Case study #2: John Bishop's Football Comedy

For the FIFA World Cup 2010, held in South Africa, Baby Cow Animation teamed up with acclaimed stand-up comedian John Bishop to create a series of animations that would be conceived, written performed and animated between the end of the evening match and the start of the next day's afternoon match - that's just 16 hours to do over a minute of animation from starting to write the script to delivery.

Not only did the animation have to be done quickly, it also had to be encoded to be streamed into a special iPhone App.

John Bishop would watch the match, and (barring extra time) would start preparing his performance, which is half scripted, half improvised, at 10pm. By 11pm he would have recorded several takes and have sent them to Tim Searle, the director at Baby Cow Animation, who would pick the best sections of each take and edit them together working for maximum comedy effect. Consulting with colleague Henry Normal, Tim then allocated the animation to the members of his team, and decided when the action would cut away to still or slightly animated images in order to get a visual gag. Placement of the cutaways helped with the end pace, but was also an important means of breaking the scenes into digestible chunks for the animation teams.

By 2am, everything was ready to send to the animators, who had to deliver the finished sequences by 11.30am. The episodes ranged from 40 seconds to 2 minutes, averaging about 90 seconds of animation - which had to be done in just over 9 hours.

"I'd already used CelAction2D for 2DTV, which was a weekly topical comedy show, but at least that only needed same-day animation once a week. For John Bishop we needed it almost every night," said Tim. "Since 2DTV was made several years ago, we re-evaluated all the animation software on the market, and still only CelAction2D was powerful and robust enough to be relied upon. It really is the fastest way of making quality 2D animation."

Once the animation was approved and cut together, it was encoded and streamed over the internet so that people could access the clips on a special iPhone App, normally uploaded between 12pm and 1.30pm at the iTunes store.

The team did 27 episodes over the 6 week duration of the World Cup, and they never missed a delivery. Even when England went out of the tournament and John Bishop's on-screen character changed his shirt to Argentina's colours, who promptly went out of the tournament, causing the shirt to change again, (to Germany, then finally back to England) the character models used were easily changed, and previously made animation was still re-usable.

"The CelAction team made themselves available to us 24 hours a day, just in case we had a problem. But in the end we didn't need to call them at all - the software worked perfectly every time," said Tim. "We knew the key to success in this production was preparation, and so we spent two weeks before the first match creating assets and re-usable animation, ready to be used throughout the series."

Then, two weeks before the World Cup Final, the impossible happened - ITV, the UK's biggest commercial broadcaster, wanted to broadcast a half-hour compilation of the episodes on real television.

"The concept had originally been that John Bishop was talking to a webcam - a fixed camera is fine for an iPhone App, but when it had to go to broadcast TV we had to be more cinematic with the camera," said Tim. "We'd also animated to full frame 16:9, which is perfect for iPhone, but for ITV we had to deliver to 14:9 safe."

And so began an unplanned rush to re-purpose the episodes for TV broadcast. Fortunately, towards the end of the tournament, there were fewer matches, so instead of being able to relax a little the animators were thrown back in the deep end. Not only did they have to reframe the animation and add camera moves and cuts, they also had to remove the product placement that had been in the iPhone App but wasn't allowed on TV (as well as the jokes that ITV's lawyers thought were too close to the bone).

But once again CelAction2D rose to the challenge. Just like with the shirt changes, it was simple for the animators to adjust the scenes to comply with the higher standards of broadcast television, and on Friday 9th July, the half-hour show went on air.

Not only did the iPhone App sell thousands upon thousands of copies, it also became the first App to make the leap to broadcast TV.

Given the benefit of hindsight, would the team have done anything different? "Well, it would have been a lot easier if the World Cup had been held in Australia, then we wouldn't have had to work overnight!" joked Tim.

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