Monday, November 4, 2013

CalleyFan's Season 17 Review

As Season 17 draws to an end, we now all know the secrets it held and what the production team's plans were. Did they follow they follow their hopes to improve the series and bring it "back to its original roots?" We'll find out...

Episode 1
Kevin's Cranky Friend
Written by Lee Pressman
When this episode and its plot was revealed, I thought that it could go horribly wrong. But I'm very pleased to say that it went perfectly right! Kevin is a character that doesn't get a lot of episodes to himself, so it was nice to see him used. His character development changed for the good as well, too. He went from wanting to play Biff Bash Bosh to being enthusiastic to do good work. Him helping Cranky shows this, and it also shows that he's not always so clumsy! The animation was great as well. I love the scene where the chickens are running everywhere and the workers are chasing them! The camera angles used throughout the entirety of the episode were great as well. And that crab that Kevin 'befriended' was a really enjoyable little touch that worked so well.

Episode 2
Scruff's Makeover
Written by Lee Pressman
For some reason, I've always liked Scruff. Even in the two episodes that he did speak in, he had very few lines and character development was minimal. But now that's all changed! One of the things I love about this season is that they're not always using characters from the Steam Team. Instead, they're looking into including characters that hardly have any speaking roles or development. It's great to see these characters we haven't seen much of! This episode brought in some great character development for Scruff, too. He's not just an engine scared of being clean anymore. The episode was rather enjoyable and, again, the camera angles chosen made it even more enjoyable. My only complaint is that the plot line was kind of slow moving.

Episode 3
Wayward Winston
Written by Lee Pressman
This was the first episode of Season 17 I watched. And after my first watch, I immediately watched it a second time. Then a third time. Then a fourth time. Then more episodes were released. Then I went back to this one. It was just such a good episode! It was really action packed. We haven't had a runaway train episode in a long time, so it was great to get one! The animation is spectacular and there are so many shots that just make this episode so much more intense. I really enjoyed this one and it is one of my favourites this season. Really well written and really well animated.

Episode 4 
Gordon Runs Dry
Written by Andrew Brenner
This episode was very classic series-esque. There was a lot of new railway terminology involved and real life scenarios being put into place. However, the plot is slow moving. The entire episode is really just Gordon runs out of water, he gets water. Gordon runs out of water again, he gets more water. Other than that, it's just Gordon talking about being thirsty or saying 'Express Coming Through!' Another thing is that I feel that Paxton was too intelligent. He's a really oblivious character, and later on this season, is shown not to know anything about steam engines, yet in this episode he begins giving advice about how to take care of boilers. Other than that, it was actually really enjoyable. There are lots of nods to the Railway Series and the classic series, so it's a great watch for any fan.

Episode 5
Calm Down Caitlin
Written by Davey Moore
I remember me, and a lot of the fanbase, thought that this episode was going to be boring and non-interesting. Well, we were wrong. This episode was great! Since Caitlin didn't really do much in King of the Railway, it's great to see that she's being used. I loved how Gordon and Henry were sort of plotting together to get rid of Caitlin. The animation in this episode was spectacular again. Sodor really does look beautiful at night, and at dawn, too! A great first episode for Davey Moore.

Episode 6
Steamie Stafford
Written by Paul Larson and Laura Beaumont
This episode is a great example of how animation can save an episode of Thomas. I see where the inspiration for this episode came from. I mean, children love to pretend they're steam engines, and it seemed this episode was trying to teach them to be quiet. The camera angles and direction used in this episode really did save it, though. The little montage at the end is great to watch, not only for the great direction, but the nice little tune that plays over it as well. It honestly is an innocent little episode, but I feel that it separates itself from the rest of the season as none of the other episodes are really like it.

Henry's Hero
Written by Paul Larson and Laura Beaumont 
Wow. This was an episode! I will admit, I was very excited for Duck's small role, although I feel that now when I watch it, I forget that Duck's even in it. He's not the reason why I love watching it at all. The reason why I love this episode so much is probably because of what I call the "Best Directed Scene in Thomas History." The bit when Henry and Hiro pull the flatbeds with the bad coal. To me, that is a work of art. The marvelous direction, fantastic dialogue and awesome music. When Henry pushes Hiro, you can really see the strength between the engines. And I have found myself humming the music that plays as Henry shunts the train. This was just such a good episode.

