Stu­dio Soi

The Ger­man an­i­ma­tion stu­dio has built a rep­u­ta­tion on skilled craft across mul­ti­ple dis­ci­plines, as Ju­lia Sa­gar dis­cov­ers

ImagineFX - - Sketchbook Brian Kesinger -

Stu­dio Soi’s films were once de­scribed as the “wooden toys” of the an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try, says found­ing an­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor Klaus Morschheuser – and it isn’t hard to see why. BAFTA-award-win­ning car­toon The Amaz­ing World of Gum­ball and stun­ning Academy award-nom­i­nated short The Gruf­falo are just two ex­am­ples from the Lud­wigs­burg-based an­i­ma­tion stu­dio’s ex­cep­tional port­fo­lio of glob­ally ac­claimed films. So how did seven an­i­ma­tion grad­u­ates with no clients build a 60-strong team and world­wide rep­u­ta­tion for vis­ual in­no­va­tion? And is it as fun to work there as it looks?

“From the start, an es­sen­tial con­cept be­hind the stu­dio was that all founders had dif­fer­ent roots: 2D, pup­pet and 3D-an­i­ma­tion, de­sign, com­posit­ing and some­one who can han­dle all the pro­duc­tion work,” says Klaus, who launched Stu­dio Soi in 2003 with six fel­low stu­dents from in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned film school Fil­makademie Baden Würt­tem­berg.

“This was a great ground-base when start­ing new projects, be­cause we were able to dis­cuss things freely, and ev­ery­one could bring in their ideas and con­cerns. Also, we could de­cide which tech­nique made the most sense for each project and who could han­dle it best.”

ideas wel­come

This ethos con­tin­ues to run through the stu­dio to­day. “We take all feed­back into con­sid­er­a­tion while work­ing on the films – every­body from in­terns to broad­cast­ers can con­trib­ute to the cre­ative process,” says Klaus. “If some­body has a good idea, it’s al­ways worth lis­ten­ing.”

“Ev­ery­one’s opin­ion is val­ued. No one is con­fined to their own work or ex­pelled

Work­ing this way is a har­mo­nious process, and the di­rec­tors usu­ally find them­selves un­der­stand­ing their char­ac­ters more

from the en­tirety of the pro­duc­tion pipe­line, just be­cause they’re hired for one project,” agrees art di­rec­tor Do­ma­reen Fox.

Do­ma­reen’s cur­rently work­ing on the stu­dio’s firstever in-house chil­dren’s TV se­ries, Petzi, which is based on the Dan­ish comic strip Ras­mus Klump, by Carla and Vil­helm Hansen. The bud­get and dead­line are tight, she says, but her team are in­cred­i­bly in­spir­ing – and hav­ing pro­duc­tion en­tirely in-house makes com­mu­ni­ca­tion both easy and ef­fi­cient. Her team uses a Shot­gun pipe­line to take care of as­set man­age­ment, but the open work­ing space means staff can sim­ply walk over to each other’s desks and chat. “We’re all very well in­formed on pro­duc­tion sta­tus,” she says.

Like all pro­cesses at Stu­dio Soi, as­pects like char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment are a col­lab­o­ra­tive af­fair. “It’s su­per im­por­tant that the di­rec­tors know who their char­ac­ter is, or who the char­ac­ter wants to be,” Do­ma­reen ex­plains.

She be­gins by re­search­ing “archetypes, per­son­al­ity and cos­tumes”, be­fore ty­ing her re­search in with in­spi­ra­tion taken from her own life ex­pe­ri­ences. Rough sketches are then cre­ated in Pho­to­shop, with Do­ma­reen dis­cussing the de­signs with Stu­dio Soi’s di­rec­tors ev­ery step of the way. “I can’t al­ways en­vi­sion a char­ac­ter just from one brief­ing,” she adds. “Work­ing this way is a har­mo­nious process, and the di­rec­tors usu­ally find them­selves un­der­stand­ing their char­ac­ters more through the ex­plo­ration process.”

re­ward­ing work

For an­i­ma­tion su­per­vi­sor Mas­si­m­il­iano Truzzi, Petzi is the most re­ward­ing project he’s worked on since join­ing Stu­dio Soi in 2012. “Be­ing

part of the pro­duc­tion from the be­gin­ning, I had the chance to de­velop the an­i­ma­tion style – it was great fun,” says Mas­si­m­il­iano, who’s re­spon­si­ble for en­sur­ing the an­i­ma­tion is pro­duced on time and to the high­est pos­si­ble qual­ity.

