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Industry Report: Animation

Case Study: Jungo Goes Bananas


- Producer Irene Sparre Hjorthøj and executive producer Per Holst talk about their work as animation producers: the difference between 2D and 3D movies, the collaboration with the co-production partners, the importance of marketing and communication when making a movie.

Irene Sparre Hjorthøj worked on both Danish as well as international feature films like Jungo 1, FernGully, Thumbelina and others. A-Film asked her to be in charge of the re-structuring and establishing of A-Film’s 3D department. Since then the department has had four 3D feature films in continuation, the pipeline has been refined, in-house tools have been developed, and there are at the moment between 40-50 people working in the 3D department.

Per Holst began his career as a sketch drawer, and started his own production company in 1965 where he began to make films as a director and producer. He has since made more than 40 feature films, which won him several awards such as the academy award, Golden Palms and the Silver Bear. He’s worked on The Monkeys and their secret weapon, Amazon Jack 1 & 2 and at the moment the soon to be released Amazon Jack 3 in Denmark.

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Which are the main differences between the 2D and 3D pipelines?
In the 3D pipeline, as opposed to the 2D pipeline which is very linear, the animator needs a pilot paper to work. The 3D pipeline is more compiled, you need to have a very detailed preproduction phase.
A-Film produced the film Jungo Goes Bananas in 18 months, which is really short for a feature film. We managed to complete the movie within such a compact schedule because we had carefully planned all the tasks and production milestones. A good 3D pipeline allows you to work with fewer people, because you can produce more footage.

Are you spending more money because of CGI movies?
No, the budgets we are dealing with for CGI are slightly smaller than the ones we had in 2D productions. With higher budgets, we are not able to recoup our investment. There is a very hard competition from 3D Japanese and Us productions.

What are the main advantages and disadvantages of 3D films?
I’m a big lover of 2D movies, but I also like 3D films very much. There are advantages and disadvantages in both. The main difference is planning. In 3D, if you do not plan the pipeline correctly, you risk to loose a lot of money.

How did you split the job among your partners with Jungo Goes Bananas?
It’s never nice to give work away as you tend to think you can do the work better by yourself. The music was done in Norway and part of the animation in the Baltic States as part of the co-production deal. That proved to be a very comfortable work split. Animation is the easiest part of the production that you can sub-contract. It is very clear-cut. We are now working on a Danish/Norwegian co-production were we have to swap files frequently in different areas of the production, and it’s not easy.

How did you work to market the film?
We had the possibility to establish a web site with the universe of the film where children were able to paint pictures, listen to music, play games… The idea was to have a place where kids could continue to live with the characters of the film. We convinced our film institute and our distributor to support the creation of the site. This was the most powerful marketing tool for the film, it allowed a very wide word-to-mouth effect among our target audience.

Which are the questions you ask yourself when you produce a 3D film?
First of all I would consider if it is a one time production, like Jungo Goes Bananas or a series. For one-shot movies the investment in character design and preproduction is smaller as the new universe that has to be created is used only once. The modelling costs are one of the most substantial parts in the budget.
If we are preparing a sequel generally we are a little bit more extravagant in our ambitions. We have a handful of films to which we can allocate costs. For a 3D movie, the challenge is to find the partners and the financing. Denmark being a small country, we have always to seek for partners . If we want to make movies that have larger budgets with more distribution possibilities, we will need to negotiate with international partners.

What are the disadvantages of co-production?
We do not see the co-production as a disadvantage. It’s more of a challenge. What we get from the co-production is access to a talent pool. For example we had to learn the 3D technicalities and without a partner the task would have been really difficult. Of course you have to share the revenues with the partners, but these are the rules… You have to split the work with the partners, compromise with deadlines, compromise with the quality and accommodate with the investors in other countries. One investor in Germany, for example, might impose some conditions that are hard to fulfil. We always get an agreement and we compromise because we really need the money… The advantages outweigh the disadvantages though.

What are the essential things to line up?
The most important element of a film is the script. It’s an element we never mention enough. If the script is not perfect, then you have to go back and make it perfect. Secondly: choose your partners carefully. You will set up a long-term relationship that will continue for years… One good partner and a smaller budget are better than two bad partners and a larger budget. Bad communication and confrontation is very bad for the production. Communication is vital. Communication between people in the same office is as important as is communication among different studios. Email and telephone calls are nice, but every third week it is necessary to meet with people. Every second or third week, the problems you were able to deal with when you were together on the same room, suddenly become conflicts.
Be sure to share the same agenda. It is important to complete the production in time, in budget and within the quality standard set up by the director. Trust each other, also when it comes to split the work. Forget the idea that you can do everything yourself!

Cartoon Master Potsdam, Germany, November 2007

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