22 May 2007

Interview: The Blackheart Gang - MR. JANNES

In the second of the Blackheart Gang interviews, we have Jannes Hendrikz whose responsibility is in essence to make Ree Treweek's drawings dance to Markus Wormstorm's music. He is the compositor, 2d-animator, cinematographer, and creative director of the team. Jannes recently left Blackginger (who created the 3d elements and provided the hardware required for The Tale of How) to freelance.

As well as providing generous answers to my queries, he has also kindly provided some exclusive stills and moving images from early in the production of The Tale of How.

The Tale of How is free to download HERE and more information is available in previous posts HERE, HERE and HERE. See the first installment of the Blackheart Gang interviews with Ree Treweek HERE.

From the perspective of artistic direction, is the look from the Tale of How something you want preserved or do you see the project evolving over time?
I am very much into spontaneous, interactive expression of our art forms. I see The Household project as a growing interactive medium. It goes wherever it needs to go and I follow. It’s about being attentive to its needs and letting it grow.

How important was Ringo as a foundation for the work you did in The Tale of How? What did you learn while working on it? And is Ringo set in The Household?
Yes, Ringo also forms part of The Household. Before we started Ringo none of us knew eachother that well; most of us had just met at the time. We wanted to do something, make something. I don't know. A type of creative chemistry just developed among us. At the time, none of us had any real experience; we just threw ourselves into it. Ringo started as a weekend project but we ended up working on it for another nine months. We didn't plan. Things just developed. I think that this is the basis of our working dynamic--the magic. We learned as we went along with it.
"We did have a few creative hiccups and we had to move on--we had to compromise, we had to collaborate."
Being a labour of love, you kind of need to offer everyone working on the project the freedom to express themselves so it gets really difficult to do what you want without overlapping with someone else's ideas. We did have a few creative hiccups and we had to move on--we had to compromise, we had to collaborate. This was the biggest lesson Ringo taught us and this secret lies at the base of our collective. Learning to collaborate opens up creative doors and solutions, and helps you to develop into a more mature artist. It helps you define yourself and your role. And this was the next lesson.


We knew that if we were to work on the next project we would have to define our roles. So before working on Tale of How we had loads of discussions about who wants to do what and what we'd like to achieve and how we can support each other in doing so. I had to be very sensitive to the needs of the people I asked to join. I really wanted to create an environment for everyone to grow. Ringo was an essential part of my growth.

You said you nearly had a nervous breakdown at the end of the nine month development of the Tale of How; what happened? Was it that bad?
Hmm...well...yes, it was bad. I wasn't exaggerating. It really took me months to recover. I had a full time job at the time at a visual-effects company that always had work for me. The day work was demanding. So I worked from 9 - 6. popped out for an hour dinner break where I would meet up with Ree. This was our time to see friends and loved ones before we return to Blackginger to work till 1 - 3 in the morning. This was the ritual for every other day, except weekends where we would work from 10 in the morning to late at night.

During this time me and my girlfriend bought a flat that we moved into. By the end of it...the last 2 months, my morale was at an all time low. I was tired and worn out. I had to focus myself to finish this thing that took over my life. My boss was complaining that my private life is interfering with my ability at work. My girlfriend at this point completely frustrated with the fact that I'm never at home and emotionally unavailable. The last weeks I kept on falling asleep watching renders, stared into space and when we finally finished both me and Ree didnt know what to think. We didn't know what to feel and then slowly, over the next few months, readjusted to normal life again.

The whole experience was very surreal. I suppose I just have a very intense way of experiencing life around me, I am very passionate. It's the only way I can explain why I push so hard.

Would you give us an idea of your workflow in particular, how you bridge the 2D and 3D in your work? And which software/hardware is/was involved and why? How closely did you work with Justin Baker in the development of the 3D elements and how difficult was it to preserve the look of Ree’s drawings?
I always composite in 3d space; it gives me freedom to play with depth and perspective but then again, I really didn't want it to look like a 3d movie, or like a 2d movie in 3d space. I wanted something authentic so when it came to using actual 3d renders, I decided that they had to look exactly like Ree's linework. Justin modeled and rigged the birds and then started playing around with different shaders. We went backwards and forwards till we found a treatment that worked.

Justin then started animating all the elements on a background plate (2k resolution) I supplied as a placing reference. The 3d renders would then be layered into my comp and the camera moves added. Justin had full freedom to animate the birds using his own interpretation of the story. The only limitations were technicalities or keeping within the story. Me and Justin used to work together at Blackginger, so we were already familiar with our own type of workflow.

We worked on duel 3 gigahertz Dell machines with 3 gigs memory. Justin worked with XSI and I worked with After Effects 6.5. XSI has amazing 2d shader capabilities and rendering in passes also helps. After effects is definitely the only package to use for a project like this. Other compositing packages will not be able to perform in the same way or offer me the same amount of freedom.

Time Lapse Composition

You’ve mentioned that each scene was made up of around 300 layers; what challenges did this present and what did you learn working with such a rich tapestry of elements?
One half of all the elements was Ree's drawings and the other half consisted of atmospherics (mostly video footage) and textures. The first challenge was getting my computer to process all of this. I basically broke each shot into 3 main layers: fore, middle and background. Whenever possible, I rendered out the frames of finished sets, and used them as proxies to be able to render a full shot. I also had to set my views to as low as quarter resolution to be able to preview the shots over the timeline.
"Having so many elements certainly slowed me down, but being able to chop and change and play at any point during the process definitely added to the look of the film."
Most of the time, I just had to render the shots at the end of the night before we left, to be able to check the animation I did during that night. Having so many elements certainly slowed me down, but being able to chop and change and play at any point during the process definitely added to the look of the film. You just need the time to be able to do that. Every shot was crafted and cared for till it felt right, and having all the layers available helped me work like that. In the end, we ran out of time, and some things just had to be left the way they were knowing that we did the best we can.

