About The WotWots

The WotWots is an enchanting early childhood series that follows the adventures of two adorable siblings from outer space, SpottyWot and DottyWot. This delightful pair of enquiring minds have come to Earth to explore and to marvel at the extraordinary diversity of life on the blue planet. The show celebrates this joy of discovery, making learning fun and demonstrates the positive values that are the building blocks of a true and enduring friendship.

The WotWots are soft, puppet-like characters who scoot around the zoo on steam powered hovercraft chairs. They are inquisitive, energetic and embrace their adventures with gusto and enthusiasm. They have big hearts, take great care of each other, and are not afraid to show the affection they have as brother and sister.

DottyWot, the sister, is the more patient and considered of the two. She pilots the ship and operates the ship’s computer through musical keyboard. She is supportive of everything her brother does though he does test her patience a little at times. At times she is a little too bold, but her delight with life is infectious.

SpottyWot, her brother, is more impulsive. He prefers to leap first and then think about it. He has a full-throttle enthusiasm for everything but will listen to his sister’s words of wisdom and is always considerate towards her if he stops to think about it. SpottyWot is also a wonderful and inventive artist, he has a big whiteboard and likes to express his ideas with imaginative drawings.

As two little aliens who have come to Earth, Spotty and DottyWot are on a simple but slightly odd mission. They want to imagine what they will look like when they grow up. Perhaps they will grow paws, or tails or noses like other animals here on Earth? They are not concerned about it, like all children they are just wired to be very curious.

The WotWots don’t know what they will grow up to look like, so there is no correct answer to this question. And it doesn’t matter – there is just the fun of exploring it. Our heroes do this by observation, abstract association, and heaps of imagination, but in very simple ways where the logic is always child-centered.

The clear and constant theme throughout the series is that learning is an adventure and new information is the icing on the cake, it is not the measure of success.

Our stories don’t focus on the WotWots getting things right or wrong since the building of self-esteem must not be linked to getting things right all the time. Instead, our characters delight in getting things wrong, they laugh explosively at their own mistakes and never put themselves down because of it.

About Pukeko Pictures

Pukeko Pictures is an independent entertainment production company focused on the development and production of world-class, multi-platform entertainment for a global audience.  Pukeko Pictures, with a connection to the world-famous Weta Workshop, is uniquely positioned for the creation of world-leading entertainment, harnessing the best in global talent and world-class production processes.

Based on the Miramar Peninsula in Wellington, New Zealand Pukeko Pictures is part of this network of creative companies and home of some of the world’s finest filmmaking talent and technology.

Pukeko Pictures was founded in 2008 by Sir Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger and Martin Baynton to create a portfolio of high quality children’s entertainment.

We have developed and produced TV shows seen in more than 100 territories around the world.

For more information, please visit www.pukekopictures.com

The WotWots and developmental milestones

Storytelling and young children

The key factor that went into the decision to have hover chairs was developmental. At this age children are still learning the language of visual storytelling, the editing and cutting that we all take for granted. If our show was for an older age group we could have DottyWot seeing an animal through the periscope and then we could cut to a shot of her arriving at the enclosure, they would accept that a little piece of time had been snipped out and our view of the story had jumped to the next important moment. But our younger audience would not; they would see this as two DottyWots, one in the ship and one outside. The convention of cutting and jumping units of time is something we learn slowly in these early years. So in the WotWots all the narrative beats in a sequence are shown. The WotWots will spot an animal through the periscope, they will open the ships hatch, we see them leave the ship, and we have a short ‘travelling’ moment as they zoom through the zoo and only THEN do we see them arrive at the enclosure.

Kids deserve the best

I am so proud of my team here who have made the WotWots with me, and it’s a wonderful testament to their craft, that the show is watched by millions of children around the world and celebrated by parents and teachers. Kids are the future, they deserve the very best we can give them from the food for their bodies to the food for their minds.

Celebrating diversity

All WotWots head off from their home planet to see the wonders of the universe because when they grow up they can choose what they will be. We travel back with them to their planet where they visit their many exotic Uncles and Aunties. These colourful relatives have chosen all kinds of forms, colours, patterns and attributes. Some have antlers, some wings, some have four legs some have flippers – but all WotWots delight in these differences. They celebrate the richness and colour that comes from diversity. What could be more important than celebrating this message with young children in a hundred countries here on planet Earth.

Fact or Fiction

Wearing my book-author hat I enjoy spending time visiting kids in schools, and one discussion I’ve always enjoyed is the fact verses fiction debate. 5 to 6 year olds have a fluid notion of this concept that gets a little more solid as they hit 7 and 8. When asked if dinosaurs are real most kids answer yes immediately. It gets a little more fuzzy when I hold up a book of fiction where a child has a pet dinosaur as an imaginary friend. Yes the book is real, after all, there it is in my hand in front of the class – I have just read it aloud. And is the story real? Yes, I just read it aloud so it is real – as a story. And dinosaurs are real; and children definitely can have imaginary friends. But are the events as depicted real? One way teachers used to help children make such discernments was the illustrations. If these were photographs then is was most likely to be fact, not fiction.

Now digital effects allow any feat of the imagination to be rendered as realistic as reality itself. For everyone reading this, we grew up at a time where that discernment was a lot simpler, we all developed a radar for fact and fiction and the ability to challenge things we were shown and told. But every parent of young children know that process has got a whole lot tougher. Its why shared reading and co-viewing is so important, as parents we can be there watching the same programs and can use moments of confusion as opportunities for discussion and learning.

