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Lauren Beukes

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

End of an era: Farewell Pax Afrika

URBO splashOn Friday afternoon at 3.30pm, the last ever episode of URBO: The Adventures of Pax Afrika aired on SABC3.

Two seasons. 104 episodes. Three and a half years of my life.It was insanely hard work. It was insanely fun. It was insane.

Taking our cues from The Simpsons and South Park (rather than the pedantic and patronising Captain Planet), we created a satirical show that rugby-tackled kid-relevant issues in a way that was smart and funny with vicious attack monsters and giant killer robots and magical superpowers and hoverbikes and emo musical medleys and one egomaniac children’s TV star in a purple bear suit.

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It started with a thought bubble in the shower, when our executive producer, Sean Rogers came up with the ridiculous idea to create an animated series starring a kid called Pax trying to save the world from environmental disaster.

Even more ridiculously, the SABC liked the idea. They asked him to come up with something to show them (being a test sequence, scripts and a production bible), which is where I came in, along with a team of four young animators, Munki, Tim, Tyronne and Sky, Matthew, the director and the supremely talented Gareth Jones on storyboard.

It was the coolest job I’ve ever had. Working on an amazing show with the most amazingly talented bunch of people in a crazily fun creative environment where we all sparked off each other like cutlery in the microwave.

There was no way it could last. Sure, the SABC was interested, but they were never going to go through with it. Not in a million years.

Only they did. First we were talking 13 episodes. Then 26. Then 52. And then a whole new season. Possibly a third. And a fourth!

t-man-and-teeterWe had to hire in more people. Animators and sound guys and editors and 2D and 3D animators and storyboard artists and writers and acting talent including Cokey Falkow, Rob van Vuuren, Nick Pauling, Nicola Jackman, Precious Kofi, Faith Ndakwana, Mike Westcott and Anelisa Phewa as Pax.

Suddenly Clockwork Zoo was the biggest animation studio in southern Africa, with every department churning out an episode a week (11 weeks in total from script to final mix).

The writing team expanded. Tumiso Tsukudu (also of Z News) lent us street cred and sharp dialogue for his brief stint. Sam Wilson (Novel Idea winner) helped shape the world, introducing breezy comedy and silliness when I’d been taking it wa-aaa-aaay too seriously.

A year later, we discovered Sarah Lotz (Pompidou Posse, Exhibit A) through a story she’d published in Something Wicked magazine and she brought us equal parts cuteness and darkness and a parent’s perspective on the stuff that really matters to kids. A year after that, Greig Cameron joined Team Scripticon (@scripticon on Twitter) with his twisted humour and a love of really loud obnoxious robots tagging along.

urbo-sunday-times-coverThe show grew bolder, more ambitious, more crazy cool. Pax made the Daily Voice (“Pax a punch”), the Mail & Guardian (“engaging and delightfully subversive”) and bumped James Bond off the cover of The Sunday Times magazine (“World-class animation with a message. I’m hooked!”)

We tackled big kid-relevant issues like bullying, (ep 33 Everything is Perfect, Ep234 First Day) HIV (ep 10 Sludgie / Ep237 Throat Mushrooms), the beauty industry (ep209 Model Citizens),  the copyfight (Ep 43 CopyStopBox), tik addiction (ep 230 Cola Turkey), Zimbabwe and democracy (Ep 244 The Prefect Storm), global warming (Ep231 Domal Warming) and dodgy cell phone videos (Ep 32 Cell Phone Nasty / Ep 248 Creds in Shreds).

We did parodies of TV shows and movies, from Survivor with monsters to Idols with robots, Jurassic Park, The Maltese Falcon, Aliens with mutated sock monsters and Gulp Fiction with hacker girl Keitu and action heroine Una in the Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta roles in an adventure about a secret sludgeshake formula in a briefcase, with a ticklish monster called the blimp and a dance-off that nearly ended in tragedy thanks to a peanut allergy.

Evil overlord Malice’s schemes got nastier and more inventive. He unleashed a robot army of adorable fighting toys. He got the population addicted to Malice Cola. He designed a robot replica of his wife, launched a Jurassic Park-style monster safari, tried to brainwash the population with the launch of Toothy the Dental Shrimp and tried to be Bono with a benefit concert for orphans that was really raising funds for a giant gold-encrusted theme park shaped like his head.

