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Globetrotters - Niko Meulemans

27 november 2007
Flemish animation professionals working abroad are the topic of the 'Globetrotters' series. Niko Meulemans is just returning from a 3-year stay in LA to make a new start in Flanders.
LOCATION Los AngelesAGE 37EDUCATION Mastre in Animation (1996)FIRST RECOLLECTION OF AN ANIMATION FILM Donald DuckFAVOURITE ANIMATION SHORTS Happy Tree Friends, Gopher Broke (Blur Studio), SkylandFAVOURITE ANIMATION FEATURE Madagascar, Ice AgePREFERRED ANIMATION TECHNIQUE 3DAWARDS The Museum: 'Best Student Film', Stuttgart Animation Festival; Chickendales: 'Best Editing' , Festival International de Cortometraggio, Naples; 'Mention of the Jury', MEDIA, Namur; 'Top 10' at Nickelodeon Shorts Festival 2006 Wienersquad Ten years ago your student film The Museum won an award, did it make the transition to a professional career easier? An award certainly helps to get you easier into a company, it opens doors faster. You definitely get a head start, but you still have to compete with everybody else. But I succeeded to pitch it to MTV and The Museum turned into a very popular MTV advertising. You quickly chose to work in 3D… When I graduated from KASK, everything we learnt was still 2D. I did some work in 2D. It was very interesting to work with 'old' techniques like 'inbetweening'. But I quickly made the transition to CGI. It took me 6 to 8 months to get a grip on Lightwave, since we learnt nothing about it at school. At that time companies simply trained people in those software. Once I mastered Lightwave, I did not have a lot of trouble to learn Maya etcetera. But today I am mainly developing projects instead of animating. You are in the middle of getting started in Belgium again after spending 3 years in LA. What did you learn and why did you decide to come back? I learned a lot, especially about the Californian work culture and culture in general, which is completely different then ours. California and especially LA is not the US, but it is the biggest global cultural melting pot and creatively so far ahead then any other place. Everyone who wants to get on standard with the world latest trends is there, and not just visiting. This is one of the first things you really realize when you are there: there is no place like LA. I started my own company beginning of this year, but the market is very slow now so my partner and I decided to give it a shot in Europe - where animation is blooming - and to put our business in LA on a hold. Unfortunately and due to the saturated market in LA, lots of companies struggle and some go bankrupt. But I am very happy now and I look back on a very rich experience. Since my absence the animation market in Europe has grown tremendously in a short period of time. I have the impression that animation is more accepted by adults now than it used to be, in that respect it is now closer to the situation in the United States. Just look at the many animated commercials. Animation used to be something for children and that attitude has changed completely. In the US, animation is accepted by adults since ever, it’s part of their culture. Most Flemish animation talent makes the opposite move… Yes, but most of them are highly skilled CGI operators specialized in a specific part of a software like shading in MAYA or modeling in whatever. I try to move on to a different level, developing and producing. And when you try to develop projects yourself you are sudden in full competition with US-citizen who all look jealous to European film funding… So there you go: another reason to go back. They have LA, Europeans have the funding… What are your plans for the near future? Well, I am presenting a couple of series for funding to the Flanders Audiovisual Fund. In LA I finished some pilots for Klasky Csupo and due to a strange course of events they ended up being my property. So I hope that people here will be interested in them. Studio 100 is interested in one of our projects starring a bunch of chickens… So we hope to raise the money to get it started. Speaking of chickens: Chickendales has been very successful, it has put you on the map, so to speak… Yes, but it was not easy to get it started. When I left school, I moved to London to look for a job. From there I went to the US twice to pitch the idea for Chickendales, which was quite naive at the time because they were not interested in shorts… Neither in London I noticed, giving it a try over there as well. Back in Belgium, I presented the project five times before it was accepted. But in the end, Chickendales was selected by more than 50 festivals and it won some prizes. Luc Besson's company Europacorp selected it for the 1-0 project and sticked it in a feature film, so it has been leading its own life… and soon it is available on iTunes. Chickendales