Creature Comforts

Creature Comforts on TV: Water bugs talking

Intro from Jay Allison: Transom is proud to welcome the creative team behind our favorite animated series, Creature Comforts. If you haven't seen it, get thee quickly to their Transom pages and catch up. This series comes from Aardman Animation in England (home of Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, etc.), and is inhabited by claymation animals whose identities are derived from audio interviews with real people. There's a kinship between radio and animation, because we all imagine the source of voices we hear, and if our imaginations are free-ranging and whimsical, the voices might look like this. Kit Boss, Richard "Golly" Goleszowski, and Dan Sinclair talk to Transom's Samantha Broun. The conversation is transcribed, illustrated with audio/video, and is downloadable in MP3. There's also a "Making Of" video, and all sorts of background and technique, including interviewing. And you can ask questions. This is good stuff. You'll like it.

Eyeballs and Fiships: The Making of Creature Comforts

Sound and Voice

Samantha Broun from spoke with Supervising Director, Richard “Golly” Goleszowski; Executive Producer, Kit Boss; and All-Star Interviewer, Dan Sinclair from the Aardman animated television series, Creature Comforts.

Listen to “(Almost) the entire interview”
Transom: As radio folks we’re all for things that start with sound and voices. My first question is, is this the only piece of animation that’s sound driven? Where the soundtrack is unscripted and comes first?
Golly: [Nick Park and Aardman Animations have] a massive history of using vox pop type material. We recorded stuff in old peoples’ homes, and a radio station, and a local magazine. One of the films was an interview with a, a petty criminal that was just reproduced. It was a guy talking about his criminal past.

But Creature Comforts was the first one to subvert what had been recorded and turn it into something else. That was a brand new idea at the time.

Kit: Golly, I don’t mean to contradict you, and I could be wrong. Wasn’t there an Aardman short [prior to Creature Comforts] where old people were talking about going on holiday?
Golly: Oh, of course, yeah, sorry. Ignore everything I’ve just said. It’s complete bullshit. [Laughter] Yes, there was the one in the old peoples’ home. It was in an old peoples’ home, but for the purposes of the film it was set on a desert island. So, it was plane crash survivors talking about how they actually quite liked it now on this on the desert island, which was old people talking about the old peoples’ home. Yes, sorry Kit, you’re right.
Kit: Nick definitely took it and pushed it further and then Golly, when you did the first Creature Comforts in the U. K. I mean, Golly thinks in this kind of lateral way of taking audio and sliding it sideways. We kept talking about taking things that were meant for one context and ripping them out of that context and putting them in a new context that gave them a lot of humor, and a whole new level of subtext.

Golly’s the best at it. One that I remember distinctly, Golly, you were in L.A. listening to audio that we had just brought in. There was a guy from San Francisco, I believe, who was being interviewed about very mundane things, and he was really ill at ease and would laugh nervously after everything he said.

Golly: He came across as sounding dishonest. He was asked a question about birds and he said, “I don’t know anything about birds,” and kind of laughed nervously. So it was kind of useful to have him as a fox. “Birds? Why, I don’t know anything about birds, no.” And then in his shrug the fox momentarily produces two chickens from behind his back, so we can physically see he’s lying.
Kit: It was one of those interviews where there was that moment of magic, you know. It was just a coming together of his discomfort and the right topic, and it was completely spontaneous and unplanned. Although Dan, I have to say, is really good at getting that out of people.
Dan: And sometimes the interviewer will be surprised by what Golly and the team think of. I interviewed these people in an Indian restaurant and they were talking about how many Indians they’d had — they’d had three Indians on the premises that week. They were turned into two tigers in an Indian village, with little huts in the background. So when they were talking about how many Indians they’d had, they’re literally talking about eating Indian people, rather than Indian food. I think sometimes what I do is try out lots of different ideas. I might go through five or six different animals in my head that I think they might be, and go down different lines of inquiry.
Kit: I have one, Dan, though you weren’t the interviewer. The idea was to get a couple of wine snobs to talk about wine, and taste some wine, and do the actual inhaling of the bouquet of the wine. And then turn them into dogs just hanging out on a street corner, sniffing each other and being very snooty about it, very kind of high-minded. Talking in these lofty terms about the bouquet, and the scent of raisins or whatever.
Golly: “Hint of cassis” was my favorite line. “Hmm, hint of cassis, hmm, perfect.” [Laughter]

In Search of Good Tape

Transom: When you guys send interviewers out, what kind of qualities do you tell them to look for in people?
Golly: My favorite line, and you said it, I think, Kit, was: I’d like you to record people that you wouldn’t normally sit next to on a bus.
Kit: Polar BearIt’s funny because Dan had the exact 180 degree opposite opinion. He was like, “Oh, I love to sit next to these people on a bus.” [Laughter] So, people who never give a short answer to anything; people who, you ask them the time of day and they tell you their life story.

