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Behind the Work: Animating Comedy for ‘Billy Connolly Does…’ With Kong Studio


Kong Studio on putting the absurd and charm front and centre with Moonshine Features for UKTV’s new series, ‘Billy Connolly Does…’

Behind the Work: Animating Comedy for ‘Billy Connolly Does…’ With Kong Studio
They say you should never meet your heroes, but what about creating animation for them? If you tune in to UKTV’s new series, ‘Billy Connolly Does…’ you’ll see animated clips peppered throughout, illustrating stories from the famed comedian's 50-year career. 

These animations were created by the team at Kong Studio, the London-based animation studio which has worked with the likes of Mencap, IMAX, and Disney, and has now joined forces with production company Moonshine Features for the new series. 

LBB was eager to find out how Kong Studio brought these animations to life. As they reveal, it all started with paying homage to Billy’s artistic style, taking inspiration from his own signature, which he signs with a sketch of himself. 

Here, creative director Bill Elliott and animation director Tom Baker, alongside Moonshine Features’ director Mike Riley, tell all about the project and tell us why animation was the right fit for this kind of documentary-style work. 

LBB> What kind of brief were you given for this project? 

Tom Baker> Simple, loose drawings. The initial brief was for a style that would be inspired by and sit in tandem with Billy’s signature. We took from that beautiful sketchy ink drawings.

LBB> And at Moonshine, how did you land on this idea - to include animation?

Mike Riley> When putting the series together, we knew it was going to be visually heavily textured. Early TV appearances cut alongside stand-up specials, personal stills, post-war newsreels, and present-day interviews. It’s the kind of melange that can either drown a project or give you the freedom to keep throwing more at it. 

With that in mind, going down the route of incorporating animation felt completely natural. The trick was to find a style that complimented Billy's storytelling - that kept the absurd and the charm front and centre. Kong Studio’s approach of minimal clean lines and light washes worked brilliantly - tales of Marlon Brando falling asleep in restaurants and security guards being assaulted by black puddings elevated what was already a joy to listen to. 

LBB>How do you approach this kind of work, where the animation works to add to the ‘real life’ footage, and also in terms of it being documentary? 

Bill Elliott> Documentary work is something we are very keen on already. Informative and entertaining and two words that frequently crop up when discussing projects we aspire to make, and two words that sum up a great non-fiction story.
Tom> Animation tends to work brilliantly in documentaries. So often, it can lift a film. Frequently, as fascinating as a film might be, there are only so many talking heads the viewer wishes to see. Also, when people reflect on past – and un-documented – events in films, animation can not only document this without having to be too literal but can describe and enhance the atmosphere.

LBB> Can you describe the process for how you created these animations? What influenced the style? What was the starting point?

Bill> Billy Connolly’s own artwork was certainly an influence. We really wanted this to have a Sunday Funnies look. A three-panel cartoon brought to life. Charles Peattie – of ‘Alex’ fame – is a friend of the studio. He did some initial sketches which really kick-started the design aesthetic.

LBB> What are some of the highlights?

Tom> Look, we can’t deny it. We’ve done work for the Big Yin. Kong Studio can die happy now.

Mike> I loved working with Kong Studio. I gave them a brief and some terrible drawings and they did exactly what you hope any great creative team will do, which is improve it tenfold. There really is nothing better than looking at an initial schematic and laughing because the artists have picked out something you had never considered - and those are the kind of details that makes a story truly come to life. I can't wait to work with them again.

LBB> Were there any challenges, how did you overcome them? 

Tom> Creating something that looks spontaneous, loose, and freehand is always tricky. Cartoonists spend a career developing their look. We wanted to create something that suggested this for a bespoke project. We also had the burden of creating an animated Billy Connolly.

LBB>One of the things that stands out about Kong Studio is your thread of humour - did that make working on this project feel like a natural fit for the team? 

Bill> Oh, it’s a dream fit. We are also keen advocates of the design concept of ‘less is more.’ The simple drawing on white is so pleasing and clear, yet deceptively complex to do. We’d love to do a project with this loose pen and wash aesthetic for a slightly longer form project in the future.

Tom> Also, the topic: as a rule of thumb, it has to be something that’ll make us laugh and we will watch. Billy is the master storyteller, and all you need to do is support him, not compete.

LBB>What do you want the main takeaway for audiences to be when seeing your animation work on their TVs?

Bill>Informative and entertaining!

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Kong Studio, Thu, 24 Feb 2022 12:00:00 GMT