Episode 8
Luke's New Friend
Written by Davey Moore
Okay, I admit it. When I first watched this episode, I had a lump in my throat. I haven't had that since Henry's Forest in Season 3! When Luke says goodbye to the deer, it's really all visuals and music that speak as there is hardly any vocals over that section. The beautiful animation and music really touched me. It was just so well done. As for the rest of the episode, it was really enjoyable as well. I thought the deer was adorable, and it was so realistically animated! The other engines supporting their young friend Luke was great to see, as well. I love how Owen says "Where are you, friend?" Was a really sweet episode. The 'magical brake van' that was seen in the UK version was fixed in the US version, so I really do applaud Arc for going back and fixing a pointed out error. Really, how many production teams would do that? We are so lucky to have a production team that puts in that extra effort. This episode is one of my favourites, not in Season 17, but in Thomas history.

Episode 9
The Switch
Written by Davey Moore
So in this episode, we were introduced to Millie, the French Narrow Gauge engine. Not to mention the first female narrow gauge engine. She played off to be a really likable character. What interests me is that this is such a popular plot line that has never been used in Thomas before. It was all played out brilliantly. Just one question, Luke had already been to the Castle in the episode before it, so wouldn't he know where to take the stone? Okay, so this episode might have come before Luke's New Friend, but in Luke's New Friend he didn't know what a deer was - in this episode he did. That out of the way, this was a really entertaining episode. When the passengers got off of Luke's train feeling dizzy and the little boy jumped off calling "Again, again!" I laughed out loud. Again, a really fun episode that's a joy to watch.

Episode 10
Not Now, Charlie!
Written by Davey Moore
Before this episode, I really did not like Charlie. After this episode, I still don't like him too much, but I like him more than I did before! It was a really enjoyable episode that I love to watch over and over again, and, put aside Charlie's jokes, it shows that Charlie knows what to do in an emergency. The animation was spectacular as always. I really enjoy the little hidden jokes in this episode. First, when Harold takes off from the Rescue Centre, two workmen lose some papers they are looking at. Second, when Charlie is taking the park keeper to find the elephant, the park keeper realizes he is looking into his binoculars the wrong way. The direction throughout the entire episode is fantastic as well. There's new camera angle after another, and hardly any angles are reused. That's one of the things I love about Arc's animation. The elephant was fantastic as well. This is just an episode I really enjoy.

Episode 11
The Lost Puff
Written by Davey Moore
This is Paxton's first starring episode. First off, Paxton is my favourite diesel in the series. His obliviousness and over-curtesy at times makes him so hilarious and lovable as a character! In this episode, that character of Paxton is kept in line. The opening scene with the duck had me laughing, Paxton's voice as he went over the track had me laughing, the duck at the end had me laughing - it was overall a rather humorous watch! And though some do not like this as it is "unrealistic", I'm honestly not too bothered at all by it. If you look beyond all of those nitpicks (which I don't personally criticize for), this episode is really, really nice. It shows that Paxton cares about his friends and will try to take care of them. And again, it also had some entertaining scenes! The faces used throughout the episode were awesome as well. It's just a nice episode to watch.

Episode 12
The Thomas Way
Written by Paul Larson and Laura Beamount
Okay, yes, I was excited for this episode to see more of Duck. Don't judge me! It was great to see some more of him and I have to say that he was modeled into CGI really, really nicely. And when that picture of Duck on the GWR appeared, my jaw dropped. It looks so good!! People didn't like Rocky picking up Duck and turning him around, and whether if it was written into the script or added in during animation I'm not sure, but I kind of like's different. Anyway, the episode played out rather nicely and I liked Thomas trying to get Harold to see Sodor. The scene of the three friends getting stuck in the tunnel was great, too. It was unexpected! I thought that Duck was going to stop, but he didn't! Something that could've added onto the intensity would be if Thomas slammed on his brakes, though. Animation wise, a lot of people say that the scenery was really bland in this episode. Honestly, I liked it. It was bright, and the bridge and tunnel looked quite realistic. I also like how they're using pine trees some more. We haven't seen many of those in CGI, so kudos to Arc for adding some in. Another fun little episode to watch!