A lot of it had to do with trying to break interviewers of standard, run-and-gun, man-on-the-street interviews that they might do for radio stations. To just take the time to find people who have nothing on their resume that would make them an interesting feature topic. We wanted normal people who happen to have interesting opinions, or who happen to have really interesting voices. That was part of it too.

Golly as an animator and a director knows that what the animators love is to have subtext, and to have the sound of acting that they can then animate to; where you imagine the expressions on the person’s face, or you imagine their body language. There are some people who are very animate-able, who are very animated when they speak.

Golly: The real magic, in animation terms, is when you can make somebody say something, but you believe they’re thinking something else. That’s the subtext thing, of which the fox would be a good example.
Transom: So you’re sort of animating what’s not being said.
Golly: In an ideal world, yes. And sometimes it’s just in a funny way. Sometimes it’s just pricking pretension.
Kit: I like to find people who take things seriously because we can sort of undercut that a little. People who are full of themselves, but don’t have a reason to be, is inherently funny.

On Interviewing

Transom: What qualities make Dan your all-star interviewer?
Golly: Dan InterviewingWell, I thought Dan was actually very brave, quite sort of fearless. He’d go into situations where a lot of interviewers wouldn’t want to go to because it was just too much effort to interview people. And he wouldn’t let a subject go. If he felt he was onto something he would absolutely mine it, and plumb it, and milk it for everything it was worth. Which was terrific for us because then we had lots of great material about one subject that we could piece together.
Kit: Like any great interviewer, he was not afraid to make himself look stupid.

One thing Dan was so much better at than the average interviewer was not just talking to a small circle of friends. Part of that is about not just going to interview people that you would naturally spend your time with in your social hours. Find people who are of different social classes, whose sense of humor maybe rubs you the wrong way. Or somebody who’s old enough to make you feel a little bit uncomfortable, or young enough that you feel a little bit awkward around them. Dan was great at moving out of his own class and age, and he had an amazing ability to bring in really good interview subjects. Partly because he would do a lot of pre-interviews, you know, so he was willing to do his homework in that, too.

Golly: He’s also good looking and slightly built, so he could get into lots of situations.
Kit: Right. I swear to God, women just wanted to wrap him up and adopt him and take him home. Older women especially, just wanted him to be their grandson/boy toy. And I know there were some circumstances where, talking to older interviewees, he didn’t go out of his way to make his British accent easier to understand. He didn’t go out of his way to speak at the top of his voice so someone could hear him at all times. He knows that it can be really funny if someone misunderstands a question or has trouble hearing something. He was always hyper-aware of the possibilities that surrounded him, and of not leaving anything untried.
Kit: Have you thought of a particular place you went into that made you feel a little uncomfortable?
Dan: I think probably the place I felt that I stuck out the most, and looked the most absurd, was the wrestling place in the British series.

It’s an incredibly masculine environment, very butch. What they’re doing would probably be described as very homoerotic, but they would never see it as that. I just could not have fit in any worse. Everyone was very aware that I was there, everyone was looking at me like, what on earth is he doing here? That meant I had to work a lot harder to try and get the trust of the interviewees, so that I could get what I needed.

You can never sit back and think, oh, I know that I’m a good interviewer. I don’t think it’s a learnt thing. You can’t learn to be a good interviewer for Creature Comforts, you can improve, but I think that either you can do it or you can’t. If you can — and I don’t want it to sound pretentious — but if you can, if you are naturally a Creature Comforts interviewer, you just have a sixth sense for what is a Creature Comforts interview. I still think in those terms now. If I’m on the bus or in the London Underground and I’ll see someone and hear their voice, hear how they’re talking, and everything that’s non-verbal, their mannerisms and things like that.

Although you want the sound, it’s someone’s mannerisms and the way that they’re interacting that gives you all the clues. I still think of people as Creature Comforts characters. And I think you either get that or you don’t.

Kit: It’s great when you find people who will reveal themselves and reveal their relationships. Because there’s no reason that they should, and there’s so many reasons they shouldn’t let somebody with a microphone know what really makes them tick. Dan and the good interviewers are the ones who make the person feel like they’re really interested in what they have to say no matter how mundane. It’s so unusual for some people to find anyone who wants to hear them, who really wants to give them the time to say what’s on their mind. A lot of people open up really wonderfully when you do that.

