Sunday, August 22, 2010

Children's Book Week Interviewee, Alexander Bunyip Creator--Michael Salmon

THIS MONTH'S GIVEAWAYS are The Monster that Ate Canberra and The Giving Field. TO BE IN THE DRAW, POST A COMMENT and click follow. For submissions for author interviews to aussiewriters, do likewise.

This is Children’s Book Week in Australia. The winners of this prestigious award have been announced and can be seen here:- Next week we’ll be interviewing one of the place holders, Christina Booth.

This week we have an icon in the children’s book industry in Australia. Creator of the first modern Aussie children’s television character to become a national symbol—Alexander Bunyip—is artist and writer, Michael Salmon. Welcome, Michael…

Your story is inspirational as one of the first Aussie picture book artists to have a television series. Can you tell us how this came about as well as your journey to becoming a picture book author. What dips and glides did you have along the way? Do you write your own text? Tell us about the character Alexander Bunyip.

I started ‘the career’ at 18, the early days (1967/68) of vaguely making a living from drawing cartoons, painting, exhibiting art works. I then joined the famous ‘Tintookies’ Marionette Troupe (part of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, Sydney: little brother company to the Australian Ballet, Australian Opera) as a trainee stage manager/designer. Loved every moment of this immersion in children’s theatre and decided that entertaining young people was for me!

In 1972 whilst living in Canberra, I decided to self-publish ‘a book’ (no thoughts of offering it to a publisher)—a very amateur, ‘underground’ attempt at a children’s book with very obvious, unsubtle, social comment undertones: The Monster that Ate Canberra. I wrote and illustrated it and had it printed locally, then drove around to all the ACT bookshops and newsagents, offering it for sale (to some very mixed receptions!)

The book featured a large, hungry bunyip named Alexander who was forced to move from his polluted billabong and find a new home. This new home happened to be Lake Burley Griffin. He saw the iconic buildings dotted around the foreshores as objects of food and started eating them— much to the horror of the populace and prime minister!

The book title became an ‘in-joke’ around the nation’s capital. ‘The Monster’ was indeed the Australian Public Service in disguise! The local ABC-TV channel saw potential in the character and forwarded it to Sydney HQ for consideration. The rest ‘is history’.

Alexander Bunyip became an afternoon institution on national television for a decade (1978-88) in various formats. The most successful one being Alexander Bunyip’s Billabong. This featured little Aussie animal puppet characters based on the Golden Press books/Australian Women’s Weekly half page that I was producing at the time. Much merchandising ensued, lots of publicity and exposure.

In 2004 The National Capital Authority produced an official ‘government’ version of the original book for visitors to Canberra (complete with our National Coat of Arms!) and in 2009 a bronze statue of ‘The Bunyip’ was commissioned by the PM’s chief minister & the Federal Minister for Education. It is a work now in progress and will be ‘launched’ in 2011—a tribute to the book’s role in helping one-and-a-half generations of Canberra kids to read. The statue will stand outside the new, ‘state-of-the-art’ public library that is currently being constructed in Gungahlin, ACT.

How important were your live appearances and how important is it to continue to make them?

I’ve been visiting Aussie schools since 1972 (professionally since 1975). These school visits and author signings have become a major part of my business and take up most of each year with lots of travel and laughter, as I present what are basically hourly sessions of quick sketches, stand up comedy and gentle motivation—to fully mixed age groups of primary school audiences

Do you think things like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are the most important thing today to gain recognition today?

Well they certainly help— that’s for sure.
They have become an essential part of modern-day communication.
Mind you, I observe (‘out there in IT land’) that sometimes it’s hard to draw the line between what may be considered interesting information and what is wholly, over-the-top, boring, unrealistic self promotion.

Did you have any control over the scripts on the TV show? Did you have to do any screenwriting for it? If not, how was your screenwriter chosen?

I was involved here and there in the program ideas, but was mostly busy doing other things apart from the TV Show (new books, theatre designing etc). The ABC recreated the illustrations from my Bunyip books as the TV set.

Can you give any tips on getting into TV animation today?

It is one of the hardest businesses ‘to crack’ in the Entertainment Industry. ‘Contacts’ are about 95% of the game! But never give up!!