Episode 13
The Phantom Express
Written by Paul Larson and Laura Beaumont
Reading through some other reviews, I've noticed that Paul and Laura are kind of a love-hate thing. Sometimes they can be good, and sometimes they can be not-so-good. This is one of their weaker episodes. I personally felt that Stephen was a bit out of character. He should know what an owl sounds like. But I really like how Percy and Stephen have a little relationship. It's like Stephen's the teacher and Percy's the student. James scaring the two throughout the episode was interesting, and him racing down the tracks screaming about 'the Phantom Express' is very Series 6-esque. Stephen and Percy falling into the moat was really interesting as well. Just, with all the other episodes this season, I would watch the episode about three times in a row before going to school. With this episode, I didn't. Just because I simply didn't feel the need to. It was kind of slow moving and I feel could do with a bit of tweaking here and there.

Episode 14
Percy's Lucky Day
Written by Davey Moore
In my opinion, Davey Moore is a brilliant writer for Thomas and Friends. This episode shows why. It's just so, so good! Percy and Stephen's relationship continue as Stephen makes Percy feel better, and Bill and Ben's pumpkin delivery service was really fun to watch as well! It was great to see them revisit the pumpkins falling off of the trucks and use it to expand on Percy's bad luck. I just love how it all wraps together. The derailment scene was yet again brilliantly directed, and the music throughout this episode is again great. The opening theme feels like it's from Series 8, although I don't mind it too much. It was just a great episode that I never get tired of.

Episode 15
Bill or Ben?
Written by Andrew Brenner
I remember saying to some people on the wiki the day before this episode aired "For a head writer, Andrew Brenner hasn't written much yet!" Well this is when we get a bit of a Brenner-thon started. This episode was even more brilliant than Percy's Lucky Day. Bill and Ben tricking Connor felt like it was drawn right out of Series 2 or 3 (mainly because of a similar plotline, but still) and they were right in character. It was great to see some more of Connor this season, as well. I'd like to know more about him. After this season, Bill and Ben are probably my favourite characters in the series. They are just so entertaining to watch! I remember The Diseasel being my favourite episode as a kid as well. I wasn't looking forward to Bill and Ben being repainted, but they actually look rather smart in blue! I love how the episode ends on a cliffhanger, as well. One thing to add is that the fall season from Percy's Lucky Day continues on to this episode, as well. I don't think we've seen fall in CGI yet, and it just looks so good and real! This was just such a brilliant episode, enough said.

Episode 16
Too Many Fire Engines
Written by Andrew Brenner
The title is pretty much what the fanbase has been thinking since Series 15, so it's good to know that Brenner's on the same page! It's also amazing how eight minutes and forty five seconds can change my mind completely on a character, as well. Before this episode, I did wonder why there were two fire engines necessary. But now, I actually do understand the importance of it. This episode is really fun to watch. It's just great to see Flynn go to the rescue and you really do feel bad for him when Belle keeps winning. Kids can relate a lot to this episode, as well. Especially if they have a sibling and they feel the other is more important than they are because they can "do more" or something. I really enjoyed this one. The music at the start is so bouncy and catchy, too, and I love it.

Episode 17
No More Mr Nice Engine
Written by Paul Larson and Laura Beaumont
This was a very strong Paul and Laura story. It was great to see doors on the trucks being used! Actually, it was just great to see the trucks being used in general! Hiro's attitude towards the trucks is great and very in-character for him, and I love how Diesel tries to set him back! Animation-wise, as Diesel and Hiro puff up one of the hills, I noticed a glare from the sun on Diesel. Some don't like it, but personally I love it! The new glare on the side of the engines makes them actually look like they're made of metal. But, more on my animation thoughts later. The story was great and it's a really awesome episode from all perspectives.

Episode 18
Away From the Sea

Written by Andrew Brenner
The first thing we see in this episode are just great. There are quite a few references to the classic series! First off, Salty's back to his singing. Secondly, there was a flashback to Salty's Secret. Both of which were fantastic! We're also introduced to Porter, who is at the docks to help out Salty. I really like Porter! I don't mind them introducing a few American engines into the series. It gives the show a bit more of an international appeal to not only have all-British based engines. I also loved seeing Salty outside of Brendam. The shot of him going over Gordon's Hill was just so, so beautiful! Once this episode is released in better quality, I think I found myself a new desktop background! Another really fun episode, and the 'runaway Salty' scene was very classic-y. I also learned a bit from this episode. I never really knew what the three domes were for on American steam shunters, and I never knew Salty had sandboxes! I also loved how the decorations on top of Salty looked like a hat and a horn...not sure if that was intentional but it looked great. Really enjoyed this one!