Working with Strangers

Transom: Dan, how do you approach people you don’t know? And how do you get people to relax and be themselves?
Dan: Hamster with MicHow I approach people, I don’t know, there’s just no easy way around it. I’d say that’s probably one of the hardest bits, ironically. It’s just going up to someone that you don’t know and asking if you can interview them. And if I’m doing vox pops, I might want to interview them there and then. You’re always thinking, you know, are they thinking I’m just some absolute weirdo. [Laughter] So that’s the biggest thing in my mind.

When I approach someone cold, I’m just quite serious about it, and explain what I’m doing and tell them quite a lot about the TV show. It was harder in America because many people haven’t heard of Creature Comforts. You just have to be brave and be prepared that some people might reject you, and think that you’re weird, and that you’re trying to rob them or do something bizarre.

Kit: I think they assume that you’re some kind of leprechaun or some kind of elf from a magical kingdom.
Dan: Yeah, so they’re thinking what’s he trying, what does this one want? Once you’ve got the microphone out and you’ve started recording, then they’re fine because they realize what you’re doing. They very quickly get distracted from wondering if you’re for real, because they start to enjoy that someone is actually interested in what they’re saying.

Putting people at ease, I think humor is my best weapon for that. If you can just make someone smile or chuckle then they automatically warm to you. I won’t put on an act because if you’re not yourself, people pick up on that, and they probably won’t be their selves either, because they’ll have some type of guard up. But what I do is allow the more bumbling side of my personality to come out, and there is an enormous bumbling side to my personality. They feel at ease because I come across as a normal person who’s a bit bumbling and possibly even a bit incompetent.

If I just went in as this media savvy, straight-to-business, know exactly what I’m doing sort, that’s the worst thing you could do for a Creature Comforts interview. That would make them feel very self-conscious: “Am I going to say the right thing?” I try and make sure that they don’t have any expectations of the interviews being a certain way, a certain standard. That gives them permission to, oh, well, he doesn’t really quite know what he’s doing, doesn’t know what he’s looking for, I can just be myself, it doesn’t matter.

Kit: That same technique always served me really well when I was a newspaper reporter and doing feature articles, profiles about people, where you just let that side of you come out. I would let myself be a bit more Columbo than I would naturally be in real life. Ask things in a roundabout, “Oh wait, I forgot to…” kind of way.

What I saw happen with Dan, and I’ve seen it with myself too, is that people start to feel a little bit sorry for you, like they need to help you make this work; like they feel you might get fired if it doesn’t turn out well.

The Gear

Kit: InterviewingWe tried to get everyone using the same type of digital recorders. We gave a lot of advice about what sort of mics, in our experience, work the best, what formats work the best, what kind of file transfer protocol to use, all that stuff. That being said, we had one interviewer who was using analogue tape in some of his interviews, and we had others who were using top-end, NPR type recording gear because they worked on the side as network, or NPR correspondents. It definitely wasn’t very high-end stuff that you were using, Dan.
Dan: The digital technology has got so cheap and so good now that you can actually get a decent Sony microphone and a minidisk recorder. The way that we did it was to record on standard minidisks. Then they’d be digitized in real time, which was really time consuming because you’re dealing with hundreds and hundreds of hours of audio. Now these little digital recorders you can actually plug into the computer and transfer it across a digital file. Literally, it cuts the time down enormously.

The kit that we use is not expensive. What’s the priority there is the technical competence of the interviewer. It’s not rocket science, but if they don’t pay attention, if they haven’t had some type of professional training, then it can make the interviews really difficult to use.

Golly: Yeah, we had a few disasters, didn’t we? The other thing I wanted to add is, I personally like the varying quality of recordings, as long as they’re audible. It kind of adds to the realism. When we had a sound editor and he’d clean all the tracks up, I said actually I’d prefer it left because it sounds like what it is. If you clean it up too much, it all sounds too studio, then you pull people out of the realisms and they start thinking of it as a drama.
Kit: When you leave some of the ambient noise in, or some of the stuff that an audio engineer would try to clean up at the final mix, there’s something about it that makes your ears perk up a little bit and say, wait a minute, this does not sound like everything else that I’ve watched on TV. Even down to the level of the audio being a little bit dirty, to me it sells the realism of it and the fact that we didn’t make these things up.
Transom: When you would have a group of people you were interviewing, how would you mic that?
Dan: That was really tricky. The interviewer does need to be pretty competent with what they’re doing. There was a situation I remember on the U. K. series where we put multiple mics, and had a sound mixer, and the interviewer. That went against a lot of what we were trying to do with people being at ease and natural, because there was equipment and an extra person making them hyper-aware they’re being recorded. The mic frames that we use have a setting where they can pick up sound from a wider angle. I would interview quite large groups and just use one mic. You just have to predict who’s going to move next and actually move the mic to pick them up. That was the best way.