In creating what we now see as The Tale of How, were there any other versions of the composite before the final? If so, can you describe these?
Well, before we started on the prints, Ree gave me her drawings for page 1 (shot 1). I played around and tested a few ideas. when I finally felt I had something, I really wanted to test it out animated, so I downresed the psd, collected some video elements I had, and put everything together. this was a starting point that I felt happy with and got Ree and Markus to have a look at it. They loved it and thats where it went. In the following days I basically tested cameras and their movement, a few animation teqniques and thought about the workflow and basically made 5 variations of the first test render, and that was that. I knew that I had loads of time to think about the animation while composing the prints and things developed from there.

The first composite test for Tale of How

Are storyboards used at all? Why or why not?
No, we didnt use storyboards for Tale of How. We had 13 verses in Markus's poem and one print for each. The prints took us about 3 months then Ree had to start drawing on all the extra elements we would need for the animation and I started putting things together. We wanted to have more shots and angles but we simply did not have the manpower and time to do so, so we made each shot as beautifull as we could hoping that visually one would have enough to look at and that we could get away with the shots we had.
"I used this part of the animation to add drama and break the pace by using quicker cuts and camera moves unlike anywhere else in the piece."
We just knew that the first part of the story needed to be dark and eerie, and the second half, light and hopeful. We also didn't use the print for shot 8 (the part where the bird gets broken in half) because we needed to build a more dynamic and visually interesting picture than we had. I used this part of the animation to add drama and break the pace by using quicker cuts and camera moves unlike anywhere else in the piece. Our workflow was very much based on the prints. It will be very different for our next projects. We believe in the power of using storyboards.

How far off is The Tale of Then from completion? And what work has been done thus far? Likewise for The Tale of When?
We are planning to start by the end of the year. Now we are just getting our resources together, getting the story fine tuned, then do storyboards, animatics etc etc.--Lots of pre-preparation. We are giving ourselves a year of production time on the next one...all depending on resources. We might even work on the Tale of When at the same time, we don't know, we'll have to see how things develop over time.

What arts do you practice personally outside the Blackheart Gang? And which artists inspire you personally?
Well, the Blackheart Gang's been taking up all my time. If there were a few things I could wish for, it would be for extra arms, the ability to not having to sleep, and longer nights. ah...what I can tell you are my wants. I want to shoot documentries, I want to make puppets, I want to start a theatre production, make music.... sigh!
"Cooking is great because it involves so many of the senses."
As a video & film artist, I am quite removed from the final product. There's a long process to this medium. it rarely ever gives you immediate interaction like playing a musical instrument. Processing just takes too long. The other frustration is that it is a virtual medium. There is no real tangibility so I do long for a more hands-on form of expression. There is something I do regularly, and that is cook. Cooking is great because it involves so many of the senses. It offers so much variety to experiment with, and you can eat what you've made!

I am a lover of listening to sound and music. I can honestly say that I spend 70% of my time on listening. Sound is my deepest source of inspiration. I suppose it’s because it gives me full freedom to interpret it visually. I initially got into video because I visually wanted to create what I saw when listening to music. I like moody, emotional music. Some favourites at the moment include: Svarte Greiner, Dictaphone, Rafael Anton Irisarri, Apparat, Loscil, and the Shins.

I also draw a lot of inspiration from short films at the moment. Its such an amazing medium, such a huge variety of style, technique and experimentation. I am in love with moving picture, it’s enchanting, especially sincere storytelling, mostly without dialogue. Slow visual storytelling oh! I am very much into Russian animation from the 60's and 70's. The beauty, sensitivity and wonder of Miyazaki's films damn! His films always revitalizes me, reminds me of what's really important. Also, my brother gave me a collection of stop-motion by the Quay Brothers and I recently discovered the surreal and bizarre etchings by Max Ernst. Difficult to name specifics... cause I pick up little bits here and there, tiptoeing over what keeps me going.

What have been some of the most important things both personally and professionally that you’ve learned while working on the Blackheart Gang projects?
As an artist, I’ve never learned so much, so fast. Working on these projects and being an artist, I suppose that my personal and professional life goes hand in hand so I've learnt that work is not about the end product; it is about the time you spend around that and how you deal with yourself and others in that time. Enjoying your work and staying true to it is essential. I know now that my self expression is an in-the-moment thing, and it’s at those times when I can truly experience myself and get to know myself and my abilities better... pulling your hair out in despondency, the height of accomplishment, the stress of a deadline or those flowing moments of spontaneity.

Thank you, Jannes. I can't wait to see more of The Household. See you on Otto's hill.

Ree Treweek Interview
The Blackheart Gang Myspace
The Concise Overview of The Household
Motionographer Article
The making of The Tale of How(YouTube)

Return to SiouxWIRE

1 comment:

phib said...

thats so schweet jannes, always one hundred per-scent, but can you answer this : whats the difference between divorce, and die wors ?