Episode 19
Thomas' Shortcut
Written by Andrew Brenner
A lot of people like this episode a lot because of "Railway Series style." Personally, I'm on the fence with this one. I see where they're coming from (Thomas back on his Branchline and him and Bertie having a rivalry), but how many episodes do we have about engines taking shortcuts already? It just seems like a moral that's been used too many times in the series. Aside from that, the episode itself was fantastic. The crash scene was great! The passengers left the train (I love the ladders added to Annie and Clarabel!) and Bertie helping his friend was very RWS style as well. Harvey coming to rescue Thomas was great, and aside from the fact that the plot has been used a lot, it's rather enjoyable! The other shortcut episodes just didn't hit it off with me, yet this one just did it.

Episode 20
The Smelly Kipper

Written by Andrew Brenner
This episode was very humorous, and finally we get to see Henry pull the Flying Kipper. But only for 30 seconds. The Flying Kipper has been featured a couple of times this season (it's fantastic that they've brought it back!), just we don't see much of Henry pulling it. Aside from that, James is completely in character, and Porter's appearance was great. James getting covered in fish was very entertaining to watch, and the truck's faces, like the rest this season, are brilliant! At the end of the episode, when all of the engines are teasing James, it felt very reminiscent to the classic series as well! I laughed at Gordon's quote, "It looks like he's brought a present for the Fat Controller!" This was a fun episode that brought a smile to my face.

Episode 21
Gone Fishing
Written by Andrew Brenner
See what I mean by having a "Brenner-thon?" Anyway, this is another one of my favourites of the season. Harvey returning was unexpected, and I have to say he looks brilliant in CGI! He's become one of my favourite characters in the series now. His Scottish accent fits him perfectly, as well! I loved Porter and Harvey's conversation, and Bill and Ben's teasing actually made me laugh. "You'd better put your hook in the water, Harvey, if you want to catch some fish!" Those two are just so entertaining. I also love how they incorporated the saying "water off a duck's back." They haven't introduced any little thingies like that (I don't remember what they're called at the time of writing this!) that are used in the real world for a very long time. Harvey pulling flatbeds was great as well. And wait a minute, a realistic crash in CGI? What?! They flatbeds took a zig-zag position well derailed, which is what trains do in the real world! The crashes have improved a lot this season. Harvey re-railing the train was fantastic as well. One of my favourite episodes this season, hands down.

Episode 22
The Afternoon Tea Express
Written by Paul Larson and Laura Beaumont
This was one of Paul and Laura's weaker episodes. It was great to see Spencer and Stephen having a rivalry. It's kind of like the fastest steam engine of his time period meeting the fastest steam engine of the current time period. It can also be referred to as a grandfather being given an iPhone 5, for example. Anyway, though this episode was enjoyable, Stephen seemed a little immature for his character. The jam flying into the air was great, though. And I love how the narrator refers to the jam the same way he did earlier on in the episode (Strawberry, rasberry, and even apricot jam!). This was another enjoyable watch, just, again, needed a bit of tweaking. And Stephen's funnel was black for the entirety of the episode. I thought his funnel turned white in King of the Railway and the rest of Season 17? Just a bit of human error, but I'm not too bothered. None of the videos I've made have no mistakes!

Episode 23
No Snow for Thomas
Written by Paul Larson and Laura Beaumont
I really liked this episode! I like how it just got straight to the point of Thomas hiding his slowplough. There was no pre-story, and I think it helped the episode move along a bit faster! I liked seeing more of Emily, and she's back into her Season 7 personality of wanting to help out. One thing I really liked is the snow hitting the plow. In previous CGI seasons, it wasn't done very well in my opinion. The snow would kick up so much that it would be difficult to see the train's face! Now, not only does the snow not kick up so much, but it just plows off to the side more like it does in the real world. I really like it! The only part that felt un-natural about this episode was the end. It felt dragged on and is probably the only thing I don't like about this one.

