Olobob Top co-creators Leigh Hodgkinson and Steve Smith discuss where their big idea came from.
So how did Olobob Top come about?
Leigh – I write and illustrate picture books for children – so get to do a lot of fun workshops in schools and other events. All children are creative by their very nature – it is all about playing and exploring… seeing the result of that and learning from it in some way. I had noticed in previous workshops how some kids always seemed to get a bit anxious about drawing… especially on a nice white new bit of paper. They were worried about getting it wrong and making a mistake. Children love to do things right, but where creativity is concerned – there simply is no right or wrong, it is about freedom of expression and you being you… However, this is a hard concept to explain to a child. I got thinking about this and found a great way around it! A lot of my artwork is collage based, lots of snipping and sticking. So my next workshop I decided to take some simple shapes that I’d made out of different papers and textures for children to create their own characters in an alternative way to just drawing them. I found that this activity made them looser in their approach- they were more relaxed and enjoyed the journey of this creative process with not so much emphasis on the end result. This to me seemed much more positive and interactive. But what I was not prepared for, was that even though they’d all used the same shapes, all of their creations were completely individual, an array of incredible characters that I wouldn’t have been able to dream up in a million years!
Steve – Leigh came back and showed me the characters they’d made at the event, and some she’d made herself, and I thought they were really fun, surprising and inventive. And we talked about how the children had reacted to the shapes, and how quickly they could put them together to make characters of their own. We realised that no matter how restrictive the palette of shapes, colours and textures is, a child’s imagination can build an endless variety of creations. It’s a bit like using Lego®, or Fuzzy-Felt!
Leigh – We talked about it a lot, and the basic idea of how it could work in an animated series started to develop from there. We decided to limit our parameters in terms of number of shapes, colour, pattern and texture. This way everything would feel very organic and part of the same world and not curdle aesthetically. Yet even when keeping to these “rules” the characters we created could be so wildly different, both visually and personality-wise. They would give us a limitless scope for a wide variety of storytelling within each episode. It was all so exciting!
Steve – Looking back it was just an idea, but a big one – an idea that set us off on a four-year journey to bring Olobob Top to life. What’s also funny is that the three characters of Tib, Lalloo and Bobble were invented at that same school visit – they are derived from the characters Leigh made whilst there.
Leigh – Although I think the Bobble we have now in the series looks a bit cuter and not quite as cross!
Steve – We worked for a while on dreaming up the background story for these three characters – where they live, what they do, what friends they have, what kinds of adventures they might have – and this always revolved around the central concept of them making things come alive using shapes. We wanted them to be empowered to help themselves in their world by being creative, whilst also having lots of fun.
Leigh – This central concept evolved into the Olobob Top (though it wasn’t called it back then). The Olobob Top is the place they go to be creative and build things to help them solve a problem. It felt more magical to have them go somewhere special – we see the Olobob Top as a kind of conceptual space of a child’s imagination rather than an environment rooted in physical reality. The Olobob Top could also be interpreted as a child’s play space, where they can pick up and use objects as part of an invented game or enjoy creative play. (These objects could be toys, or could be other everyday stuff like a cushion or an apple). We also loved the idea the Olobobs live in a forest, because that can be endlessly big and encompass lots of spaces, like caves, mountains, lakes…
Steve – And if you live in a forest, you’d probably live in a tree, so that’s where the Olobobs live! It all came together quite quickly at the start – just Leigh and I bouncing ideas off eachother (whilst not giving up our day jobs!).
Leigh – In the period of development that followed, whilst waiting for all the pieces to fall in to place so we could actually make the TV show, it was vital for us not to lose sight of the original concept, and we are so pleased that it is absolutely still at the heart of the show! The message I guess is that it is fun to be creative with whatever you have, no matter how much or how little and that making mistakes sometimes is really OK. It is the journey and not the destination that is important, and that if you share the journey with friends – it can be a whole lot more fun and rewarding! So get out there and explore and make things…. use your imagination! After all, your imagination is just like the Olobob Top…. completely and utterly magical!