Meet the Gold Lotto City Hall Lights author: Samantha Wheeler - Visit Brisbane

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Meet the Gold Lotto City Hall Lights author: Samantha Wheeler

A little koala called Clarence is searching for the perfect Christmas gift for his parents. But what if the perfect gift doesn’t exist?

In the lead up to Christmas every year Brisbane City Hall transforms into an enchanting animated canvas by night with a unique family-friendly festive story projected across the building from 7.30pm until midnight. 

This year Gold Lotto City Hall Lights return with a brand-new story from celebrated Brisbane children’s author Samantha Wheeler. “I write stories about Australian wildlife. And so it makes sense to create a story to begin with that passion of mine. And so I developed it about a little koala called Clarence,” she told Brisbane City.

What is the story?

The Perfect Gift follows little Clarence the koala on his quest to find the perfect Christmas presents for his family. Other Australian animals in the bush help him find or make gifts including TJ the kookaburra, Judy the goanna and Gus the kangaroo. Finally, after a frantic night of searching, Clarence and his friends stumble home carrying a hat made of twigs, a rock painting of Clarence, and a wreath made of wildflowers. Nothing is quite perfect. But in the end, Clarence’s parents tell him that he needn’t have worried...

“So it's kind of nice in that it involves the wildlife, but it's also a message that [Christmas is] not about things, Christmas is about love. There is no need to spend so much money and worry over the perfect gift when really it's your company and the people you love around you that makes you happiest,” Samantha explains.

What was the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge, Samantha says, was making sure the story had ups and downs and a climax in such few words. The Brisbane children’s author normally writes books for younger and middle-grade readers. “My normal book would be 35,000 where as this is more like 600 words,” Samantha says.

“My first koala story is about a koala called Smooch, but he doesn't have a voice - my characters generally don't speak. And that's a little bit more scientific, you know, tree clearing and the problems of habitat loss and so forth,” Samantha says. The British-born author spent some of her childhood in Africa, where her passion for wildlife ignited, before moving to Australia at age 16. Smooch & Rose was published in 2013 and since then Samantha has continued writing children’s novels featuring other Australian wildlife.

“There's lots of issues for our wildlife and my current battle is to try and encourage young people to care about wildlife. Sometimes the messages can be a little sad, you know, if you don't do something their homes will be ruined. I had to remember, this is a Christmas story,” she said. “We want to be celebrating love and everything that's Christmas.”

Was it hard turning words into animation?

Pairing a short children’s story with illustrations for a picture book is a challenge. So how hard is it for an author to work with a team of animators to make an epic production using 16 projectors to cover a giant building?

“[The] Electric Canvas are the animators and they were very clear it needed to be a very visual story,” says Samantha. “So for example, I had the animals in the bush collecting the twigs, and they said that the shot would be of a tree with the kookaburra flying around. So you could then couldn't really see what the Goanna was doing down on the ground."

A team of 10 animators plus the art director and producer work on this 6-7 minute story. First they collaborated with Samantha, turning the story line into dialogue and vibrant, dynamic action, colour and movement. When the script was ready a voice over artist recorded the narration and character dialogue. 

“Only Clarence had a name in the original story and they suggested that ‘oh, I think let's give all the characters a name’, which I hadn't really thought was important,” Samantha says.

Meanwhile the animation team sketched up storyboards and planned out how the artwork would fill the architectural facade of Brisbane City Hall. Next the animators designed the overall style and hero characters. Illustrators began designing backgrounds and character designers worked on animating the animals. Once the pictures came together a sound designer composed a custom soundtrack that incorporated the voice overs and sound effects. And, ta-da, the end result is more than 1500 hours of work by Samantha Wheeler and The Electric Canvas to be enjoyed by Brisbane this Christmas.

Favourite thing about Christmas in Brisbane?

“Mangoes, ice-cream and swimming pools,” says Samantha. We definitely agree!

You can catch the Gold Lotto City Hall Lights when it returns with this enchanting, brand new story from celebrated Brisbane children's author Samantha Wheeler every night December 6-24 from 7.30pm until midnight. The projected story repeats every 15 minutes. 

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