Get Squiggling! began life as a simple squiggle on a piece of paper while I was on a beach in Cornwall. By the time it had been commissioned by CBeebies controller Michael Carrington in November 2006, it had become an ambitious interactive proposition blending live-action and animation: a big technical challenge for me, the least technical person in television since Captain Caveman.
Squiglet is a monster who lives in a white world which, with the help of his squiggle pad (paper) and squiggle sticks (crayons), soon becomes a vibrant, multicoloured landscape filled with magical characters which leap off the page and interact with him.
Each show's new guest character has a problem which needs solving and only through more squiggling, singing and an adventurous dip into the real world are answers found. There'd be a lot going on and it was time for my super-organised producer, Tracy Nampala, and I to find some clever people who could help us make it happen.
Our basic production plan was hammered out with the help of the fantastic animation company Blue Zoo. Our scripts were storyboarded, and Squiglet would act out each episode on green-screen in the studio, with animation added afterwards.
Camera tests established early on that if Squiglet were made of the wrong material - too spiky, for example - we'd have problems with him keying against the green screen. Model maker Asylum was under some pressure to try and test every material under the sun against the clock. We finally decided on felt, with a team of patient model makers cutting up thousands of tiny pieces in red, orange and yellow, then sewing them to a foam base to give Squiglet as much warmth and lovability as possible - we didn't want a scary monster, or one which gave us a nightmare in post!
We always wanted the show to be truly interactive, stimulating children's universal interest in drawing and representing the correct range of schematic stages - but we needed an unobtrusive means of doing this. Working alongside Brian Neish, our “artistic” educational advisor, we tweaked the scripts to introduce a “line of the day”, be it straight, curved, round, loopy, zigzag or wavy. Squiglet and the audience at home then explore this several times throughout the episode, so by the end of each programme they are familiar with a certain line type.
Our first problem in the studio - the wonderful Enfys in Cardiff - was Squiglet's eyeline, namely making sure that he was convincingly looking at and reacting to characters that weren't actually there. After much improvisation, director Adrian Hedley came up with the idea of using green-painted polystyrene balls on wooden stakes, which we raised and lowered depending on the size and position of the character Squiglet should be interacting with.
Adrian was a mime artist, Nosey Bonk, in a past life and did a brilliant job of helping the highly experienced body suit artist Sam Dodd get the optimum amount of lifelike movement from the costume.
Sam had to carry a huge head full of very heavy animatronics on very small shoulders - she managed to do so exceptionally well, but the heat inside was impossible to put up with for more then 15 minutes on the trot. So we accounted for that in our schedule, as well as providing more cold drinks, chocolate and fresh towels than your average production.
Probably our biggest challenge was to complete the drawing moments for the show. Damian Hook and Adam Shaw of Blue Zoo came up to Enfys to set up a template. We'd use huge prop crayons to trace faint pencil marks on tracing paper to give the illusion that Squiglet was actually drawing. This footage was taken away by Blue Zoo and a line was animated following the crayon in order to make a picture - all very clever stuff.
With so much technology, time and talent stretching in every direction, the project evolved as it went along and our executive producer, Sarah Colclough from the BBC, was fantastically collaborative, helpful and constructive at every turn.
We finished shooting in May, a few weeks before I gave birth, and we've been filling Squiglet's white world with sound and colour ever since. We're now delivering the shows - I'm really excited to finally see it on air.
Get Squiggling is a Dot to Dot Production for CBeebies. It airs from 11 February
Jo Killingley: My tricks of the trade
Always make sure that plenty of biscuits are provided, as biscuits generate the answers to most production problems - especially Penguins and Kit Kats.
When coming up with ideas, try to stay away from offices as much as possible. I have never had an idea in an office - they've always come to me when in the bath, watching the fish tank, walking in Kew Gardens or eating a biscuit.
Never assume anything. There's nothing worse than that sinking feeling you get when you realise something's gone wrong when you assumed it couldn't possibly.
Always work with children and animals. This contradicts a rule that many others follow, but I've found that in children's television, they are vital ingredients.