Episode 24
The Frozen Turntable
Written by Andrew Brenner
This episode was similar to Gordon Runs Dry. All it is really is Gordon being selfish. I did enjoy the opening scene, though, where all of the engines went off to find places to sleep. But after that, it's just Gordon sitting in the sheds talking about how he's so grand and everything. I love how Percy comes in and tries to get Gordon to push in, though! I loved seeing Gordon's cab (it would be great if we could see more of the engine's interiors) and him backing out with the workmen flagging him down as great as well. One thing I really like about this episode is that tail lamps have been added to the engines. I don't know if this is only for winter episodes, but either way it looks brilliant! One thing I was disappointed about was not seeing James pull the express. I feel it should've been highlighted more how much Gordon had messed up the schedules because of his selfishness. This episode is pretty average and could do with some tweaking as well.

Episode 25
The Missing Christmas Decorations
Written by Andrew Brenner
So, a lot happened in this episode! Diesel 10 spoke in an episode, Norman spoke for the first time, Sidney spoke for the first time; again, I love how they're focusing on characters that haven't been used much or haven't been used at all! I really like Sidney and Norman's characters, and I love the chase scene between the engines and Diesel 10. I also love how the engines react when they find out all their decorations have been stolen. Except Percy says, "Maybe it was knocked over?" Well, if it were knocked over, it would just be laying on it's side. It might've made more sense for him to say "Maybe it blew away?" Just my own little thoughts. This was a great winter-themed episode that celebrates the spirit wonderfully. I may also add a bit of trivia - this episode appeared to have originally been named 'New Wheels for Sidney.'

Episode 26
Santa's Little Engine
Written by Andrew Brenner
This was a very enjoyable episode in my opinion. I loved seeing Sir Topham Hatt and Sir Robert having a professional relationship with each other, and Topham's enthusiasm for being Santa Claus. I also love how he's scared to be in a sleigh. Winston being all dressed up was really fun, as well! I love Thomas' quote "What have they done to you?" It sounds like a quote from the classic series. Anyway, when Thomas collects the sleigh, it was referred to as a 'special special.' In all honesty, I didn't really want to hear those words in the TV series ever again. Although, it's kind of right - the sleigh for Topham to ride is kind of a special special. I also love the scene were it becomes a runaway. Before this episode was released, I joked that it's the Winter Version of 'Wayward Winston.' I also love that scene of Stephen and Sir Robert. The music that plays is just so fitting! It made me laugh when I heard it. It's the kind of music that plays when two characters are really oblivious to some sort of danger that's happening - and that's what I love about it!  The end scene was just the perfect way to end the season, as well.

The Final Say
When we were given Season 17, we were promised better episodes that would be relatable to the classic series. That promise was fulfilled. This season was so, so good! I'm gonna divide this up into sections to make it easier...
The writing this season wasn't good, it wasn't great, it was phenomenal! The balance of characters was fantastic, and the story and character development was even more brilliant! There were so many episodes that I enjoyed this season. If I had to pick favourites (which I will later), there'd be a bit of a list! I'd just like to have seen some more from other writers. It's a shame that Lee Pressman only got three episodes. I was looking forward to seeing more from him! Hopefully he'll have a few in Season 18. Anyway, the writing this season just blew me away. Just absolutely fantastic!

So this season we got five returnees (Duck, Bill, Ben, Jack, Harvey) and five newbies (Caitlin, Connor, Millie, Stephen, Porter). Again, character balance this season was great. Some of the returning characters were to be expected, while some were just popping up out of the blue! I think I honestly prefer that, if we get characters we aren't expecting. Makes it more exciting and entertaining! Again, many characters said their first words this season, and I think almost every CGI character (excluding the Logging Locos, who I didn't want to see much of anyway!) appeared.

