A Flash-Animated Game Show Host Wags his Tail on PBS’s FETCH!

Just when you thought you had seen every possible variation on the reality/game show theme, the producers at Boston public broadcaster WGBH and Vancouver’s Global Mechanic toon house have come up with a completely new and original spin. FETCH! With Ruff Ruffman, which premieres this Memorial Day Weekend on PBS, features a Flash-animated canine host that interacts with the live-action tween-aged contestants. Targeting six- to 10-year olds, each episode of the entertaining show follows one or more of the six kids as they embark on mystery assignments, doled out by Ruff, the pooch-in-charge.

The task of animating Ruff fell upon Matthew Charde and his talented team at Vancouver-based shop Global Mechanic. FETCH!‘s exec producer Kate Taylor says she’s thrilled with their handiwork. ‘We were looking for someone to help us with the visual representation of our dog,’ she notes. ‘We knew what the character was going to be like, so after looking at their reel and some of their previous work, we asked them to develop Ruff, and we fell in love with what they came up with.’

Charde tells us that his team went through almost a hundred designs, and they finally found their ideal dog in the most unlikely place. ‘It was the last one, and it was a doodle someone had tucked away on the corner of a page. Kate and Kathy [Shugrue, senior producer] loved that one and we fleshed out the final design based on that drawing.’

Obviously, planning the logistics of a game show which mixes live-action sequences shot in a barn in Roxbury, Mass., and Flash-animated footage of the host afterwards (using Ruff’s voiceover) was a challenge, but Charde says his biggest concern was creating a cool character that would do justice to the show’s scientific ambitions. (Funded in large part by the National Science Foundation, the series incorporates scientific explanations and theories as the kids investigate the world around them.) ‘Ruff may be a dog, but he’s not a clich’,’ he explains. ‘He’s a reality TV producer, but he’s also a New England dog. He’s witty, sarcastic and sharp, and the kids are his buds.’

Each half-hour episode of the show requires up to eight minutes of animation from the folks at Global Mechanic. The Vancouver team also delivered the opening titles and online graphics for the show, working with a 10-week delivery timeline. Charde says Macromedia’s Flash software played a crucial role in the process. ‘It’s a paperless production, and the team at Adobe are very interested in continuing to work with us with their newest version of Flash. We did composite work in After Effects and used Final Cut for in-house editorial work and employed Photoshop here and there. We didn’t ship anything out.’

Both Taylor and Charde are happy that the 20 episodes created for the first season have resulted in a second season order. However, the team is thinking of shooting the live-action parts at the WGBH studio in Boston instead of the converted barn. Animation fans can rest assured: Ruff Ruffman’s agent says he’ll certainly sink his teeth into his hosting duties for season two.

FETCH! With Ruff Ruffman airs weekdays on PBS. Check local listings. For more info, visit http://pbskids.org/fetch.

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