Stereotypes

In the WotWots it was easy to reverse the stereotype roles and make DottyWot the ship’s captain. But I wanted more of a debate than that, a debate for mums and dads, so I made a very conscious decision to have DottyWot pink and SpottyWot blue – how outrageous! Yes, it’s provocative, deliberately so, and it’s been great to get all the wonderful feedback from parents who have realised what we have done and why. DottyWot is a girl, and she’s pink, but she has blue spots and blue tufties, she has aspects of boy in her makeup. And SpottyWot has pink spots and pink tufties. He has aspects of girl in his makeup. It’s child centric, it’s easy to point to and to explain, all of us have pink and blue in our natures.

The Creators

Richard Taylor is the Co-Owner of Pukeko Pictures and Weta Workshop. Richard began Pukeko Pictures with his wife Tania Rodger and partner Martin Baynton due to their combined love for children’s television and the desire to deliver highly compelling programming through the medium of locally made high quality television to children globally.

The five time Academy Award© winning Design and Effects Supervisor draws upon 27 years of working in the creative industries. Richard has also won 35 other international and domestic entertainment, business and community awards for his endeavours in the film and television disciplines including four British Academy of Film and Television Awards and two Visual Effects Society awards.

In 2010 he was awarded a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to film and two years later he was named Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.  He and Tania are Patrons for the Neonatal Trust in New Zealand.

Richard started Weta Workshop over 20 years ago with Tania as it was their dream to establish a special effects facility to enhance and support the New Zealand film and television industry.  Richard has also been working in China for the past 17 years and brings a strong working relationship with the Chinese creative industry to his endeavours at Pukeko Pictures.

Martin Baynton is the Co-Owner of Pukeko Pictures and Chief Creative Officer where he leads the creative and development teams to build Pukeko Pictures’ properties from conception through to production and beyond.  He has an international reputation as a Writer and Illustrator of more than 30 children’s books including Jane and the Dragon, and the Fifty the Tractor series. Since it was first published in 1986, the Jane and the Dragon book series has never been out of print. His publishers include Scholastic, Walker Books, Greenwillow, Penguin and Reed Methuen.

Martin has worked in stage, radio and TV as a Producer, Director, Actor, Screenwriter and Script Editor.

He created the Jane and The Dragon TV series based on his books and co-created The WotWots with Richard Taylor. He is Executive Producer on Cleverman.

Tania Rodger is the Co-Owner of Pukeko Pictures and serves as one of the Company Directors as well as a founding partner of Weta Workshop with her husband Richard Taylor. She ran Weta Workshop alongside Richard full-time until they started their family and continues to contribute to the management of crew induction, health and safety and archiving at Weta Workshop whilst raising their two children. She further applies her talents and passion for creativity, artistry and professionalism in associated businesses as one of the partners in the Roxy Cinema as well as Co-Owner and Director of Stardog LP.

Tania is passionate about creating the best quality children’s television possible and as such was the Executive Producer on the company’s pre-school series The WotWots.

Richard Taylor Talks about The WotWots

Themes

Kids deserve the best

We are so proud of the team here who have made the WotWots, and it’s a wonderful testament to their craft, that the show is watched by millions of children around the world and celebrated by parents and teachers. Kids are the future, they deserve the very best we can give them from the food for their bodies to the food for their minds.

Concept

Aliens and zoo animals are part of a general world culture. The WotWot characters have no national, cultural, religious or ethnic identity.  They have their own alien language in the show which is very expressive and they use clear, well articulated body language that young children can easily interpret. A narrator interprets the world on behalf of the viewer, asking questions to the WotWots and interpreting their replies.

Storytelling and young children

At this age children are still learning the language of visual storytelling, the editing and cutting that we all take for granted. If our show was for an older age group we could have DottyWot seeing an animal through the periscope and then we could cut to a shot of her arriving at the enclosure, they would accept that a little piece of time had been snipped out and our view of the story had jumped to the next important moment. But our younger audience would not; they would see this as two DottyWots, one in the ship and one outside. The convention of cutting and jumping units of time is something we learn slowly in these early years. So in the WotWots all the narrative beats in a sequence are shown. The WotWots will spot an animal through the periscope, they will open the ships hatch, we see them leave the ship, and we have a short ‘travelling’ moment as they zoom through the zoo and only THEN do we see them arrive at the enclosure.

Celebrating diversity

All WotWots head off from their home planet to see the wonders of the universe because when they grow up they can choose what they will be. We travel back with them to their planet where they visit their many exotic Uncles and Aunties. These colourful relatives have chosen all kinds of forms, colours, patterns and attributes. Some have antlers, some wings, some have four legs some have flippers – but all WotWots delight in these differences. They celebrate the richness and colour that comes from diversity. What could be more important than celebrating this message with young children in a hundred countries here on planet Earth.

Fact or Fiction

5 to 6 year olds have a fluid notion of this concept that gets a little more solid as they hit 7 and 8. When asked if dinosaurs are real most kids answer yes immediately. It gets a little more fuzzy when I hold up a book of fiction where a child has a pet dinosaur as an imaginary friend. Yes the book is real, after all, there it is in my hand in front of the class – I have just read it aloud. And is the story real? Yes, I just read it aloud so it is real – as a story. And dinosaurs are real; and children definitely can have imaginary friends. But are the events as depicted real? One way teachers used to help children make such discernments was the illustrations. If these were photographs then is was most likely to be fact, not fiction.