What are the themes running through your work?

Fun, laughter, theatrical … bright, bold illustrations, silly plot situations!


Michael Salmon 11/08/2010

Thursday, August 12, 2010

TV Colour Stylist, Stephen Macquignon

CHECK OUT OUR NEWS PAGE (L.H. tab) for conferences and early bird registrations happening THIS WEEK!

THIS MONTH'S GIVEAWAYS are a year of Footprints magazine or Clues to Your Calling, or Decadence and The Last Virgin in Year Ten and As the Eagle, Flies the King. TO BE IN THE DRAW, POST A COMMENT and click FOLLOW in the L.H. corner of the blog. For submissions for author interviews to aussiewriters, do the same.

This month’s winners are Cathy and Tabitha, both from QLD. Look out for our Aussie books on international bookshelves now!

Stephen Macquignon is the first of our international guests who are here to give us some insight beyond our borders. Stephen will help us unravel the mysteries of television and production for a children’s artist. An interesting thing that comes out of his story is the importance of networking. As they say, 75 percent of jobs are not advertised! Welcome, Stephen!

Your story is inspirational as an illustrator who has worked on TV. Can you tell us how this came about?

I had a friend, who had a friend, who owned an animation studio. It went something like, "I think they are looking for interns, interested?" It was my first break in the art industry. I made an appointment for an interview, took my portfolio to NYC, met with Robert Marianetti, who if my memory is correct was the Assistant Director on the very first animated show I worked on called "Santabear's High Flying Adventure." We seemed to click and we worked together on many projects after that.

So it was ‘who you know’. I’ve heard that somewhere before!

There seem to be many tasks in animation. What job description did you have?

I actually had quite a few. I started out as a runner. I would go from one location to another picking up or dropping off artwork, film reels, sound effects, coffee, lunch, etc. Then, I started to work in production at Michael Sporn Animation. Remember, this was long before computers were used in animation.

The technique we used then was called "cut paper on cell." Basically, once the drawing was completed, we would glue the drawings (characters) on to a clear piece of plastic called a cell, wait for the glue to dry, then cut the character out using an X-acto knife; you had to be careful not to cut too deep or you could cut right into the cell and would have to start all over again. Other jobs included cell cleaning, checking to make sure all the components of the scene were together, and coloring the characters. As time went on, I worked on story boards, a few back grounds and also as a color stylist. We would work from published story books or original ideas. As a color stylist, I was responsible to try and match the right color from the story book or create the color palette for an original title. Also, I was a production coordinator.

Do you write your own text?

No. I was never involved in writing the text. My passion has always been drawing, not writing.

How important was self marketing?

At the time, not very important. It seems to be the thing to do now, but back then, you really didn't hear much about it. It was important to go to different events to show your face, but outside of that ...

Do you think things like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are the most important thing today to gain recognition?

No. I do have a Facebook page, but that I keep for friends and family. I also have a MySpace page for the general public to see my work. I never use Twitter. There is one YouTube post from Rena Jones, the writer of The Marshmallow Man one of the books I illustrated, but I would not depend on any of these outlets to land me a job or gain any serious recognition.

Can you give any tips on getting into TV animation today?

It is a very hard business to get into. If you have the talent and the drive, just keep trying. From what others have told me, the industry seems to have changed a great deal since I started out—not as many animation studios where you sit together and work on a project. Now, thanks to computers, it seems that you can work more from your own home and continuously IM each other. I think being in the same room and bouncing ideas off each other is much better than sitting alone.

Do you have to do many drafts of your work?

Yes. You should buy stock in tracing paper when I'm working on a project. I will rework an illustration many times over until I feel it is just right.

Now you are a picture book illustrator, what are the themes running through your work?

Well, I have worked on many different themes. I worked on a story about a little girl who loves jellybeans, a story all about colours, another about a caterpillar, and another about a man made of marshmallow. My latest is a story about a little white squirrel.

Tell us about your illustrations.

All my work is still drawn and inked by hand. I then scan it into the computer and color everything digitally.

Thanks, Stephen, for a fascinating look into the ever-changing world of production for an artist.
See Stephen’s illustrations here: