This post is the first in a new interview series looking at Science and Nature communication through different media in Ireland
I really enjoy using different media to communicate Science
and Nature topics to people of all ages. I am always very
interested in how others communicate in these fields and the methods they
use. I have come across many people who
have really caught my interest… their subject, medium and most of all their
passion for what they do.
Through this series of interviews I hope to explore how
different individuals work in their specialised area, provide a sense of what a
career in their chosen field is like and above all, express their passion for
what they do and why!
To kick off this interview series I spoke with Jason Tammemägi
Jason is a writer, creator and director of many well known children's television programs. The creative mind behind such favourites as Fluffy Garden, Roobarb and Custard Too, Ballybradden and, more recently, Planet Cosmo, Jason's work is familiar to us all.
I was delighted to get an insight into the various aspects of Jason's work and how he uses the
creative media of cartoon and animation to communicate with children.
Hi Jason and thank you so much for agreeing to take part in
this interview series. I have always
believed that you can communicate any topic to children if you just present it
in the right way and that is why Planet Cosmo really caught my
eye. Moreover it caught the eye of my
three year old son, Rohan and when he started to remember and repeat the
information he learned from each episode I realised how well it appealed to his
Before I get into the details of what makes such a program
so successful I would love to learn a little more about you and what lead you
to this career;
How did you start off on a
career as a writer and cartoonist…what path did you take?
What training was required?
arrived at cartoons via science. I was studying physics, chemistry and maths
but, while I have always loved physics, things just didn't click for me at
university level and then someone told me about an animation course. Well, I
didn't even know animation was something you could do for living – nobody had
told me! I had been drawing all my life and loved stories so I applied and I
got in. Within a week or two I knew this was what I wanted to do.
I studied animation
for three years and that's how I got into cartoons. From there, I worked my way
up and moved to directing, designing, writing and creating. With most of those,
it was just a case of trying them and then doing everything I could to get
better. The initial animation training was the beginning of that journey.
Is this something you always
wanted to do?
I had never decided
to be an animator as a child. I really didn't know what I wanted to be.
If you look back to your
childhood, is it obvious to you now that this career was a likely path for you?
Yes, it makes
so much sense now. As a child, I loved to draw, I loved to tell stories, to
create and that's exactly what I get to do now. I just didn't know as a child
that it was real job.
As I mentioned, Planet Cosmo is a big hit in this family,
not only for my three year old; his older siblings (nine and seven) really
enjoyed it as well.
Where did you get the idea
for Planet Cosmo?
I was looking for
good ways to teach my daughter about space. She was about three and was really
taking an interest but I just couldn't find the right book or show aimed at her
level. I know how important it is to feed interests in children or they quickly
move on. So I decided to make a show for children about space. A way to
entertain them, make them laugh and sing along while also giving them real
facts about the planets because, for me, that's what's amazing: these are real!
Which do you create first…
the characters or the theme?
The theme came first.
I had the mission. From there, it took quite some time to find just what the
show would be and who the characters would be. Early on, it was about a little
robot boy, his sister and their dog and it evolved from there. Cosmo became a
girl, the sidekick became her Dad and a family was created around them.
How many people are involved
in a project like Planet Cosmo?
It takes quite a few
people to make a show like Planet Cosmo but maybe not as many as you might
think. We had a core team of around ten people I think but then there were many
others who made important contributions along the way. Everyone who touched the
project added something of their own and it would never quite be the same
From the first idea to seeing
the final product on screen, how long does a project like Planet Cosmo take?
Cosmo, I think it took over three years and that wouldn't be unusual. It can
take a long time to pull a television show together and then get it made. There
are highs and lows in there and the certainty of the show is never guaranteed.
So it's always a special feeling when the show finally hits the screens. It's a
real success to even get a show made at all and even better when you find out
afterwards that children love it and it's really helping bring space to a lot
I really liked how Planet Cosmo managed to engage and
capture the imagination of its audience while teaching quite a complex material
in a very simple way.
How did you manage to target
the program to the preschool audience so well?
Well preschool is
really my area. I love how open to ideas preschool children are and I love what
entertains them and what they find amazing so I have done a huge amount of work
and research into that area. Before making Planet Cosmo, I made 80 episodes of
Fluffy Gardens among other things so, when it came to making this show, I had
an idea what I doing. But I'm also fortunate enough to have two young
daughters. When I began creating the show, my eldest daughter was right in the
middle of my target age group. By the time the show was finished, my youngest
daughter was there so I always had a preschool child to test ideas on.
Do you test your ideas on
your intended audience at different stages of production?
Yes, it is
easy to get lost in a project and lose sight of those who matter: the audience.
So I found it important all the way through to check and test and see what
works and what doesn't. The best way to do that is to show the work to
children. They don't fake their reactions and they know better than anyone when
it's right or wrong.
I know that you are fond of getting involved in every step
of a project from creation to development and production;
Can you give us an idea of
what is involved at each step?
There are so many
stages in making a television show and they're all so different. The beginning
is creation: ideas, characters, stories. It is all very free and very creative
but then requires focus and hard work to bring it all together into something
that can really be a show. You then have to pitch the show and convince others
that it's a good idea in order to get it made. That can be a tough process and
it is always a real test of just how strong the show is.
