interview with new eden animator – part one: background

13, July 2011

Freek Van Haagen is the character designer and lead animator on our animated sci-fi web comedy pilot, New Eden. As I’ve mentioned again and again on my blog, working with Freek has been great and so I wanted to share with you all some more details about the man himself and his working method via a two-part interview.

Part One outlines Freek’s animation background and his career aspirations. Part Two breaks down his animation process for New Eden and ends with a short clip of raw animation footage from the pilot episode. Enjoy!

Where do you live?

Netherlands.

Where does most of your work come from?

Most of my work comes from the Netherlands. After that Belguim. Sometimes I get something out of Germany or Switerland but that doesn’t happen too often. My aim is to get more work from the english speaking world as well – America, Australia and England.

How did you get into illustrating and animation?

As a kid I loved all the Disney movies and one day my dad explained to me how animation worked. He drew a ball on a couple of pages and flipped them, creating the illusion that the ball was bouncing. Then I got the idea and knew that all those Disney films were thousands of drawings, shown really fast.

Of course that’s a lot of work and I had to become a good draftsman first, before I could animate but I knew it then. Animation has something magical about itself.

How long have you been working professionally as an illustrator/animator?

Making money in animation isn’t that simple here in Holland so I worked in the advertising industry working my way up from designer to art direction. After 6 years I started out as a freelance illustrator and have been doing that for the last 7 years. The last 3 years I’ve taking on animation jobs as well.

What is your preferred style of animation to work in?

Not really a specific style. I like change and variation. I love figuring stuff out to see if I can get it to work.

What do you think it takes to be a good character animator?

Persistence. Basically it all comes down to a simple fact – it’s work! And a lot of it. There are a few tricks and cheats. But if you really want to become good at it, you just have to put in the hours. Talent will get you far, but motivation will get you further.

What are your all time favourite animated films/television shows?

  • Dragonball Z – because I have bad taste.
  • Lion King – best Disney flick I think. Great story, great everything.
  • Akira – best manga film. Level of animation is still not surpassed I think today.
  • Thundercats – because I am a child.
  • Wall-e –  best Pixar flick. 45 minutes of non speech animation and you can’t take you eyes of the screen.

There is probably more but I don’t want to tire you.

What’s the best piece of advice you have been given regarding working as an animator?

Don’t cheat at the ending. Don’t wrap it up too quick. Meaning when you’re almost done, you kinda rush it towards the end. Which can destroy everything you did before.

What resource would you recommend to emerging animators?

Richard Williams’ Animators Survival Kit.

What new piece of technology are you itching to get your hands on?

The new Zelda for the Wii U 🙂

What are you hoping to get out of working on New Eden?

Instant access to Hollywood babes and a life of spending enormous amounts of money on stuff I don’t need. But seriously … just the money would be okay as well.

What do you hope to achieve in the next five years of your career?

My ultimate dream is to direct a feature animation.

Where can people find you online?

www.freekvanhaagen.nl

Check out Part Two where Freek breaks down the animation process and we give you a sneak peek at some footage!

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new eden – meet the cast

27, May 2011

Big day last Friday. We recorded the dialogue tracks for the trailer and episode one of the sci-fi animated web comedy New Eden.

Our recording set up was a little unusual as far as animation goes. Usually animation voice records are done one actor at a time with each actor recording a range of options for each line. For New Eden I decided early on that we needed to have all the actors together if we wanted to capture the comedy of the piece and the odd-couple relationship between Murray and Hamilton at the heart of it. So to accommodate this, my sound engineer Billy can up with the great plan to set up dividers that allowed the actors to still see and interact with each other while at the same time minimising the bleed of their voices into each others’ microphones.

Recording this way meant that I had to get four actors, Billy and myself into a facility that not only could fit us all and be willing to work with our tight budget. Billy ended up scoring us a four-hour recording slot at Keir Vine’s studio in Dalston but May turned out to be a stupidly busy time for us all. Some days trying to schedule the record felt like herding cats but as I’ve learnt at every stage of this process, the wait was worth it.

After the record I was pretty certain that we had got everything but later I couldn’t help but worry that I might have missed something or failed to be clear in my direction somehow. Listening back to the material though I discovered that my fears were unfounded. The actors had nailed it. Sparking off each other and delivering some fantastic improv bits, they really brought the characters to life and proved that tackling the record this way was all worth it.

So without further ado let me introduce the cast …

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Playing former shift supervisor and the pedantic pessimistic Brit Hamilton is Jonathan Rhodes. Some of you might recognise him as a regular on M.I. High as Chief Agent Stark. Most recently he starred in and co-produced a great short film called Big SocietyJonathan has a great voice and great timing and I’ve had the pleasure of working with him several times at my writers group ScriptTank and also on my radio sketch samples.