Now digital effects allow any feat of the imagination to be rendered as realistic as reality itself. For everyone reading this, we grew up at a time where that discernment was a lot simpler, we all developed a radar for fact and fiction and the ability to challenge things we were shown and told. But every parent of young children know that process has got a whole lot tougher. It’s why shared reading and co-viewing is so important, as parents we can be there watching the same programs and can use moments of confusion as opportunities for discussion and learning.

Stereotypes

In the WotWots it was easy to reverse the stereotype roles and make DottyWot the ship’s captain. But I wanted more of a debate than that, a debate for mums and dads, so I made a very conscious decision to have DottyWot pink and SpottyWot blue – how outrageous! Yes, it’s provocative, deliberately so, and it’s been great to get all the wonderful feedback from parents who have realised what we have done and why. DottyWot is a girl, and she’s pink, but she has blue spots and blue tufties, she has aspects of boy in her makeup. And SpottyWot has pink spots and pink tufties. He has aspects of girl in his makeup. It’s child centric, it’s easy to point to and to explain, all of us have pink and blue in our natures.

Values

Learning – Sibling Love – Fun – Discovery

The WotWots is the only early education brand that teaches about diversity through the joys of sibling discovery.

Classic Ingredients

Comfort and familiarity: The child viewer knows what to expect. A clear narrative structure is established in the first episode and followed throughout the series.

Self esteem

Children are often the bottom feeders in the information chain. In this show the child viewer is empowered by feeling they are one step ahead of both the Wotwots and the narrator.

Life affirming

The WotWots actions and behavior are always generous, positive and well intentioned. They are never motivated by greed, fear, selfishness or anger.

International Relevance

Discovery, Fun & Humour, Gadgets & Vehicles, Animals, Drawing

Education

Elements of early childhood learning in every WotWot episode:

  1. Learning is fun
  2. Wonderment of the natural world
  3. The celebration and understanding of animals
  4. Language development
  5. Sensory & motor development
  6. Social & emotional development- self esteem, confidence & resilience
  7. Imagination & inquisitiveness
  8. The recognition of key values – kindness, co-operation, friendship, etc
  9. Safety – Buckle up
  10. Expression and creativity through drawing and music

The WotWots Endorsement Statement

By Associate Professor Andrew Gibbons, Auckland University of Technology

The WotWots

Broadly considered, the WotWots is a brand that is finely attuned to the nature of 21st century learning and development of 1-3 year aged children. As an educationally-minded brand the  WotWots provides for the kind of flexible and open engagement for a child who is making sense of their own self and the world around them through the remarkable experience of sensory and motor development. At this age, the child’s active engagement with the world is underpinned by the intensity of her interest in the world, and the learning and developmental outcomes are driven by the nature and scope of her interest. The WotWots enjoy their learning, and this is the greatest gift for a child in her own world – to regard learning as fun, not just for her self but for her to see the enjoyment of her family in her learning. The WotWots encourages the 1-3 year olds (and their observant caregivers) to develop and test their full range of sensory, physical, language, and social and emotional skills: experimenting with listening and speaking, with standing, and stepping to walking, with touching and tasting, with hiding and revealing, with keeping and sharing, and so on. For this reason the brand is of particular interest to parents and caregivers who not only see their 1-3 year old learning, they also learn more about their 1-3 year old, both in terms of how young children learn, and also the unique nature of their child’s imagination and inquisitiveness.

Being and feeling Wotty

As noted above, the primary focus must be on the wellbeing of the one to three year old and in particular the nature of secure relationships that are supported by the WotWots. The 1-3 year old child is experiencing a complex interplay of relationships that are manifest in both a need for enduring attention and a need for freedom to explore independently. To this end the development of strong relationships with others and with oneself (for instance self-esteem,  confidence, and resilence) are scaffolded in the WotWots, most notably through the engagement between the WotWots and with the narrator. Socioemotional development is closely connected with the sensory and motor development and this is valued and promoted by the WotWots through the emphasis on sharing experiences, on emotional and relational connections between siblings and a caring for the world that is particularly evident in the focus of the natural world focus of the WotWots. The WotWots as explorers encourage and promote children’s own excitement with discovery, with searching for hidden clues, with making deductions based on partial information, and with the excitement of discovering secrets and surprises. The narratives include storylines about relationships and about behaviour that don’t ‘preach’ to the child so much as encourage thinking about relationships with others. For instance the narrator asks questions that are real, authentic questions rather than the kind of rhetorical tests for young children that limit the child. In this sense the WotWots provides excellent evidence of how to develop good dialogues with the 1-3 year old that engage the caregiver and child in a responsive and reciprocal relationship. Making connections between narrator and the WotWots provides adults with ideas to enrich the child’s exploration of and engagement with the environment and hence reinforces rich and supportive relationships based around discovery rather than the kind of management of behaviour that can wear both caregiver and child down. These elements are all excellent sources of stimulation both cognitively and emotionally.

