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Bob the Builder and Shaun the Sheep story artist to take part in Belfast animation workshop

Jenny Lee chats to story artist and film-maker David Bunting ahead of his appearance at this month's Cinemagic festival about the world of animation and working on beloved kids programmes such as Chuggington, Bob the Builder and Shaun the Sheep

A still from series four of Shaun the Sheep which David Bunting worked on – he has also worked on children's favourites Bob The Builder and Chuggington

TWO years ago I sat shocked as I watched Bob the Builder with my two young children. Bleary-eyed from my children's inevitable early waking, I couldn't believe what I saw: brand-new-look handyman Bob was sporting high-vis strips and safety vest and a slimline Wendy, wearing skinny trousers and make-up, had a new role as an electrical specialist. Where was the comic character Spud and who was this new dark-skinned apprentice builder?

Fast forward two-years I've grown to love this reconstructed CGI Bob the Builder, the skyscrapers and modern builds; my son's old Bob the Builder DVDs look out-of-date and are seldom played.

One of the men responsible for drawing 'the new' Bob is story artist and film-maker David Bunting who will be leading a Storyboarding & Design workshop at this month's Cinemagic International Film and Television Festival for Young People in Belfast.

"These programmes are an important part of childhood but Bob the Builder had been around for about 15 years and for a whole new generation of children you sometimes have to offer a fresh spark.

"Working on the new Bob was great – you are still faithful to what everyone loved about Bob and the character around him, but what we gave them a physicality. With the machines we were very conscious about obeying the laws of physics and getting away from making them feel like toys and more like machines," he explains.

David got hooked on animation and storytelling at a very young age, filming his first animation aged nine with a super-8 camera.

"The Jungle Book was the first animated film I saw in the cinema. I was spellbound by those characters and wanted to know how they did it. It was like the most extraordinary magic trick to watch drawings come to life," he recalls.

His passion took him to Dublin where he studied Classic Animation for three years at Ballyfermot Senior College.

"To be serious about studying animation and getting where I wanted to go, it was the place I had to go. It was, and is, one of the best animation courses in the world," says the Harrogate man.

An internship with Walt Disney Feature Animation in France followed and his first credit was on The Tigger Movie (2000).

"On Tigger I drew the special effects by hand. I don't do that any more but I still draw everyday –the only difference is I'm using a stylus on a computer."

He later went on to train in feature film storyboarding at Aardman Animations and describes his job as "an artist intrepreting the script". It involves both classical 2D boards and increasingly with technological advances CG storyboarding where he plans production-ready shots with a director.

David's other recent credits include Aardman Animations Bafta-winning series Shaun the Sheep and the CBeebies series Chuggington.

"Animation is science and art combined. It requires the intelligence of programmers to make these drawings work. On Bob the Builder and in Chuggington I draw the character expressions by hand but we would work in a CG virtual space. I always thought with Chugginton how lucky I was to have the biggest train set in the world to play with every day."

Creativity, teamwork and patience are essential in the word of animation where making a 10-minute episode can take a year and a half to complete.

"It's a huge pipeline. These are huge shows and it requires hundreds of people to make them. We would spend three to four weeks storyboarding a 10-minute episode. Then it goes down the line to animation rendering," he explains.

As a fan of silent cinema, David found storyboarding the two series' of Shaun the Sheep he work on "a dream".

"With Shaun the Sheep it's all about the characters. It was influenced by Buster Keating and Laurel and Hardy and Shaun and Bitzer are a festival double act. I had a lot of fun exploring the visual comedy of the series. For a story artist, having no dialogue is so liberating because so much of the story is planned and worked on from those drawings alone because animation is too expensive to cut in the editing room."

Bitzer the sheepdog is Dave's favourite character that he has animated so far in his career. "Bitzer you can have a lot of fun with. He's very expressive and he's very playable. He does a lot of reacting and chuckling."

Dave is delighted to be taking part in Cinemagic and promises a very hands-on workshop. "I will be teaching them the secrets of how to be a story artist.We are going to be learning how to tell stories, how to storyboard and going through the whole process right through to pitching. So if you like drawing and you like telling stories and if you ever wondered how they make cartoons, you are going to get a lot out of the workshop."

His advice to budding animators of the future? "You are never too young to start. It's all about getting in there and practising and keeping drawing."

:: David Bunting will lead a workshop at Cinemagic on October 29 from 1pm-4pm in The Crescent Arts Centre Belfast for 7-11 year olds (£12 per ticket). To take part in this workshop and for further information about festival events and screenings visit Cinemagic.org.uk.

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