Sep 24

The small but mighty film ‘Hedgehog Close’ has been nominated for two Wildscreen Panda Awards: Impact (small budget) and Children’s Award. This 2-minute film is an engaging stop motion animation which shines a spotlight on the plight of the hedgehog in the UK.

We spoke to Film Director Tom Hooker, from Zest Productions, about making this film and the recognition it has received.

Hedgehog close is a really fun little film. What made you decide to get involved with this project?

I wanted to make something fun and different, but with a strong conservation message. After brainstorming a few ideas, I settled on Hedgehogs. They are declining rapidly but this downwards trend could still be reversed by very simple actions. There is an urgency to this and I felt that it could be addressed powerfully through video. Working with a small budget meant scaling everything down and the idea of building models to depict an ‘ideal’ hedgehog habitat appealed to me. This fitted the original vision to create something warm and charming and also seemed like a useful device to tell the story.

Being nominated for the Children’s Award means the film was a hit with our toughest judges: a group of 8-12 year olds! Was the aim at the outset to create a film for a younger audience?

It’s fantastic the film has been so well received by young audiences. This was definitely a priority from the outset and influenced every aspect of production. The most challenging part was writing a script that clearly communicated the key points without sounding too preachy……or dull! Beyond that, the models needed to look appealing and paying attention to small details helped make it more visually exciting. Lots of inspiration was drawn from the brilliant work of Aardman Animations who excel at captivating both young and adult audiences. The film is still being shown in schools around the country and many parents and teachers have got in touch to request copies and pass on positive feedback which has been brilliant.

The aptly named ‘hedgehog at fence obstacle’ shot | © Tom Hooker/Zest Productions

What does it take for a film to successfully engage with the intended audience?

I think it’s vital to weigh every decision and element against the intended audience. Whoever they are, and whatever age group, people have short attention spans and plenty of other distractions. It’s important to give people a reason to keep watching at every stage. In the case of Hedgehog Close which was distributed on social media, it needed to be short and to the point. There were other models and scenes which never made it into the film as it was a priority to keep it under two minutes. In the end, every shot, and almost every word, had a purpose! As far as the creative stuff goes, the visual style is important and music obviously plays a huge part too, as does the tone and delivery of the voiceover. I think it helped being mindful of all these elements from the outset.

We also created a dedicated twitter account for the film where we tried to push it out far and wide. It was important to me to get the film seen outside a traditional wildlife audience to avoid preaching to the converted. The language used around its promotion was also important so as not to turn people off.

How important was the presence of Gordon Buchanan as the narrator? What did he bring to the production?

Gordon’s voice was the icing on the cake and provided the perfect tone and feel. A warm, friendly voice that simply flows with the pictures without being over bearing or too ‘instructional’. For me, it was important to have a recognisable voice that was trustworthy and genuine. I always imagined it being read softly as a bedtime story before functioning as a powerful conservation film and I feel Gordon’s tone makes it work on both levels.

The film is made by stop motion animation, what is it about this style of filmmaking that lends itself to this particular film?

There are several reasons why stop motion felt like the right choice. For starters, we could make the hedgehogs move wherever we wanted and show this from any angle. I wasn’t too concerned about smooth motion and perfect technique as much of the film’s character lies in its rustic, home-made style. The model hedgehogs fit into the environment better than a computer generated version would have done and, crucially, it was also a lot cheaper! Stop motion also lends itself to a more nostalgic, family friendly feel that I wanted to capture. As a lighting cameraman, I enjoy lighting real objects in three dimensions whilst thinking about textures, shadows and how they interact. Consequently, I think it produces images that are more eye catching and engaging than a 2D animation would have been.

The main point in the film is about connectivity, illustrating the purpose of joining neighbouring gardens and allowing hedgehogs to roam. By using stop motion we were able to show this happening. With 30cm high houses, it was possible to film aerial shots and move between fence-lines without needing a huge crane, big lights and obliging residents! The resultant look hopefully has more charm and visual appeal too.

The whole set with camera on motorised slider | © Tom Hooker/Zest Productions

There is an incredible amount of attention to detail in the film, how did you go about creating all the scenes? And how long did the entire filmmaking process take?!

Adding the detail was definitely a lot of fun! The basic script just required a living room, shed and a series of gardens. It was only at the time of building them that they began to take on more character and interest……And absorb more time! The basic structures were made from cardboard and balsa wood although many other obscure items were also used, ranging from lolly sticks for roof tiles to coffee granules and tea bag contents for soil. Most of the wallpapers and brickwork patterns were created in photoshop and then glued onto card.

The houses under construction – tiles were individually added to provide texture and some realism | © Tom Hooker/Zest Productions

The model building process started slowly as it was important to establish the right scale. The models had to be large enough to be workable and allow the desired depth of field, but also not so large that we would have been forced to hire Pinewood Studios! Some sets were built to two different scales to enable certain shots.

Lots of time was spent on the internet browsing houses and gardens which helped inspire some of the designs. I wanted each house and garden to be individual whilst still being in keeping with the overall style. The alleyway was based on a familiar local alley, complete with wheelie bins.

The entire filmmaking process took about six months from start to end. This was from the original idea to the final release of the film during Hedgehog Awareness Week. It was helpful to have a deadline or it could still be going on!

Attention to detail: the hedgehog themed living room (above) and the scattering of moss, lichen and grass | © Tom Hooker/Zest Productions

In addition to two Panda Award nominations, this production has won multiple awards including People’s Choice at the Charity Film Awards. What has been the wider impact of the film since its release?