Asking good Wotty questions

The WotWots is an exciting cognitive experience through the possibilities that sensorimotor interactions in and with world have for developing knowledge of the world, and of the child’s own capacity to change the world. The siblings WotWots are confident and capable characters who use both their senses and a range of exciting tools that support their inquisitive dispositions. This capacity is encouraging for children at any age where they are motivated to solve problems and to take risks; and it is encouraging for the adult who is given a strong message of valuing the child’s leading of her own learning. Encouraged by the show to watch the child’s exploration, adults learn more about their child’s knowledge, interests and strengths and can support them accordingly, as the narrator does in the show.

Wotty discourse

Contemporary debates in language development are wide ranging in their views on what count as good language development, and the WotWots attends to the different dimensions and concerns about children’s development through a kind of soft, nuanced, language rich environment that is sensitive to the ways in which the 1-3 year old is experimenting not just with language but more  broadly with the nature of multi-modal communication. The alien WotWot language can be likened to the early language experiments with the mechanics of language – experiments that are of interest to researchers in language development because of what they reveal about our relationship to the  ‘rules’ of language and of meaning, to the purpose of different kinds of linear and tangental narratives, and to the importance of having fun with language in learning language. In other words, the child can see and hear in the WotWots a familiar creative playing with language that provides a confidence and an expertise for the young child.

Holistic Wotty world

The WotWots are carefully designed to stimulate subtle and enduringly beneficial interests and skills that approach learning and development as holistic, integrated and emergent – for instance that social relationships and a sense of self confidence are being developed in attunement with the development of language skills, or that active exploration of the natural world can be supported by effective use of a range of digital media. The WotWots emphasise this value through such practices as the integration of documentation and mediation that is evident in their observation of the world, encouraging the child to represent and share her interpretations of the world; and through the art of asking questions as an important cognitive schema through which children find their belonging in the world reinforced. For the 1-3 year old, artistic expression, and music and movement, are valuable sources of integrated learning and holistic development. Through the musical creations of the WotWots children explore, for instance, patterning and sequence, and through the artistic creations of the WotWots children learn, for instance, about space, estimation, and representation. In addition, children are encouraged to experience a range of classic or traditional media as well as new media – from crayons to computers – and to value each in relation to their world. This latter point is important in acknowledging that families have a wide range of means and tools to hand to support their children’s learning, and that many different media can promote rich learning environments.

Wider Wotty appeal

The 1-3 year olds’ relationships with her primary caregivers are widely regarded as critical to all domains of development. The key implication of this belief for any new media is the way in which the adult or older sibling is encouraged to participate in the experience, and to use the experience to open up new experiences in the home, centre, and community. The WotWots brand has a particular strength in its use of aesthetics and narrative to encourage the benefits of children learning with their caregivers. The crafting of advanced alien technologies with an exciting ‘steam punk’ aesthetic keeps the adult interested – it is a kind of cool look that is reminsicent of the classic worlds of Verne or Swift. The background music weaves a kind of relaxed yet industrious approach to learning that is neither hurried nor anxious. In addition a subtley of humour is built into the design of the WotWots through the attention to facial expressions of DottyWot and SpottyWot, without the need to provide overt reinforcements in the narrative – a technique that is important for both adults and children who often don’t appreciate, or at least are not motivated by, endless and overt descriptions of educational meanings and narrow sets of values. The WotWots brand successfully resolves many of the tensions that emerge through its educational rather then developmental focus that promotes engagement with and for children in ways that flexes with the diverse stengths and interests of children. This strength engenders the brand as inclusive, meaning that it reflects the contemporary emphasis on strengths based support of all children regardless of ability.

In a nutty Wot shell

A child’s learning throughout her education and on through her adult life is significantly influenced by the ways in which she perceives it as enjoyable and so the WotWots provides a strong message early in her life that learning is fun and that making sense of the world starts with a child’s innate interest in her world. So at the heart of the WotWots is learning about the world. The narratives of the WotWots focus on dscovery of the natural world and an interest in caring for the world that encourages the child to discover her own world. Two of the many ways in which the WotWots enhance this experience are through the design of an exciting assemblage of visual environments to interpret and explore, and through the role modeling of that exploration. More than this however, when taking into account the ways in which the adult engages with the WotWots, it is also worth stressing that the kind of exciting exploration of the world of the WotsWots becomes a design for the family home and the learning centre through which adults, siblings and children can enjoy the kind of excitiment that DottyWot and SpottyWot experience. The storylines engage and encourage and inspire adults, they provide ideas and promote fun learning environments.

Evaluation of The WotWots TV Series

By Jordan D. Brown, Educational Consultant

Age-appropriateness for its target audience

The characters, subject matter, humor, and dialogue are all well-suited for young children, ages 2-5. The main characters, SpottyWot and DottyWot are fuzzy aliens from another planet, but their personalities, enthusiasm, and interests are firmly grounded in the preschooler’s world. The Narrator is a nurturing, fun-loving adult who allows the aliens to make their own discoveries. He asks the WotWots questions, translates their whimsical language for viewers, and urges both the aliens and the viewers to experiment and explore.

Why preschoolers will find The WotWots entertaining and engaging

The WotWots presents young children with many elements and activities that they naturally find entertaining—such as silly humor, zoo animals, upbeat music, drawing, spaceships, and cooking.

Children will also enjoy the playful brother-sister relationship of SpottyWot and DottyWot. They encourage each other to try spontaneous experiments, and celebrate each other’s efforts…even when their attempts aren’t successful.

