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Joris Oprins Talks ‘A Single Life’

The short film co-creator discusses his studio’s improbable path to an Oscar nomination.

Though they needed convincing to submit their film for Oscar consideration, A Single Life co-creators Job Roggeveen, Joris Oprins and Markieke Blaauw have nevertheless found themselves in the big-time Hollywood spotlight. And, considering they taught themselves how to animate after beginning their careers studying product design, their journey from tiny Utrecht design studio partners to Oscar nominees should inspire animators everywhere. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And he likes quirky shorts.

I recently had a chance to speak with Oprins about his studio, his creative partners and their improbable path to the Oscars. He talked about their seemingly misguided decision to study product design instead of animation and how, against all odds, they won a pitch competition from which A Single Life was born.

Dan Sarto: So what was your first reaction when you heard your film was nominated?

Joris Oprins: ShortsTV had an idea that we should film ourselves while we watched the news. We thought, well, we’re quite modest people so it would probably be quite boring to see us react. But when we saw our name, we were quite hysterical. It was really fun to see. We never expected the film to come this far. In the beginning, we didn’t even think to submit it for Oscar consideration. Somebody told us it’s worth trying. We thought our film was way too short to have any chance.

DS: What’s the genesis of this story? Why did you decide to make this film?

JO: Fifteen years ago, at the Design Academy in Eindhoven [The Netherlands], we were playing records in my room and the record skipped. The three of us thought, “Did the record skip, or was it us that traveled through time?” That was the base of the idea. It stuck with us for a long time. Last year, we got the opportunity to pitch an idea for a very short film that would screen in front of blockbusters [big movies playing at Dutch cinemas]. For us, that was great, because there was a decent budget to work with. You’re also sure a lot of people are going to see your film. We figured we could do around a two-minute short.

DS: So you made this film after winning a competition?

JO: Yeah. Around 100 people pitched films and four were selected. Ours was one of the selected films. Every year, four very short films are made like this.

DS: How long did it take to make?

JO: First we created the pitch and storyboards for submission. We waited for some time after that to see if we’d won the competition. From the time we started production, it took us three months.

DS: The film is all CG?

JO: It’s all made with Cinema4D.

DS: So the three of you handle everything at the studio, correct? You went to school together and eventually opened a studio together?

JO: We studied together at a product design academy. You learn how to design chairs and water coolers, that kind of stuff. We weren’t really at the right academy actually. But they gave us a lot of freedom because we wanted to make films. The teachers let us invent things ourselves. We pretty much taught ourselves the craft. The three of us graduated after making a short film. For me, an animated film. For Job, a music video, and for Marieke, a live-action film. After our studies, Marieke and I started working at a stop-motion studio where they make Miffy, the white rabbit. That was a great opportunity for us to really learn animation. After that year, Job moved to Utrecht, where we live right now, and we started our studio.

DS: Did anyone else work on the film besides the three of you?

JO: No, just the three of us. Not even an intern. We are a very small team that works very well together. Job is also our composer, so in addition to our designs he makes all our music. In this film, the song is very important. We work just a few feet from each other so we can work quite easily together to tweak the music and animation to make sure it works together really well.

DS: How do the three of you break down responsibilities? Who did what on the film?

JO: Job does all the music composing. Marieke and I do all the animating. The three of us together do the designing. Job does a lot of the props for the backgrounds. I handle lighting and rendering. The actual writing is more Marieke’s responsibility. I also do most of the directing. But we always credit the film as the three of us together. We never credit the individual area or person actually. So for the Oscars, we couldn’t pick three names, only one or two. We made the mistake to pick only one name, so now we have a problem of not having enough tickets for the ceremony. That’s a lesson we have now learned.

DS: Really? Only one of you got a ticket?

JO: Yeah, we’re working on a solution. But to be honest, we never ever thought we’d make it this far.

DS: What were the biggest challenges you faced on this production?

JO: The biggest challenge was the duration. It couldn’t be too long because it was designed to be screened in front of other films. It couldn’t be longer than 2:15 and we have a lot to tell in such a short time. Five different stages of someone’s life. It’s pretty hard to get all that clear to someone in so little time. That was really the hardest part.

DS: What inspires your studio from a design standpoint?

JO: We really love the type of contemporary character design you find at the Pictoplasma Festival in Berlin. But, it doesn’t really have a heart a lot of time. It’s really appealing visually, but you can’t really tell a story with most of those really weird characters. We try to balance having edgy characters while still conveying a story.

DS: What are you hoping audiences take away from watching your film?

JO: Because it’s so short, and so much happens and the end is really grim, we hope it’s a kind of overwhelming experience. It all happens really fast. We hope our audience thinks about mortality and that time is always running out. Our main goal was to make a fun film that people could enjoy and laugh at. But, it’s also something you could think about later. There’s enough depth to be more than just a funny film.

I’m really proud of the way we worked together. This film is a really good example of the type work the three of us can do as a team. It feels really great that you can reach the Oscars with a film you made with only three people working in 60 square-feet of space here in the Netherlands.


Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.