How to adapt Quentin Blake? “Blake it till you make it,” says Eagle Eye

Some animators spent weeks sketching until they could suitably imitate “the master’s voice”; now, the BBC releases its new animated Quentin Blake specials.

Date
28 November 2023

Share

Quentin Blake’s Box of Treasures is the title of a new animated box set of specials coming to the BBC just in time for Christmas, based on six of the illustrator’s beloved books: Jack and Nancy, Zagazoo, Loveykins, Snuff, Angel Pavement and Mrs Armitage on Wheels. There are familiar voices connected to the project, with Simon Pegg cast as the lead in Zagazoo and Adrian Lester as the narrator across each story, but none as well-known as its eponymous creator, Quentin Blake, whose style is instantly recognisable for anyone who has ever picked up a Roald Dahl book, or one of the other 500 Blake has illustrated.

The advantage of popularity was also the biggest challenge for Eagle Eye Drama, the production company on the project. In fact, it would have been quicker to come up with whole new designs on a production as large as Box of Treasures than imitate a style as loose and well-established as Quentin’s, according to Eagle Eye. Creating a workable standard and staying true to the illustrator’s voice meant months of copying and testing.

“It was literally like having an intensive course in a new language,” says Massimo Fenati, animation CD at Eagle Eye. “Animators were asked to spend the first few days or weeks only sketching and sketching until they could find a way to follow the master’s voice. We even came up with a motto: Blake it till you make it.”

Above

BBC: Quentin Blake’s Box of Treasures, produced by Eagle Eye Drama (Copyright © BBC, 2023)

There were all sorts of small details Massimo’s team had to become versed in, like overlapping lines and unjoined corners in Quentin’s inkwork, or his use of lighter ink for backgrounds. “Loose, warm, unfiltered,” was the overriding aim tonally.

Eagle Eye was of the opinion that traditional animation was the only technique that could do the style justice. “Obviously nowadays nobody draws on paper anymore, we all draw on digital tablets, but the process is the same, albeit made easier thanks to the available softwares.” The production relied quite heavily on compositing – where animated elements are placed on backgrounds – so watercolour and grainy textures could be added. Animation was split between three studios, Spicy Acorn in Belgium, Eagle Eye’s lead studio, Tchack in France and Kong Studio in London.

The project took two years from start to finish. In voiceovers alone, there were 63 parts to cast and record. “It was a really high bar to set for ourselves, and I can't be the judge of what we achieved but I know we put absolutely everything into getting it as near perfect as possible. You always have to aim high, and the response so far has been tremendous, first and foremost from Sir Quentin himself.”

GalleryBBC: Quentin Blake’s Box of Treasures, produced by Eagle Eye Drama (Copyright © BBC, 2023)

Hero Header

BBC: Quentin Blake’s Box of Treasures, produced by Eagle Eye Drama (Copyright © BBC, 2023)

Share Article

About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating from the University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, Indie magazine and design studio Evermade.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.