Chorley art director who created Cloudbabies has modelled so many animation successes

Growing up in the 1950s, Bridget Appleby used to look forward to seeing the escapades of Andy Pandy in Watch with Mother.

Wednesday, 19th December 2018, 3:06 pm
Updated Thursday, 20th December 2018, 3:28 pm
Bridget Appleby with Noddy
Bridget Appleby with Noddy

Growing up in the 1950s, Bridget Appleby used to look forward to seeing the escapades of Andy Pandy in Watch with Mother.So it was a huge honour when she was asked to redesign the characters and set for the BBC remake of Andy Pandy many years later.

Bridget’s work does not stop there. She has brought to life or worked on scores of popular characters, from Postman Pat and Noddy to the Badger and the Toad in Wind in the Willows.Bridget, who lives in Chorley, admits it was a ‘stroke of luck’ that she was drawn into animation after striking up a professional relationship with Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall whilst working at Granada.

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Bridget Appleby in her studio at home

She says: “I was born in Somerset and studied graphic design at Canterbury art college in the 1960s. I applied to Granada and got a job in the graphics department where I met Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall. “They were interested in animation, which nobody did back then, and after a couple of years started their own company, Stop Frame Films, producing animated adverts and titles, and invited me to join them.“It was there I learnt the craft of animation. There was no such thing as an animation course – we had to teach ourselves.

“For example, we couldn’t figure how to make the puppets walk, so hid their feet behind low walls and hedges. Later, we used a technique where the puppets are held upright with strong magnets under the metal set top, enabling the animator to lift each foot. I really was learning on the job. “Stop Frame animations’ big break was a commission to produce short animated inserts for a ground-breaking children’s show called Rainbow. One of these was a two minute model animated piece called Sally and Jake, which was commissioned into its own stand-alone 10-minute programme. I also designed Bungle the Bear for Rainbow.

“I was with Mark and Brian for more than 30 years as the company expanded and became Cosgrove Hall Films. I worked part time when I had my two children, but went back full time in the 1970s.“During my time there it was owned by many companies, including Granada and Thames, which were golden years. Thames were very generous owners and gave us free reign, and that’s when we gained a lot of awards, including a BAFTA and an international Emmy award for Wind in The Willows in 1983. I also got a personal BAFTA for The Reluctant Dragon, which I directed and art directed as a single one-off film.“Initially my work involved designing the characters for model animation (stop frame) shows, and I then became art director, and was responsible for the look of the whole show. I did this for other companies who came to us to make their ideas into films, such as Andy Pandy and Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men, for the BBC, and Fifi and the Flowertots. But we also did our own in-house productions.

“I also worked on the first version on Noddy in the 1970s and then again in the 1980s for the BBC, which was using puppets.“I’ve had a go at all the classics, including a pilot stop frame film for Disney of Winnie the Pooh which was stunning but they didn’t go for it and continued down the 2D route.“I really enjoyed working on Brambly Hedge. The author Jill Barklem looked at several companies but didn’t like how they wanted to interpret her work, so I suggested having the characters as puppets but her beautiful watercolour illustrations would be used as the background, using a decoupage method, with different layers. I don’t think that had been done before and Jill loved it.

Cloudbabies, created by Bridget Appleby

“I loved everything about working with Cosgrove Hall.“People often described it as the Fun Factory. I’ve been very lucky. Cosgrove and Hall were the giants in the world of animation in the 1980s and 1990s. It was such a magical time.”

One of Bridget’s creations with Cosgrove Hall and Granada was Engie Benjy, which she adds started as a different show, focusing on a female mechanic.She says: “I planned for this to be called Porter and Daughter, featuring a female mechanic in a back street garage. Her dad worked in the office, taking orders and making tea. We made a pilot and it got commissioned by ITV, but a big part of funding it was selling licences for merchandise to go with it. The problem was toy manufacturers didn’t know where to put the merchandise as it was a girl in a boy’s situation. We didn’t want to lose commission and so I had to come up with a different idea of a boy mechanic who fixes his friends’ vehicles.”

After working with Cosgrove Hall, Bridget became freelance, doing development design for Toby’s Travelling Circus and Everything’s Rosie, as well as being art director for Roary the Racecar. But her most proudest work is Cloudbabies, produced by HoHo Entertainment, which was recently given YouTube’s Silver Play Button Award, which is awarded to channels that reach or surpass 100,000 subscribers.The pre-school series features the adventures of four imaginary toddlers who care for the sky and everything in it, reflecting familiar illustrations in children’s picture books.

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Bridget Appleby with some of her models

She said: “I actually came up with the idea of Cloudbabies while still with Cosgrove Hall under Granada ownership, but they didn’t want it, so after I’d left I approached a small company called HoHo Entertainment, who bought the rights from them and secured a BBC commission.“I started working on it in 2011, designing every single element in the show, from characters to settings and props.“Once in production, I get involved with the scripts, working with the writers and helping choose voices and attend recordings.

“When the scripts come in I like to do inspirational sketches of key moments in the story, to show the director what’s in my mind, when it’s being storyboarded.“One 10-minute episode take three weeks but episodes and not made sequentially – there may be several episodes in production at any one time. The wonderful CGI animation was done in Manchester, by Studio Liddell. We hope to make another series, but investment is hard to find these days. HoHo Entertainment is a really small company, so it did well to get the finance for the first series. It costs around £4m to produce 52 episodes.”

Bridget’s career has spanned more than 40 years in design and art direction. She is now semi retired but is still eager to be involved in supporting others, as she sits on various animation juries

She adds: “It is unbelievable what can be done in animation now. I remember being so impressed with the early animated feature films like Stuart Little, which showed what could be done with fur texture, but things have moved on – it’s often difficult to tell what’s real and what’s been animated.“Sometimes I’m not sure whether that’s better. I think there’s something about the quality of the stop frame process where the animator moves a model frame by frame and you can see where that change has been made, such as a dint in the costume – or movement in fur. There is something nice about imperfection as it can add a bit more character.”

Bridget Appleby in her studio at home

Whilst Bridget’s work has been adored by children across the decades, she admits her own two children were too old to fully appreciate the magic of it all.She adds: “They were too old for what I was doing at that time, but I know they are proud of me. I have a grandson, called Miles, but he is too young yet. He lives in California, but I have sent him Cloudbabies.”

A still from Cloudbabies, created by Bridget Appleby