the scenes of the making of his safari adventure. By the way, don’t worry, no animals were harmed in the making of this advert!

Advert director Felix Massie.
Advert director Felix Massie.

Welcome to the jungle!

If you’ve ever been on safari, you’ll know the magic and wonder of such an experience. Hopefully then, you’ll understand why this was a great opportunity for Mr Benn! With all the risks of the modern world, we didn’t want to send him into the jungle alone – that’s where his new best friend, Eddie the dog, came in! The question is, how do you make the two of them and The Shopkeeper appear ready for the present day without losing the original Mr Benn charm? Felix had this answer: “People love Mr Benn, so we wanted to make sure we stayed true to the essence of what Mr Benn is – just in the 21st Century this time! He hasn’t changed but the world around him has. So, rather than just copying the episodes from the past, we made it as if Mr Benn had been cryogenically frozen and had woken up in 2017.”

Bringing Benn up to date

“We went back through the archives, looking at the old Mr Benn animations from the 70s to take some cues from that but, when we watched it, the animation was a lot more limited than what we remembered,” Felix told us. The original Mr Benn episodes were hand drawn, with a storybook feel to them, and the scenes were partly animated by having a rostrum camera pan across them. Only Mr Benn’s head and legs moved, using the mechanical cell animation that was all the rage in the 70s – none of the flash animation you usually see these days! Mr Benn creator David McKee and Clive Juster of Rollo Films, who made the original cartoon, worked with us to preserve the feel of their cartoon while also modernising it for viewing on TVs, smartphones, tablets and websites. On working with David McKee, Felix said: “He made some of my favourite children’s books when I was growing up, so it was really good being able to bring some of his designs to life.”

A sketch of The Shopkeeper.
A sketch of The Shopkeeper.

Moving and shaking

After getting some excellent initial character sketches done, it was time to start animating! There were a lot of questions here, such as should Eddie sit or stand? Should The Shopkeeper wear his trademark fez? In the end, it was decided to keep Mr Benn and The Shopkeeper dressed the same. Felix explained how his team recreated the feel of the original, with all its wobbly lines: “The backgrounds were all done in a traditional way using ink on watercolour paper and then real paints to colour it in. The animation was done digitally on computer but coloured with watercolours, like the backgrounds.” Note that, to make it more dynamic, there are 10 more frames per second than there was in the original – each of which were hand-painted! Felix said: “We made sure we animated in a way similar to how people remembered…which is quite a bit more animated than it was! This way, we kept the unique choppy style that made it fun but also tickled your nostalgia – Mr Benn doesn’t suit super slick animation.”

Making a scene!

The advert featured the jungle with Gus the Gorilla, the fancy dress shop, the changing room and a more contemporary version of Festive Road! Felix said: “To make sure Mr Benn felt like he was in the world today, we made sure the shops fit the times too. Instead of a greengrocer or a butchers on his street, there’s a cash convertors or a camera shop. Just to make sure it didn’t feel twee, we added things like kebab boxes littered on the street too – along with pigeons and seagulls to clean them up!” The fancy dress shop also got a neon The Insurance Emporium sign. In the jungle, on the other side of the changing room door, Gus was designed to be a big and bold gorilla who clearly enjoyed his habitat. Each frame followed an approval process and no drawings were accepted until David McKee himself loved them. There were at least five meetings for each scene to ensure they were perfect. Once the advert was completed, the end frame was created with a classic cartoon-esque roundel featuring Mr Benn and Eddie.

A still from the finished advert.
A still from the finished advert.

What’s that sound?

After spending two months creating and perfecting the look of the advert, Angellsound studios, led by Nick Angell, took charge of creating the right sound. The team worked with the picture and the original Mr Benn music to make it fit with the bowler-hatted gentleman’s new adventure. While Ray Brooks provided the original voiceover, it was great that we could get comedian and actor Miles Jupp involved! With The Shopkeeper having a bigger role in narrating the adventure, Jupp expertly created the right voice for the character and the brand as a whole. The last thing to do was for the sound design team to put in the extra effects before we could marvel at the finished advert. Felix said: “I’m really pleased and proud with how [the advert] turned out. It’s so much fun working on something that lets you be a bit silly and also to be able to use more traditional techniques to end up creating something that makes people laugh. And, of course, it was great being able to work with a character as well-loved as Mr Benn.”

It’s so exciting for us to be able to put Mr Benn back on the television and to have him as the face of The Insurance Emporium. We’re also grateful to The Chase and Nexus Studios for all their hard work and very pleased to have got the seal of approval from David McKee! Be sure to keep your eyes peeled on your TV screens for Mr Benn’s safari adventure and maybe for another explosive one in the future! While you’re at it, take a look at The Insurance Emporium’s products to see if we can cover your own adventures!

 

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