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Playing the sarcastic but easy going former ships pilot Murray is Kevin Shen. Sharing the same Chinese American heritage as his character, Kevin is always busy working in London or abroad on more shoots than I can keep track of. I was convinced Kevin was right for the role when during his audition he delivered one simple line that not only captured the character but also managed to surprise me.

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Playing mad Scotsman and former ships engineer Keith is Scott Christie. London based and heralding from the rolling hills up north, Scott can be often found treading the boards in numerous London productions and most recently received critical acclaim for his performance in the season of Short & Sweet at the Union Theatre. Also a ScriptTank actor, Scott is nothing like his gregariously volatile counterpart but perfectly captures Keith’s sense of mad danger.

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And finally playing the Ukrainian loner and black marketeer Ivana is Jo Bowis. Actor, singer, blogger and accordion player; Jo is an all round entertainer always busy with her cabaret theatre troupe Tiny Wallop or cycling around London from one gig to the next. Like Jonathan, Jo helped out with my radio sketch samples and has a great talent for bringing different characters to life. She also does a mean Aussie accent.

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Since the record I’ve been busy listening back to the takes and working with our sound engineer/designer Billy to piece together master tracks for our animators Freek and Adam to start working with.

Reflecting back on the process, when we get the chance to record more episodes there are definitely some things I will be doing differently:

Cans Cans Cans. Instead of hiding in the control room I was on the floor coaching the actors but didn’t have headphones on the entire time. The difference between hearing something live or through cans can be slight but it can make all the difference when you’re trying hear if an actor is hitting a certain tone or phrase just right.

Freek on the floor. Because of the logistic of our lead animator Freek being in the Netherlands and the record happening in London it was always decided that I would direct the dialogue record. If I had to do it again I would definitely have Freek there by my side or in the booth to co-direct. We have developed a great working relationship and I can’t imagine doing this project without him.

Rehearsals. Because of scheduling issues I decided not to do a rehearsal. Instead we recorded the rehearsal takes in the studio as I helped the actors find their characters, tweak dialogue and get the overall flow of the scripts. In future I’ll definitely be fighting for a read-through in a far less pressured environment where we can discuss the scripts and characters and ease into it all a bit more gently.

Next post: new eden – meet the crew.

Til then be sure to follow New Eden on Twitter and Facebook.


what is your evil plan?

22, April 2011

As many of you know, this year I’m on a mission to stop waiting for permission, play to my strength and get things done. As part of this I wanted to share with you what helped inspire this decision, it’s a little book called Ignore Everybody by Hugh Macleod:


A self-described ex-advertising hack, Macleod reinvented his career over the course of ten years by carving out a niche market for himself drawing and selling cartoons drawn on the back of business cards.  As he explains in his book this took a lot of hard work, trusting his gut and ignoring everybody:

The more original your idea is, the less good advice other people will be able to give you. When I first started with the cartoon-on-back-of-bizcard format, people thought I was nuts. Why wasn’t I trying to do something more easy for markets to digest i.e. cutey-pie greeting cards or whatever?

Ignore Everybody – Hugh Macleod

His book offers up 37 tips that includes such musings as “The idea doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be yours”, “Keep your day job” “Selling out is harder than it looks” and “The best way to get approval is not to need it.”

I don’t know about you but all this really struck a core with me. So you can imagine how happy I was when for my birthday the girl got me Macleod’s follow up book Evil Plans:


Everybody needs an EVIL PLAN. Everybody needs that crazy, out-there idea that allows them to ACTUALLY start doing something they love, doing something that matters. Everybody needs an EVIL PLAN that gets them the hell out of the Rat Race, away from lousy bosses, away from boring, dead-end jobs that they hate. Life is short.

Evil Plans – Hugh Macleod

For me Evil Plans couldn’t have come at a better time. Macleod’s inspirational words, practical advice and fierce independence has been instrumental in helping me to stay the course on my projects. If you’re looking to do the same then I recommend you give Macleod’s books a try. I’ve got my evil plan, what’s yours?


back from the comedy fest

12, April 2011

I’m back from the London Comedy Writers Festival with a head full of knowledge, pockets full of business cards and a smile on my face.

For me the festival was all about connecting with other writers and thanks to its friendly open atmosphere it was easy as. It was also helped by one of the most useful name tags/lanyards that I’ve seen at any festival thus far that made it easy to identify who you were talking to without looking like you were squinting at their middle shirt button or worse.

Griff Rhys Jones’ keynote speech delivered in spades with wry and inspiring tales of his time in the comedy biz and the other speakers that I saw were all engaging and generous with their time. The only criticism I would have is that sometimes the session moderators didn’t stick a hundred percent to brief and let sessions drift into cozy fire side chats, which while entertaining weren’t what I was expecting.

I have to say though, the festival organisers did their best to cram as much information, value and networking into the two day event. I’m incredibly happy that I went and felt like I made the most of the experience and I would happily recommend the festival to anyone thinking of going next year.


off to London Comedy Writers Festival

7, April 2011

I’ll be at the off to the London Comedy Writers Festival this weekend, if you’re popping along feel free to say hello.

And seeing as you’re here you may as well:

Cheers and see you at the Festival.


broken by freek van haagen

6, April 2011

Freek Van Haagen, the animator working with me on New Eden, recently had his short film Broken featured on Vimeo.

It’s a haunting dramatic tale and has already hit 50k+ views. Freek is an incredibly talented fellow and I feel very lucky to be working with him at the moment. Enjoy!


new eden update

18, March 2011

Before I jet off on holidays back to Australia I wanted to share with you what is making me happy at the moment, the development of my sci-fi comedy web series New Eden.

The sci-fi comedy web series New Eden follows Murray and Hamilton, two colonists aboard a starship bound for a new world to call home. That was the plan at least until they crashed … on the wrong planet! Escaping in a Life-Pod Murray and Hamilton find themselves alone and thrust right back to the bottom of the food chain on a strange primordial world filled with creatures determined to have them for dinner. Constantly at odds with each other but forced to work together, Murray and Hamilton use their quick wits and the random crew supplies they find scattered across the planet to defend themselves as they search for food, shelter and a way off this rock. Along the way they come across Keith, a mad Scotsman and former ships engineer who has gone completely native, and the calculating but socially inept Ukrainian black marketeer Ivana. Combining physical comedy, witty banter and gross out humour, New Eden is targeted at sci-fi fan, young adults and anyone who wants to see cool frick’n monsters make grown men poo their pants.

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I first had the notion for New Eden (previously called Planet Strange) around mid 2009. At that stage it was nothing more than a funny little scene in my head of an odd couple, Murray and Hamilton, marooned on a strange planet arguing over who pressed the red button. Inspired by Star Trek and Star Wars it amused me because it was about as far from Roddenberry’s altruism or Lucas’ epic heroism as you could get.


From that first idea I wrote a sketch and then later expanded it out into thirty-odd pages and had it read at my local writers group, Script Tank. After that it kind of just sat there in the back of mind and the bottom of the drawer while I pursue other projects that I thought were more worthwhile. New Eden didn’t stay dormant for long though. I picked it up again when I started to develop it as a low-fi live action + vfx web series with a comedy director mate of mine back in Australia. Due to nobody’s fault that didn’t pan out but it did help kick along New Eden’s development.

From there I decided to develop it as an animated web series. I advertised for an animator, tried out a few and finally found Freek Van Haagen, a Dutch animator and illustrator. Freek’s take on the characters grabbed me instantly and over the period of 2-3 months we talked and shunted sketches and scripts back and forth as we developed New Eden further. It took a while for us to both feel each other out but it has been great to discover that we have the same taste in comedy and can be brutally honest with each other, which is vital in any creative working relationship.

It was about the end of February when we discovered we were ready to start work on our five minute pilot, which was daunting and I was beginning to wonder if we had bitten off more than we could chew. Nevertheless I pushed ahead, held some auditions for voice actors and managed to secure my dream cast and quickly found myself re-inspired by their enthusiasm and excitement for the project.

At every turn I keep finding more and more reasons to do New Eden than not and this spirit of just cracking on has filled me an incredible amount of joy and satisfaction. All it has cost Freek and myself to date is our own time, energy and enthusiasm. I have a cast of great comedic actors who are not only happy to donate their time but also champing at the bit to record their characters and a great sound designer who I worked with on my radio sketches who is equally excited for the opportunity and kind enough to donate his time and energy as well.

Coming from a TV production background and as someone who grew up always writing and making stuff, this has been the first time in a long while that I’ve felt like my two halves (writing and production) have been able to come together. As I mentioned in my last blog post, nowadays there is more opportunities and less barriers than ever before for people to see their work realised and I personally can’t endorse this approach enough to anyone who’s considering it.

I would never knock back any opportunities that came my way but at the moment it just feels right to be doing this now. One of my goals this year was to “get work finished and out into the world” and all I can think is that sometimes the best opportunities are the ones you create yourself.

Freek and I have a production plan and style in place that will allow us to roll out episodes in a timely fashion and both see great potential in the project. At the moment we are having a blast working on the storyboards and discussing the finer points of pratfalls, comic timing and how best to pull off a vomit gag!

My aim for New Eden is to see it picked up, go to series and to get people paid. From there I hope that it can be a showcase piece that will lead to more work and more opportunities for everyone. So you can expect more posts about New Eden over the coming year as I continue to share my joy of this crazy process.


misery bear at london comedy writers festival

17, March 2011

This week I attended the first official session of the London Comedy Writers Festival on ‘Writing for the Web’ featuring Misery Bear creators Nath Saunders and Chris Hayward. A video of their talk will be available soon up on the LWF site and it’s definitely worth checking out.

Kudos to Nath and Chris. They deserve all the success they get because if you look at their company website, Worm Hotel,  you’ll see they’ve been jobbing writers for years now as well as active creators always trying new things and putting new work out there. They kept working at it, kept creating and didn’t wait for permission.

This was the great take away for everyone – nowadays there is nothing stopping anyone doing the same. Make something you’re passionate about, put it out there and who knows … you could have the next Misery Bear or Simon’s Cat on your hands.

I can’t make the other two free sessions leading up to the festival but I’m looking forward to geeking out on comedy and writing from the 8th to 10th April when the festival weekend is on.

If you’re popping along feel free to say hello!


a podcast for every occasion

30, January 2011

My number one companion as I tube, bus and elbow my way through the streets of London is my iPod and the number one thing I listen to lately has been podcasts, so much so that I’ve now got one for every occasion.

My absolute favourite at the moment is Chicago Public Radio’s This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass. Every week he brings you a variety of stories on a theme that is for the most part journalism but told with a storytellers’ sensibilities. Covering everything from global issues to stories exploring people’s inner lives, every episode is always a treat.

If I want a definite pick me up after a long day or at the start of one than there’s nothing better than NPR’s Monkey See Pop Culture Happy Hour. But if I’m looking for something more thoughtful and to dive into a world of ideas, science and philosophy I turn to Radio Lab.

When I want to geek out I go to shows like Epic Fu or A Comicbook Orange to get my fix. And for a more considered examination of the latest in the world of modern American culture I tune into NPR’s Culturetopia podcast.

The Onion News Network always tickles my funny bone, as does BBC Radio 4’s Comedy of Week and BBC Radio 5’s 7 Day Sunday. And for mindless adolescent humour Adult Swim UK’s podcast floats my boat every time.

Ever since my Amstrad and first electronics kit I’ve loved videos games and anything to do with tech. I’ve since retired my joystick and soldering iron but keep up with the latest in both fields thanks to ABC TV’s Good Game and The Guardian’s Tech Weekly.

For the latest goss, insider interviews or analyst on the television and film industry in the UK I hit up The Guardian’s Media Talk, and KCRW’s The Business for the same stateside.

There is a great UK/US pairing of podcasts on writing that is always great for when I need some inspiration, UK Scriptwriters by Danny Stack and Tim Clague and Sam and Jim Go To Hollywood by well, Sam and Jim!

If I have more than an hour to kill and up for a dense discussion on the craft of scriptwriting I delve into Creative Screenwriting Magazine or Film London’s Microwave podcast to hear interviews and discussion on indie filmmaking in the UK.

And finally my guilty pleasure up until recently has been Kevin Smith’s Red State Of The Union podcast about the making of his latest horror flick, Red State. Kevin Smith is still as crude as ever but I tell you that dude can talk under water and is nothing if not entertaining.

Now that it has finished up I’m on the hunt for something new to fill its place. I’d love to find a UK equilavent to This American Life or Radio Lab, so if you hear of anything let me know. And if there’s anything else you think I should be listening to you know where to find me.

If I wand a definite pick me after a long day, or the start of one, than there’s nothing better than NPR’s Monkey See Pop Culture Happy Hour.


inspiration from across the blogs

26, January 2011

The new decade seems to have kicked off to a good start for many writers and there’s a real sense of positivity and hope out there. It may just be because it’s the start to a new year but it does feel like some of the uncertainty surrounding last year has dissipated and people are just cracking on or starting to see the fruits of their labour bear fruit.

So if you need a bit of inspiration for the new year, look no further than your fellow bloggers.

David Bishop has an excellent post entitled “Don’t wait for an engraved invitation to write” … Danny Stack, inspired by a mate’s low-budget filmmaking endeavours, has been spurred on to take a step closer to his dream of directing a feature … Jason Arnopp talks about how his many years of work and building a portfolio helped him secure an agent … Jez Freedman blogged about Massive Action Day, a fun and free way for writers to support each other as they collective kick off the year with a mass day of writing … Laurence Timms has been giddy of late over seeing his work going in front of the camera … Lucy V Hay‘s appropriately titled post “Can’t Get Read, Yes You Can” gives loads of helpful tips on getting your stuff past the gatekeepers and read by that elusive prodco you’d love to work for … and the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain recently posted an excellent podcast “Writing Comedy for Television” where the central message for emerging writers was to just get out there and get your work read, seen or made any way you can.

If anyone else has their own success stories or sources of inspiration, feel free to share.