Curtis Jobling: From beloved builders to werewolves

Artist, author and animation creator Curtis Jobling is to take a look back at his captivating career in the creative industries with an exhibition at Warrington Museum.

World-Building’ launches on Saturday, 15 June, and it will be the first time Curtis has hosted a full-scale retrospective of his work in his hometown.

From Bob the Builder and Raa Raa the Noisy Lion all the way through to the upcoming Netflix adaptation Wolf King, the showcase will bring together almost 30 years of craftsmanship, imagination and storytelling.

The diverse exhibition will include stop-motion puppets and models, never-seen-before sketchbooks with early designs of characters, original manuscripts, first editions of books and artwork and maps from novels.

Museum visitors will also have an exclusive first-look at images from Netflix’s upcoming Wolf King animated series, based on Curtis’s Wereworld novels.

Curtis, who grew up in Great Sankey, said: “My connection to Warrington Museum goes back to my childhood and it always fascinated me. It was full of stories that inspired me so to be back there doing an exhibition is a real thrill.

“When I met with the Museum team and we decided it was going to be a look back at my career and all the things I’ve worked on, I had to go in the loft and dig everything out.

“I’ve got piles of early design work and dozens and dozens of sketchbooks from different shows. Then there were all the original paintings.

“So it was a matter of corralling all those things together and suddenly you realise it’s a very extensive body of work covering animation, publishing and creative writing. The thread that runs through all those aspects of my career is creativity and building worlds.”

Curtis got his first opportunity working on Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave.

He wrote a letter to Aardman Animations saying he was interested in learning more about 3D illustration. He didn’t expect to hear back but he was offered work experience

The former Penketh High School student added: “Pretty much straight out of art college, my first experience of the industry was what went onto be an Oscar-winning film. It was only a week but it was a real eye-opener. The one thing that I designed myself that made it into the film was the ‘Sud U-Like’ box.

“I had Nick Park (Wallace and Gromit creator) basically coming to review what I was doing and encouraging me to go out into the supermarkets of Bristol to draw washing powder boxes. He wanted to make sure my design was inspired by the real world. That’s the level of attention to detail in the Wallace and Gromit films.”

Curtis’s first major paid work was then with a fellow former Penketh High student Ian Mackinnon crafting the puppets for the Tim Burton film, Mars Attacks, at Altrincham studio, Mackinnon and Saunders.

He feared this brush with the TV and film industry was a flash in the pan as creative opportunities dried up after that, but an offer from a former Cosgrove Hall producer changed everything when Curtis was about to throw in the towel and start a ‘real job’ designing kitchens.

Cosgrove Hall’s Jackie Cockle was in the process of setting up a new stop motion studio called HOT Animation and entrusted Curtis with creating a new character called ‘Bob the Builder’.

He said: “I was given free rein to design everything on the show from scratch and I was only 24 or 25 at the time so it was a huge deal. Bob is now a classic children’s character.

“It’s mad. I worked on the show for 10 years and I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the world – wherever I’ve gone Bob’s been universally loved.”

Fast-forward to present day and Curtis’s full attention has now been turned to Wereworld – and he couldn’t be more excited.

He has loved books ever since he picked up Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are at Penketh Library, and that hint of the macabre has found its way into his picture books like Frankenstein’s Cat and Skeleton in the Closet.

But Curtis took that to another level when he launched the six-novel Wereworld series, starting in 2011.

The fantasy epic is now in making its way to Netflix under the new name, Wolf King, and it represents the culmination of more than a decade’s work.

Curtis is the show’s creator, lead writer and associate producer and, working directly alongside Lime Pictures and producers Jellyfish Pictures, 16 episodes will be landing later this year or early 2025.

He added: “Netflix are renowned for being secretive about shows in production. But visitors can enjoy an exclusive first glimpse at some stills from Wolf King at the exhibition.

“You won’t see them anywhere else. If you come along you’ll get an exclusive look at what the new Wolf King animated series will look like.

“I still talk about Wereworld when I visit schools and festivals, but the optioning, development and production of the show has breathed new life into it.

“It very much feels like a north west production, what with collaborating with Lime Pictures in Liverpool, but the footprint is a lot bigger because we’ve got animators and creatives from all over the world. It looks spectacular.”

World-Building: The Words and Pictures of Curtis Jobling is free to view and will be at Warrington Museum between 15 June and 29 September.