Aardman designer encourages kids to get creative in art TV show

art ninja

Ricky Martin works at both Aardman animations and CBBC

By day, Ricky Martin is a freelance creative director and animator, working in Aardman Animations digital department to help with the production of games, apps and websites. Earlier this year, his new TV show premiered on CBBC – the BBC's children's programming network.

Art Ninja is all about inspiring kids to get creative; using materials around the home, Martin is able to construct easy-to-follow instructions that will enable each child to tap into their arty side. Above-all however, it's all about having fun. Martin talked to us about how the opportunity came about and what it's been like to present your very own creative show.

How did Art Ninja come about? What was the process?

My dad and my siblings have always been crafty, and being the youngest I spent a lot of my time watching them make stuff. The road to Art Ninja is a long story for me. It started with some online videos for the Wallace and Gromit World of Invention website; I made and reviewed the 'Hands On Kits' for kids and filmed myself doing it, mainly for fun.

The next stage just sounds hilarious saying it… because of the Hands On Kit videos and Aardman’s then head of broadcast, Miles Bullough, I had an chance to present a pilot for an Aardman/CBBC science show humorously called 'Ricky’s Radical Reinventions'. I co-wrote the show with a friend of mine and it featured everyone’s favourite terracotta shapeshifter, Morph.

art ninja

Ricky's previous attempt, 'Ricky’s Radical Reinventions' didn't get picked up by the BBC

Sadly the pilot didn’t get picked up by CBBC. I was okay with that though, as the science show format felt like a bit of a bad fit for me, but I had learned a lot about what goes into making a good show.

Anyway… Dot to Dot productions in London were looking for a recommission of their previous art show, but the CBBC commissioner had other ideas (thankfully for me) and got them to contact me and develop a new art brand.

We were going for Naked Chef, meets art, meets Jackass

We met up and over a few weeks we developed a format we were excited about. We were going for Naked Chef, meets Art, meets Jackass. Back then the working title was 'Art Monkey' I’m glad it wasn’t the final title… as I’d probably have had to monkey about everywhere with my arms curled under my armpits.

Nick Hutchings was our series producer and writer and he developed the ideas into a kind of sitcom, which oddly works quite well! He loves a pun that guy. On shoot there was talk of a 'pun jar' which he would have to put a quid in everytime time he’d drop one.

art ninja

Art Ninja airs every Saturday morning, with plenty of web content to keep kids interested

How do you prepare content and projects for the shows?

I really wanted the 'makes' and animations to either be something the children could do straight away, or larger inspirational pieces. I think we created a nice balance of accessible and aspirational art, without talking down to our audience.

I developed the animation sections, we wanted to get a good cross section of animation styles and techniques to show off and getting children excited. Animation is a bit of a labour of love so I tried to create stuff that I genuinely wanted to make.

I also had quite a lot of input on the 'big makes' that we perform at the end of each episode. Developing these was a case of finding an artform that we could radically simplify and blow up big. All of these big makes needed to have an enjoyable process, so it wasn’t just about the finished piece but the fun that could be had in journey. Although some were just plan anarchic, naughty and made us look cool!

Strangely enough, when we were thinking of 'big makes', often Jo and Alan from Dot to Dot would email me a website or YouTube clip and ask me how we could do something similar that children could try. On many occasions they would share a video that I had either been involved in making, was in the clip itself or the clip was of my friends.

Has it helped to develop or inspire you at your day job?

Well, maybe. But in a very non direct way. I came out of Art Ninja excited to make some games! I had lots of ideas but was too busy during the shooting to give them an outlet. I have gained even more crafty tricks and skills that have helped when it comes to fancy dress parties and birthday cards.


The show acts like a sitcom, with reoccuring characters and brilliant one-liners

Why did you embark on Art Ninja?

I loved art shows when I was younger and religiously watched Art Attack, SMart and things like Take Hart. After 'RRR' I did have a felt like I had unfinished business, that I hadn’t given presenting a good go, I kind of wanted to check if I could actually 'do it'.

A friend of mine said it was important to do something everyday that scares you, he meant when it came to skateboarding, I took it onboard in a different way. The prospect of presenting a CBBC series did (and still does a little bit) scare me, So I had to do it.

What has been your favourite moment so far?

My favourite thing so far is having my friends in the show. The guys that feature are genuinely my friends. Gavin [Strange] and Sarah I work with everyday at Aardman. Rich is a close friend, we get together every now and then and give a hand to one another on various projects.

The crew was super small too so we were pretty close knit. There was a lot of in jokes and adlib songs that developed everyday and having a good working environment made the whole experience really easy and fun. I did like the big makes the most though, getting messy was awesome and we got to go to some pretty cool locations, such as Brighton and some caves under Bristol.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the show?

Remembering lines! I’m dyslexic and I can somehow read the words on a page without retaining any of the information! I would have to read the script out loud to myself countless times before I felt confident enough to recite it on camera. Also and this is a silly thing, I would argue with Nick (series producer and writer).

A line might read "I hate anchovies" for example. I actually really like anchovies, Nick would argue that the character doesn’t like them… At which point I would point out that the character is called Ricky and his family and friends are played by my family and friends. I know its stupid, But I don’t like to lie on camera or be misrepresented. Most of the time Nick would remind me its just telly.

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Ricky finds it most challenging to learn lines for the show

How has the reaction been?

It's actually been amazing. I was really worried that it was going to be a big cringe fest. Me and some friends got up to watch the first episode as it was broadcast and I remember dreading it and then felt surprised that it wasn’t that bad, it was actually quite good. Everyone really enjoyed it and I’ve had some lovely tweets, emails and even some fan art!

I have heard that friends kids talk about it in the playground, text each other after it's aired to chat about it and I’ve even had facebook messages from friends saying they now hate the sound of my voice as their kids have made them sit through the same episode four times!

What has been most surprising about the show so far?

One of the most surprising thing has been the feedback. Everyone has been so lovely and the intended audience are enjoying Art Ninja, getting inspired and making art. Its hard to see a finished piece when you are busy making something and post production took quite a long time so when it finally aired I had almost forgot it happened.

Because of the long period of time between shooting Art Ninja and it airing, I did have a chance to take a step back and watch it subjectively as a member of the audience. I was a bit nervous about it airing just because I hadn’t seen a full episode and didn’t know what to expect.

But due to the hard work from the crew and guidance from execs I think its become a really impressive show so I would say that the most surprising thing about the show so far, for me, is how proud I am of it.

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