I'm going to say that before I start that my opinions are my own opinions and are not altered because I went to Arc Productions. They're just my honest thoughts.
Okay, with that out of the way so people won't bug me, the animation this season was a huge improvement! I'm gonna divide this into sections as well to keep more organized.
  •  Camera Angles - The camera angles this season were so, so good! I really feel like they helped build the story. Nitrogen's camera angles were just showing the train's face. They used the same camera angle 10 times an episode for 80 episodes! Arc is exploring a bit, and it works brilliantly! I love seeing the camera pan around the engines and zoom in and out. It adds a new life that was really missing from the series.
  • Faces - A lot of people don't like the faces because they're not really what we're used to. But in all seriousness, I think they're great! The Nitrogen faces were...I don't know. The mouths were tiny and they didn't really do much. Just the eyes and the mouths moved. What I love about the Arc faces is that they've enlarged the mouths a bit and the faces move like human faces now! And the truck's faces are just brilliant...
  • Scenery - I also prefer the Arc scenery over the Nitrogen scenery. I think to prove my point, I need to link some pictures.
    These are pictures from the Nitrogen era:
     The grass in this shot is just a repeating texture. All of the sets had it, and it doesn't even really look like grass...

     The grass that was actually rendered kinda hurts my eyes a bit. There's just too many colours in such a little space...

    Here's Lord Callan's castle, and the scenery in this shot is pretty bland, dark and dry. It looks too dark to be Sodor, and apart from the castle isn't very eye-catching.

    Okay, now let's look at some Arc shots:
     So the grass seen next to the tracks in this season has a lot less colours and doesn't hurt my eyes - yet it still looks very real!

     I could honestly say that this shot looks real if the deer and Luke were's so, so beautiful!
    Okay, put aside the bridge and look at the water and the grass on the slope leading down to the water. It honestly all looks so, so real!

    So in my opinion, the Arc animation is more colourful, realistic, and has a lot of added in details (such as the glare on the engines, lamps, brake vans, etc.) that just make me love their work so much! I've only pointed out all these fixed pieces because there obviously has been work put into fixing up the series a bit, and it really shouldn't go without notice. The only little niggles I have are with the rolling stock and switches. The rolling stock changes and disappears throughout the season and, though it is fun to play 'Spot the Goofs', it could be focused on a bit more. I understand how these things happen, but people who haven't ever seen how Autodesk programs work may not understand as much. As for the switch tracks, they're set in the wrong direction throughout the season, as well. So if Gordon was turning left, the track would be facing forward. Just another thing that could be focused on a bit as well.

    If anything could be improved model-wise, I would say that it would be the express coaches. I know that the coach models were made by Nitrogen, but they're way too skinny and short. The interior is not reminiscent of a real British express coach, either. It's something that kind of bothers me, how the coaches are thinner than the engines. The large windows on both sides is a bit unrealistic as well. Isn't one side supposed to have small windows and the other side large? If the express coaches could be improved a bit, my one and only issue with the CGI models would be fixed.

    So, all-in-all I think this might just be my favourite season of Thomas ever. Seriously, it was just that good. There was just so much that was fixed in writing and visuals, and it really pays off. And I have to admit, I honestly felt like crying when this season was over. I was depressed. I've never had that with a Thomas season before! So a huge, huge thanks to the entire team, whether it be writing, animation, music, senior editor, etc. for making this probably the best season of Thomas ever produced (in my opinion, at least)!

    Season 17:
    An absolutely brilliant season. Here's to Season 18 and Tale of the Brave!

    My favourite episodes this season:
    • Wayward Winston
    • Henry's Hero
    • Luke's New Friend
    • The Lost Puff
    • Percy's Lucky Day
    • Bill or Ben?
    • Too Many Fire Engines
    • Away From the Sea
    • Gone Fishing
    • No Snow For Thomas
    • The Missing Christmas Decorations  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

My Visit to Arc Productions (July 2nd, 2013)

The following writeup has been approved and edited by Arc Productions and HiT Entertainment.

A few days ago, I went on a tour of the studio that is now producing the animation for Season 17 and 18 of Thomas & Friends, Arc Productions. Ever since the first ten Season 17 episodes aired, Arc won over the fanbase's heart with their amazing colours and breathtaking camera angles. But I was in contact with Arc before Railway Mischief was even released! I got the tour because I was a staff member of the wiki and I wanted to A) form a strong connection with the team at Arc working on Thomas and B) learn more about how animation works and see all the stages that it goes through first hand.

So, let's cut to the chase. We stopped off in Toronto on our way to Israel specifically for the Arc tour. We got a hotel nearby, and on the morning of Tuesday, July 2nd, my mom and I walked off down the Toronto streets on the search for Thomas the Tank Engine. We came across a brick building with the Arc Productions logo on the side. A bunch of people were walking in and going up the stairs like we did. We came across a big door with the Arc Productions logo, and as we walked in I knew we were in the right place.