“Usu­ally ev­ery episode has new tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties that some­times ap­pear im­pos­si­ble to over­come,” he says. “Solv­ing all of these prob­lems in such a lim­ited time­frame can be very chal­leng­ing.” But it’s also very re­ward­ing: “In one of the re­cent episodes we had to an­i­mate a very high num­ber of cloth ma­te­ri­als and ropes. The fi­nal re­sult is very sat­is­fy­ing,” he says. “I of­ten get the chance to learn new things.”

As­sis­tant an­i­ma­tion su­per­vi­sor Michael Brady ap­pre­ci­ates the fact that ev­ery week work­ing at Stu­dio Soi presents a new op­por­tu­nity to tackle a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to an­i­ma­tion. “One week we might have a char­ac­ter that moves in the style of eight-bit com­puter graph­ics. The next week, it’ll be a char­ac­ter who moves like a tra­di­tional an­i­mated fea­ture film,” he says.

stylised dis­unity

At the mo­ment Michael works on Gum­ball, Car­toon Net­work’s multi-award win­ning chil­dren’s an­i­mated TV se­ries. Marked by its lack of stylis­tic unity – char­ac­ters are cre­ated us­ing ev­ery­thing from stylised tra­di­tional an­i­ma­tion and pup­petry to CGI, stop mo­tion and live ac­tion – it’s a fan­tas­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the stu­dio’s widerang­ing ex­per­tise.

A typ­i­cal day at work for Michael might in­volve hand­ing out scenes to the team, brief­ing them on the di­rec­tor’s in­struc­tions and then put­ting to­gether ed­its of the episodes. He’ll also work on scenes at the 2D clean-up stage of pro­duc­tion. This is when Stu­dio Soi re­ceives rough an­i­ma­tions from its pro­duc­tion part­ner based in Lon­don and uses this to cre­ate fi­nal draw­ings for each episode.

“I’ve learned a great deal about com­pos­ing char­ac­ters clearly within the frame, and keep­ing con­ti­nu­ity be­tween scenes,” he says. “These ex­pe­ri­ences in se­quen­tial sto­ry­telling have con­tin­ued to feed into my per­sonal work.”

Self-de­vel­op­ment is ac­tively pro­moted at Stu­dio Soi. Creatives are en­cour­aged to pur­sue their hob­bies and in­ter­ests, while se­nior artists are al­ways on hand to help ju­nior mem­bers of staff.

“Some peo­ple come into the stu­dio at week­ends just to learn new soft­ware or work on their per­sonal projects,” says Do­ma­reen. “And the awards just help to keep us all pumped.”

“For us as a stu­dio, it’s es­sen­tial to bring great tal­ents to­gether to cre­ate some­thing fresh and new,” adds Klaus. “We’re al­ways look­ing for new tal­ent who want to achieve some­thing with us, and who will bring in new ideas to en­able great projects.”

The fi­nal re­sult is very sat­is­fy­ing. I of­ten get the chance to learn new things

The 27-minute Gruf­falo film mixes com­puter an­i­ma­tion and minia­ture sets. It was built, shot and an­i­mated en­tirely at Stu­dio Soi. Pre-pro­duc­tion draw­ing, Ants by the Pla­tanus Tree, shows Mouse from The Gruf­falo walk­ing through the for­est. Lo­ca­tion: Lud­wigs­burg, Ger­many projects: The Gruf­falo, Petzi, The Amaz­ing World of Gum­ball, Trudes Tier Web: www.stu­diosoi.de

Petzi’s Tur­tle Is­land episode was awarded the sil­ver gong for Best An­i­mated Se­ries at the 2016 Xi­a­men In­ter­na­tional An­i­ma­tion Fes­ti­val in China. Be­fore work­ing up a de­tailed model sheet, Stu­dio Soi made sure all Petzi char­ac­ters matched the di­rec­tor’s vi­sion. “Peo­ple flock to Soi to work on Gum­ball, and then hap­pily merge into the other projects we have,” says Do­ma­reen.

Petzi colours keys: low-res­o­lu­tion play­blast an­i­ma­tion stills are painted over by Do­ma­reen Fox to give the ren­der­ing/ com­posit­ing team ideas for light­ing and colours. A de­sign sheet with shad­ing ref­er­ences for a ship re­quired in a re­cent episode of Petzi. Com­posit­ing artist Vin­cent Me­u­nier work­ing on The Amaz­ing World of Gum­ball.

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