The WotWots spaceship will capture children’s imaginations. It is filled with colorful gadgets and gizmos, such as the Sneek-a-Peek Periscope (which lets them view the zoo creatures), the Drawing Board (which they use to doodle creatures they’ve seen—or invent their own, by mixing animal features), and the Hiccup Hatch (which enables them to create their own toys, such as super-long crayons). The WotWots Web site (www.wotwots.com) gives children at home a chance to take the controls of some of these spaceship tools for their own explorations and creative projects.

Last but not least, children will get a kick out of SpottyWot and DottyWot’s silly, playful language. The Narrator provides just enough support for viewers to play along with the characters and have fun figuring out the nuances of the WotWot lingo. The fact that the Narrator speaks with a “foreign accent” gives The WotWots series a distinctive flair, and reminds children that the English language is spoken in diverse ways in North America, and around the globe.

What young children might learn from The WotWots

The WotWots are positive role models who approach every day with great gusto, insatiable curiosity and clever resourcefulness. While occasionally mischievous, their humor is always good-natured. The WotWots also accept their mistakes as a natural part of learning and exploring, and in fact, often laugh at their goofs. In addition, SpottyWot and DottyWot burst with creative spirit. They are thrilled to meet a new creature, to invent a new fruity concoction to drink, or to draw on the ship’s Drawing Board.

The series and Web site introduce children to a wide variety of animals, from giraffes, to zebras, to spider monkeys. Since the series was produced in New Zealand, some of the zoo animals, such as tarturas (a kind of ancient lizard) might be new to parents as well. In the episodes I screened, the Narrator points out the names of the different animal features, and often explains their function (e.g. a chameleons changing skin helps it hide).

Although children don’t have a spaceship like the WotWots, I would imagine that after the TV is turned off, children would be inspired to make their own animal sketches, create a new kind of fruit smoothie in the kitchen, or ask their parents to visit a nearby zoo. After watching the “Picture Puzzle” episode, in which SpottyWot creates a Picture Puzzle Treasure Hunt for his sister, I could easily imagine a child creating similar search-for-picture-clues game at home.

On the WotWot Web site, children get to play with a virtual WotWot spaceship. There, children have the opportunity to create original music with the Bongo Buttons, draw on the Drawing Board, use the Sneek-a-Peek to learn more about different animal species, and much more.

In short, I wholeheartedly recommend The WotWots as an educational series for its preschool audience in the U.S., and beyond.

Martin Baynton’s Thoughts

What follows is a series of blog articles written by The WotWots co-creator Martin Baynton and published on a previous version of our website:

Hello WotWot Friends

Hello to all our wonderful WotWot friends. Over the coming months I shall be using this blog as a way of sharing some of the thoughts and processes that led to the creation of the WotWots. The why, when, where, wot if you like. So, where to begin?

Not quite at the beginning – I’ll explain how the key ingredients came about in a later blog. But quite early in the production there was a moment I’d like to tell you about.

Everyone here on the creative team set out to make something with heart and passion that we could pour our talents into and take great pride in, but as the scripts and storyboards and then the characters themselves started to take shape, there was this mysterious evolutionary process that writers often talk about – a moment when the characters are no longer ideas, but become independent of their creators with identities that outgrow their initial descriptions. They morph from interesting placeholder personalities into real characters who start to dictate their performances to the whole team. That moment came early when the director said to one of the writers – no, SpottyWot would never do that. And we all knew it, the whole team suddenly knew exactly how SpottyWot would respond to the problem he encountered in the script. And from that moment on the WotWots became members of our family, and it became a joy to work with them every day. They were alive to us and we started to believe in them and want the best for them, and like a large extended community of parents we started to worry about them, would they be loved when they stepped out into the world, would they be accepted for who they were given a chance to be all they could be.

If no-one liked them there would be no second series, we would never get to work with them again and they would never have all the adventures we were starting to imagine for them. So it was a very nervous collective of parents who watched as their children went to air around the world. It’s hard to express the mix of relief and thrill that we experienced as the WotWots received their first wonderful reviews. They were off into the wide world on the start of their big adventure. And now here we are, they are loved around the world and we have had the joy of making a second series with them.

Bye bye for now, and I’ll be back with a new blog very soon.

“Show, Don’t Tell.”

Core values are demonstrated throughout the series, they are not preached. Our lead characters have a spirited sibling relationship that is seen to be rock solid because of their demonstrable love, respect and admiration for each other.

They display respect, affection, support, honesty, empathy and compassion, but these values are the constant foundation of their behavior, we do not usually single out a specific value as the focus of a story.  A value only becomes a theme element if one of the characters, usually SpottyWot, acts in a way that is counter to this ongoing backdrop of positive behavior. We will then demonstrate a specific change in attitude. But this is usually a secondary storyline, and we don’t slam it home with a hammer, and the ‘wake up’ is always delivered as a comedic moment.

Drawing Is Cool

When we were kids, both Richard Taylor and I loved a UK show called Vision On. It started as a show for the deaf but quickly became prime time TV. The presenter would draw and paint live on the show. It was almost magical watching an image appear on a blank sheet and I clearly remember its galvanizing response on me, that urge to get up and draw the moment the show ended.

In later years as an illustrator I visited many schools and talked to children about the process of drawing. For very young children the idea that some living breathing person made the drawings that appeared in their picture books was astonishing, in their everyday experience most humans drew about as well as they did.  So when we were planning our wish list for the WotWots we wanted to see SpottyWot drawing ‘live’. As you might imagine this was a technical challenge for an animated show, but we wanted it badly enough to solve the various problems.

