Ryan Hipp has worked on children’s television since early 2006. “I started working with a local PBS Kids television broadcasting station to create a children’s television program – “Finley & Max“. It was a life-long dream-come-true to work on such a project with a giant team of professionals all bringing my ideas to life on the screen for families to see all over Michigan and beyond.
Meet Finley & Max
Maxwell Otter (Max)
Max is a fun-loving and whimsical otter and is a loyal friend to Finley. At times, he is a little flighty and absent-minded, (and sometimes gets preoccupied in his own thoughts). One of his favorite snacks is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which he has in common with Finley. Max loves toys, dancing, and has a mild obsession with fish. He is a great swimmer, and has spent so much time in the water, his fur has turned sea-green! He loves watching cooking programs, and hopes to be a master pastry chef someday.
Finley Seahorse (Fin)
Finley is a level-headed seahorse who loves to read; and although he sometimes seems shy and reserved, he has secret aspirations to be a thrill-seeker. Finley was born in the ocean, but now is spending time living on his Uncle’s horse ranch. Fin wants to travel the world someday and learn about different places. Finley is very neat-and-tidy, (opposite of Max being unorganized), and often recites from his book of “Proper Manners & Etiquette”. Fin loves trains, collects postage stamps, and is a vegetarian.
How Do You Even Get a Television Show Made?
In early 2006, I got an idea in my head and get the courage to ask my contact at my local PBS television station – who I had done some author performances for and developed after-school writing programs with – if the station had ever considered doing a program for kids locally. That was the catalyst for a series of steps that I took up a corporate ladder to get a real live television show produced. I met with my contact, Emily Tobin, (who would end up being my co-writer). I presented the idea in 3 easy steps:
- Will take baby-steps, doing small relatively easy-to-make “interstitial” shorts to air between national PBS Kids programming to show the viewers that PBS is local.
- It will be successful because it will be from the heart and mind of a local musician-author-illustrator of books for kids with a life-long love of children’s entertainment.
- The possibilities would be endless what we could do in the community.
From there, Emily introduced me to the next person on the ladder, the person that would end up being the director of our show. And the coolest thing is, he had wanted to do something like this for years! From there, we decided to take it up each step until we talked to the vice president of the station, who got me a meeting to give my pitch to the president of the television station.
At this point, I was terrified. I had been given the green light to develop my presentation, so I drew about 25 characters in the hopes that two or more of them would really be brought to life. My idea was going to be two puppet characters that interact in their “clubhouse”, and have funny encounters and learn good lessons. The puppets would come from a world of illustration, so the tie-in that this show was created by a person in children’s literature – my bread and butter – would always be the focus.
Before my big presentation, I pulled in my good friend and long-time collaborator on books for kids Kevin Kammeraad to be my #2 puppeteer. We already had a great report with each other, and made for the perfect comfortable dynamic on stage. Plus, Kevin had made his success not only in books, but also in puppet performances at schools and libraries. Kevin brought ALOT to the table, and I pretty much needed someone that I already had a great friendship and working-relationship with if the two puppets were going to have great chemistry on the screen. It was going to be a great team.
As nervous as I was, the big presentation was a huge success. They loved my concept, and wanted to get into business. The next step was simply deciding who our two star characters would be…
Before Max and Fin…the Design Presentation
Max and Fin did not spring to life overnight. In fact, it was quite the process on coming up with the perfect duo that would offer a good counterbalance to each other on the screen. In the process of developing the show, I had to present many ideas for the executives and the creative team of the television station to vote on. So, it was directly to the drawing board with me when I got my first green light to develop a presentation to the PBS station. Here is just a sampling of over 20 character designs I developed for the show, as well as some good insight on why we did not choose them to be the stars of the show…
…one of the big reasons, for example, that this chameleon was a hit with the executives was that he was unlike anything out there. We kept using Spongebob Squarepants as an example…a sea-sponge was a truly unique idea for a character, and I wanted to find something that had never really been done as well. My issue with this chameleon though, however, was that beyond my pitch, (that he was a shy nerd and despite being able to blend in, he doesn’t know how to fit in) that he would really only be good for one episode about that topic – and I wanted two universal versatile characters.
