How to grow a Mushable
Producer Perrine Gauthier and Art Director Joeri Christiaen tell us how they brought artist Elfriede de Rooster’s characters to life in Mush-Mush and The Mushables
If you go down to the woods today, watch where you step because Mush-Mush the squishable, adorable little mushroom and his friends, the Mushables, are out playing in the forest.
Computer-animated comedy-adventure show Mush-Mush and The Mushables, which launched on Boomerang (DStv 302) at the start of February, will remind grown-ups of their fun days outdoors making up stories, going on adventures with their friends, hunting treasure and burying secrets. The cute characters and lovingly detailed animated forest will draw kids in and encourage them to look at all the tiny elements of the natural world around them.
We spoke to the series’ Executive Producer Perrine Gauthier and Art Director/Director Joeri Christiaen about how they collaborated with the characters’ creator, Belgian artist Elfriede de Rooster, to breathe life into Mush-Mush and his world.
Making Mushables: Perrine
What were you responsible for in this show?
Perrine: I am the Executive Producer, which means I followed very closely the creative development process between the writing, the voices, the drawing and financing to make the project happen, finding the best partners to work on the project, and also assembling a team, so bringing a director on like Joeri and also different writers and so forth. My goal is to make sure that everything goes well and if it doesn't go well, coming up with solutions to make it work.
What was the starting point for this series?
Perrine: The starting point was this little guy (Perrine shows Elfriede’s 3D printed statuette of Mush-Mush) – this little fun guy if you want to make a bad pun. There is a Belgian artist named Elfriede de Rooster who made the design of this little figurine. She initially contacted us for something else.
She basically was proposing her services on our projects because she liked what we do. And when I saw a picture of this figurine on her website, I just felt he was so cute and charming and strong, design-wise, that he really deserved his own TV series. So that's when I proposed that we make a TV series together. That was in 2015.
What sort of questions did you ask Elfriede to help her to put together the series bible? (the document outlining all the storylines and characters, which everyone on the project must refer to)
Perrine: I asked Elfriede all sorts of questions, ultimately with the same purpose, which was to find out what she really wanted to do with this programme. Often when you start working on a project with a creator or an author, there's a lot of intentions, which is great – a lot of material to work with – but sometimes, it's too much. My job is to find what the core of the concept is and in this case, self-discovery is a big point. That is the journey that the Mush-Mush series takes us on through comedy.
How do the Mushables protect nature in ways that a child can understand?
Perrine: Mush-Mush is not an educational show, so the stories aren't specifically about protecting the environment per se. What it does instead is that it portrays the adventures of a community that is really connected with nature and embedded in nature and enjoying it. Doing that shows children that it is natural to respect nature and treat it well because why wouldn't you protect something that is beautiful and fun?
Where did you have your big childhood adventures and how does the Mushables’ forest compare to that?
Perrine: I come from a very small village in the east of France and right behind the house was my forest. There were 2 ways to access the forest, one was a large, easy walk and the other was a steep, adventurous path where you had to grab the branches to climb up, and that's obviously the path that my brothers and I would take and we would just have so much fun out there. I guess the biggest difference is that there were no Mushables in my forest (Perrine laughs).
Which Mushable do you relate to?
Perrine: Actually, I think Chep. He gets a little stressed out, but at the same time is always eager for every challenge and adventure. He never backs out of an adventure with his friends and yeah, that's me. And what's great about the Mushables is that we all have Mushables that we can identify with because there are so many different personalities, and they all look different, which is also important to us. They are from different generations, you have the little ones, the Mush Elders and so forth. Chep really loves fun facts and anecdotes and the weirder it is, the happier he gets. It's not so much about scientific facts, it's more about showing a character who has a curious mind, which is something that we would like to maybe inspire children with as well.
Making Mushables: Joeri
What were you responsible for in this show?
Joeri: I am the Art Director and the Director of the show. As the director, my main job is to work on the narration of the show, the storytelling of an episode. The script is written by a team of writers, my job is to turn that script into a storyboard, so I work with my storyboard team to make sure that the stories work, that they are funny, that there is action when it's needed, that there is a little bit of everything. I work closely with the voice actors to make sure they are not just reciting what is written so that the characters really speak for themselves. During the recording sessions, I would say, “Stop, you are being too literal. Think, how would he say that?”
As Art Director, what appealed to you about Elfriede’s design for Mush-Mush?
Joeri: Like everyone else who first saw these little characters, that it is so amazingly cute. There's nothing else to say about it. Very cute. That's been my goal, to preserve that through the TV show.
How did you adapt Elfriede’s static designs to work on screen and in motion?
Joeri: Mush-Mush is a comedy show, but it's not just-joke-joke-joke. You really tell a story from the character's point of view and have exciting adventures. To do that, you need characters that can be expressive, you need them to be agile. As you can see (from the original figurine), he didn't have any legs. He didn't have a lot of stuff that I needed to bring him across on the screen, so when I was drawing the storyboard for the first episode, I was trying to make adjustments, like adding eyebrows and teeth and adding the legs to see what I could do with him. I discussed it with Elfriede to see what she thought of it and sometimes she'd be a bit unsure. So I would explain why and she would fully agree with it. But my main aim was to always preserve the cuteness that they had.
How did you and Elfriede work together to create new Mushables characters?
Joeri: Most of the characters were developed before I came in as a director when Perrine was working with Elfriede. What I had to do was to bring focus to it. We could not use everybody. Elfriede picked the most interesting characters and then went into production. She worked as a designer and at some point, we did need an extra girl character and she proposed designs for us to work with.
The Mushrooms explosion
Finally, if you have kids, you might have noticed that there are two shows about Mushrooms on screen this year: Mush-Mush and The Mushables, and The Fungies on Cartoon Network (DStv 301).
Perrine jokes, “I think we can say mushrooms are about to take over the world. It's actually a real fact about mushrooms that they work underground in the forest and communicate through the trees. So maybe they are planning to take over the world right now and we don't even know it!” she laughs.
Watch Mush-Mush and The Mushables S1 Mondays-Fridays on Boomerang (DStv 302) at 16:15 and on Catch Up
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