The feedback has been wonderful. SpottyWot never draws something as it really is. He always embellishes, adds odd elements together or makes wild assumptions about some hidden part of the animal he’s drawing. He always delights in his creations, he never gets upset if he discovers they are wrong, quite the reverse – he’s proud of them and finds his mistakes hilarious. The intention is to encourage children to draw creatively, to relish the process and not be tied to the idea that copying life exactly is a mark of success. Drawing is fun and it’s been wonderful to get that across in the show.

Why the Hover Chairs?

When the show first aired we had several comments about the chairs and exercise. The comments were well intentioned and questioned the appropriateness of our little heroes sitting in chairs instead of walking around. If the show was aimed at four year olds and above we would have taken a different approach, but it’s aimed at children aged 1.5 to 3yrs and encouraging this age group to get out of chairs and walk around is not an issue, in fact it can be the reverse; asking them to sit still in a chair for more than two minutes can be a real challenge.

The key factor that went into the decision to have hover chairs was developmental. At this age children are still learning the language of visual storytelling, the editing and cutting that we all take for granted. If our show was for an older age group we could have DottyWot seeing an animal through the periscope and then we could cut to a shot of her arriving at the enclosure, they would accept that a little piece of time had been snipped out and our view of the story had jumped to the next important moment. But our younger audience would not; they would see this as two DottyWots, one in the ship and one outside. The convention of cutting and jumping units of time is something we learn slowly in these early years. So in the WotWots all the narrative beats in a sequence are shown. The WotWots will spot an animal through the periscope, they will open the ships hatch, we see them leave the ship, and we have a short ‘travelling’ moment as they zoom through the zoo and only THEN do we see them arrive at the enclosure.

But the show is only ten minutes long so we needed to give the WotWots the means to zip quickly through the zoo. The hover chairs were dreamed up by our wonderful design team to be safe child centric vehicles that our audience would instantly understand. And on the issue of exercise and health we address those directly in some of the episodes, and I will cover those in a future blog. Now, as I approach the other end of the age spectrum, I would really love a WotWot hoverchair myself, the ultimate mobility scooter for scaring dogs and traffic on my way to the corner store.

Getting it Wrong is … Right!

An important ingredient of learning is to be able to celebrate the discoveries that come from participating, and having the courage to participate means having the courage to make mistakes.

We wanted SpottyWot to be our champion for this. SpottyWot makes up wonderful imaginative pictures based on incomplete information. He doesn’t wait for certainty and he isn’t afraid that he will be judged for getting something wrong, quite the reverse, he bursts into laughter when he discovers what an animal actually looks like, how it differs from his imaginative drawing.

So in the show we have the discovery of facts, the delight at uncovering new information. We learn, for instance, what an elephant’s trunk is really used for. But we also learn that it is fun to imagine what else that trunk might be for, and that exploring alternatives doesn’t have to be about getting something right or wrong, that there is creative fun to be had along the way.

It is the same for DottyWot. She will sometimes offer a hypothesis before she sets out to investigate something, she knows that by investigating she will prove or disprove an idea, but she is not afraid of making a suggestion early on before she has complete information. In the show our WotWots are relaxed and comfortable about presenting an idea even if it might prove wrong, because in the show we model the response to that, the narrator is never critical or judgemental, on the contrary, he applauds their participation at every turn. There is no creativity without the courage to make mistakes.

Celebrating Wildlife

In the last few decades, wildlife documentaries have highlighted the terrible plight of animals and the wholesale destruction of many unique habitats. I applaud the message of these programs with all my heart, as a species we continue to behave with a ruthless disregard for the long term viability of the ecosystem and the impact we are having on the creatures who share the world with us.

As adults this is our burden, a burden we must address, but we must be careful not to make shows for very young preschool children that are top heavy with this message. We must make shows that celebrate the joy and diversity of wildlife so children can be in awe of it without confusion or pain. We need a generation of children to grow up with the freedom to love animals unconditionally, not children who shrink away from animal programs because they are too painful to watch.  Once they get to an age where they feel empowered to do something, then we can and must present the conservation issues.

With the WotWots I made an editorial decision to have stories that celebrate the joy and diversity of wildlife without any reference to the plight of animals. We need our very young preschool children to grow up with an innocent, carefree passion for wildlife and that starts with celebration and wonderment, not hand wringing. So now that the show is on air around the world, we wanted to find an international wildlife organisation we could support who shared this approach. We chose the Earth Rangers because even though their focus is on a slightly older age group, they take a similar guilt free stance. Their message is that all children can be Earth Rangers and can help look after the planet on behalf of all wildlife. We have begun working with them to see how the WotWots can support their work and how we can create age appropriate wildlife messaging for pre-schoolers.

Pink & Blue

Back in the mid eighties I wrote a children’s book called Jane And The Dragon.  Jane was a young girl training to be a Lady In Waiting in medieval England, but she had her own dreams, she wanted to be a knight. She challenged all the expectations of her peers, her parents and her King and at the end of the story she successfully becomes a knight of the King’s Guard.  At the time of its release the book gathered support from a wide range of groups who were pleased to see a girl protagonist who challenged stereotypes.