Creature Comforts is sort of different from anything else I’ve worked on where you’d put radio mics on them all and then have a boom mic above, and get perfect sound from everybody. But it’s about people being themselves, so you have to compromise a bit. Like Golly and Kit were saying, if the sound’s a little bit dirty, and not perfect, and rough around the edges, it adds to the atmosphere.

Kit: I think Dan may have done the interview where two old guys were talking in a retirement home and one of them leaned forward and actually touched the mic. He either bumped into it or he turned the mic to himself so that he could make his point. And Golly had seeped enough into my head by that point that you hear that and go, oh, that’s going to be great to animate to — to have the animator have this lion lean forward and adjust the microphone so he can make his point.
Transom: It sounds like you leave a lot in, but do you ever add additional ambience or even a sound effect?
Kit: We would add some source music sometimes, coming from afar, you know, radio or boom box. We would occasionally add traffic noises to things that were set outside. Or barnyard noises to something that was in that kind of soundscape. So yeah, we would try to richen the environment sometimes with noises like that. It’s not like we had somebody in the room doing foley to picture, but we had someone at another location that our sound guy would call and say, “OK, we need four good sounds of a door slamming.” And he would create some of those sounds himself. They weren’t just things that he pulled off a hard drive somewhere.
Dan: The foley would never leave the narrative. I think it would exaggerate what was already there, but maybe wasn’t picked up very well in the original recording. Or if someone’s environment had been changed and they were suddenly in water, well, obviously the interview wasn’t done in water. Extra sounds would be added just to help contextualize it so the sound would be consistent with the image.

On Becoming a Creature

Salmon Drawing
Behind the Microphone

Transom: How do you decide on animals for people? What it is that you hear in their voices that helps you decide what kind of animals they’re going to be? And do you know what people look like when you assign them an animal?
Kit: I can answer the second one first. Except for those interviews that I conducted myself, I never knew what somebody looked like and I was a bit of a nut about avoiding any sort of on-line image. A lot of the interviewers in the office got really got into their characters, into the stuff they would listen to. They would occasionally start surfing the web trying to find some kind of image, to see what they really look like. I did not want to see what these people look like. But Golly, why don’t you start talking about pairing voices with animals because you’re the master of it.
Golly: Animator and PigsA boring answer is that I kind of go on what people say. I always take the compliment when people say, “Oh, that fits great. The character looks just like the voice.” But usually it’s the performance; it’s the acting that matches the voice.

For the second series we were testing animators. We were giving them clips from series one and we were pairing them with different animals from the series that the voices didn’t come out of, and golly, they nearly all worked. It was very rare that they didn’t work. It’s hard for it not to work, if the acting is good.

I suppose design-wise I’d always choose a character based on what the character said. But occasionally you have a voice and it’s great to match it. You spend a lot more time on particular ones. I think the lions in Creature Comforts U. S. A. were great designs for the voices. They just matched so perfectly these kind of old, noble, and quite scary guys. So we made them into old, noble, scary animals. It worked really well. Sometimes it’s fun to subvert it. You get a very small character with a really deep voice, or a big character with a high voice. There’s all kind of permutations.

Kit: What is rare is finding animators who are talented enough to make a creature come alive. If an animal doesn’t have any life to it, the animator hasn’t been able to imbue it with a sense that it has weight, and that it gestures in a natural sort of way, then it would seem like a bad pairing for that voice. But because the animators are so good, and they fill these things with life, people respond that way and say: oh, yeah, that was such a great choice, to have that animal for that voice.
Transom: Were there ever voices that you loved and you animated and they just didn’t work?
Kit: DonkeyThere were certainly voices that we loved initially, and then they just didn’t quite pan out for whatever reason. But that again, I think, speaks to the high standards at Aardman — we had built into the process the freedom to try a few things that we would then throw out because they just weren’t good enough. I never really learned a lot of lessons from the ones we threw out, other than make sure when you say you want a character designed you really want the character designed. Because otherwise they’re going to get mad when you tell them you didn’t want that character built after all. It takes a lot of people a lot of time to make these things.
Transom: Do you ever find that people are offended by what you end up turning them into?
Golly: I don’t think anyone was offended, but no one likes the sound of their own voice, that’s a given. But when they see their voices put into the mouth of a slug or something, oh-h-h… We don’t make our animals particularly good-looking, nothing you’d find sexy.
Kit: We didn’t have anyone who took exception to any of it. I think it’s just that the character design is so great. It’s like, oh wow, what an honor to be turned into an Aardman animal…. Aardman historically is always very good-natured in their sense of humor. They don’t kick the little guy when he’s down, they have a very generous spirit about things, and I think that comes through.


