Earlier this year, 9 Story Distribution International announced the acquisition of worldwide distribution rights to the new animated series, Circle Square (40 x 7 mins, 4-6), excluding territories secured by commissioning partners Milkshake! (UK, Ireland) SVT (Sweden), YLE (Finland) and VRT (Belgium). The series follows Vanessa the dragon, who is always ready to help her neighbours: a yeti, a dog, owls, talking instruments, two pine trees, a human family, a bear, and a family of wizards.
Circle Square was co-produced by Wyndley Animation and Kavaleer Productions and created by the BAFTA award-winning duo The Brothers McLeod (Quiff and Boot), a wildly creative duo made up of illustrator and director Greg McLeod, and writer and voice actor Myles McLeod.
We caught up with the legendary Brothers McLeod to talk about Circle Square and dive deeper into what went into ‘shaping’ this brilliant series. Check out our interview below and learn more about how these self-proclaimed “explorers in the worlds of writing, poetry, illustration, music and animation,” are bringing color, community, and humor to screen in their newest endeavor for kids.
Where did the inspiration to create Circle Square come from?
There are so many threads feeding into Circle Square. Firstly, as kids we loved reading things like Asterix – a world focussed on a vivid community of characters. We’re also used to living in interconnected communities – living in medium-sized towns, rather than cities – you see the same faces a lot. Creatively, we’ve always loved creating new characters and worlds. Greg’s sketchbooks are full of characters, and they are always evolving. Our short films have often been like vignettes featuring many different personalities. It’s fun to explore different people and points of view. Circle Square is also by the seaside. When you grow up in the Midlands, you crave seeing the sea. Somehow these different elements came together in our heads and popped out as Circle Square.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in bringing this idea to screen?
Circle Square doesn’t really look like anything else. Perhaps that was a disadvantage while we were trying to get people involved. People are understandably afraid to try something new, especially when it’s a commitment as big as making a TV series. But now the series is produced, the visual and narrative style are the show’s greatest advantages. What was in our heads is now on the screen. There’s nothing to interpret. You can just get it! It stands out as its own brand.
Would love to learn more about how you developed the wonderfully unique and captivating visual style of the series?
The original ideas were simply black and white sketches and the character designs have evolved quite a lot since. Most of the characters are the same as the originals though, apart from the Owls and the Instruments. Before the Owls, we had a family of noses. We just weren’t sure how many stories we could get out of some walking talking noses. They were a step too far! And before the instruments, we had a BLT sandwich and ping pong ball. Maybe they’re living on another island somewhere now. Ha ha!
What was your approach for the series standout musical score?
The most important choice was obviously the composer! That’s Tom Angell. We’ve known Tom for a long time, and he’s provided the music for a number of our animations, including shorts like The Inverted Peak and Marfa, and also for our Disney shorts Turkey vs Pilgrim. Tom is also our sound designer and mixer and he produced the voice records with the voice director (Myles) and our sound engineer, Tim Walker; so he’s been heavily involved in the whole production.
How did you decide on the characters / stories to feature?
Myles: There are nine houses on the island, so we try to make sure that in every cycle of nine episodes there is one story for each household. We had a team of six writers: myself, Evgenia Golubeva, Dilpreet Kaur Walia, Alex Collier, Isabel Fay, Emma Boucher and Nicole Davies. Greg also threw in top line ideas, for episodes such as Courtesy Kennel and Submarine Drive.
There are plenty of fun challenges you can set yourself with this format as a writer. How can I include every house in one episode (Active Bear)? Can I do an episode that includes all the child characters (Bestest Book Day, Dinosaur Island, Story School)? Can we spend most of the episode in or around one house (Courtesy Kennel, Where’s My Armadillo, Jungle House)? Can we tell stories about different celebrations (Diwali Island, What the Dickens)? Can we show a blended family situation (Camping with Kazam)? Can we celebrate same sex relationships (I Love You)? Can we talk about the Climate Emergency without sounding preachy (Green Island)?
What do you hope kids take away after watching the show (be it only one episode or the entire season)?
We hope it fosters empathy for one another. We hope they relate to the emotional threads of each story and find them authentic. We hope they recognise that the show celebrates difference and variety in many ways. We worked with Olivia Dickinson, an inclusion and diversity consultant, to keep a check on our unconscious biases and to ensure we were being respectful to different communities. We hope that shines through. Also, on a very simple level, we just hope the show makes kids and adults laugh and smile.
If you were a character in the series, who would you be and why?
Myles: I voice four of the characters so probably one of them! They are Duster, Nelson, Snowdon and Grindle. There is something about me in all of them – which probably means I have the capacity to be a bit grumpy, hard to impress, pompous and shy in equal measure. Ha!
Greg: I think Tommy – he’s a drum and I like drums. He’s confident but has the odd existential crisis. I can relate to that.
(Greg has played drums in bands for years).
Even though it’s likely impossible to pick favorites, if you had to choose 3 of your top Circle Square moments, what might they be?
Myles: I love when Alba Owl is on an easy-going funfair ride and simply exclaims, ‘a bit tame’. She’s such a daredevil character and she’s so honest and Katy Brand plays the role with such deadpan humour. I love the Jungle House episode because it’s entirely set in an overgrown part of the greenhouse that we don’t see before or after, and it’s very silly. Greg had a lot of design work to do, but it really paid off. In Pizza Mystery, there’s a daft song about a dog sung by the instruments. I really love the music Tom wrote for the lyrics. It’s a bit of an earworm.
Greg: Duster’s reaction at the end of Jungle House for just being so authentic and honest. Everyone else wants to go back in, but he really doesn’t. The silent fireworks in Noisy Night are great – especially the bubbly sound effects. Tuft Owl’s dance animation is excellent.
Why do families around the world need to watch Circle Square today?
Circle Square is about the world now. The characters are distinctive and different. They must appreciate each other’s differences to function as a society. The households are not uniform groups of people with 2.4 children. They reflect today’s communities. There are people who choose to live alone, with friends, with family. There’s a blended family. There’s an elderly person who is still active and full of potential. There are shy people, bold people, and people who speak their minds. There are girls who play football and boys who grow flowers.
For more on The Brothers McLeod, check out their website.
And check out Circle Square here!