Three master students from AKV St. Joost tell about their experience at the Playgrounds Festival 2011. Here you will find the interviews and reviews of Laura Dumitru, Olivia Ettema and Marlyn Spaaij.

Keeping it Real and Keeping it Fun by Marlyn Spaaij

One of the artist talks at this years Playgrounds festival is from Buck. During this talk the audience gets a quick peek into the crazy, inventive and fun production process of the F5 festival intro. Their aim to surprise and delight is well represented by children's show hand puppets going x-rated on the props and set. Buck is probably best described as media and more specifically technique agnostic. A glance at the website never remains just that and I found myself, very happily, 'researching' the studios background an entire afternoon. Due to the approach: whatever works, Bucks library is versatile. Live-action, motion graphics and animation ranging from 2D to 3D to stop-motion and every possible combination are scattered all over the page. The binding factor? Everything is extremely well done.

On the second day of the Festival I sit down with Orion Tait, one of Bucks creative directors, and ask him how they've managed to maintain the spontaneous and fun look throughout the tedious production process that is animation.

"During festivals like these people come up to me and say the work is so diverse but they can tell that it comes from us, from a voice. And that's interesting to me because we're a lot of voices and a lot of people. I think it's because there is a culture at Buck in which we have so much fun together. I'm becoming more and more conscious of that since part of my job is as director to preserve the culture in which we can do good work and enjoy doing good work. I think the fun we have together is visible in the end result.

Commercial work, although sometimes frustrating, gives you the opportunity to experiment and try new things. I would say we got pretty good at production. Projects quickly follow up on one another and you get consumed by them. The structure at Buck has evolved around the desire to play and try lots of different things. Everyone on staff has this generalist approach where there is nobody who does solely character animation or design and as a result everyone has to try. The general mentality is to get things done, and the more you do it the better you get at it."

Founded by Jeff Ellermeyer and Ryan Honey Buck started as a motion-graphics studio. Orion Tait got involved a year later, he and Ryan had been partners at Knowing the studios background in motion graphics I find the amount of animation on the website remarkable. Tait admits to having something to do with pushing the company more towards telling stories. His background lies in filmmaking and fine arts and he feels that animation brings those two together.

"Film is good at telling stories. Animation is equally good at that in a very different way, you can create a heightened emotional response. Animation can be exaggerated, you can control it and really push reality. And we use that graphic design approach of problem solving and pour all of that into storytelling. I think we're ready to explore the possibilities of something longer and more narrative, let's say a children's show. That would be so much fun to do.The production aspect would be outsourced but Buck could launch and develop ideas. Commercial work remains a great place to learn and experiment so we will always be a commercial company.

I think that is probably what I love about all commercial work you get really good at production.

When you are young, you're going to suck at what you do, but you get better. You have a vision of how good you want something to be. You might not know the exact shape of it, but you know the aspired quality. It's frustrating since you're not there yet. When you get older, you get closer. At Buck when a project comes we all know we'll get a good idea at some point and we trust our process."

Besides his job as a director Tait is also responsible for hiring interns. To the frequently asked question what makes a good reel he says:

"Just have one really good awesome thing. It doesn't matter that you have this skill or that skill, what matters is: Can you create. Can you create something that isn't mediocre."

So how do you create something really good and awesome?

"Just keep banging away at it and eventually you will get there."

If you want to know what it looks like if you keep banging away at it, just go to their website bring snacks and perhaps, just to be sure, dinner.


Review by Laura Dumitru

“Playgrounds” was for me an amazing and inspiring 3-days experience. Friday I had the chance to interview Philip Hunt Philip who is the director of Studio AKA, a groundbreaking animation studio located in UK. Philip joined playgrounds as one of the artist who gave a speech at the Playgrounds Festival.
Studio AKA runs and continues developing for over 10 years so, naturally we could not help but wonder about its beginning. Philip revealed us that after working for a couple of years as a freelancer, he joined this studio (which had another name then) and later on bought it and develop it in to the successful company that it is now. The key was to change the way they approached the work by increasing the design quality and the original concepts. Basically, Studio Aka received a new face in 2000.

As I already noticed from the other creative directors, Philip divides the work in two: the one that they want to make and the one that they have to, although I should add to this that the two categories can overlap. However, the balance of these two categories is always relative to the offers they receive and the budgets. Nevertheless, most of the work goes on pitching.
Advertising pays the bills in animation but in some cases it might give you a hard time because of its system. He also highlighted the fact that most artists don`t have an adequate training in business.

When asked about studio Aka`s workflow, Philip answered that everything is relative to the offers they have. The studio is depending on its commercial work in order to survive as a studio, thus sometimes they must say yes even to work they`re not very happy to do. But even so there`s always a reputation to take care of, so in the possible limits, they try to select their clients. One example is the series of bank commercials that they did, although a bank would not be looked with good eyes they had to be sure that the client would not be one that has a bad reputation.