Transom: Last question, I’m curious what your sources of inspiration are – beyond Aardman.
Golly: I’m a big fan of Gary Larson, which sat very squarely with Creature Comforts. Talking animals. He’s been a big influence on me. And silent comedy. This could all go back to Laurel and Hardy particularly and the rest of them. I like silent slapstick comedy. You can all wake up now.
Kit: I would say that’s not boring at all.
Golly: [Snores, all laugh]
Kit: Flies on a CanI grew up on the Merrie Melodies cartoons and can’t get enough of Bugs Bunny and Road Runner and all of those. That was what I had drilled into me as a kid after school. So that’s a huge source. As an adult, I’ve been a big fan of documentary filmmaking — the Maysles Brothers and anyone else you care to name who’s doing interesting documentary work. I tend to draw inspiration from filmmakers who take a documentary approach, who are concerned about making it feel real. Anything from Mike Nichols and The Graduate, to more recent Alexander Payne movies Election and Sideways. Movies that are concerned with trying to capture realistic, feeling characters, and find the humor in real situations.
Dan: I feel very inspired by everyday situations. I’ll see someone in everyday life that I don’t know, involved in some type of situation, and I’ll imagine what life they come from, what they do, what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, what motivates them. And that makes me excited about the possibilities. That person on the street you could see as just a mundane person, or you could see it as it’s this whole, if you open up what’s inside, what’s happened to them in their life… So I guess it’s the human condition I find inspiring.
Golly: Or talking, it sounds like to me. [Much laughter]

Painting Gorilla

Part 2: How Dan Does It

Dan with Wrestlers

Dan Sinclair sent us two of his favorite clips from Creature Comforts America. Read about them below, and then check out the raw interview tape, the transcript of the interview and the final animated clip.

Here’s what Dan has to say about these interviews:

Both interviews were carried out in a quiet room in old people’s homes in LA. I found the interviewees by asking a few simple questions of a staff member who was very familiar with the residents of the home.

For example, I asked “who stands out as being a character?” If they instantly said, “Oh, you’ve got to speak to Joan,” then I knew I was on to a good thing, i.e. if a person came into their mind that quickly I knew they must be a strong character. The great thing about this is the staff member acted as a sort of filter – they were familiar with hundreds of residents and only named a few. Rather than interviewing many people with the hope of finding the odd good one, I found people who could act as a gatekeeper.

Food Fuse

Listen to “Unedited ‘Food Fuse’ interview tape”

Read the transcript of the “Food Fuse” interview

When I started interviewing Gita I realized she was a great character – however her English was not that good and she was a little hard to understand. I also quickly realized she was finding it difficult to understand my English accent. I did not change the way I spoke to make it easier for her to understand. It was actually quite funny when she was asking me to repeat myself. As a result, when we came across a word or question she could not understand I stayed with it – which is how we ended up with the “Food Fuse” clip. I think this is a good example of how the interviewer can sometimes interact in the interview and actively create material.

Rhino & Bird

Listen to “Unedited ‘Rhino & Bird’ interview tape”

Read the transcript of the “Rhino & Bird” interview

Creature Comforts logoAnother question I asked the staff was: “Which people bounce off each other and have an interesting relationship?” In this case, I wasn’t looking just for characters but for people that had a dynamic between them, and not just those that argue and are funny, but perhaps subtle unexpected relationships too. That’s how I found Roland & Wilma, the couple in the “Rhino & Bird” clip. I was told they had a close relationship and quite a touching story. I had to work hard to gain their trust, and I did this by simply being myself and not acting too professional. Being natural and being myself created a relaxed atmosphere. It did not feel like a formal interview, which allowed Roland & Wilma to open up and say what they really felt. I tried to make it feel like we were all having a chat and I happened to be holding a microphone! I think this is a good example of getting the interviewees to drop their barriers and bare their souls.

Kit Boss

About Kit Boss

Kit Boss was raised in Michigan surrounded by farm animals and religious zealots, then worked as a print journalist in Seattle for most of a decade before selling out and becoming a TV writer. He won two Emmy awards for his work on Disney Presents: Bill Nye the Science Guy. Since then his credits include a long stint on the animated series King of the Hill, a much shorter stint on HBO’s attempt to re-invent the dirtiest sitcom ever, Lucky Louie, and the shortest stint yet as executive producer of the U.S. adaptation of the much-lauded, much-loved Aardman animated series, Creature Comforts. He currently pickets with his fellow striking WGA members in Los Angeles.

