The British illustrator and writer Sir Quentin Blake is a legend. In his 60-year career (and counting!) he has illustrated more than 500 books, most famously Roald Dahl’s stories for children. When Flemish animation producer Creative Conspiracy was asked to help bring six of Blake’s own books to the screen, it went all in.

“Quentin Blake is so respected within our world that you really want to do your best,” says Peter Decraene, one of the three partners in Creative Conspiracy. “So we didn’t just go the extra mile, we went the extra marathon, and that shows on the screen.”

The suggestion came from British producer Eagle Eye Drama, which had already brought one of Blake’s tales to the small screen for Channel 4. Now it wanted to go further, raising the production values in a series of six 30-minute specials for the BBC.

“They asked if we wanted to do a test, to show the BBC how high the quality would be,” recalls Decraene. The offer was too good to refuse. “We spent more time and energy on that test than the budget allowed, because we loved the idea and Quentin Blake’s work. We also saw there would be a lot of very interesting challenges in the project, and we like challenges.”

Quentin Blake is a national treasure in the UK, so Eagle Eye felt a huge responsibility being entrusted to produce the first ever animated series based on his books. “We knew we had to find a great lead studio to partner with, to do justice to Quentin Blake’s unique style,” says Tess Cuming, Executive Producer with Eagle Eye.

With an enviable track-record and, very importantly, an ability to tap into the best animation talent across Flanders, Creative Conspiracy was the perfect partner for Eagle Eye.

Tess Cuming, producer at Eagle Eye
Quentin Blake's mooiste verhalen ©

Directing the animation

The test was a success and the BBC commissioned the series, called Quentin Blake’s Box of Treasures, with Eagle Eye as the main producer. Creative Conspiracy joined as co-producer, and provided animation leadership through its studio Spicy Acorn. Two other studios, Tchack in France and Kong in the UK, were also brought on board.

“All the storyboarding was carried out at Spicy Acorn, along with the character designs, and these were then shared between the three studios,” explains Gerrit Bekers, creative director at Creative Conspiracy and the director for the whole series. “We also handled the quality control, making sure that everyone was working to the same high standard.”

The six stories were assigned according to the strength of each studio. “For this we looked at several different parameters, like the amount of special effects, the story's tone of voice and the animation style, which for some episodes had to be more realistic and for others more cartoony” says Bekers.

Strong financial contribution

With many of the design roles based in Flanders, and a third of the animation, Creative Conspiracy was able to build a strong financial contribution to the co-production. “We provided a third of the global budget,” says Decraene. Flemish public broadcaster VRT bought into the project, and funding was secured from the Flanders Audiovisual Fund (VAF) and Screen Flanders. Finally, a substantial contribution came from the Belgian tax shelter.

This financial leverage was also an attraction for Eagle Eye.

Right from the start we knew that we wanted to apply to Screen Flanders for funding, and that this would be a key component in our finance plan. The application process was simple and straight-forward, with lots of help and advice available whenever it was required. We were delighted when we were granted funds, and the project was finally greenlit.

Tess Cuming, Eagle Eye

“The application process was simple and straight-forward, with lots of help and advice available whenever it was required. We were delighted when we were granted funds, and the project was finally greenlit,” says Cuming.

Quentin Blake's mooiste verhalen ©

From page to screen

Meanwhile, Creative Conspiracy and Spicy Acorn were thinking about how Quentin Blake’s unique way of drawing could be brought to the screen. “That was one of the big challenges,” Bekers recalls. “How do you put Quentin Blake’s style, which looks so loose and without rules, into the rules that you need to have for a team project? And in animation, it’s just not possible to have all the chaotic lines and details that are in the Quentin Blake originals.”

Decisions were made to simplify some aspects of his illustrations, while retaining their original charm and vitality. These rules were then set out in ‘bibles’ on the inking, colouring and animation for the studios to follow.

Meanwhile, Creative Conspiracy came up with an innovative way of reproducing Blake’s distinctive use of watercolour.

Watercolouring each frame would have been too expensive, so we needed solutions in post-production, which still gave the tactile feel that you get with watercolour. So we developed a tool in the compositing software that we could use to achieve that water effect over all the episodes.

Gerrit Bekers, creative director at CC

“An important part of our job was doing that kind of research, and making it work within the budget,” Decraene adds.

Quentin Blake's mooiste verhalen ©

Opening the Box of Treasures

The first two specials in the Box of Treasures will screen on the BBC’s children’s channel, CBBC, and on BBC 1 this Christmas season, with other broadcasters to follow during 2024. “Two years in the making, Quentin Blake’s Box of Treasures will soon be on our screens, ready to delight children and families across the UK, Flanders, Europe and beyond, with a beautiful, hand-crafted collection of stories, all showcasing the best of Flanders’ creative talent on the global stage,” says Tess Cuming.

“When everything clicks, and it is on a beautiful project like this, then that makes us happy,” Decraene adds.

Quentin Blake’s Box of Treasures is Creative Conspiracy’s first co-production on a third party IP, building on the success of in-house projects such as Ninja Express. The company is now keen to do more. “We are actively having conversations with producers from the UK, France and Canada, to see if we can collaborate on their projects,” Decraene says.

Quentin Blake's mooiste verhalen ©