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Globetrotters - An Vrombaut

23 augustus 2007
The ‘Globetrotters’ column will profile on a regular basis Flemish animation professionals working abroad. The third to receive a portrait is An Vrombaut.
LOCATION Harrow, London, UKAGE 40EDUCATION Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Ghent - Royal College of Art, London - worked with Richard WilliamsFIRST RECOLLECTION OF AN ANIMATION FILM Disney’s The Aristocats, I was three at the time. My favourite TV series was Vicky the Viking and my favourite book was ‘Pluk van de Petteflet' by Annie M. G. Schmidt, illustrated by Fiep Westendorp.FAVOURITE ANIMATION SHORTS Yuri Norstein’s films, especially The Tale of Tales.FAVOURITE ANIMATION FEATURE My Neighbour Totoro by Hayao Miyazaki.PREFERRED ANIMATION TECHNIQUE No preference, but I do like films with a good storyline and interesting characters.AWARDS Best First Film at Annecy 1993 for Little Wolf, Chicago Film Festival ‘Silver Hugo Student film-animation’, Mediawave 1997 ‘Audience Prize’, BAFTA nomination in 2000 for 64 Zoo Lane, Cartoons on the Bay ‘Best Children’s Series’ ... Your first film Little Wolf was very successful. Where you surprised by it? Did it make it a lot easier to start working as a professional animator?I went to the RCA specifically to make Little Wolf. I did intend to make a film that would do well at festivals. I was very motivated and had already storyboarded most of the film before I started at the RCA. In fact, I was quite annoyed when we had to make a one-minute film in the first year. I couldn’t wait to get started on Little Wolf, and was secretly pleased when a disc of the short film got corrupted. It was the perfect excuse to move on to Little Wolf. However, when I finally finished Little Wolf (it took me six months longer than planned), I hated the film! It’s only when it was screened at Annecy that I realised it might be successful after all. Winning awards certainly raised my profile. And the prize money allowed me to work on the pre-production of 64 Zoo Lane. Little WolfYou studied in London after you had finished your studies in Ghent. Can you compare both educations?The animation course in KASK was more structured, with a good balance between practical skills and artistic encouragement. At the RCA, there was less emphasis on practical exercises (though this may have changed since then). This was problematic for those students who had not studied animation on their degree courses. On the plus side, I found the RCA a very stimulating environment. Students were encouraged to discuss their work with each other and were highly motivated. While I was at the RCA, the animation course had some interesting visiting lecturers including Yuri Norstein, Mark Baker and Oliver Postgate. And of course it was great to be in the centre of London.Did you consider coming back to Belgium to start working as an animator or was it quickly clear that your future would lie abroad?Nowadays I mainly write, design and direct, so I don’t really work as an animator myself (though I’m working on an idea for a short film which I’m considering animating myself). I see myself living in the UK for the foreseeable future, but I would like to work on projects that can be co-produced with Belgian production companies, as this would allow me to work with Belgian animators.To what extent did you need more 'business like' or networking skills to make it as a professional animator?Networking is important, and it helps to visit festivals etc. This has been more difficult for me during the last few years while my children were young.As for business skills, it really would have been useful to get more down to earth advice at college, for example on copyright issues and collecting societies.Was it a hard struggle to get 64 Zoo Lane on television? How did you find a way in?The pilot was made with a loan from CARTOON (EU funding). Little Wolf was nominated for a Cartoon D’Or, and although it didn’t win the prize, the nomination undoubtedly helped with a subsequent submission for funding. The pilot was presented at the Cartoon Forum in the Azores in 1994, where it proved very popular. However, it still took five years to get the funding together for the first series. Eventually a French production company, Millimages, produced the series with Zoo Lane Productions. All in all, from initial idea to broadcast took seven years. It seemed like an eternity at the time, but now that the series has been repeatedly broadcast for seven years I’ve (almost) forgotten how much effort it took to get it made.How much time did you spend making one episode of 64 Zoo Lane?One series (26 episodes) takes approximately 18 months. There are several episodes in production at any one time, each one at a different stage of production. It was an international effort: The scripts were written in the UK, the storyboards drawn in Paris, the animation was done in Kiev and the colouring and compositing in Bucharest.How do you work as an animator? Which techniques do you use? Are you interested in experimenting with other techniques or do you stick to what you are good at?Little Wolf was made using traditional cel animation. I made another short film that was coloured on paper. 64 Zoo Lane was hand-drawn, then coloured on the computer. I definitely would like to experiment with new techniques, perhaps using 3D CGI, but with a painterly look. The story always comes first in my films, so I choose a technique to suit the story. Little WolfYou received a lot of awards. To what extent do they motivate you?It’s nice to win awards. However, winning awards cannot be the main motivation. An audience’s appreciation is better than winning prizes. And I’ve come to realise that the best films are the ones that you just feel you HAVE to make, so motivation comes first from within!On your website, you call Belgium a small country where people eat their chips with mayonnaise... What are some misunderstandings about Flanders or Belgium that you have come across in recent years?Lots of people still get confused about which languages are spoken in Belgium.What would you like to realise in your wildest 'animation' dreams?In the short term (well, there’s no such thing as short term in the world of animation really …) I am working on an idea for a short film. I’m also developing a new TV series for children. One day, I would love to make a half hour family film with high production values.