Dancing Fish Productions: What’s in a Name?

Perhaps this should have been our first post, after all, it is often one of the first questions we get asked – sometimes directly, sometimes by way of a confused look. “Dancing Fish Productions…dances for peas?…um…ok?”

I have tried to entertain on occasion with responses such as, “I think it’s trying to say something about the duality of man, Sir.” or, “Would not a rose by any other name smell as sweet?” The truth is not quite so well penned but may still be worth the tale.

So, if you are all sitting comfortably. I will begin.

Long ago (2000), somewhere in the dark and nasty regions, where nobody goes (Norfolk), there stood a small up-start games company. I’m not convinced I can make it that exciting, even if I could sustain the use of random film and cartoon references for the duration of the post. So, I shall instead, just tell it as it was.

I was Lead Animator on a new title, and one day I was informed that we were possibly going to use motion capture. We had been given  a sample file by the Mo-Cap studio and I was asked to run some tests with  it on our game characters. Supposedly this particular sample was taken from the Will Smith, Men in Black music video. During the course of my testing, one of my colleagues, and Norwich City (hack, spit) fan, Greg ‘Bertie’ Barrett (yes, because Barrett is a bit like Bassett (yes, American readers, this is a British thing)) cast his gaze meward and engaged my attention with, “What the hell is that?!”
“Some motion capture file I was testing out,” I returned.
“What is it, it looks like some sort of dancing fish?” responded my confused colleague.
“Yes,” I replied, “it’s dancing for peace.”
“Dancing for peas?!” questioned my weak-eared friend.
“It is a dancing fish, and it dances for peas.” I joyfully concluded.

That pretty much ended work for the day – we weren’t actually getting paid at that point so we were quick to find excuses to down tools – as I was encouraged to draw the said Dancing Fish, dancing for peas. I threw down a quick pen sketch, we scanned it and I went to work in Photoshop. Bertie sent me a random boardroom image he found on the servers and we placed the fish on the table doing what he obviously does best, dancing for peas. I do have the original sketch secured away somewhere but, alas, the mo-cap file that started it all is long lost.

As a side note, our boss saw the image I put together and believed that I must have created it in some 3D package, what with the perspective and the reflection and the peas were so round.

Anyway, some 2 or 3 years later, when I first went freelance, I decided a stand-out trading name was needed and went for Dancing Fish Productions – I considered Dances For Peas to be just too cryptic. However, when it came to purchase a web domain there were already a wealth of Dancing Fish related domains well in use. I didn’t want my site to get lost among the weeds of dance studios, fishing supplies and aquatic pet merchants and so looked up dancesforpeas. Surprisingly not a single available domain extension was taken…odd.

So there you have it, Dancing Fish Productions, dancesforpeas, it all makes perfect and logical sense.

The fish himself has evolved a little over the years, donned the occasional costume and changed colors as he has seen fit, but our logo is still well rooted in the original (below). One day, I will even get him dancing for real.

 

The Muppets: Communists my hand hole!

(Now I know this has been out for a while, but when you have a 2-year-old it can be difficult getting out to the movies. Especially when that 2-year-old won’t sit still for more 2 minutes.)

Some would have you believe that The Muppets is a liberal Hollywood tool to indoctrinate our children with a message of ‘money is evil’. Really?

In truth, The Muppets is 102 minutes of, for the grown-ups; reassurance that we aren’t remembering the classic 70’s characters through rose-tinted glasses, and for the kids; fun, entertainment and some great song-and-dance numbers (well mostly but we’ll get to that).

When I was growing up, one of the regular staples of my Saturday evenings was The Muppet Show. It was a show that was great for kids with bright colorful characters, crazy stunts, songs and decent message slotted in for good measure. But, as I have grown to learn as I have gotten older and watched the show back again, there was plenty in there for the parents who were watching along with their kids with topical gags and just a little irreverence and a knowing self-awareness to keep you engaged with the characters. And what characters they were.

What is great about this movie is that it hasn’t lost touch with its roots. It still has elements for both audiences except that now the grown-ups are the kids who used to watch the TV show. It is also self-aware enough so as to poke through the ‘fourth wall’ without knocking it down on top the audience.