About Richard Goleszowski

Richard GoleszowskiRichard Goleszowski (aka:Golly) was born in Suffolk, England in 1959. After completing a degree in Fine Art at Exeter, he spent some time working as an illustrator and DJ before joining Aardman in 1893. During his first nine years at Aardman he worked on several short films and promos including Morph, sledgehammer for Peter Gabriel, Pee Wee Herman’s Playhouse in New York, his own film Indent and Rex the Runt pilot films.

His commercial work includes Domestos Big Dom, Grolsch, Cadbury’s Crème Eggs, Weetos and Maltesers and several commercials for the European market.

In 1992, Golly left Aardman to pursue a freelance career during which time he worked in New Zealand as Production Adviser for Oscar and Friends, and wrote and directed 13 episodes of Rex the Runt for BBC2, winning the Carlton Award for International Animation at The Indies in 2000.

He then went on to direct Robbie the Reindeer in 1999 for the BBC Animation Unit. Robbie went on to win 19 international awards including a prestigious British Academy of film and Television Arts award (BAFTA).

Following the success of Robbie Golly worked for two years developing projects for Aardman’s feature film department a s well as overseeing the second series of Rex the Runt as Executive Producer.

From 2003 he directed two series of Creature Comforts — 2×13 episodes for ITV based on the Academy Award winning Nick Park short film. The first series went on to win 17 awards, and both series were nominated for BAFTA. The second series includes a half-hour Christmas special.

In July 2005, Golly rejoined Aardman as Creative Director of the busy Broadcast and Development team, writing scripts, and overseeing new projects in development as well as working on his own ideas.

Destined to be a huge success is Aardman’s first TV series for kids, Shaun the Sheep. The series is inspired by Nick Park’s A Close Shave but it is Golly who devised the 40 part series and has overseen the project as Series Director. Shaun the Sheep debuted on BBC1 & CBBC in March 2007 and has already been sold to 150 countries around the world.

About Dan Sinclair

Dan SinclairDan Sinclair was born and bred in North Yorkshire. Dan’s first job in television was directing short community based films for regional television in his university town of Bournemouth. He then spent over a year in Bristol at Aardman Animations as an interviewer on the UK series of Creature Comforts. After this he travelled the world as a field producer for Discovery Channel’s ‘Reel Race’. Dan moved to London in 2005 and has worked his way up to producer & director roles. During this period he worked in LA on Creature Comforts America. Daniel recently co-directed a 30-minute documentary for channel 4 television. He is currently working as a producer on channel 4’s flagship factual entertainment series ‘Gordon Ramsay’s f word’.


  • Melissa Allison


    Perfect Diversion

    I just wanted to say that I came to check this out (while I’m avoiding work) and I haven’t been able to get to the discussion yet, because I keep watching the clips over and over. brilliant, brilliant, hilarious work!

    can’t wait to read the behind-the-scenes (when I’m avoiding work tomorrow).
    thanks so much.

  • Jesse Dukes


    lateral thinking

    I remember when the "looking for people to record" for Creature Comforts messages went around a couple of listserves and I thought about trying to do it and decided the whole proposition was unappealing (despite being a huge fan of Wallace and Gromit). Part of it was it didn’t seem particularly related to what I was interested in–documentary. And that’s true, it isn’t really, but I’m a big fan now.

    The whole concept of "moving the audio sideways" is great and fascinating, and I’d like to learn how to think that way. It makes me try to brainstorm other examples of lateral thinking: Definitely David Greenberger’s work. Maybe Todd Haynes using Barbie dolls to tell Karen Carpenter’s story qualifies in some way, too. Anything else?

    Also, I’m a huge fan of Lu Olkowski’s story for Studio 360 about recording her parents for Creature Comforts.

    Check it out here:

  • Jay Allison


    by the way…

    …here’s a sweet, funny Studio 360 piece from Lu Olkowski about recording her parents to become Creatures. They wanted to be gorillas or love birds, but they’re… bees. Funny bees.

  • Lu



    Thanks for liking and linking to the story.

    The story came about because Michele Siegel at Studio 360 (who met my parents previously) learned my parents were going to be in the show. She thought it would be a great idea for a piece. (I think Studio 360 has a soft spot for stories about contributor’s parents.)

    Jesse, I don’t know much about moving the audio sideways, but the Creature Comforts concept always reminded me of the Hubley’s work. For those not so familiar with them, John and Faith Hubley were experimental filmmakers who used recordings of their children as vocals in their animation. Very different style than Creature Comforts, but really fantastic.

    Wondering if Golly and the folks at Aardman were inspired by them…

    Their “Moonbird” won an Academy Award in 1959.

    This one is called “Cockaboody.”

