My Animazombs journey has been pretty interesting - so whether you're completely new here, or have enjoyed various parts of it already, this page/collection is to show what has gone into creating my little world - consider it almost a living diary for everything that's happened thus far!
The first official logo of the Animazombs
(more on that below!)
Summer 2011 - Dead Island online with friends - and someone asked why the animals never got the zombie treatment in games, and that it would be fun to see zombie giraffes running around in the distance - good point! I was pretty desperate to create my own original IP at this time so I ran with the idea and thought about making a range of soft toys...
The concept has evolved constantly over the past decade or so. Whilst remarkably different from current iterations, the original character designs paved the way for the Animazombs, but the rough edges have now been sanded away a touch.
2 . Further development across all nine original characters
I wanted each character to have specific features to set them apart from regular plush, so each animal was researched to find fun facts I could play with - such as the double-lobed brain on Edgar the Octopus.
3 . Right through to production drawings ready for factory
And of course, no product/brand launch is complete without a state-of-the-art accompanying website... *cough*
1 . First sketches of Edgar the Octopus and Thom the Elephant
THE INITIAL RANGE
The possible characters were endless, so I 'spreadsheeted' hundreds of possible Animazombs across a wide variety of different ranges. Initially, I set upon having three distinct sets; Savannah, Deep Sea, and Home (Pets) as I thought this ticked a nice cross-section of what I wanted, and with some light OCD kicking in, I settled upon 9 products, 3 from each:
EARLY LOGO DEVELOPMENT
With a variety of options on the drawing board (and at the time embracing the slightly macabre look which has now been shifted away from) we had some fun knocking logos up - some of these were a little similar to existing brands, which of course needed to be avoided, and some were just too downright dark - I'm looking at you #15...!
First pass at creating the Animazombs Logo
Development on the existing ideas - you can see the elements coming together for the final logo we settled upon
The first official logo of the Animazombs!
If you have products or items with this logo, then you have a piece of history in your hand!! Only a limited number of items used it - the original kickstarter series 1 plush toys, some posters and stickers, swing tags and boxes, and a possible few other nik-naks.
Although unrequired, I wanted to put together some interesting packaging for the products - mainly as an excuse to add more depth to the brand, but also to flex our creative muscles. We went through a variety of concepts, and for me, the box needed to be more than just disposable packing - so we ended up going with thematic choices: water tanks, shipping crates, and pet carriers for the three initial ranges (Deep, Savannah, and Home).
Packaging we ended up using - this is quite rare stuff now, I'd hazard only a few dozen people own any of this!
Images of the packaging designs - I ultimately didn't have the funds available to have double printed or with the plastic inlay, which was a shame. I also wish the dimensions were about 40% smaller, as they were far too big.
The rear of the packs had cool thematic veterinary note, water quality data, and shipping notes which essentially gave some fun product details and showed off the other characters in the range - I still love this idea - will hopefully get a chance to re-imagine all this on future products, but in "version 2.0"...!
Alternative packaging designs - some of these felt too hard hitting, even back on the old branding
THE ANGELL ERA
I wanted something additional alongside the plush products to help flesh out the narrative, give the characters extra depth, and generally open the brand to other platforms and licensing ideas.
Having previously advertised with comic publisher DC Thomson (Beano, Dandy) for the Nanoblock brand I introduced to the UK in 2010, I decided an Animazombs comic strip would be great - until some costs came in...! I was, however, lucky enough to have talented writer Dean Wilkinson pen a couple of comic ideas for me, so I reached out to a wide variety of artists to find the look I wanted, which led me to Jim Boswell and Nich Angell:
"Moi Money than Sense"
Artwork by Jim Boswell, Script by Dean Wilkinson
"Night of the Living Dog"
Artwork by Nich Angell, Script by Dean Wilkinson
Following on from the comic strip, I had Nich sketch up a few missing parts of the Animazombs puzzle - the Unbound Lab, Professor Unbound, and the Grandson, named Tom at this stage. I sent across some rough ideas, including a terrible sketch of my own (which I'll spare you from here), and his results were great.
The Lab featured on much of the early Animazombs work, and the Professor sketch saw some light as well - possibly in some old adverts. However, I think this is the first time the Tom sketch has ever been published.
If you're not aware of Nich's other work, I suggest you have a little Google - Cat & Meringue is particularly charming! :)
The Series 1 Characters in all their plush glory!
So, these are the characters you might be familiar with - I thought I'd start with a nice clean image of them all, but the journey to get to that point was far from easy or short.
The Animazombs went through quite a few different factories in order to get the best results which cost a lot in sample fees, but was well worth it. The images shown are but a tiny fraction of what was involved in this process - enjoy the selection...
THE PLUSH PEEPS
Thom the Elephant
Early samples of Thom were a bit pie-eyed... but I got there eventually!
When dealing with Far East factories, I added notes to the photos and emails to make life easier (and avoid confusion!)
Thom was the first Animazombs sample made - it was actually a grey version not shown here, but he's tucked away safely. I generally used Thom as a factory benchmark for quality - if they could knock up a good version of him, then I would proceed with getting the others sampled. There was one much fluffier mouse sample as well, which I sadly lost at a convention... :( bad times
I'm actually quite fond of the penultimate version shown here - he had great proportions, and a lower right arm as requested in one of my edits, which I really like; perhaps in the future I'll work from this sample for any new product runs.
People were generally quite fond of Thom for sure. I think it was the detachable mouse personally... or maybe the giant mascot costume of him that was always floating around!
Wilson the Giraffe
Wilson underwent the most surgery out of the Animazombs. You can see from the selection to the left how drastic the variants were and the fabric pattern is a good indicator of which factory is responsible for which sample, but also shows the number of factories I let have a go at Wilson!
The bottom (mid) right picture is the early draft of the final product, but between that and the finished product on the far right there were at least 7 other samples. This should hopefully show the level of work and detail that went into these characters, but also the importance of getting the production drawings spot on!
Sometimes things get lost in translation - this chap had a tail for a nose... highlights the need to be concise in dialogue!
Hand-drawn edits were probably the best method of getting across what I had in mind
If you're wondering what the two items in front of Wilson are, these date back to early ideas where Animazombs would always better their predators. The setup here was that you could reach into Wilson's stomach from his neck and find a lion's paw and eye-ball, suggesting that the giraffe had eaten them. I removed these small pieces to ensure the products got the best safety rating (they would fail a choke-tube test) but also the narrative steered well away from this macabre line, although there are still remnants of it on various characters which you can spot! (Bruno's dog walker's arm for example!)
A very popular chappy, he was the second to sell out of the initial stock! I think it was the ability to demonstrate his feature particularly well which helped - I had demonstrating the 'snap' down to tee - there's probably a GIF of it floating around somewhere! I'll dig it out and put it below Samuel.
First takes - most factories struggled with this design!
Samuel the Meerkat
The Meerkat also saw many variances from the production drawings - one in particular was quite rat-like, which I liked as a stand-alone design but didn't hit what I had in mind. The stomach pouch idea was missed on first attempts, as you can see from the below shot. Those bugs didn't make it to production either, for the same reason as the giraffe/lion parts.
Further development of the best sample to come from the initial factories - again, visual edits were a great way to get points across.
First 3 sample attempts from the factories - the middle chap paved the way for the final version.
Animated GIF of the features from S1 Savannah series - that's me doing the demo at various conventions!
Final version in various stages.
Actually done by a 4th factory
Snyder the Shark
Snyder proved the most popular character by far - I'm not entirely sure why, and when I asked people the response was generally along the lines of "... but it's a zombie shark!!!!"
The trickiest part was the rib cage design - no easy feat, but we eventually got there, again with the help of plenty of visual representation as many places interpreted the production drawings as just having the goldfish printed on.
Rib-cage design notations for the factory
The most under-looked design challenge is nailing the body shape, rather than specific features. If you compare the early versions to the end product, you can see the shape evolve across various styles - and of course how much impact it has on the overall look of the character. The above middle image looks more like an Orca, and that's literally down to pattern cutting - so, hats off to the employees who worked on the final product!
Edgar the Octopus
Edgar was another pretty popular guy - particularly with the younger audience. Possibly because he's pretty tactile compared to others. I've had quite a few messages from people saying it's their child's favourite toy (which is an incredible thing to hear). The design process was pretty straightforward and as the versions gained more embroidery (as opposed to the pencil and paper marks) the quality really started to shine - particularly on the underside.
The paper stick on sections allow a visual guide of what the product will look like without going through the cost of embroidery while in development. Quite useful when there are lots of edits made, but also really highlights the quality of a finished article.
Finished product - the embroidery really stands out on this one!
Wesley the Lobster
Wesley has been quite a niche fella... didn't quite go down as well as the other characters! He was always meant to be particularly quirky, more of a design piece than a cuddler you could say. I'm still quite fond of having a zombie lobster plush toy, just because it's something different - but I don't know whether he'll feature much going forward.
The claws were far too small on early versions - boosting the size of those helped to give Wesley a lot more character. The crab-trap armour idea needed a few attempts to get right, but the final version worked relatively well in practice, despite not making Wes a huge hit with people. I'm still pretty fond of of this character though, but imagine he might be dropped from things going forward.
George the Hamster
Despite being a key character in the narrative, the plush toy was quite weak in my opinion. It was ideally meant to have more features, but these had to be stripped back to ensure I passed all the safety tests for zero-rating - and so he ended up just being a simple big cuddly thing. With the Godfather of Zombies in mind, it's no surprise where George gets his name from... this was my homage to him and I actually have a plush version of George, signed by Master Romero himself at an MCM Comic Con we exhibited at.
The early versions of George looked more like a bear, but I actually quite like some of them - despite how different the final product looks.
The start of the final design - lots of work needed to get from the left to the right, as you can imagine!
Victor the Rabbit
Far more popular than George, Victor seemed to resound a lot with the teen/adult female audience in particular. This all predates the narrative, not that many people know about those aspects even today, so it had nothing to do with Victor being Sophie's companion in the show.
Again, hopefully the images show the amount of perfecting that was needed in order to slowly but surely convert the top images into the final product. With the exception of the squat chubby looking fellow, the top line all look rather creepy - which has never been the intention of the Animazombs. Despite the obvious cuts and bruises, the final character design still has a unique friendly look about him.
Bruno the Dog
Bruno - the most important Animazombs of them all (narrative speaking). The original story behind Bruno was that he pulled a little too hard on his walkers arm, and it detached... so he uses it as his own replacement. This of course no longer works in terms of the narrative, as that would mean he actually uses one of the Unbound's arms - also, the whole idea is too much for the new softer style of the Animazombs - so the whole design of this product is pretty outdated now!
Early versions of Bruno had slippers, but the idea didn't quite work, so was dropped. I thought the detachable foot was a little too gruesome as well, plus Victor Rabbit already had that feature - so it seemed lazy.
Bruno. another where body shape was important to get right!
There you have it - the development of the Series 1 soft toys... I didn't think I would go quite so overboard here, but to be honest this is just a tiny fraction of what went into the design and execution of these characters. With the character samples pretty much done, the next part of the puzzle was getting a manufacturing run sorted...
Taking into account MOQs and the fact I had a range of 9 products to launch, a decent chunk of capital was required for a manufacturing run, particularly as the toys were not only complex, but to be high quality.
Attempting to launch a new IP with limited capital and experience, and no audience, proved essentially impossible - I'd failed to mark the surface, let alone crack the toy industry and so back in 2013 I decided upon launching a Kickstarter campaign to help generate the funds needed. In retrospect, KS was not the platform for a new product line, not even back when KS was 'cool', but it did prove successful with a little late help from someone..!
The nine characters - this style looks incredibly dated now, but everything is a learning curve!
The next stage proved a turbulent time, particularly as I ran into great difficulty with the toy agent I chose to help me. Of the catalogue of errors, accidentally shipping the products from China to the USA instead of the UK was certainly up there, and delayed fulfillment of the campaign by well over a month. Eventually the Series 1 Kickstarter was behind me, backers were happy, and a great product was at the ready!
In the early days of the Animazombs, I met a few retailers who were interested in stocking the characters before even seeing the finished products - they just knew straight away it was for them, whether from a personal connection or business choice. Finding these kind of retailers is great, and of course they're always the smaller quirkier places, or in the particular product market.
Here are a few of the places that stocked the Zombs in the early days, while I was just starting:
The London Bridge Experience
Many thanks to James Kislingbury for his support
Small shop in Norfolk called Henchmans
This is from 'Camera Obscura & World of Illusions' in Edinburgh - a fantastic attraction up t'north! The buyers were lovely - thanks Alyce! I actually lent them my rabbit mascot costume to help them out and I got quite a few fun videos and pictures back from them...
Firebox were the first company I sold Nanoblock to - and they essentially helped me quit my regular job with their order - so I met them a few times with the Animazombs and ended up stocking on their website. They went in quite a dark direction, as you can tell from their product images, which I don't think was quite the right choice - again, this kind of helped me to change the whole visual direction of the brand, as I realised a 'darker' look wasn't right.
I had this brochure put together by Alan at the 'Tam Design Group' - a local business (support small/local peeps!!) He worked on various Nanoblock bits for me, and so was my first port of call when it came to this. He did a great job as always, and at a great price for a local biz - thanks Alan..!!
I spent some time of trying to sell the product into large retailers - and started to make good progress in various places - but as often the case, a lack of experience, capital, clout, confidence, whatever, tended to get in the way.
Case in point to the right - you need to get used to this sort of thing, because it happens every single time, until it doesn't... then the disappointment just comes a little later on instead. No joke. It was a shame, because this was a huge European distributor who could have placed the product in multiple countries at very decent levels. But they didn't - so I did the same thing I've always done for the last decade: shrug my shoulders, find out exactly what went wrong, fix it/learn from it, and crack the fudge on.
This generally happened for quite a while - I worked with business consultants, had meetings, went to Toy Fairs, e-mailed brochures and samples - all the usual things, but was struggling to catch attention. In 2014, I re-approached Jon who was still employed at a London based company, and we started a little bit of work on Series 2 - as I was quite keen to keep the forward momentum - but the key update came in 2015 when Jon added me on LinkedIn, now a Freelancer...
I was incredibly keen to have Jon pen more work - I felt like he was coming from the same place as me with things, so I had a new website drawn up by him which was to have the full Unbound Labs as the landing page, and you clicked on the various Range Biomes to navigate around.
The 'new' style totally changed the whole appearance of the Animazombs - I had other artists pen things, but nothing struck a chord with me as much as Jon. With its cartoony look, we steered away from the macabre, graveyard-esque styling and focused on the bumbling professor. I was looking at everything from a product driven point of view, so this was all designed thinking of games and toys - and this mentality has remained throughout.
Pushing on, we ironed out the Animazombs graphical identity into its current iteration - the whole style was exactly what I wanted! The logo was incredibly outdated, and so this was also changed to reflect the new direction.
Jon's cleaner vector work - for use on large print
With some swanky new graphics, and plenty of renewed vigour - it was time to get out there - although this time, rather than B2B trade shows, I focused on direct to consumer - namely Comic Cons! We'd taken the mascots to these places before with great results, so I looked into formally exhibiting.
TRADE FAIRS & COMIC CONS!
The best years of my journey was easily time spent at Comic Cons - I'd taken products to shows such as the NEC Spring & Autumn Fair, The BTHA Toy Fair. and Hyper Japan (amazing!) but the MCM Comic Cons were on a different level. I started with dealer tables, and progressed to decent size corporate spaces by the later events
Spring Fair 2012 - Martyn in the costume!!
(and boy could he make it pop)
Later shows were more successful, especially with the products on full display, ready to be ordered.
The Spring Fair 2012 was the first exhibition I did for the Zombs - Hall 3, Stand F43 tucked away at the back. I had no products, just a badly done leaflet (on the left for prosperity), an awesome mascot, and some printed banners.
I did actually get quite a lot of attention, but with nothing to really sell other than an idea, nothing concrete came from it - I think people mainly enjoyed Thom the Elephant dancing (thanks Puddy!)
Early Hyper Japan slot - included into a Nanoblock stand
Spring Fair 2014 - samples actually on display
THE MCM ERA
Post brand updated, the shows became far more engaging - the vector artwork Jon put together gave us a huge appeal, and people flocked to see what we had on offer. Praised for having something unique and different, the Animazombs attracted a brilliant fan base, but more importantly highlighted that people loved the characters.
Interestingly, I was constantly asked the question "is this a TV show or computer game" and looking back, the artwork certainly gave that impression. My usual response was "no, but wouldn't that be great..." and that really was an influential factor into pushing ahead with developing the show.
The mascots were created by Frenzy Creative - and given that they worked from the plush toy production drawings and a few sketches, they did a superb job!
Thom & Wilson - from construction through to Comic Cons, World Zombie Days, and more!
Victor came to the party later - but he definitely got stuck in...
This is us meeting Miltos Yerelomou at one of the LFCCs - I hadn't watched Game of Thrones at this point, so had no idea who he was, but he was a gentleman of the highest order and wanted a picture! He was kind enough to send it over via email, and so I returned the favour and sent him a Thom & Wilson Animazomb to say thanks - I hope he still has them!
Zombs at Covent Garden! They went down well given we just wandered around a bit...!
The Three Legends - should be a show itself..!
Over the course of things, I would occasionally receive fan-art - generally from people we'd met at Comic Cons as we didn't venture out much! But what an honour...
ONE STEP FORWARD...
A few great opportunities came from being at the MCM Comic Cons - one investor introduction, and interest from Penguin Random House publishers. Despite having meetings and making some progress, both of these avenues fizzled out. Not sure whether it was me personally, or just one of those things - but needless to say it definitely knocks things back a bit when good opportunities fail. On the plus side, we did start putting together pilot episodes, beat-boards, and most importantly - a pitch bible for the brand!
The 2017 Pitch Bible - the first real steps to getting somewhere!
Click to enlarge
Along the years I also had various discussions with Frederator (probably best known known for 'Adventure Time') initially under their "GoCartoon" banner, but then more directly. I tried to pitch the Animazombs to them on three different occasions spanning 6 years - each time taking on board the excellent feedback provided and spending a very decent amount of time refining what I had to try and hook them in. I could never quite hit the mark, although much of their content is incredibly character-driven, whereas the Animazombs (at the time) was far more concept-driven.
Whilst working on the above prospects, I was also beavering away on Series 2 characters - a lot of work had gone into these new designs, and the Kickstarter page was carefully crafted and ready to go for Halloween/Christmas 2016 - but I (stupidly) delayed launching as I wasn't sure what was happening with Penguin and the prospects seemed pretty positive at the time. Someone else I know had dealings with them, only to just go off the grid - so I think it's just possibly something they do. This delay meant I launched the Kickstarter in January, so in retrospect it was pretty much doomed from the beginning - let alone the fact that KS had already become a very different platform by now.
Series 2 line-up - new graphical identity, and some great new characters!
I cancelled the campaign with the intention of relaunching at a better time - but in all honesty, I was pretty beaten down - the cost and effort that went into the preparation was incredible, and I was failing to get any exposure. I think only a few hundred people even saw the KS page - and without that viral hit or huge existing audience to seed things, I was barely treading water.
I was feeling optimistic about the Series 2 launch, which greatly increased the sting of failing to get noticed. So a little time away from everything was needed - an autopsy was required to see where I went wrong (marketing... definitely!)
Ultimately, the Animazombs had cost a lot - not just financially, but also in terms of my time, and the opportunity cost of other projects. The problem with creative endeavours is actually making money from them! Yes, the plush products were selling well, but they were expensive to manufacture at low MOQs, so margins were slim even dealing direct to consumer,
As a creative with a handful of autistic quirks, I always have about 400-500 projects on the go at any given time... and one of these was the creation of a private cinema company called the Torii Cinema Co. It started after my home-made Hobbit Hole went a bit viral on the internet. It was meant to be a mini-cinema, but ended up flooding,,,
The Hobbit Hole - great fun to build, tricky to keep dry.....
After the Hobbit Hole came the Cinema - I actually received a call from Alan Titchmarsh's production company with regard to filming a piece on my underground den - alas, it was already buried by this stage (enjoy that future archaeologists!!)
