Nov 022015
Photo by stranger using Luce Grosjean's phone

Most of the group visiting the Ludwigsburg castle for the pumpkin festival. Photo by stranger using Luce Grosjean’s phone

It’s November 2 in Rotterdam, the sun is shining, the leaves are on the ground and I’m still reeling from the awesome experience of the last two weeks in Ludwigsburg, Germany. This trip was the first session of Animation Sans Frontières, a professional training course for animators, animation scriptwriters, animation producers and animation technical directors. The next three sessions occur in Budapest in December, in Viborg (Denmark) in January and in Paris in March.

Our group is made up of 15 people, about half animators, or animation directors or storyboarders; and half producers, screenwriters and technical directors. Participants come from France, Germany, Denmark, Hungary Slovakia, Italy, Belgium, and then me – I’m the first non-EU national to take part in the course (now in it’s eighth year), though I am based in the Netherlands, so maybe I still count as a Dutch participant. Because the course takes place in 4 two-week sessions spread over 6 months, it’s much more convenient to take part if you live in Europe, simply because longer flights are more expensive and time consuming. But depending on your nationality there are ways to stay temporarily in Europe for those six months, and this course is so unique that I don’t doubt there would be people willing to relocate for that long. So I hope there will be more non-EU participants in the future, it’s such a good opportunity.

Participant Antoine Boellinger in a motion capture suit.

ASF participant Antoine Boellinger in a motion capture suit. Photo by Cristian Guerreschi.

Ludwigsburg is a small town outside of Stuttgart, still on the S-bahn line, so more like a suburb, really. This is where the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemburg is located, a well-regarded film training school with an animation department recently headed by German animator Andreas Hykade (with whom I was on a jury at Animateka in Slovenia last December). Over the two weeks we learned a bit about the school, met some of the students currently studying animation there, or recent graduates who have now started their own studios.

We heard from various guest lecturers about brainstorming, storytelling, or being a producer. Some notable names who visited us are: Regina Pessoa, Portuguese animator/director, Michael Valeur a Danish storyteller/video game designer/poet who gave us some interesting ways of thinking about types of stories for different audiences, and Delphine Maury, a really interesting woman who helped helm and produce an animated series for kids about World War II called Les Grandes Grandes Vacances (trailer here – in French). We also toured German production company Studio Film Bilder where they are working on kids series and short films.

Thomas Meyer-Hermann tours us around Studio Film Bilder

Thomas Meyer-Hermann tours us around Studio Film Bilder. Photo by Tess Martin.

But most importantly over breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks we participants spent the two weeks learning everybody’s names and life stories. Fifteen people is a lot so it was nice to have a full two weeks for this.

This group is awesome! It’s very cool to be able to talk to people from all over Europe who share your passion for animation, and who may have a differing, but complimentary skill set from you: producers, screenwriters, technical directors, storyboarders, character design. Wow! The possibilities are mind boggling. Part of the idea of this course is that about half the people (usually the animators/directors) have a project that they would like to develop, and some of the other participants (producers, screenwriters, etc.) may want to work with you on it. It’s not a requirement, but it has happened often in previous years, and some projects originally developed at ASF are now having success at pitch events (where you seek funding), or are already released in theatres. I’m developing my long-brewing project about neurological disorders, and some of the other projects are really interesting also. I’ve met some really amazing people, some of whom I get along with very well, so maybe there are collaborations in our future.

Most of the two weeks was spent in lectures or small workshops, but the last three days were spent at a creative space called Tinker Tank. This organization runs workshops with kids and adults around creation, programming, coding and interactivity. We were asked to divide into groups and come up with an idea. Myself and Frederik Storm, Danish participant (who runs a small animation studio in Denmark called MonkeyTennis), Luce Grojean (French producer who also heads a distribution company in Paris called Seve) and Nadja Andrasev (Hungarian director/producer) were basically lumped together because our two groups were too small to work on their own.

Luckily we got a long great and came up with a new idea we were all excited about. The result? Hacktile, an interactive animation installation that visualizes textures. We built five buttons with different surfaces – sand paper for rough, a wet towel for moist, a pin cushion for spiky, feathers for fluffy and a blob of play dough for squishy. We put these buttons in a dark box and hid their view from the public with a curtain. These buttons were connected via arduino to a laptop running Unity. When someone put their hand in the box and pressed one of the buttons, they would trigger the projection of a certain loop of animation, and an accompanying sound made by Frederick on his little synthesizer. The animations were designed in concentric circles, with different durations. Each animation and each sound strove to ‘interpret’ the texture of the pressed button.

ASF participant Frederik Storm and TinkerTank's Patrick Ferling figure out the Unity programming behind our texture buttons

ASF participant Frederik Storm and TinkerTank’s Patrick Ferling figure out the Unity programming behind our texture buttons. Photo by Tess Martin.

Because there are five buttons and a regular person only has two hands, the installation could be played by up to three people at once. There was a lot of laughing and discovery as people figured out how it worked, and how to alternate and combine animations and sounds.

The other groups made a cool paper video game about a tapeworm swimming inside someone’s intestines, an oculus rift video game with a controller where you had to get a ball (the Earth) into a basket to save it from an evil alien, and a improvised puppet show. Our work was presented on Friday at a little reception attended by the mayor of Ludwigsburg, Andreas Hykade and others from the Filmakademie.

Andreas Hykade and Prof. Inga von Staden from the Flimakademie play the Hacktile.

Andreas Hykade and Prof. Inga von Staden from the Flimakademie play the Hacktile. Photo by Luce Grosjean.

A screenshot of the projected animation being triggered by the buttons.

A screenshot of the projected animation being triggered by the buttons. Photo by Luce Grosjean.

It was so much fun to be in a group of people who works well together, who wants to have fun, and create something that you would never in a million years make on your own. Stay tuned on my Facebook page or website for a documentation video about Hacktile, as soon as I edit it.

That’s it for now! Our group will meet back in Budapest on December 1st, for the next two-week session, where we will start developing our own projects. Looking forward to it!

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