    More about them:


    P.S. My parents had a good time, although as I told Jay, CCUSA got a tremendous amount of tape of my father asking, "Are we done yet? George Stephanopoulos is coming on in 45 minutes… in a half hour… okay, you have 5 more minutes… no, no, I’m done. It’s Georgie time." I’m amazed that they were able to make anything out of the tape I gave them.

  • Lu


    A BIG Congrats to Kit, Golly and Dan!!!

    Creature Comforts won an Annie Award for Best Animated Television Production. (The other nominees were "Robot Chicken Star Wars," "Moral Orel," "Kim Possible," and "Jane and the Dragon.")

    This news came via Kit who described the Annies this way, "As you know, the Annie is one of the most prestigious honors in the animation industry, second only to the Nobel Prize. The trophy itself resembles a huge gilded nose-hair clipper and will, I presume, reside in the cafeteria at Aztec West."(Where ever that is.)

  • Viki Merrick


    Surprise ! You’re a drooling sloth…

    I too am victim of multiple viewings…I also have favorite snippet on the UK homepage: it’s in the right-hand corner.

    So the hope to be a lovebird or a gorilla manifests itself into a bee…a very funny bee at that, but I’m wondering if anyone ever freaked out in offense at what animal they are morphed into…Can you talk a little about making that decision and walking the line between dead-on accurate hilarity and risking hurt feelings/stereotyping issues.

    At our house we go through phases of identifying voices with possible CC animals and I confess to being slightly envious that you all may be having a better time "at work" than I do…

  • Scott Gurian


    use of audio

    I really love Creature Comforts, but I’m wondering if you ever got any complaints from people about how you used their interviews. I mean, it’s one thing for people to dislike the claymation animal you decided they should be, but did people fully understand when you spoke to them how the context and circumstances of their comments could be changed? I’m wondering, for instance, whether the wine connoisseurs would have agreed to speak with you if they realized that you intended from the beginning to turn them into dogs sniffing each other’s behinds! Obviously, if you told them that, it would have changed the entire dynamic of the interview, and you probably wouldn’t have gotten good tape (and to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have said anything if I was in your situation), but did you ever discuss these sorts of ethical considerations?

  • Richard’golly’Goleszowski



    Very chuffed over here in England. Well done Kit,Dave,Merlin,Gareth,Michael,Chad,Casey,Ben,
    June and everyone else involved in the show.
    Let us be smug in Victory! Golly xxxxxx

  • Richard’golly’Goleszowski


    Hubley’s work

    Hi. I didn’t see Cockaboody’ or ‘Moonbird’ ’til a few years ago. Lovely atmospheric films. Thank you for the links. Great to see them again.

  • shea shackelford


    f’ing brilliant

    i first found creature comforts back in 1999, around the time i was first considering bagging my then career for the life of an audio producer. an intern turned me on to it. we’d just gotten our first LCD projector at work and our first set of computer speakers with subwoofers, atom films had just begun hosting the short film, and i made everyone’s day when i set up a the makeshift theater in our conference room and popped on creature comforts instead of some lame-ass power point presentation. to this day, if i said, "i need meat … fresh meat" (in a brazillian accent) half-a-dozen of my friends would visualize that lion and say one of the following "we need the space to live" … "the pollen, which gives me hay fever EVERY DAY" … "nice water, you know … to dive, to swim in (while simultaneously making his diving and swimming gestures).

    if you just had the tape and said "close your eyes and pretend this was a talking animal instead of an old lady" it would be a pretty good conceit. but for me, creature comforts is f’ing brilliant because it only begins there. the off-camera activity, the subtexts created between different animals on the screen, etc … it’s all playing off of what’s rich in the audio but taking it so so so much further without beating the idea to death … like i’m starting to do here.

  • Richard’golly’Goleszowski


    Ethical consideratios

    It wouldn’t be funny unless you at the very least, gently poked fun at the interviewee.
    We had some rules about not humiliating the interviewee, and we may have crossed the line once or twice, What say you Kit?
    In the UK series, we interviewed a guy from a sect that believed Jesus was about to return in a UFO and he talked about cosmic energy radiators.We turned him into an alien selling radiators in a hardwear store, which his organisation didn’t like. Maybe best to keep away from faiths, no matter how bizzare.

  • Kit Boss


    Regarding the location of Aztec West

    In response to Lu Olkowski’s very kind congratulations on the Annie Award, and question about where the trophy would find a home: Aztec West is not, as many assume, the name of the best Mexican restaurant in Bristol, England (that honor falls to Ye Olde King’s Head Tacqueria). Aztec West is the name of the industrial park that houses one of the main studios of Aardman Animations, where "Creature Comforts USA" was animated. Also, it’s where all the production took place on the first season of "Shaun the Sheep" and several Wallace & Gromit movies. The cafeteria not only serves the best cake I’ve ever eaten, a delight called Victoria Sponge, but also features several trophy cases chock-full of awards and such memorabilia as a doodle by Matt Groening on the occasion of his visit, and a narwhal tusk that bears an uncanny resemblance to Nick Park (one of those things may be untrue).