From a present day perspective this seems strange, the last twenty years have seen a wonderful explosion in books that celebrate all forms of diversity and the landscape has completely changed for the better. So when we came to design our two WotWots I looked at all the colour pallets being used on other pre-school shows and discovered that everyone was avoiding pink and blue because of the sexual stereotyping. Yet pastel Pink and Blue work so well as complimentary colours, they are wonderful identifiers for very young children. So it was perfect for the WotWots because of the underlying premise that is signalled in the title song.

In my last blog I signalled that we were launching a discussion forum on our facebook page called “Ask the Creator” where I will reveal the larger vision we have for the show. The choice of pink and blue is part of that vision and I look forward to sharing it with you in that forum and beginning a colourful discussion.

Footprints in the Sand

I remember as a child watching old TV Westerns like the Lone Ranger and having my Dad break the spell by pointing out the motor vehicle tyre treads in the sand as the horses raced through the shot. I can only imagine how hard it must have been making a movie such as Laurence Of Arabia – all those shots of untouched dunes that the camels and horses charged across. All those hours of setting up a complex shot with no-one stepping on that pristine sand.

So when we decided to set half our new WotWot series on the beach, it raised a lot of eyebrows and questioning hands. Not only did we have the problem of setting up a shot without stepping on the sand within the  frame of view, but we had to work out how the WotWots DID make footprints and impressions in the sand when they were digital characters added after we had shot the live footage. The wonderful team here tackled the problem with their usual enthusiasm and inventiveness. They made one plea though: please keep the sand contact to a minimum. So we did, until one show when Theo, our director, had a bit of fun and storyboarded as much contact as he could. He even had SpottyWot dive and roll Commando style down the face of a sand dune. He had expected the animation team to push back and request a revision. They didn’t. They took it as a challenge and delivered the complex and delightful moment in all its glory. It’s just a few seconds of screen time, but it took a lot of effort and good humoured commitment to deliver. It’s been wonderful to see how this sense of fun and this desire to push the envelope has expressed itself on the screen. Everyone who watches the show, even if they don’t understand the mechanics of its production, seem to pick up on this exuberance. Making TV is a team sport, and Theo has built an amazing and committed team around him. I thank them all.

Fun & Games

A couple of months ago we were approached by a young start up company called Gamefroot based here in Wellington. They have developed an amazing game system where anyone, even a game Neanderthal like me, can build their own game. So with their help, that’s what I’ve done, I’ve designed and built a WotWot game.

The challenge I set myself was to create a game that was easy to play and to understand by our young Wotwot friends, but would also be fun for Mum and Dads, and therefore me, to play as well. It was interesting talking to the guys as they used terms like, ‘number of lives.’ Clearly our game couldn’t have this, the WotWots dying on screen because the young player failed to complete a level in time!! No! And ‘fail’ too, how can it be a game if failure is built in? So it was an interesting experience for all sorts of reasons. Classic game play is all about failure and reward, about doing something in the nick of time or crashing, burning, dying in the attempt. It’s interesting that these kinds of games, races against odds, against the clock, have become the most popular. So for the WotWot game I have built in the fun without those negative connotations. Have a play and tell me what you think? I’ve made it in three levels so our young friends can have fun and succeed and progress. But at the third level it’s challenging enough to frustrate Mum and Dad too – I hope. And the great thing about the system these young guys have come up with is- I can tweak the complexity myself based on your feedback. So if it gets too easy, let me know and I’ll make it harder. Fade out on Martin’s evil chuckles.

Fun with Poo

Poos are funny, right? Not quite so funny in the nappy years for Mum and Dad, that seemingly endless stage of being on watch for the suddenly exploding nappy which only five minutes beforehand was completely dry! But for kids, pooh are very funny. If we need the reward of a big smile from a friend’s toddler we all know that a well executed raspberry will do the trick.

In those first years poos are such a big part of their life; food in, food out; nappy changes; overzealous applaud from proud parents for filling the potty at the appointed time, (the baby not the parents.) So when it came to getting a script all about poo for the Wotwots I should have been delighted, and I was. But I was nervous too. The script came from my daughter Terri, a wonderful writer who has written over half the WotWot scripts. The script was funny, laugh-out-loud funny. And we knew without a shadow of a doubt that the kids would love it. But for a producer, the big concern is always what the gatekeepers will think of it, the broadcasters and parent lobby groups, especially for a show like the WotWots which plays in over 90 countries from the US to China, from Brazil to the Middle East. How do other cultures view the poo issue? Would the US broadcasters reject it? We decided that the episode met all our own standards, it didn’t talk down to our audience, it was comic, it was engaging. So we went ahead. And the good news – not a single broadcaster has had an issue with it, it has become one of the most watched eps wherever it gets streamed – a firm favourite. And that is great, so often in this business we over edit and over sanitise our kid’s shows for fear of losing one market or another. The WotWots poo episode shows that all over the world people are pretty much the same, if something is funny in a good celebratory way, not offensively funny at someone’s expense, then we all share the same funny bone.

Game On!

A frank admission – I am hooked on new technology, but only when it allows us to do amazing new things in new ways, or old things in new ways. But I’m also slow to adapt; I like to wait and see if there is real merit, if the technology opens new doors of opportunity or is just a sparkling trinket full of shallow bells and whistles.  So I’ve been watching the growth and maturity of the tablet world, and in particular the stunning growth in pre-school material, with stunned delight.