Luckily, all the voices spoke unanimously that the seahorse design was a unique character, and the otter would make a cute counterpart. So then I began redesigning the seahorse and otter. Back to the drawing board…
The Design of Finley & Max
Below you will see the first sketches of Max and Fin that were used as model sheets for the construction of the puppets. Although the final puppet creations were almost a perfect incarnation of my character designs, I consider the design of the puppets a true partnership collaboration between myself and Jarrod Boutcher – one of the most well-known and respected designers of puppets today. Jarrod has created Muppet replicas that were commissioned by members of the original cast of the Muppet Show and Sesame Street, and has even designed for the Broadway hit Avenue Q. When I found him, he was REALLY hard to find. He doesn’t really advertise much, and is very limited in availability – much like a great samurai swordsmith who only creates a masterpiece for those who are worthy. Jarrod lives in Australia, which made our collaboration a long series of “message-in-a-bottle” types of revisions. Jarrod was amazing to work with and a brilliant designer in his own right, he had no problem taking my 2D drawings and turning them into 3D masterpieces. I had a lot of fun making suggestions on how to improve the construction, in which he would implement, and in the end, our Max and Fin prototypes became the actual functional Max and Fin. As far as i am concerned, Jarrod is the best puppetmaker on the planet.
Finley and Max are VERY high-end quality puppets that are constructed with the same rare professional materials that all true professional puppets are constructed from. We used reticulated foam and antron fleece for Max and Fin, providing longevity, flexibility, and durability. After almost 3 months of revisions, the day the puppets arrived I was in awe. I was not expecting the puppets to be as big as they were. They were beautiful.
Here are two more (below) that didn’t make the cut that I came up with after Max and Fin were decided:
Our budget was pretty much non-existent, so Max & Fin were the only puppets we could afford right away – So pretty much all these side characters found a home elsewhere – off-screen. I would put these characters on the infinite back-list of supporting material. In my “series bible” I created dozens of characters that would serve only if anything else, for rich content for background material and references on the show. Some quotable examples are Finley’s Uncle Palomino, Mrs. Flamingo (Max and Fin’s teacher), Max’s mom Mommy Otter (my nod to Jim Henson), and Spike Rhino and Tank Warthog – the school bullies, (an homage to Rocksteady and Bebop, the bad guys from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Thru the power of scripts, I could create an invisible universe referenced off-camera.
“Afraid” (pilot episode) Releasing August 12, 2012
Max is totally afraid of the dark. But Fin explains sometimes its okay to be afraid.
Read all about the production history of “Afraid” and leave a comment here.
“Trains” (pilot episode) Releasing August 17, 2012
Finley is trying to read his library book, but Max is just too excited to discover the library has books on more than one subject.
Read all about the production history of “Trains” and leave a comment here.
“The Three Minute Rule” Releasing August 24, 2012
Everyone knows about the three minute rule right? Max may have remembered this wrong.
Read all about the production history of “Three Minutes” and leave a comment here.
“Back-to-School” (promo) & “Back-to-School” Releasing August 31, 2012
Nobody likes going back to school. Especially otters.
Read all about the production history of “Back-to-School” and leave a comment here.
“Library” Releasing September 7, 2012
To Finley’s lament, Max invokes the full power of his new library card.
Read all about the production history of “Library” and leave a comment here.
“Finders Keepers” Releasing September 14, 2012
Max finds some sweet bling at recess and invokes the Law of the Playground to justify keeping it. Finley suggests a veto.
Read all about the production history of “Finders Keepers” and leave a comment here.
“Dance Dance Revolution” Releasing September 21, 2012
Max likes to dance, and doesn’t wear pantz, (’cause he’s an otter). Fin likes to spin, all-in, FTW, (that’s how he rollz).
“How to Draw a Duck” Releasing September 28, 2012
Max is really upset that he isn’t very good at drawing. Finley reminds him he has other great creative skills. Wait til you see Max’s epic fail at drawing a duck! Note: Keep your eyes open for the cool CGI in this one.
“Something Cool” Releasing October 5, 2012
A special episode for National Anti-Bullying Month (October)
After an incident with the school bullies, a frustrated Finley looks to trade in his nerdy hobbies for something cool…but Max has other ideas.
“Bankrupt” Releasing October 12, 2012
Max learns the value of budgeting the hard way when his reckless spending habits empty his piggybank dry.
“An Ode to Poetry” Releasing October 19, 2012
Finley has trouble finding his muse when he struggles with a bad case of writer’s block.
MORE EPISODES… Stay tuned for even more! Subscribe to my blog or to my Vimeo channel to be updated when new episodes drop.