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Interview with Michael Hegner

Matthew Woodhams asked Michael a few questions and it ended up being one of the best interviews ever done for Eje-Zeta. He talked about 6 essential points to follow whilst working on an independent productions and how to keep thngs simple.

Michael Hegner teaches us to keep it simple
Interview 26 January 2007


Back in 89′ was working as an animator in Germany, but felt that it was about time to get back home to Denmark. He had been talking to two of his colleagues about setting up their our own place based in Denmark, but when he finally went back they where both working for 5 guys in a small apartment in Copenhagen. They called the place A. Film, and offered him a place to sit for free. He said yes. It didn’t take long before he was only working for A. Film, doing commercials around the clock. This eventually lead him to co-direct “Help I’m a Fish“, “The Ugly Duckling and Me”, and currently “Way to the Stars”.

Matthew Woodhams asked Michael a few questions and it ended up being one of the best interviews ever done for Eje-Zeta. He talked about 6 essential points to follow whilst working on an independent productions and how to keep thngs simple.

AFilm had proved that there is a market for professional animated films outside the US. How would you compare the productions created in North America to those done in the rest of the world?

The American market is huge and homogenised, and the movie industry is extremely professional. As a result the turnover and possible income on American major productions is enormous, compared to the rest of the world. On top of this, or because of this, American movies are sold and marketed very strongly all over the world, where as movies from the rest of the world are having a hard time trying to find a way into the American market.

This leaves us (The “Not American filmmakers”) with generally smaller budgets and very diffuse marketing possibilities. The smaller country the worse this gets: The bigger countries like England, France and Germany does have a home market that allow expensive productions to some extend, but in Denmark the total population is 5 million people, so to do animated movies for the Danish market seems rather insane. Never the less Nordic Film and TV2, and A. Film produced the low budget 3D Feature: “Terkel in trouble” that ended up being the biggest animation hit on the Danish screens in 2005, with almost 400.000 admissions. This, plus an uncalculated sale to the rest of the world, actually turned it into a financially success. Turning all the “weaknesses” of being small and independent into a force is something we try to do on all our productions. Here is a few points that I find essential to follow:


  • Keep a simple work split

    Keeping everything under one roof is by far the easiest and most efficient way to produce CGI, but due to the relatively big (Small when compared to the American majors) budgets for animated movies, it is often necessary to co-produce with studios from other countries. “Ugly” had a budget around 7 million Euro, and was a co-production between Ireland, France, Germany and Denmark. The work was split so we had all the file heavy CGI work in A. Film: Set – and character build, blocking shading, lighting and compositing. This made the communication and workflow between those people smooth and the trouble solving “easy”.
    The rigging plus 30 minutes of animation was done in France. Sound and 5 minutes of animation was done in Germany. Script, dialog – and score recording were done in Ireland. The budget for “Terkel” was just under 2 million and allowed the whole movie to be made in A. Film.

Click here to view big image

Click here to view big image

  • Keep approval procedures simple

    If there is one thing that can slow down the production, and put people on hold, it is too many and to slow approval procedures. The bigger productions the more there are at stake, and as budgets grow, more and more people has to be consulted. In co-productions there is pr definition always a lot of partners and investors that has to agree as the project progresses. Make sure to make some milestones that do not obstruct the productions workflow! Once this is agreed the director and the team should be trusted to work in peace! It gives the whole production a tremendous energy boost and great flow. The more gatekeepers the slower and more expensive the production will get.

  • Less people and more time

    Every production is faced with the dilemma: More time or more people? For some reason the choice too often seems to be “Do it fast: Add More people”. I guess the main reason for this is that the investors want pay back as soon as possible, since the longer it takes to finish the movie the more interests and expenses they have to pay. This is in my opinion a big mistake that often results in less quality, and waste of money. Of course there is a limit to how long a production should last, but often it is only a question of a few month extra production time that can make huge improvements on the end result. It is basically very simple:

    The longer people do the same thing the better they get. There is always a learning curve, and if the deadline is too tight, people are laid off when they top. Another important factor is the crew: The more people you need, the less talented people you will have to hire in the end: The first 10 you employ are great, the next 10 are ok, and the last 10 are not good enough and often end up taking a huge amount of everyone else’s time.

  • Give the movie an original look

    An Art director and T.D. with strong visual talent(s) who knows the software inside out, are essential for achieving this goal, and still keeping a simple pipeline. Remarkable characters, and a style that matches yours.

  • Be original

    Find an angle or a hook that makes this movie different. When you work on lower budgets you do not necessarily need to hit the very broad family segment. You can target smaller or alternative audience, but still have the potential for a big audience. Be aware of this angle. Use it and strengthen it all the way through from idea to final marketing.

  • K.I.S.S: “Keep it simple stupid”

    Do not strive for photorealism, but try to combine simplicity, originality and aesthetics. Make it a creative challenge to keep it simple.



Can you please share some details related to any one of your films; production time, processes that took place, estimated cost for each process, how many people are behind the project, etc.


And finally, any advice for the animation students or aficionados here in Latin-American?

Hmmm… Make sure you do it because you love it and just can’t help it. If you are in it for money and fame you are definitely in the wrong spot!
Good storytelling is essential no matter what budget you are on! Be original, keep it simple.


The Ugly Duckling and Me:

Production: Co-production Magma in Ireland, Ulysses in Germany, Futurikon in France and A. Film in Denmark.
Budget: 6 million Euro
Number of people involved: Around 120 including everything from trainees to postproduction people.
The Ugly Duckling and Me

Getting financing for an animated production here in Chile is always difficult. Where does the financing come from for your films? How do you present a project and what elements do you consider important when presenting a project to be well received for financing?

There is an annual event here in Europe called Cartoon Movie, where all relevant people from all sides of the business meet. Here all the producers and production houses screen their new projects and get in contact with investors, distributors etc. This is the single most important event. There is also the American Film Market, and most importantly all the personal connections.

How do your films export to the foreign market? Are they well received?

Our films travel quite well to foreign markets. Help I’m a Fish has, to my knowledge, been sold to more than 50 countries, most of them for theatrical release. In general animated movies travels better than “normal” films. This is a huge advantage when trying to finance those movies, since they can earn money back on a potentially large number of countries.

Help I am a Fish:

Traditional 2D with lots of CGI elements.
Production: Co-production. Terraglyph in Ireland, Munich Animation in Germany and A. Film in Denmark.
Budget: 14 million Euro.
Number of people involved: Around 400 including everything from trainees to postproduction people.

The idea for this movie was originated by Stefan Fjeldmark who is one of the owners of A. Film. The movie was pitched everywhere, also to several investors also in the US who chose not to take part. We made a trailer before we got the money, to show the style and quality we wanted, and to sell the project. Making a fake trailer is a very good, but expensive way to develop your project.

The animation was split in three bulks, the three studios. Clean up and some in-between was done in Bangkok. backgrounds in Ireland and Taiwan. Score and sound in Denmark and Germany.


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