  • Kit Boss


    use of audio

    In response to Scott Gurian’s question of Feb. 10: We certainly did talk about the ethical considerations, and I thought about it even more than we talked about it. I always felt like I could hold my head high if we proceeded with a generous spirit, being careful not to make anyone come across as being stupider than they were in real life. Also, I would never want to make a joke at the expense of, say, someone baring their soul about the loss of a loved one. But I lose absolutely no sleep about undercutting the seriousness of subjects that don’t deserve to be taken all that seriously (such as wine-tasting).

    We always told our interviewers to inform their subjects in general terms how the audio could, potentially, be used. However, it probably wasn’t the easiest thing to grasp unless you were already familiar with the original Nick Park short film, or the British version of the show.

    As for the complaints you mention, no, I haven’t heard of any so far. Probably because so few people ever saw the show when it was televised, and also because I am constantly surrounded by a cordon of flunkies and yes-men who insulate me from such unpleasantness.

  • Kit Boss


    Ethical Considerations

    Golly suggests we may have crossed the line once or twice. Let me see…

    I would have to say no, unless you consider water-boarding to cross some sort of line. In our defense, we only used the technique in the case of a woman who we had decided to animate as a fish.

    No, seriously, I have done plenty of interviews in my professional life as a journalist. And I’ve always thought the hard part is when you obviously run up against a subject that your interviewee finds unflattering. My tendency at that point is always to ease up a bit. That’s human nature among decent human beings, I think. But as executive producer, I know that when I would listen to field interviews I more often wished that the interviewer had gone further. Not in the sense of picking at a scab until it started to bleed. But by using the power of silence. To let a question hang in the air, and let the interviewee talk his/her way out of it, rather than having the interviewer change the subject.

    Which I guess proves that some of the asshole-ish Executive Producers out there are made, not born.

  • Samantha Broun


    sideways thinking

    Going back to the notion of sideways thinking for a minute – was this something each of you brought to the job or learned once you were there? I’m also curious how, if at all, the skill of sideways thinking translates to your life and/or jobs post-Creature Comforts? Is it something you continue to use? I can imagine never seeing or hearing the world the same way again.

    In regard to people being offended by the creatures they were turned into – I had the good fortune of doing interviews for the series and none of the people I interviewed were bothered by their animals. I do wonder though if the fact that the series was cut short is a reflection of the American public’s inability to laugh at itself.

  • Ari Daniel Shapiro


    creature delights


    I have so enjoyed watching these videos — they are rich with real humor and life. I’d love to hear even more about the process of choosing the animals that accompany a particular interview and span of tape.

    Ari Shapiro

  • Kit Boss


    more on sideways thinking

    To respond to Sam’s question of Feb. 12, wherein she won’t let this notion of sideways thinking die:
    In some sense, it seems to me that every creative act involves an exercise in lateral/sideways thinking. I mean, there’s the logical part of your brain that’s always trying to make sense of the plot, and figure out, well, if this happens then what should happen next? Or trying to structure the syntax of a line so a joke is as funny as possible, just in the way it’s expressed, and how the information that’s required for the joke to make sense gets doled out. And then there’s the part of your brain that’s engaged in trying to take something that’s familiar and twist it in a new way, so that suddenly it comes alive and carries all sorts of new meanings and associations.
    Okay, this all sounds very vague and hi-falutin’ so now you probably want an example from the non-Creature Comforts world. Let’s see… I think a few TV shows are distinctive because they’re full of lateral thinking. "Seinfeld," for instance. Or "The Sarah Silverman Program." Or especially the kind of improv-based comedy being done at the Upright Citizens’ Brigade, or by The Kids in the Hall, in their heyday. As Golly has mentioned in the past, Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons were filled with sideways thinking. In a more general sense, I think every comedy worth its salt tries to take topics that are out there in the culture and look at them in a new way. It’s something I tried to do when I wrote for "King of the Hill," and every other show I’ve worked on.
    Jeez, it’s hard to talk about comedy. Such a fragile creature. And by dissecting it, you almost invariably kill it. What’s the famous quote (like most famous quotes, I’ve seen it attributed to half a dozen different people, but I remember reading it once in an interview with Elvis Costello): "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." The same could be said of what we’re engaged in here.

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