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Globetrotters - Pieter Van Houte

30 juli 2007
The ‘Globetrotters’ column will profile on a regular basis Flemish animation professionals working abroad. The second to receive a portrait is Pieter Van Houte.
LOCATION Edinburgh, ScotlandAGE 33EDUCATION KASK, Ghent, BelgiumFIRST RECOLLECTION OF AN ANIMATION FILM The Black Cauldron - I remember it as very different from other animation movies, much darker and also a lot more more interesting. FIRST RECOLLECTION OF AN ANIMATION SERIES The Fabeltjeskrant, with the unsettling changing pupils of Mister Owl during the opening song...FAVOURITE ANIMATION FEATURE FILM Very hard to pick one... To name a few: - The Hunchbacked Little Horse by Ivan Ivanov-Vano. A magnificent Russian masterpiece, or so I remember it... a beautiful legend as well.- Jan Zonder Vrees (John The Fearless) by Jef Cassiers. Chauvinist? Maybe, but I watched that film over and over.- Snow White. A classic, just like other Disney films from that era, I hope they succeed to reach that level again in the near future.- The Simpsons Movie: hilarious!FAVOURITE ANIMATION SHORTS The works of Svankmajer, Pixar's Geri's Game, The Big Snit by Richard Condie, Balance by Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein, The Monk and the Fish by Michael Dudok De Wit, Feed the Kitty by Chuck Jones, The Little Orphan by Hanna & Barbera, winner of an Academy Award but outrageously censored nowadays (and many more...) FAVOURITE ANIMATION TECHNIQUE I think hybrid techniques are very interesting. Mixing different techniques and using the most appropriate tool for every single element... I think it has been my specialty over the last few years. It is what I have been doing on The Triplets of Belleville (Belleville Rendezvous), integrating 2D and 3D. But ultimately I prefer the more traditional techniques, because of the magic they instill. A computer doesn't 'inbetween' as an animator would do. It just feels different when it comes to life on the big screen. AMBITIONS/ASPIRATIONS Right now, I want to find out if I am a film maker. It is what I have studied, what I always wanted to do, but if I ever get there, I have been working my way towards it in a big circle around it so far. So I will start writing for myself now and see what happens... You graduated from KASK in Ghent 10 years ago, do you still stay in touch? Yes, I drop by once in a while, it is very inspiring to see all these young talents work on a film that is something of their own entirely. When I was studying there, I was not really aware of that aspect. Maybe one day I will return to teach there, but I do not feel ready for it right now. Why did you go to Scotland and what is it like to work there? It was Sylvain Chomet who asked me to come and work here. After The Triplets of Belleville, he invited me to work on his next projects. He gathered a team around him here in Scotland, that is all that there is to it. The animation scene in Scotland is not really big, certainly compared to London for instance. But nature here is beautiful, going on a trip in the mountains or to the lakes is ideal to get rid of stress... What exactly did you work on in Chomet's new movie The Illusionist? I put up the entire digital pipeline for the film, from the moment that the drawings are scanned in up to the moment they are transferred to pellicule. So it involved installing a computer park, testing and evaluating software both creatively and practically, doing research in calibrating monitors, preparing digital images to be transferred to film, and so on. Besides that, and creatively much more important to me, I helped defining the visual universe, the look of the film, more specifically the quality of light, both artificial light and sunlight. That is in fact what Sylvain drew to Scotland: the way in which the light can change in as little as a couple of minutes. He wanted to see that reflected in his movie. I have developed methods in order to do so and I used some of these techniques on a number of shots that I was able to finalise before I left the project. Why did you leave the project when it was not completely finished? You know, working on The Illusionist was very intense. It is a fantastic project with huge potential but unfortunately I was not really happy to see how the entire studio was being built around one individual, and to experience how they fitted in the artists, myself in particular. After a year or so, it built up a kind of claustrofobic bubble that I decide to leave behind me before it would be too late. I think it was an important decision to make where I will look back upon in a few years time with pride and joy. But I did not burn any bridges, maybe I will work with them again in the future. You also worked on Lost Cargo, how do you look back on that experience? It was nice because the directors (Efim Perlis and Pieter Engels) are old school mates with whom I get along perfectly. You know each other very well, so you know from the start that you are on the same wavelength. A less pleasant aspect of working on Lost Cargo was that it once more came down to a struggle towards the end... using up your last ounces of energy and running out of budget with four months of work left... But it is one of the few pieces of work that I am personally really proud of. The film is doing very well at festivals, I am trying to keep track of it. Last year you enrolled as a student at the Academy of Edinburgh. Did you feel you had to do so and does it 'pay off' already? A year ago I signed up for a course in Life Drawing and Anatomy, because I feel like I neglected the more traditional animation techniques since I graduated ten years ago. Ever since, I have been specializing in digital techniques. During the making of The Triplets of Belleville and The Illusionist I did not once hold a pencil myself. But a couple of years ago Sylvain Chomet introduced me to Richard Williams, because he was looking for someone to introduce him into some new technologies. He is 74 now and he stopped doing commercial work, but once an animator, always an animator... We got along very well from the start and now he is like my mentor and involves me in everything he is working on. I have learnt a great deal from him because he is very keen on sharing his experience. Anyway, it was Richard who kept telling me that everything starts with 'life drawing, life drawing, LIFE DRAWING!' It was a bit of a wake up call to me. At the same time he warned me to take it easy in the beginning, to not do it more than once a week because it would be too frustrating otherwise. He was very right... Somewhere inbetween my brain and my hand, something went wrong. What was up there, did not come out through my hand the way I meant it to. But after a year of hard work, I managed to produce some drawings I can look back on with a good feeling. You know, a simple drawing does not lie. With computers as tools I have attained a certain level. If there is something that does not feel completely right from the start, I am able to work on it until there is a satisfactory result, until it 'sells'. There is a whole industry of people who acquired that kind of skills. It is not a bad thing in itself, but it cannot last forever. It is like a movie full of special effects but without a good story. You leave the theatre bewildered by this visual spectacle but when you think about it for five minutes you realize that it is full of cheap emotions and platitudes. Or like a friend once told me: your life does not bother you for an hour or two... With drawings, things are completely different. You put a number of lines on a piece of paper, take a few steps back and then it is there: if it is not good, that is all there is to it. You can start changing and fussing about and go home with a big gray spot. The only thing you really can do about it is to take a new piece of paper and start over. And over and over and over... It is not exaggerated to tell that a great artist produces 1 good drawing out of 10. I am still a long way from that. But it gives me a lot more satisfaction than anything I have done over the last couple of years. Besides all that, you still find the time to make music as well... I have made two albums that you can find online (, and I have plans to make a third one. Electronic music and abstract sounds have fascinated me since I was a kid. A while ago I also made the score for an MTV 'ident' called Giants, animated by Wouter Sel. Music is maybe even more personal than film. More direct and more individual, in my case. As a visual artist, I have mainly been working on other people's projects so far. What would you like to achieve in your wildest dreams? I would really like my godchild to come and tell me that my film is the best. But for a start, I would need to make one of course...