Ellie Explorer Behind the Scenes: Life as a WildBrain Producer
Published: August 10, 2018
Ever wondered what goes into making a great kids’ show?
From ideas on paper, to writing scripts, to building sets and editing green screens, a lot of work goes into producing a finished episode ready to be watched by millions around the globe.
For all those curious about how we at WildBrain make the great shows you love, we’ve conducted a behind the scenes interview with Senior Producer, Nico Lockhart.
Nico is lead producer on a number of WildBrain classics and has most recently released Season Two of Ellie Explorer. The new season takes on a new format and introduces us to two new characters, Obo the monkey and E.V.E the AI device. In this interview, Nico shines a light on all the work that goes into getting an episode from script to screen.
Hi, Nico. What’s your favorite part about being a kids’ show producer?
I love working with other creative minds to make content for children and the element of teaching that involves. We’ve made a lot of changes to Season Two of Ellie Explorer, and so I’m interested in seeing how kids respond. It’s very rewarding to see fans watch and enjoy the show.
Each episode includes an ‘Explorer Fact’ about the animals or habitat featured. My hope is that kids learn something new through watching Ellie – it’d be great if they went on to bring this up in conversation with their friends or parents or used it as a starting point for wanting to learn more!
I also enjoy the amount of freedom involved in producing for YouTube. We’re coming up with our own ideas and really the only limiting factor is that you have to be quite fast and cost-effective.
Can you tell me a bit about the creative process involved in bringing Ellie’s adventures to life?
For each episode, I work closely with the distribution team and the channel managers. We discuss ideas or trends that the channel manager has seen perform really well with kids before on YouTube, and then we try to come up with a way to incorporate this into an Ellie Explorer episode. We always try to come up with an exciting and engaging story.
What about the challenges you encounter?
Right now, the biggest challenge is puppetry – it’s very tricky to direct a puppet, and the person operating it. The person currently doing it has a background in animation, which makes this a bit easier.
What does a day of filming look like?
We film the treehouse scenes in the studio, and then the adventure elements out on location – if that’s possible and depending on what the episode requires. We might not be able to go out and get some lions for an episode, but if we need a city farm or a zoo, those are places where we can actually go and film.
On set, we make sure Ellie’s treehouse looks nice and cozy, then we go through the lines with her. We have a pre-recorded track of the other characters, so she can bounce her reactions off of them. We try a bunch of different avenues to drive the story. It’s usually a very busy day.
It’s important to be flexible and adaptive on set and to keep pace. You can’t spend ages making it perfect, you have to just move forward sometimes.
If you had to pick a favorite episode, which one would it be?
I’d say the one where Ellie spends a day as a zoo keeper. I think most kids go through a phase where they want to work with animals, and that makes the episode extra-fun for our audience.
To film it, we spent a couple of days at an animal conservation center in Kent and shadowed the zookeeper there. We filmed everything he did – whether it’s shoveling poo, preparing food or playing with the animals so they don’t get bored. Because this is a conservation center and a lot of the animals are rescues, he also did health checks.
To save you the hassle, you can check out this episode here:
Now, let’s talk about the recent changes to the show. How did the treehouse come about?
Well, we thought it was important to establish Ellie’s character and give her a base. A treehouse felt like the most natural option because it places her living out in the jungle with Obo and E.V.E.
When designing it, we looked at different types of treehouses and even pirate cabins from TV. We wanted a good balance between homely and warm-looking, and an almost-chaotic explorer’s den. The feeling we were going for is that it’s alive with information, so we filled it with maps and books.
How did E.V.E.’s character take shape?
When creating the character of E.V.E., we were thinking of a device that kids would really love to have and also one that they’re now getting used to — like Alexa, Google Home or even Facetime. E.V.E. lets them travel to different places or go back in time and at the same time resonates with our fans’ current reality.
What about Obo? What was the inspiration for him?
Obo is meant to resonate with kids in how he’s figuring out the world and bumping into problems. His relationship with Ellie mirrors a big sister-little brother dynamic and we hope youngsters can relate to that.
Also, we decided that it would only make sense for him to be a monkey, as that’s an already-established trope in kids’ imaginations. He’s the quintessential cheeky, excitable, fun-loving animal character and so relatable that he’s almost human.
Then, when coming up with Obo’s voice, we just spent an hour in the sound booth, trying different voices until we found this one and it clicked.
Why do you think kids love Ellie?
I think it’s because every kid wants an older sibling they can look to for guidance and approval, but who also takes them on adventures. We hope that Ellie can be that inspirational big sister figure — upbeat, full of life and always looking out for them.
Now that Ellie can teleport, is she also able to time-travel? What new adventures can we look forward to?
Yes, for sure. The rules of the Ellie universe are very fluid right now.
I’d like to focus more on science and animals and from there, move on to history, space and more.
Yes, definitely. If she can teleport and time-travel, there’s no limit.
Thanks, Nico. Looks like we have a lot of exciting adventures to look forward to. Buckle up and stay tuned!
Posted by Sev Marcel