If you're successful
and the show goes ahead, then you are into preproduction (getting everything
ready for the show – designs, writing and so on) and then production (the
actual animation). The writing is incredibly important because it really sets
the template for everything that happens afterwards. You need a fun, strong
story or the rest of it doesn't really matter. But once you have a good story,
great animation and great sound can turn it into something wonderful. And yes,
I tend to be involved with every part of production and count myself fortunate
that I can do that. I think it brings a real sense of identity to a show.
What is a typical day like
for you…. Or is there such a thing?
How my day is depends
on what stage a project is at. I write at home, for example. I need the peace
and I get asked far too many questions in a studio! So writing is peaceful and
quiet and I do lots of walking around to let ideas swirl in my head before
getting them down on the page. Whereas in production, I'm in a studio and it's
all so busy. I usually start very early and make my to-do lists and get a head
start on everything I have to do that day. Then once the studio gets going,
there is so much to check – going through storyboards to make sure the story is
being told well visually, timing them into videos that set up the whole
episode, checking animation scenes, checking how they flow when put together
and then working on effects to get the final episodes together. At any one
time, there are many episodes in various stages of production so there is
always a lot to do and the important thing is to keep track of the overall
stories because, in production, everything is split off into smaller parts.
So a typical
production day is busy!
What are you working on at
I am making an app
for kids right now and that's pretty exciting. It hasn't been announced yet so
I can't say too much about it but it is going to be fun. I am also developing a
couple of new concepts and helping some people out on their own projects. So
right now, things are very busy and I will be announcing some of these new
You have worked in this area for
more than 15 years and have generated a number of other projects and programs.
Can you tell us a little
about some of your favour projects to date?
Planet Cosmo is
really the show I always wanted to make. It sparks an interest in space and,
with it, science and it does so with lots of humour and songs and, for a large
part, it's a science fiction show based around science fact and I love science
fiction. It was so much fun to write and I couldn't be happier with the end
result. So that show will be hard to top for me! But Fluffy Gardens will always
have a special place in my heart and I know each and every one of those
characters so well. It's a part of me and I still think to this day that the
Fluffy Gardens Christmas Special is one of the best things I ever made. It has
been shown here every Christmas Day since it was made and I love it every time.
It's just so Christmassy.
Of the other shows I
have worked on, well, Roobarb and Custard would be a favourite. It was such an
honour to work on that show and to work with its creator, Grange Calveley, and
the late great Richard Briers.
Of all the characters you
have created do you have a favourite among them and if so why?
It is so hard to pick
a favourite. Cosmo's Dad is probably the most fun to write and I really love
him because he has a lot of different sides. His silly side is obvious and that
makes him very funny but he's also a good Dad and he's a good pilot so he has
strengths too. He has these little warm moments of fatherhood that I can really
relate to myself no matter how silly he is. I will always have a soft spot for
Mavis the Pony in Fluffy Gardens too though.
Who is your target audience
or does that change for each project?
Most of my work has been for preschool children, although not all
(Ballybraddan was for older kids and Managing the Universe was for teens). With
preschool, which is the area I really specialise in, I tend to pick a slightly
different core age group for each project because a two-year-old is very
different to five-year-old even though they all come under the heading
'preschool'. So Planet Cosmo was aimed at a slightly older preschool child than
Fluffy Gardens. I love sticking with preschool but I tend to shift focus within
that depending on the project.
From my viewpoint Science communication is on the rise in
this Country, with children becoming more and more the target audience;
How do you see this
developing in the future and would you like to be involved in another science
based project for children?
I think if
you're aiming for real positive change, you start by inspiring the children.
Not all children will be interested in everything and that's perfectly okay but
you have to give them the chance. Feed the interest while it's there or they
just move on and forget about it. So I love to give children something that is
fun first and enjoyable while also expanding their options and introducing them
to new ideas. Science is amazing and exciting and covers so many areas that
there is lots to explore for children and plenty of areas of science that can
make for wonderful entertainment. And for children, I see one of the main ideas
behind science being so important for all aspects of their lives as they grow:
ask questions, challenge and look deeper. So I see this getting bigger and more
important and, yes, I have no doubt I will be involved in more science-based
projects in the future.
What is the best thing about
what you do?
I get to make
children smile and laugh. And I usually get to give them something positive in
the process. I'm not sure it gets better than that!
What advice would you give to
anyone thinking of a career in your area?
Create. Draw or write
or both and keep doing it. See the world around you, how it is and how it works
and then plug that into your imagination and see what comes out the other side.
From there, find out about college courses in the specific areas you would like
to be involved in and try to get in and work at the things that really inspire
you. And remember that there are many different paths. The one you start on
doesn't have to be the one you end up on so try to be open about how you get to
where you want to be.
What would be your ideal
project for the future?
myself fortunate enough that I have already been given the chance to make my
ideal projects. So from here, I want to deliver better. More smiles and laughs
and content that might just make a real positive difference not just for
children, but for the adults they will one day become.
Labels: animation, Communication, interview, Jason Tammemagi, nature, science