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.
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!