As a writer and illustrator of children’s books for over 30 years I’m also wary. My own love and attachment to the physical book is so deeply rooted in a lifetime of delight in page-turning, that the Luddite within me is cautious about what this brave new world of technology will mean for the future of the physical book. But young children have no such scruples. They want knowledge, they want experience, they want the ability to dive headfirst into story worlds and immerse themselves in whatever can be found there. And suddenly with tablet technology they have something that obeys their most sophisticated personal interface with the world – their little forefingers. We have explored this space now, and our first venture, a digital book, was given the prestigious Parents Choice award which was a huge thrill. If you want to check it out it’s an iPad app called Lanky Landing Legs. The positive feedback we received emboldened us to make our first game app that we have specifically targeted to our 1 to 2 yr old WottyWotters. We learned from watching this age group play with other apps that the key is to reward their motor skills every time. So in this game children tickle SpottyWot. If they miss, then SpottyWot sighs and shakes his head, but if they tickle the screen in the right spot he laughs and wriggles. So something happens even if they get the touch movement wrong, but the big reward happens when they get it right. And if the child can learn to put together a series of very fast precise finger strokes then SpottyWot can be spun right around in his chair. There is a second window in the game that mirrors the Sneak a Peek Periscope from the show. It’s a simple hide and seek game where children can swipe the viewfinder to search a picture of the Zoo outside. If they spot part of a hiding animal, they tap the screen and the animal appears. So it’s a very simple game that a child can play without parent help. I would love to get your feedback so we can to learn how to explore the potential of this amazing world.

The sound of the WotWots

One of the key ingredients of any show is the sound. Not just the music, but all the different sound elements and how they integrate to give a unique sound picture that defines the world. When this is done really well it should be possible to listen to just the sound effects and mood music and tell immediately what show it is. It’s often called the sound landscape.

We knew who we wanted for this role, and we just hoped he was available and keen. David Long is a distinguished musician with a great CV of work as a composer, songwriter, recording artist and performer. We showed him some clips of the WotWots and he fell in love with the show, and so did his young pre-school son who took a proprietary interest in it from day one and made sure it was the most important job on his dad’s schedule every day. David worked closely with Theo the director in defining the landscape as Theo wanted to mirror the glass and brass steam look. So even though it was a spaceship, we didn’t want to use computer generated sound effects or what can be best described as electronic synthesised music. So all the sounds in the ship were recorded and sampled from steam trains, brass switches and other pre-computer types of engineering. For instance the sound of SpottyWots’ printer is a recording of an old foot peddle operated sewing machine. David then decided to record brass instruments like tubas for some of the little signature sounds of moving parts inside the ship. This allowed him to compose the music with the same sound landscape based around wind instruments. The result is a unique sound landscape that adds to the distinctive nature of the WotWots show. Thank you David and the amazing team you gathered round you for this venture. (And to your boy who demanded you stay on schedule because he wanted to hear the results hot off the press every day.)

Seatbelts

This is an emotional WotWot topic, and I don’t want to distress anyone who has had the terrible misfortune of having a child injured in a traffic accident. But I’d like to draw the attention of all our Mums and Dads and grandparents and caregivers to something we have deliberately embedded into the WotWot show.

Whenever SpottyWot and DottyWot go outside the spaceship in their hoverchairs, they ALWAYS buckle up their seat belts. This was a bigger and costlier decision that it might first appear. (Good Eureka moments and ideas often are!) It meant we had to cope with all the continuity bloopers we made as our heroes exited and re-entered the spaceship. We didn’t make the wearing of belts a big narrative element or a specific story event – except in the first episode where we deliberately demonstrated it as good behaviour. The idea was to make it the norm, to have it as an unspoken part of their lives and their routine, something they did quite naturally and spontaneously because that is what smart creatures do. My hope and expectation was that parents would see element and use it as a discussion in the car if they were having issues with any of their children rejecting their restraints, harnesses, seat belts etc. By showing how the WotWots are always happy to be wearing their seat belts our hope was that they would be used as good role models that parents can point to. Email feedback has shown that this is happening, but I’d like to now step it up a level and get your feedback on an idea – and I’ll start it as a discussion on the WotWot facebook page. Shall we post images and clips up on this site that show some of those WotWot seatbelt moments very clearly? That way the modelling of the behaviour is just a click away if an exasperated parent wants to show a reluctant passenger how SpottyWot is very happy and proud to buckle up his seat belt. So please click into the discussion on our Facebook page and drop me a comment, or click ‘like’ if you think this is a valuable parenting tool. If enough people would like it then I can organise a way to have this teaching element housed inside the WotWot site. Conversely if you think it’s a bad idea, that we shouldn’t be engaged in behavioural and social engineering on these issues, then please still enter the dialogue and let us get a healthy debate underway. WottyWotWot.

More from The WotWots

Lanky Landing Legs iPad App

The WotWots feature in this interactive digital KIWA BOOK™, Lanky Landing Legs.

SpottyWot is busy fixing the long, lanky legs of the spaceship when his sister discovers two other long, lanky and very pink legs through the sneak-a-peek. Join SpottyWot and his sister DottyWot on an adventure to discover what the strange creature with the long, pink sticks really is.
Go to iTunes to get the interactive book >

WotWots Merchandise

WotWot’s toys and DVD’s can be purchased from the Weta Cave and shipped worldwide.
The WotWots at the Weta Workshop Shop >