The Big Knights
Commissioned by the BBC and first shown in 1999 The Big Knights was the first televison series by Neville Astley and Mark Baker.
The Big Knights was originally released on VHS. The series consisted of 13 episodes but only half of these were on the VHS and a planned second VHS, which would have contained the remaining episodes, was never released.
In 2009 the series was remastered in Widescreen HD 1080p Format and all episdodes were released on Blu-ray.
In 2021 the series was remastered again, this time restoration work being done on the sound. This 2021 version of all 13 episodes is availble to watch for free on the Officlal Big Knights YouTube Channel.
In the far off land of Borovia, where dragons are fierce, witches are wicked, wizards are smelly, scientists are unstable, the economy is bad and television is in black & white stands Castle Big, home of The Big Knights
The Big Knights is BBC Television series of 13 short animated films. The tales revolve around the exploits of Sir Boris (the finest swordsman in the World), Sir Morris (not the finest swordsman in the World, but the most enthusiastic) and their noble pets, Sir Horace the Dog and Sir Doris the Hamster.
Sir Boris and Sir Morris are brothers – they are the height of two men, the weight of four and the strength of sixteen. They ride out from their home, Castle Big, to right wrongs, rescue princesses and woe betide anything that gets in their way.
This does not always make things easy for the inhabitants of Borovia, who struggle to carry on with their everyday lives despite the Big Knights’ heroic adventures.
The Finest Swordsman in the World. An honest, kind, upstanding citizen of Borovia, in an aristocratic sort of way.
Not the Finest Swordsman in the World, but The Most Enthusiastic. Loves nothing more than a right rollicking clash of swords and total mayhem. He also likes eating a lot.
Sir Horace the Dog
Sir Boris’ armour-plated pet dog. His keen intelligence and fine-tuned sense of smell assist the Big Knights on their quests. Horace cannot talk but the viewer gets to know what he’s thinking through thought bubbles...
Sir Doris the Hamster
Sir Morris’ noble pet hamster. Doris’ only thought in life is for food. Pies, hams, roasts, bicycles nothing is safe when Sir Doris is hungry.
Selection of some early artwork
Early Pencil Sketch.
And here is a piece of early design artwork for The Big Knights. This is actually from the very first storyboard from a first draft of "The Village Games".
In this first draft, Morris had gone off alone to the middle of the woods looking for a stick that Boris had thrown out of the village.
We really liked this image of Morris burping flames and this survived right into the final version despite many other changes.
Still from first Big Knights Trailer, which was animated on an Amiga computer, with pixels the size of boulders.
Storyboard page from "The Village Games". The final script was printed out with a guess of how many blank storybaord frames we might need. This was a technique we carried on using for all our productions.
Map used during the writing of the series. The seas of Misery and Pleasure were named after two cupboards in our studio - one cupboard held stationery and one cupboard had wine.
The map as it appeared in the episodes.
Brian Blessed is the powerful voice behind Sir Morris, giving him the unmistakable air of a natural disaster, while David Rintoul brings the awesome, self-assured Sir Boris to life. Timothy West is the voice behind the embattled King Otto of Borovia, and Prunella Scales makes a guest appearance as his rival, Queen Melissa. Other voices are Morwenna Banks (The Old Witch), John Sparkes (Eeuuurgh the Troll, Professor von Proton, Dan Titchy), Gordon Kennedy (Count Vampire), Kate Robbins (Sorceress Abigail), Enn Reitel (Mayor Borodzo, Jack Tiny), Summer Strallen & Scarlet Strallen (Princesses Lucy & Loretta) and Brian Sewell (Sir Kiftsgate).
David Rintoul and Brian Blessed at the first Big Knights voice recording. Autumn 1998.
Notes on The Big Knights Restoration
The original series was animated with widescreen in mind but was delivered in Academy 1:1.33 format, since that was the BBC's delivery requirement. This was at the end of 1999, when widescreen TVs weren't common.
But the original digital artwork extended beyond this 1:1.33 screen size. And this artwork was made using vector files, which can be scaled to any size without loss of quality. So, there was always the possibility of producing a version in Widescreen High Definition.
The process has also given us an opportunity to fix a few technical glitches we re-discovered. All in all the restoration has been a lot of fun and allowed us to re-visit the Land of Borovia, the Brain of Sir Morris and the Stomach of Sir Doris.
In particular, the new widescreen framing meant that some shots where we originally had to have a wide camera (in order to accommodate a wide composition) now could be framed tighter (since widescreen is by it's nature wider!
In the original version, we had to show a lot of ceiling and floor in order to get the whole width of the Big Knight's long table into shot.
But in the new widescreen format, it looked a lot nicer to crop in, losing a bit of the ceiling and floor.
Here are a couple of shots from "The Land of Vampires" showing just how much of the original artwork was rediscovered in the re-mastering process. None of this artwork is new - it was always there but hidden from view by the screen format.