What have they done to Bitzer?

I’m going to come out of the toy-chest here and reveal that I watch Shaun The Sheep. Yes it might nominally be a kids’ show, but if you think of it as “Wallace and Gromit Lite” then it’s not a bad way to spend a few minutes of downtime. Besides, you only have to look at the list of references to popular culture on Wikipedia to realise that it’s not aimed solely at children.

So I was quite pleased when I noticed that my MythTV box had recorded a couple of episodes that I hadn’t noticed in the schedules: it turns out that the second series has started. I settled down to watch it with my girlfriend (who is quite the Shaun fan) only to raise my eyebrows at what they’d done to the farmer.

The farmer used to look like this:
[Original Source]

Now he looks like this:
[Original Source – zip file of images]

The key difference isn’t easy to spot in those images, so I’ve combined and re-oriented them to make it a bit clearer:

The key point is the line running around the farmer’s mouth. It’s a lot more pronounced on the show itself. It appears to me that Aardman have decided to speed up their work (or reduce costs, depending on how you look at it) by making the mouth section removable. This lets them animate the mouth movement independently of the rest of the body – and indeed the rest of the head. They did a similar trick on Chicken Run, where it was less noticeable due to the difference in colour and texture between the chickens’ beaks and faces. It stands out more on the farmer, but it’s not too bad, as it generally just makes it look like he’s got a five o’clock shadow.

So, a reasonably subtle change to the design of the farmer. He’s a secondary character anyway, so it wasn’t too distracting. But next to the eponymous Shaun, possibly the most prominent character is the farmer’s dog, Bitzer. Yes, you’ve guessed it, they’ve changed that character too. But unlike the relatively minor change to the farmer’s face, Bitzer has had a complete overhaul. And not in a good way.

Old Bitzer:
[Original Source]

New Bitzer:
[Original Source – zip file of images]

The new Bitzer has acquired a furry texture… but not on his head. Maybe I missed the episode titled “Bitzer gets alopecia”. Perhaps the hair loss is a side effect of his efforts to dye his fur, as indicated by the colour change on his chest, throat and lower jaw. That’s the most egregious change and one which, in my opinion, really spoils the design of the character. It’s pretty obvious that, much like the farmer, they’ve decided to reduce costs by making the mouth into a removable section, independent of the rest of the head. But on the Bitzer model the distinction between the two parts – especially once animated – makes it look like Bitzer has been attacked by a bestial Hannibal Lecter, and his skin turned into a mask covering the top of the imposter’s face.

Watch out Shaun, I think there might be a serial killer on the farm. One who plans to destroy your very soul. I think his name is Aardman.

Comments (13)

  1. Gromit the dog is an instant classic character. Bitzer, only slightly less so, and I lament the design changes made to him. I agree, Aardman needs to re-think this change. My 5 year old said “mom, why does Bitzer look so sad?”

  2. I have a 2 year old and I am building a library of quality entertainment for him on a server so that he won’t be exposed to broadcast TV (and advertising) for a while. I was so happy discover that Shaun The Sheep had his own TV show and that it was so great! Last night I found a new DVD that we did not have yet and I snagged it with glee. So today I got my first taste of season 2. I will now stop collecting…

    I am so disheartened. What happened?! Not only are the characters less endearing, but the color palate of the whole world is super saturated, the players express emotions with much more broad and clownish facial expressions, the farm itself lacks detail (the junk heap is less “junky” for example), even the grass looks bad! WHY! Cost I imagine. I believe that the new lines around the mouths on the farmer and Bitzer allow them to switch mouths instead of whole heads. Many of the other changes just confuse and sadden me. I get the feeling that they were under pressure to make it more accessible to a larger audience (profitable) and in doing so they have crushed out much of the charm.

    I think kids crave some realism, not everything needs to look like a candy wrapper. This new art direction is a mistake. Did you notice that the ever present poo is gone form the fields? I guess in this new reality Shaun and the other sheep have stopped going to the baaathroom. (sorry about that)

    I am dying to know the behind the scenes story as to why this gem has become so… average. I was searching for an explanation and thats how I came across your blog so I thought I would commiserate.

    I am sure Wallace and Gromit are safe from such de-evolution… so at least we will can look forward to future high quality shorts and movies involving those characters.

  3. Regardless of the changes in appearance of the characters it’s still the funniest show I have ever seen. If they have to make a few changes to make production a little easier then so be it.The show is still brilliantly funny.

  4. Only recently started watching Shaun the sheep but never noticed what series I was watching. I watch It on ABC Kids in Australia every night at 7.20pm with my wife. I’m 70yoa and my wife is 63yoa and we love It. I even bought my wife a stuffed toy “Shaun” for when she came out of hospital after undergoing open heart surgery.Then all of a sudden “Bitzer” grew hair. I was so disappointed and although we still watch It we don’t like the changes that were made to some of the charterers.I think we’re watching the 2009 series now. A shame really, I always say “Don’t fix It If It’s not broken”.

  5. 11 years late to the party, but still had to check if I was the only one disappointed in this “cutting corners” change. Quite a let down, especially when it’s such an obvious one.

  6. I agree, this was an unnecessary change, thank god the kind souls at aardman listened and changed him back to his original appearance in series 3

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