Leeds animation graduates create award-winning film for the Beano's Derek The Sheep

For Ben Simpson, a life in animation began as a child when he dreamt of being Calamity James, the hapless Beano character.

The 39-year-old has since become a senior lecturer at Leeds Art University, passing on his skills in the artform to a new generation of budding animators.

And now, with his help, a group of graduate students from the course are achieving success and acclaim - with a little help from a sheep named Derek.

Mr Simpson - who is known to his students as Doctor Simpo - has joined forces with renowned comic artist Gary Northfield and a group of graduates to create a six-minute short feature film based on the Beano character, who delighted fans of the comic between 2004 and 2011.

Animation graduate Damian Jenorowski (front) is pictured with Ben Simpson

The film sees Derek’s quest to reach a new field - where the grass is greener than his current abode.

But in true comic style, things don’t go as smoothly as planned for the farmyard animal.

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Produced at Mr Simpson’s studio at Bates Mill in Huddersfield, the film gave grounding for graduates Prathik Poojary, Damian Jenorowski, Tisa Rahman, Haraldur Pétursson and Cameron Cook to hone their craft after finishing their course in 2020.

Mr Simpson said: “It’s a team of very, very high-flying students.

“I knew they were good - and they decided they wanted to start their own studio as a collective.

“They had no work after the pandemic. There hasn’t been much opportunity to make relationships or business networking.

“So we thought, let’s use this time to make something good.

“It was a skills swap - I helped them out, they helped me out - and we both helped Gary out - a giant of a the children’s publishing world.”

Mr Northfield said: “Every time I watch the animation, I laugh like a drain.

“Ben and the team have breathed a new life into my grumpy old sheep and the fun they had making it shines through every nutty frame.

“All these millions of awards that seem to turn up every half an hour are a testament to their dedication and hard work.”

The graduates’ animation collective, SCHWA, now hope to continue to progress in the cartoon and graphic novel industry.