Rob Bishop was discovered by chance on an art website, namely the infamous deviantART, where we stumbled on his animation: ‘The Adventures of Ravenspawn and The Willow Man’, a strange fairytale featuring animated versions of Noel Fielding, of the Mighty Boosh, and Russell Brand (Big Brother’s Big Mouth, St Trinian’s). Jo Whitby had the pleasure and privilege to interview the “Ominous Voice and creator of Goth Superheroes” as he sometimes calls himself.
Cat On The Wall: Who is Rob Bishop? Please tell us about yourself.
Rob Bishop: I am an Illustration student at the University of Gloucestershire. I have been alive on this planet for 25 years. I was dead on Saturn for 3 months previously. The rings were pretty, but it’s no place for a corpse.
I’m what some might call a geek. I like all the usual nerdy stuff, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, a bit of Star Trek. I have, as of late, experienced a resurgence of interest in all the old cartoons I used to watch as a kid back in the 80’s. Transformers, ThunderCats and Masters of the Universe have all become just as awesome to me now as they were back in the days before mobile phones, except He-Man’s haircut. That was, and shall forever be the worst haircut in the seen and unseen universe. So, right now, I’m a bit of an 80’s cartoon bitch.
COTW: What made you decide to create an animation about the ‘Goth Detectives’ aka Noel Fielding and Russell Brand?
RB: Oooh the meat and spuds of the matter. I like you. You’re right in there, like Miss Marple on crack.
I was forced at knifepoint… nah, I jest. The idea sprang to me while watching the Big Fat Quiz of the Year 2006. I, like so many others, witnessed the birth of the Goth Detectives. As Jonathan Ross uttered those immortal words I knew there was something in there. In fact the name ‘Ravenspawn’ originated on the same show when Russell contemplated the name of the team, on account of Noel being likened to the offspring of Rod Stewart and a raven.
However, rather than do a straight take on the Goth Detectives, I took it a step further and made them superheroes. Ravenspawn materialised pretty much instantaneously, whereas Russell needed some extra thought. I saw that his backcombed hair looked a bit like a tree and expanded on that theme by giving him morphogenic tree branches for limbs. Thus was born the Willow Man.
COTW: ‘The Adventures of Ravenspawn and The Willow Man’ is a pretty spectacular animation! How long did it take you and what was the design process behind it?
RB: As a flash animation I don’t think it’s particularly good. I’ve seen far better in terms of quality. ‘The Brackenwood’ series by Australian flash animator Adam Phillips is by far and away the finest flash animation I have ever seen and really demonstrates the potential of Flash as an animating tool.
My humble creation on the other hand took me about 6 months to make, on and off. It was very much a ‘when-I’ve-got-the-time’ project. I started the project in March and finished it in September. I could well have done it sooner but I took a bit of time off in May-June as my grandfather had passed away.
The design aspect was pretty much off the cuff. If I needed a background or a prop, I’d draw it there and then in Flash. The characters are like puppets. Each body part is drawn separately, placed on different layers and animated independently. All that is quite easy once you know what you’re doing and getting into the swing of things. Lip-synching is a bastard though. It takes aaaages.
COTW: You could be fooled in thinking Russell and Noel wrote the dialogue! When you were writing the script was there much preparation involved? What did you use as inspiration?
RB: This took a lot of watching Noel and Russell’s stand up. I had to pick out their idiosyncrasies and use of language. Russell is very flowery with his language, and uses more syllables than an episode of Countdown. His vocabulary and flourish rival that of Stephen Fry. Behind that dandy facade lies a devastating intelligence. Noel on the other hand is like an over eager child in his delivery. He also comes up with some fantastic metaphors, such as “Look at you, the shrew, with your long body, like a sock with a tennis ball in it.” He also likes the word ‘genius’ a lot.
Most of the dialogue in the cartoon was improvised on the spot during late night recording sessions. I think it gives the characters that degree of spontaneity and helps the dialogue flow better.
I recorded the dialogue at night because I live in a pokey little flat in the centre of Cheltenham with walls made of rice paper, and it’s the only time it’s quiet enough to record without intrusive noise. There is the howling of the wolves, but that’s a different story for a different time.
COTW: I was particularly impressed with the characterisation of Russell, the voice and the way he speaks is very convincing. How did you perfect the voices?
RB: I’ve always had a knack for vocal impressions. I wouldn’t say I was as good as Jon Culshaw or Rory Bremner (although my George W. Bush is spot on) but they’re recognisable. I tend to do this by watching by subjects carefully and listening to their voices.I noted the tone at which they speak, the speed and their inflection. Then I just started imitating them like a stalker.Ominous Voice, being my own creation, was an amalgamation of Darth Vader and Tom Baker, with lots of reverb.
I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’ve perfected the Noel and Russell impressions, but I’ll get better with practice. I can, however do all of Noel’s various character voices like The Hitcher, Old Gregg, Tony Harrison and of course the Silver Grey Monkey.
Then of course there’s the David Walliams’ Demon of Sexual Confusion. I was a little worried that the caricature didn’t look much like him, but I still went with the voice I’d planned. That was a slightly deeper version of Sebastian from Little Britain. Oddly enough, I got an email from someone who said if she hadn’t seen my name in the credits for the voices she’d’ve sworn it was Walliams himself, which was nice.
COTW: You also wrote the music for the adventure. Did you create it specifically for the animation?
RB:The theme tune was written a long time before ‘Ravenspawn and the Willow Man’ was even a cheeky little twinkle in my peeper. Thing is, I don’t really consider myself a musician. I can’t read or write sheet music, I know next to nothing of music theory and I can’t play a single instrument. I usually just do remixes and rearrangements of various TV, movie and game themes. ‘Where Snow Never Falls’ was the first original track I’d done in a while. I used it in the cartoon primarily as filler, but it fit the tone so well, I just left it in. With the exception of the transformation sequence, which was my recreation of Steve Jablonsky’s Transformers movie theme, the various incidental music was just some loops taken from Flashkit.com.
COTW: Have you created any other animation, if so, please tell us about them?
RB: The only other animation I have that’s available for viewing is ‘Tales of the Forest That Looks Enchanted But Is Actually Rather Mundane: Scrabble’. Or ‘Scrabble’ for short. A 1-minute short about Dave the Wise Wolf and Gavin the Owl playing scrabble. The characters are based on my short stories found on my MySpace page. Dave is a scrabble master. He can make words out of bits of string and melons, while Gavin… er, can’t.
‘Ravenspawn and the Willow Man’ and ‘Tales of the Forest…’ are all part of the same universe and Ominous Voice features in both.
COTW: Can we expect another amazing adventure with ‘Ravenspawn and The Willow Man’?
RB:Yes you can. The next episode will feature Julian Barratt in a prominent role. There will be an icy new villain and the Silver Grey Monkey will return. I’m refining the character designs as well as improving the animation. The characters will be more dynamic in their movement. It’ll be slicker and more stylish, like a Michael Bay movie in animated form but with an actual plot.
COTW: What are your plans for the near future?
RB:Aside from finish Uni with a juicy degree, I want to churn out as many cartoons as I can really. I’d like to see both ‘Ravenspawn and The Willow Man’ and ‘Tales of the Forest…’ continue as series. Oh, and set up a proper website.