Last week at CTN Expo, we attended several panels with creators and other industry professionals in animation. We’ll share what we learned over the next few weeks, beginning with this Twitter thread live-tweet from a screening of “Klaus” on Thursday, Nov. 21.
Thursday night after the screening, esteemed animation producer Don Hahn moderated the discussion with some of the film’s crew: director Sergio Pablos, production designers Szymon Biernacki and Marcin Jakubowski, character designer Torsten Schrank, and 2D animators Sergio Martins, Victor Ens and Matt Williames.
How did the story for Klaus come about?
Writer and director Sergio Pablos was inspired to come up with an origin story, filling in a missing chapter of a famous or mythical character. The story began to shine with Santa as a symbol of altruism — after Pablos added a character, Jesper, who needs to learn that himself.
How was the snowy setting a challenge, or an asset, throughout the film?
Production designers Szymon Biernacki and Marcin Jakubowski called Smeerensburg’s snowy setting “like a blank canvas,” giving them so many opportunities to use colors and light to set the film’s unique look.
Designing Smeerensburg was a “backwards” process:
The designers drew inspiration from the colorful buildings of Scandinavia, knowing that should be their end goal. The artists worked to see where the look might start, as the “before” photo in a transformation.
Meanwhile, designing the people of Smeerensburg had its own challenges:
Character designer Torsten Schrank designed 70 unique children among the hundreds of characters in the film. Some of these children were just in the film for a few frames!
Saami ray of sunshine Margu’s design came together off the instructions to design someone “very cute.” Her final look is very similar to one of the first designs Schrank showed to the director.
The lead animators were able to bring their own ideas to expand their characters’ personalities on screen.
“As I was animating Mogens, something about him seemed very familiar,” Matt Williames said. “And then I was like, ‘Oh! That’s my dad!’” Williames, the lead animator on the boat captain/friendly antagonizer Mogens, was inspired by his dad when working on the character. His dad, Williames added, loved the character, though it’s not clear if he noticed the connection!
Victor Ens was the lead animator on the character Klaus, while animator Sergio Martins took the lead on Alva, the Rashida Jones-voiced school teacher. He said that he enjoyed how Alva was a unique character with many layers; she took time to get right.
“I could explore that (Alva) was trained to be a teacher, combined with her frustration of selling fish…” Martins said.
Don Hahn: “The amazing way light plays with characters has never been seen like this before. So two questions: why, and how?”
“I kept looking at the concept art and said ‘why can’t the film look like that?’” Pablos explained. “A lot of people got used to the fact that 2D animation looks a certain way … but we got to the point, why not? Why not try this?”
The challenge was about creating the tools for the artists to use. It was also about finding the artists who knew how to paint light. Hahn suggested there was an even bigger challenge:
“Taking on an independent animated film on your own is insane! So what did it feel like? How terrifying was it?”
After some laughter, Pablos focused less on the fear and more on their motivation.
“We have the talent. We have the support. We know there’s the potential in there to make a great film (Klaus), so if we’d messed it up, it would’ve been our own faults.”
The point of this film was not about CGI. The team is not making a statement about 2D vs. 3D animation. “We wanted to move the animation medium forward.”
Pablos referred to the innovation of CGI animation as a new tool to use in filmmaking when it entered filmmaking years ago, and he was dismayed by a prevailing opinion of 3D being able to replace the hand-drawn animation he loves. The innovations with lighting and traditional animation for Klaus are not meant to compete with 3D, but to add another tool to the toolbox that includes all kinds of animation.
Even so, the largest applause of the night was clear:
When Pablos announced his production company, Sergio Pablos Animation, was committed to more 2D projects!
– Courtney (harmonicacave)