Crashbox has British sensibility

Crashbox, created for HBO Family, is described by Cuppa Coffee executive producer and president Adam Shaheen as ‘a non-traditional [game] show for kids from eight to 12′ that differs from other game shows in that it is education-based, with questions drawn from math, English, science and general knowledge ‘but presented in a fun and entertaining way, and the fun [comes from the use of] a lot of different kinds of animation.’

Crashbox presents a wacky computer environment. ‘The show starts with a computer crashing to earth, the screen opening and us going inside,’ says Shaheen. ‘It’s a world of pulleys and strings and robots made from junk working the innards of this computer and they load these different games that you at home play interactively by shouting out the answer.’

Shaheen, a Briton living in Canada for the last 12 years, says Crashbox is ‘more in keeping with a British game show sensibility. It’s not the number of points you collect, it’s the amount of fun you have in figuring things out.’

There’s also a British sensibility in terms of design and sense of humor, says Shaheen. ‘A lot of people [at Cuppa Coffee] have not got that typical North American style. We’re more European-based in terms of the organic stuff we do. There’s a lot of textures and stuff we bring to our images, not that digital ink-and-paint feel. We spend a lot of time giving depth and motion to what we do: lighting, music and how we craft characters [for example].’

Planet Grande, creators of the show, sold it to hbo and Cuppa Coffee was approached to be the creative team ‘that decided upon the look and feel, environment and sensibility and all the animation, the ‘packaging’ of the show.’

The myriad of animation styles being used include: stop motion, cel animation, mixed media, claymation, cutout animation and ‘live-action a-la-Cuppa Coffee, so it has a weird feel to it, a pixelated twist to it,’ Shaheen says. ‘There’s pretty much every style jammed in there. It’s a pretty exciting show to watch, every game leads on to another.’

Compared to what Cuppa Coffee is used to turning out ‘Crashbox is very low-tech,’ Shaheen says. The show, which Cuppa Coffee first started handling two-and-a-half years ago, was the spot shop’s first foray into long-form, and a complete change of pace for the company. Unlike spot work, where Shaheen says they have ‘the luxury of working on 30 seconds for three or four months,’ the schedule of long-form production lends itself to greater spontaneity. ‘It’s very gut reaction. You don’t have time to sit and relax. So consequently, really wacky experimental stuff gets shown in long-form.

‘We took eight months for 13 hours,’ he continues. ‘It was a scary time in that we didn’t know what the other hand was doing. In a good year, we’d do a half hour’s worth of commercials. We were looking for that change. We still do commercials. I felt very inspired to work on a program that was a little smarter and a little more broadminded.’

Shaheen says all the episodes are based on the same games and that any one could have been submitted to the Rockies for consideration. ‘We just picked an episode we thought was particularly funny and smart and had good animation styles and one that stood out in our minds.’

While Cuppa Coffee has no plans to give up its commercial or broadcast design work, Shaheen forecasts a bias towards children’s long-form work – that is if they can get the interest.

‘There’s a sort of snobbery that you can’t cross over [from spots to long-form].’ Cuppa Coffee is now in the process of talking to ‘various studios,’ all of them American, about a full-length stop-motion film. The company has often teamed up with American studios for its long-form work, Canadian studios apparently being too cautious to be the first to take a risk on an unknown quantity.

‘I think there’s a lack of desire to be the first. There’s more of a consultative, see-what’s-going-on, check-it-out, test-the-water, stick-in-your-big-toe [approach] and then they make the decision – and that’s fine,’ says Shaheen. ‘[Cuppa Coffee] has upwards of 100 talented Canadians. It would be nice to see this company handling more Canadian content. I’m not really fussed where we’re utilized – although I’d rather be here.’

Shaheen continues: ‘My big thing is that I want to keep this place vibrant and enthused. A variety of different styles and projects are more interesting [than sticking to spots]. I like to spin my wheels on something new rather than something we’ve done a thousand times before.’