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‘Arthur,’ PBS’s Beloved Aardvark-Centric Series, Gets a New Digital Life

Dan Flynn, associate creative director of Hero4Hire Creative and lead animator on ‘Arthur’ digital productions, talks about the future of the long-running children’s animated series.

For more than 25 years, the animated educational TV series Arthur taught children aged 4 to 8 important lessons about life. Based on the Arthur Adventure book series by Marc Brown and developed by Kathy Waugh for PBS, the WGBH-produced show followed the everyday adventures of the title character, an anthropomorphic aardvark, and his friends and family in the fictional town of Elwood City. The series dealt with such important issues as illnesses and family relationships, and championed reading, kindness, and empathy.

On February 21, 2022, Arthur – which was the longest-running children’s animated series in U.S. history, and second only to The Simpsons in terms of overall animated series longevity – came to a close with the broadcast of its final episode on PBS Kids. While the show will unquestionably be missed, the good news is that new creative and educational content will continue to be produced, and will be available via YouTube and, thanks to animation studio Hero4Hire Creative, in close collaboration with WGBH.

Hero4Hire Associate Creative Director Dan Flynn, who serves as the studio’s lead animator on all Arthur digital productions, talked with AWN about the future of the program, including how the longstanding series set up its animation pipeline via Hero4Hire Creative in order to reach children on screens and platforms that weren't available in the mid-1990s.

AWN: How long has Hero4Hire been associated with Arthur and what have you done on the show up to now?

Dan Flynn: We started in 2020, with Arthur’s graduation address for children who were unable to do in-person ceremonies due to the pandemic. Since then, WGBH Boston has turned to us for a number of topical shorts addressing issues of the day for kids, including COVID safety, racial justice, and civil discourse surrounding the elections.

AWN: How will content for the new productions be determined and what will it encompass?

DF: In 2020, GBH Kids created a series of digital short videos to give parents and families tools to talk about current events – including the importance of hand-washing and wearing a mask; talking about racism; and encouraging everyone to participate in elections. Over the next several years, the team will build on these efforts and produce additional new shorts to address timely topics families will be facing, as well as everyday Elwood City adventures.

AWN: Are there specific aspects of the show’s animation and storytelling style that you’re most focused on capturing in the new digital content?

DF: We’ve tried matching the framing and motion from the original show to the new content. There’s a specific quality to the linework with Arthur, which always has a shaky, hand-drawn quality that we tried to emulate. Also, making sure the characters’ original personalities shine through is important whenever you’re expanding on a legacy show like Arthur. We’ve been able to take advantage of the show’s existing asset library, from characters to backgrounds to music.

AWN: What does your production pipeline look like?

DF: To do something topical, we have a very short turnaround window. We’ve created a nimble pipeline that can go from concept to release within two to four weeks, with animatics needing to be complete within 48 hours of receiving the script.

AWN: Is there anything that will be significantly different in the format of the new content?

DF: The new content will be consistent with the Arthur brand in terms of look, feel and format.

AWN: What will happen to the content currently in the Arthur section of the PBS KIDS website?

DF: The more than 250 episodes of Arthur and the existing large library of digital games and activities – as well as the new digital shorts, a new podcast and even more digital games – will continue to be available on PBS KIDS for years to come.

Jon Hofferman's picture
Jon Hofferman is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles. He is also the creator of the Classical Composers Poster, an educational and decorative music timeline chart that makes a wonderful gift.