There was a display case with shelves, each shelve holding something from their work - Gnomeo & Juliet figures, "9" toys, Barbie dolls and of course, the Thomas display, containing a Trackmaster Thomas, Bash and a Take N Play Charlie. Once I turned around, I was faced with a huge mural on the wall, again with all their work (and hand drawn by multiple artists in the studio) - and a big smiling Thomas the Tank painted on. We were greeted by Jason McKenzie, who is Arc's Manager of Sales & Communications, and the person I had been talking to for the past three months via e-mail. Jason would be our tour guide for the visit.

We were taken into an office where we sat on the couch that the producers and executives at HiT Entertainment had sat on (whoo!) and we given a brief history about Arc. They had just finished Season 17 and had now moved on to Season 18 and the "Top Secret Season 18 special". I was told the producers at HiT are fans of the Wiki as a resource and added that it is probably the "best Thomas resource (on the internet)" which the staff members and I were delighted to hear.

We then met Rob Anderson (Arc's producer on the show) and Meg Dryden (production coordinator) who would be tagging along on the rest of the tour. Then we were taken through all of the steps of animation and how it was all put together. It's very complicated, but I understood it all for the most part and it was very interesting.

We were taken to meet Trevor Hierons, one of the storyboard artists on the show. He had a storyboard segment from "Henry's Hero" opened up, and I got to see how it looked before the animation stages. Each character was drawn in such detail, and it takes a lot of patience and accuracy. I appreciate the storyboard job a lot more, now! Trevor collaborates with the Director on what camera angles to use, and then the animators go off of the storyboards - and they look almost identical!

Then we met an animator named Adam Earle, (who sometimes gets to provide temporary voice recordings of Percy and Thomas (if the Martin Sherman audio track isn't available for use just yet)). He had a scene from "Scruff's Makeover" open, and it was exactly like the animation stage that has been seen in Thomas videos from the past showing what all the stages look like. I saw how all of the facial expressions worked (Adam even made Whiff do a face!) and we discussed audio tracks and lip sync for a while. Adam then showed us the pre-viz, the actual animation and the finished product. It all looked really good! I also noticed the sticky note on the side of his monitor reading "REMEMBER! Brake Van!"

After seeing the animation being made, we were introduced to Stephanie Fong, a lighting and compositing artist on team Thomas. She was working on the lighting for an upcoming episode, and she showed me all the different kinds of lighting tools that are used and what a shot looked like without all of the lighting.

Lastly, we were taken down to the basement and into a screening room with a leather couch, lots of chairs and a large projector and computer being worked by Ryan Quaglia, who operates the room. We watched the episode "Kevin's Cranky Friend" without the music and with temporary sound effects (at one point Thomas had a horn!). It was very interesting to see all of the differences from the televised version. Something to note is that Kevin's Cranky Friend was actually Episode 5 in the production order.

After the screening, we were brought back into the office where Rob, Meg, Jason, my mom and I all discussed the fanbase and I was presented with a lovely Arc mug and a beautiful Arc hat! Then Jason walked into the room and unveiled a huge King of the Railway poster for me! Then I presented him with our gift from the wiki and we headed back into the main area where we continued to discuss the fanbase. We took a picture together in front of the mural before saying goodbyes and heading back to the hotel.

And still, the smile has not left my face. Whenever I think about the tour, I smile.  It really was a great time and I am thrilled that this talented group of animators (around 80 of them!) are in charge of the TV show almost every child grew up on or currently grows up on. HiT Entertainment could not have picked anyone better to animate the series. And I have absolutely no problem carrying around a big tube with a KOTR poster, a mug or a hat around Israel. In fact, we are actually taking pictures of the Arc hat in front of famous places in Israel (we've taken about 10 at the time of writing this). I've decided that once the trip is done, that I'll put all of the pictures together into a short video to promote the wiki's new connection. I really am pleased that we are so lucky to have people like those at Arc as our new friends.

I would personally like to thank everyone at Arc Productions for welcoming me into their studio and for being so willing, friendly and just being yourselves! You are an amazing team who's hard work will always be appreciated. Well done to you all!