Designing and building cinemas kept me busy for a while - each build takes a good month (or three) depending on circumstances, as I hand build them alone (with a touch of help from Alec or Han here and there) but are a great artistic outlet! The Animazombs were slightly on the back burner while I considered options. Here's a sneaky-peeky at my cinema builds:
Now, the Animazombs were certainly not dead and buried - in fact, you can spot Bruno and Thom in a picture above... so I was still trying things, even alongside other projects. A key attitude shift came when I built a cinema for a Hollywood producer and mentioned my Animazombs project to him. Despite not having animation contacts, he assured me it was worth pursuing and provided assistance in pushing it out there. Nothing concrete happened through this, but it did drive me to create a new pitch bible with Jon and have yet another crack of the whip.
THE 2019 PITCH BIBLE
After completing the first bible (which I still love, but looks incredibly dated now) Jon had knocked up a couple of new images which I called his "HD versions" - here's an example of what I'm talking about:
So, for about a year we worked pretty darn hard on creating a completely new pitch bible - not only with these far improved visuals, but purely aimed at selling an animated series concept. The 2017 bible was an unfocused mess which had great artwork and highlighted the rough concept, but little else... and that's on me, for sure!
By contrast, the text in the 2019 pitch bible had 854 hours of pure editing time, let alone the artwork, and now the booklet was completely focused on attracting an animation studio or producers attention. Jon's work was utterly splendid so here's more of it:
Concept of 'Sophie Unbound' from sketch, to ink, to full colour - a superb composition highlighting all characters within an atmospheric location
The pitch bible version was completed in December 2018 and I had a small list of companies to approach. Getting this information alone is pretty tricky, but I managed to get a few copies out into the UK animation industry relatively quickly. Replies were slim - Collingwood & Co returned it with a very complimentary message, but declining as they were focusing on their own IP - but not many other places acknowledged receipt or replied.
With the UK companies I chose not responding or bowing out, I created another list compiled of animated shows I really enjoyed, found the production companies out, and tried to approach them. I researched shows like Archer, Big Mouth, Bojack, Futurama, The Hollow, Paradise PD, and Final Space to name a few, and tried to find useful contact details (very tricky!) - I was extremely pessimistic about making any progress here, but as luck would have it, I managed to get the new Pitch Bible in the right place at the right time.
Over the last 18 months, I've been working with a Hollywood animation/production company responsible for some of the best shows out there - with pilot scripts written, pitch assets polished, and a series overview created, we've been busily preparing for studio pitches. Having developed a solid location (currently "Sparks Cove") and new key characters like Bartley, the show gains more promise every day:
Full colour of various Animazombs, a location concept of Sparks Cove, and character sketches for Bartley!
With all the work that has occurred to date, I was practically packing my suitcase when COVID-19 kicked off... rats!! (bats!) and things have become a touch uncertain/delayed again (someone is toying with me up there).
I recently backed up my Zombs folder though, and was pretty astonished by how long it took, so thought I'd share the stats: 5,651 files across 415 folders weighing in at 24.8gb... it's funny as some shows have probably been sold with a single piece of A4 paper, maybe even one line, but I'm an outsider trying to create something huge, and as they say, when you do something you love, it doesn't feel like work at all.
I'll keep making what feels like progress, even though I'm not sure when I'll reach the finish line; saying that, it's actually the starting blocks I'm aiming for... must be what Olympians feel like - a lifetime of training just to get into the race.
In the great words of Kele Okereke - "So Here We Are"... what happens next? The animation industry seems to be adapting pretty well in these strange times, thriving even, according to something I saw recently! So, maybe this is a blessing in disguise...
TO BE CONTINUED...
As you made it to the bottom, here's a small gallery of things I've not released anywhere else! Also, I apologise for my bad grammar above, mainly with tenses - it's tricky because so much has happened, and so much is ongoing, it's hard to keep track of whether I'm writing past or present; so I've ignored it completely and just blurted stuff out...
Alternative Animazomb designs - the cat is a Schrodinger nod, the idea being that you could open a box one of two ways to see either an Animazombs or normal cat. Still might work on this concept going forward. I dropped the Orca as it felt too pushy - plus I wasn't sure about having human limbs ripped off by this point.
Some other designs for Series 2 - including an undergrowth series...
There was even a Professor Unbound plush in development - all his clothes were separate pieces and of course, he was anatomically correct - but I've blanked that, as once it's out there, it's out there..!! Oh, and there's my early Unbound concept I said I'd spare you from...! It's very old - 2013 actually - so I don't feel quite so bad about the quality!