It would be great to know how many new hedgehog highways have been created as a result of the film! There’s definitely a few but what has also been rewarding is hearing from people who previously had no idea about the plight of hedgehogs and pledged to make changes following the film. I was conscious from the start that we needed to avoid preaching to the converted so found these moments very reassuring. It was initially shared on Facebook and twitter by BBC Springwatch, The British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the RSPB but very quickly spread. It was great to see the film being retweeted and shared by various well known people outside of the ‘conservation circle’ including comedians, presenters and Aardman Animations Producer Peter Lord who praised its charm!

The film is still being distributed by the Hedgehog Society and shown within schools and educational settings which is fantastic. This will hopefully continue until a time when every street is like Hedgehog Close and their population begins to recover.

Many thanks for talking to us Tom, the film is available to watch below.

Visit the Wildscreen Festival website for more information and our full list of Festival speakers and screenings!

Hedgehog Close from Zest Productions on Vimeo.

Feb 1

We’ve asked conservation organisations around the world to nominate a species that they believe to be overlooked, underappreciated and unloved, and tell us why they think that they deserve a fair share of the limelight, this Valentine’s Day.

Each nominee’s story is featured on the Arkive blog with information on the species, what makes them so special, the conservation organisation that nominated them and how they are working to save them from extinction.

Click the ‘unloved species’ tag above to see all of the nominations and their blogs.

Once you have perused the blogs you can vote for your favourite to help get them into the top ten unloved species and get them the recognition that they truly deserve! Share your favourite with others using the #LoveSpecies hashtag on Twitter and Facebook and tell them why they should vote for them too. Voting closes on February 14th at 23:59 PST (07:59 GMT).

Join us and our conservation partners in celebrating and raising awareness for some of the world’s most unloved species this Valentine’s Day!

Species: Hedgehog

Nominated by: Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust

Conservation status UK priority species. According to the latest report in 2015 by Peoples Trust for Endangered Species & British Hedgehog Preservation Society there has been a continuing decline of the hedgehog across the UK, in both rural and urban landscapes. Since 2000, rural populations have declined by at least a half and urban populations by up to a third in the same period.

Why do you love it? It’s iconic, it’s enigmatic, it’s humble, it’s the gardener’s best friend and it’s quietly shuffling off this mortal coil with barely a squeak. In the past, the hedgehog has been a species which everyone has seen in their gardens or bumbling along down the streets in the evenings.

Despite the hedgehog’s spiky exterior, it has become embedded in British culture and is positively welcomed into gardens as a pest-controlling friend, it is much loved by everyone we talk to – everyone has a hedgehog tale to tell. Unfortunately it’s polite and secretive little character has seen its rapid decline go relatively unnoticed until recently – and more and more the answer we get when we ask ‘have you seen a hedgehog recently?’ is, ‘Actually, when I think about it – not for a years!’. We think it’s a long time overdue to show a little love to the humble hedgehog!

What are the threats to the hedgehog? There are many reasons for the decline in the UK hedgehog population, although the main reason is thought to be habitat fragmentation. As hedgerows have declined and roads have carved up the countryside, the foraging pathways for hedgehogs have disappeared and small pockets of populations which can’t travel between each other are formed. These populations can’t move or adjust to local pressures, whether that be disease, predation, flooding, starvation or the building of a new estate.

Intensive farming means the countryside no longer offers the comfort of many pastures to forage and hedgerows to shelter in. Pasture land which previously provided a varied habitat with plenty of insects have been turned into arable fields and ploughed for production; hedgerows have been removed to create larger, easier to plough fields; and pesticides have reduced the number of insects) available to be foraged.

In urban areas the story isn’t much better. Previously ‘leaky’ gardens are being made impenetrable with 6ft solid fencing and walls preventing our hedgehogs moving around and finding food and shelter; our gardens are becoming just too tidy – paving, concrete and gravel really doesn’t provide many spaces for insects to live and it really isn’t conducive to hibernation or shelter (well except for those lovely wood piles we built in the Autumn ready for bonfire night!). Pesticides are also a major factor, not only reducing hedgehog food sources, but also by direct poisoning – sadly they can’t tell the difference between a juicy fresh slug and one full of poison!

The largest and most dangerous ‘predator’ to the hedgehog is the car. Tens of thousands of hedgehogs are killed on roads every year, after all spines are little defence against a huge metal vehicle.

What are you doing to save it? In 2015 we launched a campaign to raise awareness of the plight of the hedgehog within Gloucestershire. Not only do we want to raise awareness and promote positive action from the public in their own gardens, but we are also desperate to gather local data to enable us to direct and focus our own conservation efforts to the areas where it is most needed.

We wanted to get across that although we know that hedgehogs are struggling, that their populations are declining – fast – it is very difficult to tell much more than that at this point. Both nationally and within Gloucestershire we know relatively little about the current population status of hedgehogs – and with limited data it is difficult to tell exactly what we can do and where we should focus our conservation efforts.

The most important thing we can do now is to find out more – the more we know the more we can do. So we need sightings. We need to know when you see a hedgehog (alive or dead) and equally important, we need know if you HAVEN’T SEEN a hedgehog in your garden or your local area. By gathering this information we can work out where they are, and over several years, how healthy the population is and where we need to focus our future conservation efforts.

If you live inGloucestershire, get involved with Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s hedgehog project

Find out more about Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s work

Discover more hedgehog species on Arkive





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