Aside from the commercial work, studio Aka is defined by its free own projects like Lost and Found. But projects like this are usually made for the name and reputation of the studio and artistic purposes – they are not aimed at producing money.

The thirty people working at the studio are always busy. If they`re not working on a commercial project, they would definitely work on developing new concepts and ideas for the studio.

Another interesting think we found out in the interview was that studio Aka works as a closed team – most of the time they don`t commission artists from outside, as other studios do.

The interview, as the whole festival, left us very inspired but in the same time I think we were all left with one strong impression: all the animation studios have one thing in common, for several reasons, they all despise advertising! But, I must say we`ve seen some awesome commercial work there!


 An inspiring laboratory by Olive Ettema

In Amsterdam I find a relaxed, amiable audience, the atmosphere is good. For me this is my first time at the Playgrounds festival. The world of Computer Generated Images is new for me. As an illustrator I’ve visited several seminars and debates in the field of design and illustration. I’m not an alien in the field of images but the digital moving image is relative unknown for me. So there are hardly any familiar names for me on the program but I’m curious. I have three days to form an idea of what’s happening in this field and get inspired.

It all started with a very interesting presentation of Dvein. Three guys from Barcelona showed how they made a title for another image festival. It was nice to see how they came to their ideas. They were inspired by moulds and funguses and used these beautiful structures and patterns as a starting point for their film. The 3D animation combined the high-tech of the computer with the playing around with all kinds of real material, from moulding food to polystyrene foam. For me, abstract 3D animation always felt very slick and distant but having seen this making of, I changed my opinion. It’s not only professional animated but it must have been great fun to research and make this film. My prejudice that 3D animation is only about computer programs was taken away.

Later in Tilburg I saw another studio from Barcelona, Physalia, with the same spirit of mixing the hand-made with computer technology. These people explore the possibilities of materials and even make their tools themselves. They reminded me more of inventors in a laboratory then of a design studio. Obviously the commercial, static design studio as I know them, made place for a new, innovative team that dares to take risks and is not afraid for technology. They need commercial commissions though, to pay for all this experimenting. I hope they keep up this way of running the business.

Eduard Salier
Other speakers mentioned this way of working too. Most of them take very commercial advertisement assignments and use the money they earn with that for projects in which they can cross borders and explore new techniques, materials and ideas. Eduard Salier, for example, makes money with Coca Cola and Nike and uses that for the production of a price winning art film like Empire. It was a pity that his presentation lacked enthusiasm. He seemed disinterested in showing his work.

Ben and Julia
This brings me to something I observed during these days at Playground. Most of the guests were mainly showing their portfolio with more or less persuasion. Not everybody took the time to really think about how to present themselves. Ben and Julia formed an exception: They dressed up as a kind of mummies with their brains open and knew to attract the audience with a funny presentation. I think in the world of animation and film it’s logical to show work on a screen with an inevitable loud sound. At first I was really charmed by it but after a couple of presentations it all began to look a bit the same. There was a lot of talking about how the production went, but how the concepts and ideas were developed and whý, stayed in some presentations underexposed.

David Wilson
I really had been looking forward to see David Wilson talk. I saw very interesting work on his site. Especially the teacup and saucers animation was intriguing. In the making of we get a good idea how thoroughly he developed his idea. He combines the technique of the praxinoscope (a follow up on the more well known zoetrope) with a recordplayer to make a music video for We got time of Mory McLaren. Here I see David Wilson as an explorer, who prefers the unknown, adventurous path in design. The answer in this design process is less important than the question. With perseverance he makes real life objects bearer of a story about the cruelty of nature. It’s very smart that the complicated structure he invented, didn’t overshadow the story, it looks real natural, partly due to his strong illustrations. Unfortunately, my interview with him, couldn’t take place, due to other obligations.

My first visit to Playgrounds was an eye opener. It was good to see that in this world of motion graphics not only the computer rules. The enthusiasm of young designers who combine handcraft with technology, who try to explore borders by using the money of commercial assignments and who obviously have a lot of fun, inspired me to be/ stay/ become an inventor in my own way.
As an illustrator I’ve always been inspired by handcrafts: I love to make things by hand, especially the old graphic techniques like woodcuts, linocuts and other printing techniques have my interest. In the 20 years I’ve been illustrating this has been more or less my trademark. Of course I use the computer for refining the results and send images. But with starting the Master Animation at St Joost I choose to bring my work on a different level. I try to develop my computer skills and be more in tune of this time. It’s good to see that these two worlds are not so disconnected as I thought. That slick 3D animation appears not to be only about techniques but is the result of an adventurous research where the real material world plays an important role. I hope to combine my love for the smell of printing ink with the possibilities of the new digital world. The artists I saw at Playgrounds were an inspiring example. 

Sanne Douma

Sanne Douma