Tutor Work: Bernie The Fire Safety Guy


My name is Mike Glasswell. I'm a first year Diploma in Applied Animation Tutor. I teach traditional (hand drawn) animation here at Animation College. I also take on contract work in my free time to keep my skills sharp and recently I was contacted by a studio called Toybox with an exciting opportunity.

I'd previously worked on the Orcon Cat advert a few years ago with Toybox and I really enjoyed it. They were so happy with my work on the Orcon job, that they offered me the opportunity to work on two 22 second TVCs (television commercials) for the summer fire safety campaign staring the iconic 'Bernie, the fire safety guy'. 

I had several meetings with the guys at Toybox, in studio and also via email, looking over the storyboards and listening to the audio (original voice actor as well). The pre-production phase was already well underway, when I joined the project, and they needed an animator to bring life and emotion to the character performance. I was very eager to get involved with the project and I put forward the idea of getting a small group of animators together to help out. Throughout my years of industry work, I'd made many contacts so I was spoilt for choice.


I recruited my good friend Dane Jacobs who is also a tutor at Animation College. That way I could have meetings with him about the project on break or in the lunch room. I also recruited Jared Toth, a fantastic animator that I have worked with for 4 years at two different studios. We all met with the directors at Toybox and got production underway.

We were all quite humbled that we would get to animate such an iconic kiwi character ‘come on, keep it green.’ I always remember seeing that ad when I was young, and getting to work on it in my adult years was surreal. The project was intense but very well organised, we knew our deadlines, and I kept up constant communication with my team and the directors. Many late nights and working through the weekends. Having a strong team who knew their craft and had a fabulous skill set was one of the things that helped out on the project, having animators you trust to do the job while you were away or doing something else created a pretty stress-free production.


Working with live action plates was also a new experience for me. Thank goodness there was not a lot of interaction like the movie 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'. The live action plates were really well done and thought out. The studio had a big cardboard cutout of Bernie that they took to the shoot to show size comparison and lighting. The director on location also put strings and attached them to a tent and moved the strings when Bernie moved or touched the tent. It worked really well because we had a strong pre-production, both teams miles away would follow the same blue print, being the storyboards and animatics and we would get a result that slotted together.

As a team, we did all rough animation first, sent that to the directors for feedback. We changed what they requested, some requests were simple like change his head direction. Some were a bit tougher. Like change when Bernie zips away in a cloud of smoke, to a more traditional walk and talk off screen scene.

Once each scene was approved and checked off (thanks to Dane’s excellent production schedule), we cleaned up and coloured the scenes. We used Flash but animated traditionally using the programs advantages, like ctrl-Z, copy and paste.

All post production was done in house at Toybox by the studios editors who ultimately colour graded the shots and put shadows to Bernie. Once we had all wrapped on the project and invoices were sent away, we were invited to the studio for a beer and a viewing of the project. It was great little job, and now I have an iconic Kiwi character to add to my portfolio.


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