The Muppets begins with an introduction to our main protagonists, Gary (Jason Segel – How I Met Your Mother) and his suspiciously Muppet-like brother, Walter. We watch as they grow up together and as they discover (and Walter develops a borderline obsession with) The Muppet Show. The film then begins in earnest as we discover Gary will be leaving his Smalltown home to take girlfriend of 10 years, Mary (Amy Adams – Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Enchanted), to LA for their anniversary. But it’s ok, Walter is coming as well, and will finally get the chance to meet his Muppet idols. They arrive at falling apart Muppet Studios with no sign of any actual Muppets. While taking the official tour, Walter steals into Kermit’s old office where he overhears the plans of oil tycoon, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper – The Bourne Trilogy, American Beauty), to tear down the studio and drill for the oil beneath. Only one thing could stop him, if Kermit could raise $10m by midnight on Friday he can buy the studio back. And there is the plot for the rest of the movie. Walter, Gary and Mary then embark on a mission to find the Muppets, get them back together and put on a telethon to end all telethons to raise the money. Typical Muppet hi-jinx ensue with healthy dose of self-discovery, song-and-dance numbers and celebrity cameos.

Now, it’s not perfect. There are a few wrinkles in the felt. Firstly, a conspicuous lack of Henson in the credits, due to the long legal battle over ownership of the Henson properties resulting in Disney acquiring the Muppets and all associated materials while the Sesame Street properties going to Henson (ever wondered why you never see Kermit on the Street anymore?). Peculiarly a very similar situation makes an ironic appearance within Kermit’s ‘Standard Rich and Famous’ contract which is the anchor of the film’s plot, succinctly laid out for us by Statler and Waldorf.

Secondly, not only is Oil Tycoon, Richman the bad guy, he is also a bad rapper.

And finally, though to be honest this is the least of all, it is very Jason Segel heavy. Not too surprising as he is one of the film’s writers but, whereas in previous Muppet movies, and the TV show, the billing is very much ‘Starring The Muppets, co-starring *insert human actor celebrity here*’ The Muppets is much more ‘Starring Jason Segel, co-starring The Muppets’. Like I say, though, this is the least of my complaints. Segal is engaging and entertaining, has a very good singing voice, is not too shabby a dancer, and is able to hit all the performance points needed in such a film; serious, heart-felt and comedic. And with the latter he stands out with an understated, dry and often dead-pan delivery. He is not working for the joke but the joke just works.

The supporting cast of Cooper, Adams and, of course, the rest of The Muppets, perform very well, especially Adams who gets to showcase her sing and dancing talents. Jack Black is, well, Jack Black. Then there are the numerous celebrity cameos. Whether it is Selena Gomez expressing “I don’t really know who you guys are, my agent just told me to show up”, or Neil Patrick Harris answering the telethon phones with, “No, I don’t know why I’m not hosting this?”, all do what they are required to and no more, no-one tries to scene steal.

So, all-in-all, The Muppets is a worthwhile watch, whether you want to re-engage with your childhood, introduce your kids to your childhood or even if you’re just a raging Jason Segel fanatic, it’s all in there. Bring on the new Muppet Show.

4.5 / 5

The Muppets Trailer

A day in the life

I know this has been done exactly one million times before, but it gives you an idea of what life is like for us. Being a freelancer has its perks – flexibility (don’t tell anyone, but I sometimes work in PJs in bed) and making your own hours being just two benefits, but you also have to be very resourceful, have initiative, be solely self motivated, disciplined and a great multi-tasker.  So although this is a typical day, there is no such thing.  As you’ll see, we juggle parenting and work seamlessly….mostly…

6.30am: Woken abruptly from blissful sleep to shouts of “Mummy! Daddy! Mummy!” Mummy and Daddy groan and try to work out whose turn it is to take the first shift. My body sinks lower in the bed as the shouting increases and it dawns that it is my turn. We sometimes get a chance for a shift change, depending on the work schedule of the day. Today, unfortunately, I just have to get up and won’t get to go back for a catch up snooze.

6.35-8am:  Commence playing with trains. Son obsessed with ‘bong bongs’ (named after the sound level crossings make when they go down). I’m sprawled on Wee Man’s foam floor tiles which are letters and numbers that he can pull out. At the moment, ‘U’ and ‘C’ are favourites because they can become tunnels for the trains. Kettle is on, first tea of the day, also checking emails.

8-8.15am: Justin is slowly brought to life with a cup of tea and Cheerios (also a favourite in this house – a good circle goes a long way).

8.30am:  Justin is working remotely with a company in the UK, so goes to log on so that they can Skype communicate while the UK is awake (we are 6hrs behind Scotland). He’ll work with them directly like this till around 12.30pm our time, coming in occasionally for a cuppa.

9am: I’m writing emails, getting us both dressed (yes sometimes it takes a while); Wee Man is allowed to watch a little TV (PBS, so it’s worthy and educational, and also good quality). Right now, it’s Curious George, which we both like, and Cat in the Hat, which I’m not so keen on because I think the Cat’s voice is wrong. But hey, it’s got songs that Wee Man can dance to – always a good thing.

10am: TV off and gather everything together to get out the house. It’s a mild Dallas day for December (13C/55F), so we don’t have to bundle up like we had to do in the UK. Currently Hurricane Bawbag is happening in Scotland – a bit of a crazy storm. We’re off to the library for ‘singing and dancing’. Wee Man’s favourite. They also read books to the toddlers, but that’s not quite so much of a draw. We do take this chance to get some more books out – including one on using a potty, our next big challenge – and play on the sculptures handily placed outside the library.

12pm: Back home for some lunch. We had read a Christmas book that included cheese and crackers, which gives Wee Man an idea. Cheese, crackers, grapes and oranges for lunch. I’m snacking as usual, but will eat when he is asleep for this nap. I’m grateful that peer pressure from going to ‘school’, Wee Man has learnt that napping is good for you and doesn’t have to be an opportunity for a big fight, like it used to be. He sees his ‘moo-cup’ and wants to go down for his nap, which makes my life so much easier. Music is on, lights down, off to sleep and me off to work.

12.30pm: Justin stops in for some lunch. He is a NPE, a non potato eater (I know) so he compromises with a baked sweet potato. I get an update on how the project is going – good progress today – and start my work. Today I’m continuing to write test questions for a publishing company.

2.30pm: There are many ways that Wee Man has woken up from naps: teary, with cries, hungry, with “I want more cars” and “Daddy, I’m up” being some of the best ones. Today I get just a gentle “Mummy” and a smiling face on a bouncing boy. I struggle to get him out over the belly (did I mention I’m nearly 5 months pregnant?), and we head to the afternoon shift after a relatively calm nappy change.

2.45-4.45pm: Today Wee Man and I are cooking gingerbread cookies and I’m going to attempt to make a big batch of Chilli. I love cooking and the gingerbread recipe is one I really like, stolen from Julia Child of the movie Julie and Julia fame. It is messy, fun and five times longer than if I’d done it myself. We make Stars, Hearts, Christmas trees and one big Moose. In the middle, Justin comes in, and takes over playing with Ethan while I get on with the Chilli. He also takes him for a walk to the shops to get some ingredients I’m missing.  I’m not a big spicy eater, but Justin is and I try to at least add a little warmth to my normally more bland Chilli. One of the benefits of living in Texas, and any country that is not native, is learning about new ingredients. Today I’m adding in Okra, a vegetable unknown to me until I moved here. I’m also using Cilantro (also new to me) and more conventional Cumin, Turmeric and Paprika, and a good ol’ British OXO cube. Wee Man is disappointed with the OXO Cube, it is small, shiny and brown, but not chocolate.

5-6.30pm: We all have a little bit of playtime until dinner. We’re having soft tortillas with our Chilli, so it’s easy to make it all up. I sit down in a comfy chair for the first time today and it feels lovely on tired feet. We sit down and have our dinner together, Wee Man eating more tortilla than anything but at least gives the Chilli a try. Lots of cheese is eaten, as usual.

6.30pm: Bath time is started. This can go well, or badly. Today goes quite well, although all the many bath toys are tipped out. We manage to get nappy and pyjamas on without a fight so we head to our bed for story time.

7pm:  Wee Man has taken to going under the covers for story-time, which makes it dark and hard to breath, not the best story telling environment. We manage a few books, then, because it is a good night, he wants to go straight to bed. He takes his milk, his blanket and we put his waves on (the sound of ocean waves, I think it was because I went for so many walks while pregnant through Newhaven harbour in Leith), and amazingly, he goes without a fight or a shout. I take it back; this is not a typical day.

7.30pm: I’m tired, but I pack up my things and head to Alex’s, who is the director of the film I’m producing, where we’re having a production meeting. Kelly, who is our business development producer, is already there. We start with ordering some food, more things I’ve never tried – fried green tomatoes, which are great – and then down to business. We’re going over a shoot we did last week, planning for another one, and printing and writing Christmas cards. It is a good meeting, I enjoy working with both in my team, it is energising and productive, but our printing takes longer than hoped and it is a long meeting.

12.15am: Arrive home, pretty exhausted. Justin is still up and working, as usual, and I fill him in on the meeting.

12.30am: I crash out in bed, ready for what the next day will hold.

Colleague nominated for Annie, tipped for Oscar

Scene from Ignacio Ferreras movie - 'Wrinkles'

Huge congratulations to Ignacio Ferreras (and wife Rosanna) who we worked with on The Illusionist.

His directorial feature film debut has been nominated for an Annie (the animation Oscars), and looks to be a wonderful depiction of friendship and aging. Highly deserved by a very talented artist, and on a very tight budget.

Here’s a little more about it:

http://www.animationmagazine.net/features/how-to-create-a-spanish-gem/