Fire up that hot glue gun and ready those knitting needles. Wool is on the rise with stop-motion animators including Canada’s PVP Média (Tom Sawyer) and Pipeline Studios (Paper Port), French studio Normaal Animation (Zouk) and Washington-based A. Love Production (Tulip).
There’s increased demand right now for unique-looking tactile kids shows in a market that’s saturated with traditional 2D and 3D animation. And with claymation already well established as a stop-motion staple, more and more animators are using fuzzy fabrics as a calling card to help them stand out.
A unique spin
Québec-based PVP is in pre-production on Woolly Woolly, a 52 x 11-minute stop-motion series for upper preschoolers inspired by Anna Hrachovec’s children’s book Mochimochi Land and the author’s own hand-knitted creations. Set in a quirky, spirited world, the series (pictured) features a community of gnome-like characters who are able to knit anything imaginable.
“There was nothing like it on the market,” says PVP co-owner, VP and executive producer François Trudel.
For the series, Trudel says it made sense to hand-knit all of the characters, props and backgrounds out of wool because their rich, organic textures create a sense of realness that resonates with children. “It brings warmth to the whole visual experience, which can be very attractive and endearing to kids,” he says.
Trudel also predicts that families will be drawn to Woolly Woolly‘s offline brand potential. “We could sell arts and crafts products that teach parents and kids how to knit the show’s characters,” he says.
Since initially pitching Woolly Woolly at Cartoon Forum in 2018, PVP and co-producer Normaal have stitched together a number of pre-sales with broadcasters including TVOKids, Radio-Canada and Knowledge Network in Canada, as well as France Télévisions. According to Trudel, the studio is also in partnership discussions with Canada’s WildBrain and China’s UYoung. The show’s first batch of episodes will be ready to deliver in March 2023.
The unique medium of wool-based projects is also getting attention on the festival circuit.
Siqi Song’s wool stop-motion short Sister was nominated for an animated short film Oscar last year. Its soft, playful textures helped the film stand out, and worked well with its themes of childhood and family memories, Song told Kidscreen. Since her Oscar nod, the student filmmaker has gone on to design puppets and sets for Netflix series Ask the Storybots.
Meanwhile, A. Love Production’s wooly kids and family short Tulip is being screened at this month’s Annecy International Animation Festival in France after winning an audience award at the 2021 New York International Children’s Film Festival. Like Woolly Woolly, Tulip is made almost entirely out of wool, and its unique look is one of the main reasons for the film’s festival success, creator Andea Love told Kidscreen. Love’s unique needle felting talents also helped land her a director’s role at commercial/prodco collective Hornet, and she hopes to bring her wooly style to an original Netflix or Disney+ series or feature in the future.
With kids craving more real things in their lives after a year of virtual school and fewer in-person interactions with friends, the tactile projects could potentially have an emotionally healing effect on young audiences, says Pipeline CEO Luis Lopez.
To tap into that growing demand, the Canadian studio is joining the yarn fest with Wonder Woollies, a hybrid kids show inspired by the hand-knitted puppets in dollhouse app Fuzzy House.
“The tactile nature of soft-textured shows helps children connect more emotionally to characters,” he says. “Tactile shows, especially for preschoolers, can really define and create whimsical, kid-like views of the world, which they can relate to. Plus, there’s something highly valuable in handmade productions because they send a message to the audience that they could make these things, too.”