Fish Hooks: From Illustration To The Television

Cannes Film Festival

Disney Television Group

Renowned children’s book illustrator Noah Jones had no intention of developing a weekly animation series when he received the call from Mike Moon, Vice President of Development at Walt Disney Television Animation.  Jones had just posted a series of unusual animals he drew to blow off some creative steam on his website.  Moon fell in love with the sketches while searching the internet and reached out to Jones.

"He said ‘Hey, would you be interested in pitching us some show ideas," said Jones.  "He really made an effort to reach out to a wide variety of artists within the past few years.  There’s a wide variety of styles Disney has introduced to their studio.  It’s really exciting to be on the inside of that."

The main characters of "Fish Hooks;" three fish named Milo, Bea and Oscar, went through a number of incarnations, including membership in a punk band, before they morphed into high schoolers that reside in a pet shop.   Jones felt utilizing the fish shape to create the characters allowed for greater emotional expression and character development.

"The reason the shape is so simple is that all they really are is their facial features, their emotions," said Jones.  "They are little thumb shapes with not much for legs, so you can really tell what these characters are thinking and I love that."

Setting "Fish Hooks" in a pet shop helps elevate the story two fold:  it provides plenty of fodder for character development through a wide range of settings and experiences, as well as allowing the creative team to develop some very imaginative backgrounds.  While the main characters are hand drawn, the backgrounds are represented with various photo- collage elements.

"There were so many untapped visuals that got us all very excited by setting the stories in a pet store," said Jones.  "We wanted to establish a look that was different.  There was something very appealing about these brightly, jelly-bean colored characters on top of those realistic textures."

While Jones created the main characters in Flash, a program he chose for its ability to make sharp lines, the secondary characters and the backgrounds are created in Photoshop.  The background artists are given a set of photographs to work from that they re-texturalize and re-color, and then assemble into one complete image.  Working in the pet store theme, different cages have a variety of materials and settings that can be represented in the photo realistic settings, from a fish tank that looks like Paris, to another that looks like the Himalayas.  Even the hills of Hollywood are represented.

"In an upcoming episode, Bea travels to Hamsterwood, where all the hamsters live," said Jones.  "Since all the hamsters are photo-collages, the backgrounds are interacting with these fairly realistic looking animals and our main characters are really popping."

Jones stays involved throughout the process of developing each episode.  He works with a writer or writing team to develop a story.  Once a story-line is fleshed out, it’s sent to a storyboard artist.  The storyboard finalization takes six weeks: four weeks to create the board and two weeks for any revisions that arise from a presentation to the entire staff.  Two weeks are spent on the design for the show, including the creation of new characters, background design, and any additional objects used in the setting.  After this step all the elements are sent to the Mercury animation studio.  Mercury generally requires roughly four weeks to turn around the episode. 

"They have an assembly line for putting the character’s together; each character is broken down into all their parts and pieces," said Jones.  "They have a library of Milo eyes and Milo mouths, which is really cool as an artist to see that all put together." 

While not directly involved in the development of the interactive elements of "Fish Hooks" Jones ensures that the premise, story lines, and traits represented remain true to the characters.  He’s also enjoyed some involvement in incorporating physical characteristics of the vocal talent into the design of series regulars, such as Coach Salmon.

"In thinking about Coach Salmon, somebody said, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if he was like Richard Simmons," said Jones.  "When we contacted Richard Simmons, he said ‘Sure, that sounds like fun!’  So we designed the character to look a bit like him.  He has kind of an orange afro and he’s very excited.  Richard Simmons goes into it with so much energy and he does his voice for his character and it’s amazing." 

While Jones is still illustrating children’s books, he’s taken on fewer projects so he can focus on "Fish Hooks."  Due to the nature of the animated show, the characters have the ability to explore a multitude of storylines without aging.  Artistically, a variety of styles can be introduced into the background photo-collages as well, such as an upcoming episode which will incorporate painterly backgrounds, a la "Sleeping Beauty."

"I think until we run out of fun stories to tell, you’ll see these guys in high school," said Jones.  "I would hope that after this runs its course, I’m either able to line something else up, or get involved with something else going on.  I’m having a great deal of fun working on a TV show.  I feel like I’m in this nest of really creative people, and that’s a really amazing experience." 


To learn more about Noah Z. Jones, visit his website:


To learn more about Fish Hooks, visit the Disney Channel website: