This movie was based on the book “Orla Frøsnapper” by the much-loved author Ole Lund Kirkegaard who, in his native country of Denmark is as well-known as Hans Christian Andersen.
The book is also on the national curriculum, which means that most Danes born since the 1970’s have read it at school.
There have been several live-action movies based on this author’s books in the past. However, Ole Lund Kirkegaard illustrated all his own books with his trademark quirky, scratchy style which made a strong case for us to bring this world to life in animation.
In adapting such a beloved and familiar book there is of course a responsibility to stay true to the spirit of the source material.
Changes are necessary to make a story work for the screen, but having read and loved the book as children, we were very mindful of keeping the soul and heart of the original story throughout the process.
The first challenge was to research/decontruct the books; Find out exactly what makes them work, the values, the humour etc. and really just to get under the skin of the material.
One of the issues we had was that the book is structured very episodically, which wouldn’t work well in a screenplay. Some elements were invented, others were removed or changed etc. When the script reports eventually returned from the readers, one of the things they said they liked was that we hadn’t changed much in the story.
This was great because it was an indication that we had managed to tap into how people remembered the book, even though we had changed a lot along the way.
The original book illustrations had bags of character, and that was at the top of the list of what we needed to preserve in the adaptation to CGI. Some illustration styles are easy to translate into 3D, however this was not one of them, as you can see in this image to the right.
A lot of charm in the original illustrations comes from the scratchy quality of the line and “wrongness” (for lack of a better word) of perspective, proportions etc.
This is of course a challenge to recreate in the very unforgiving medium of 3D CGI.
Our design department consisted of just two incredibly talented people: Bjarne Hansen and Christian Kuntz. Bjarne was our production designer, while Christian designed all the characters.
Roughly speaking there were three stages in the environment design process:
Firstly, rough shapes and size relationships would be modelled in 3D; a fast and flexible way of laying down the basics.
Line-work would be painted on top of the rough 3D geometry to add detail and refine shape language.
Colour keys would then be painted according to the different moods/lighting setups.
These would then be used to brief to the digital 3D artists to create the sets and lighting setups in CGI.
In March 2010, I moved to China for 9 months to work with a Chinese animation studio, which was a fascinating and eye-opening experience.
Apart from the obvious financial advantages of producing in China, the reason we chose to go there was largely due to a real shortage of people with the skill-sets that we needed in Denmark.
So: I suddenly found myself in Beijing with a crew of 100+ artists, in addition to working with numerous outsourcing studios.
During the final stages of production we were working with 11(!) other studios simultaneously all across China; Harbin, Shanghai, Wuhan, Zhuhai, Hangzhou, Hefei, Qingdao. This was great for productivity but consistency would be a challenge with so much work being done in parallel. However with the help of a few great people such as our Texture & Lighting Supervisor Zhang YiChi (Johnny) among others, we made it in the end.
After biting our nails for weeks awaiting the release, we breathed a collective sigh of relief when the first reviews came in. We were very fortunate, they were almost universally positive.
Commercially the movie did very well, especially in it’s local market of Denmark where it hovered among the top 10 most watched movies throughout the summer.
Internationally it has been sold to over 20 countries for both theatrical release and DVD/VOD.
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