Until three years ago, children’s book creator Lucy Cousins didn’t have a television. Producing the Maisy books from an in-house studio at her home in rural England, the author and illustrator had little exposure to children’s television before plans to turn Maisy into an animated series for Nickelodeon first got under way.
Publisher Walker Books had long been reluctant to take Cousin’s ‘baby’-the uniquely naive Maisy character-into the television arena for fear of turning it into something second-rate, even though numerous producers had been clamoring to create a series based on the classic children’s book property for years.
‘There was a cue,’ notes Jonathan Clyde, associate producer on series with PolyGram Visual Programsming (PVP). ‘Walker Books was cautious because they’d had some children’s books turned into animation that they weren’t happy with. They did take some convincing.’
A deal was finally stuck in 1994 between Walker Books and PolyGram Television, with King Rollo Films to produce the animation. When development began three years ago, a television finally appeared in Lucy Cousins’ country home.
‘She was very anxious,’ notes Clyde. ‘When she created these books, she never envisioned that these characters would move.’ Working very closely with Cousins, Clyde facilitated a dialogue between the author and Hugh Rees-Parnall, president of PVP, Lucinda Whiteley, senior vice president of production at PVP, and King Rollo Films’ Leo Neltost Nielsen, creative director on the series.
Painstaking care was taken to retain Cousins’ thickness and roughness of line, as well as the character’s limited joint movement. ‘In order to get movement that looked right, various walk cycles were tried. Lucy didn’t like Maisy bending her knee,’ Clyde notes. A compromise was struck, allowing Maisy to walk but with a limited, ‘quirky’ gait. ‘We retain a lot of the quirkiness of the book in the series-and with the music. It’s terribly important to maintain the feel of the book,’ says Clyde.