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Review: ANIMATORS How Did You Do That?

If you have ever watched an animated film and wondered “How did they do that?” then Tobias Wengert’s ANIMATORS how did they do that? is the book for you. Wengert has transcribed in print his conversations with twelve diverse members of the Stuttgart, Germany animation community who reveal the secret techniques behind the magical images they create.

Concept image from Lebensader.

By Nancy Phelps

If you have ever watched an animated film and wondered “How did they do that?” then Tobias Wengert’s  ANIMATORS how did they do that? is the book for you.  Wengert has transcribed in print his conversations with twelve diverse members of the Stuttgart, Germany animation community who reveal the secret techniques behind the magical images they create.

Jakob Schuh and Max Lang of Studio Soi reveal how they took The Gruffalo, a well known children’s book, which takes five minutes for a parent to read to their child and turned it into a 27 minute film.  The creators of the picture book, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, gave tips to the directors on hidden elements in the book that could be expanded into additional plot lines.  The book illustrations include references to the squirrel family, so Jacob and Max expanded a story line from those visual references.

The seventeen pages in the book devoted to The Gruffalo cover every aspect of the film’s creation from character and story development to the polystyrene, plaster, silicon, and paint techniques used to construct the complex sets.  The entire process is beautifully illustrated with original character sketches, taking the read from storyboards, preliminary sketches and facial expressions to the finished film.  I have enjoyed watching The Gruffalo many times and these discussions of the production techniques used will increase my enjoyment the next time that I watch it.

Several independent animators explain their motivation to create projects that follow their own rules rather than having to adapt to other peoples requirements.  LebensAder (Lifeline), Angela Steffen’s final year diploma project, was driven by very personal motives.  The simple act of picking up a leaf on the street triggered the start of Angela’s artistic process to understand her father’s cancer diagnosis.  She wanted to bring the beautiful leaf home with her but in turning it over she saw that the other side was covered with eczema as if the tree had cancer.  Using the leaf veins to represent the life line on a hand, the first part of the beautifully hand drawn film depicts life – the healthy side of the leaf.  The second half of the film shows the dark side – sickness.

Since 1989 Studio Film Bilder has been creating commercially successful projects such as the extremely popular television series Tom & Das Erdbeer Marmelade Brot Mit Hig (TOM)) and The Bunjies. At the same time the studio encourages its multi talented group of animators to create their own original projects which Film Bilder produces.  Anyone who has seen Andreas Hykade’s Love & Theft, the sensitive works of Gil Alkabetz or Phil Mulloy’s provocative films can attest to the many sides of Studio Film Bilder.

At the extreme other end of the spectrum are advertisements created by the VFX Team at Unexpected.  The team produced the Snickers Candy Bar Don’t Stop ad campaign for the Russian market which has proven to be the most successful campaign run by Snickers since the candy was introduced in Russia.

In their interview the team stress how important the initial planning is to them and  they take us behind the scenes to show us how they develop their fantastic robotic characters and bring their commercials in on time within their often limited budgets.  Even if you are not particularly interested in the high tech side of commercial making, the conversation with the guys from VFX makes fascinating reading.

Much of the credit for the rise of the state of Baden-Wurttemberg  as a leader in animation and visual effects goes to the Baden-Wurttemberg Film Academy in Ludwigsburg.  The Academy’s Institute for Animation, Visual Effects, and Digital Postproduction has become one of the world’s most important training establishments.

The school’s alumni boast such distinguished names as Andreas Hykade and Volker Engel.  Andreas’ award winning films such as The Runt and Love & Theft need no introduction.  Volker’s name is familiar to fans of Hollywood Blockbusters.  In 1997 he won the Oscar for best visual effects for Independence Day.

The current roster of the Academy’s teaching staff includes Thomas Meyer-Hermann, head of the renowned Studio Film Bilder, Gil Alkabetz, and Andreas Hykade.  Volker Engle also taught there before moving to Southern California.

Each year the Stuttgart Trickfilm Festival draws the top names in animation to screen their films, give workshops and retrospectives to packed audiences.  Trickfilm Festival has become one of the most important Europe’s most important animation celebrations.   Running concurrent to the festival is the FMX Conference on Animation, Effects, Games and Interactive Media.  FMX has become the foremost European conference on the creation, production, and distribution of digital entertainment.

Even if you are already familiar with the rich trove of talent in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg, Tobias Wengert’s ANIMATORS how did you do that? is a fascinating in depth look into the studios and animators with interviews that tell us how they do it in their own words.

The 150 page book is lavishly illustrated with the text on alternate pages in English and German.  This is a book that anyone interested in animation will enjoy and if you have an animator on your holiday gift list this is a perfect present.

To order the book visit:   www.siwa-webshop.de      Also available in German Bookstores

Price:  30 Euros

150 pages                 Fully illustrated       Format  280×10mm                  Hardcover

Text in German and English on alternate pages

Nancy Phelps has produced music for animation for the past 16 years. She has written about animation and animation festivals for such publications as Animatoons, Film/Tape World, Reel World andthe ASIFA/San Francisco news magazine and is a member of the ASIFAInternational Board. In 2006, Nancy and her composer/musician husbandNik Phelps moved from San Francisco to Gent, Belgium, where they nowhave their home. Read more from Nancy at http://sprockets.animationblogspot.com.