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And we put our characters through the craziest capers ever known to cartoons.

  • Pax had to save the city from an infestation of cute baby robots, face spider robots, shoe-aholic robots, burping gorilla robots, super-enforcer racing robots as well as the everyday vicious killer variety.
  • T-Man turned (briefly) into a hero, an emo rock star, an invisible spy and a noir detective (complete with battered fedora)
  • Una had to save her dad from a megalomaniac gold-digger and save herself from the lure of fabulous wealth, power and her own reality TV show.
  • Keitu solved mysteries, hacked into robots and the city’s security system, made the scariest cell phone video ever and learned to sing (and inspired my daughter’s name.)
  • Teeter was ridiculously cute. And brave. And viciously growly.
  • Henchguy Clemence cringed and fawned and fidgeted and designed awesome robots, all in the service of his beloved boss and for the love of his mommy, robot manufacturing arm 2x-4b.
  • Tumi schemed and plotted and connived, fell prey to bogey-bots in our scariest ever episode and revealed a soft side with his evil teddy.
  • Frothy tried to take over the school play, become the spokes-shrimp for dental hygiene and started his own robot cult to take over the world.
  • Lucille screamed.
  • Vanessa schemed
  • And Mpho made it big in the robot-rapping scene.

It was great. While it lasted. URBO didn’t get picked up for Season 3. Budget reasons.

So, we never got to wrap up our plotlines. Pax never got to find the lost city of URBO, face down his evil ancestor Senyaka, have his final showdown with Malice and Tumi and save the world once and for all.

But for three and a half years, I got to work on something I believed in with the smartest, funniest most talented and entertaining people I’ve had the great luck and huge privilege to be locked in a room with. Luckily, we have a bushel of new shows we’re developing that are ripe for the pickin’. But URBO was our first.

We made an epic. We made history. And it was the most fun I’ve had working in TV (so far).

Clips and full episodes here or rent the best-of collections from pushplay.

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Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://louisgreenberg.com" rel="nofollow">Louis Greenberg</a>
    Louis Greenberg
    May 12th, 2009 @19:45 #
     
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    An excellent run, Lauren. Congratulations and comiserations. Alas, I was always at work when it aired, but I'll never forget psycho-bunny. I'm glad it's all available in cyberspace now.

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  • <a href="http://sarahlotz.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sarah Lotz</a>
    Sarah Lotz
    May 12th, 2009 @20:05 #
     
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    Bugger. Have just been comment deathed.
    very, very, sad. Was amazing to work on the show - especially loved our plotting and planning sessions that were fuelled by too much Vida, occasional sushi and tons of irreverance. Impossible to imagine a more fulfilling, fun and crazy job.
    (Still gutted that we didn't get to make the gay robot wedding/divorce episode.)
    RIP Pax et all.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    May 12th, 2009 @21:17 #
     
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    Gay robot wedding/divorce??? Oh pleeeeez make it somehow, somewhere!

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    May 12th, 2009 @21:52 #
     
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    Helen, you would LOVE Sarah's episode Model Citizens, where bumbling inventor henchguy Clemence designs a mirror that makes everyone look fat and then uses it as a launchpad for a holographic doohickie that turns everyone into clone-alikes of the two prettiest (and most vacuous) people in the city, a hoverbiking champion and a popstar.

    We've got the scripts for gay robot wedding and the robo-parents divorce, if you want to read them.

    @Sarah, it was a beautiful, beautiful crazy time.

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  • <a href="http://sarahlotz.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Sarah Lotz</a>
    Sarah Lotz
    May 12th, 2009 @22:49 #
     
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    Sigh, Lauren. I do miss everything about it. When you've comquered the world with Moxylands and Crocodiles and are rich beyond all imaginings, then perhaps we can fund another batch of cartoon craziness.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    May 12th, 2009 @23:10 #
     
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    Yeah, levity is great and all, but the reality is that I'm deeply, deeply sad and mourning the premature death of our small and silly and crazily passionate world.

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  • <a href="http://www.moxyland.com" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    May 12th, 2009 @23:11 #
     
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    Also: if anyone is going to be the world-famous billionaire author, I suspect it's gonna be you, Ms Lotz. Unless we can persuade Sam to throw in Rome and go for Stephen Fry meets Wilbur Smith with his poacher noir.

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