CG Today : You were associated as a concept artist, layout supervisor and for storyboarding with The Little Polar Bear in 2001 and its sequel in 2004. The movies were enchanting but more importantly had a moral lesson too with the friendship between a walrus and polar bear. The movies were applauded for the wonderful shades and representation of Arctic ice caps and adorable characters. Can you talk us through the development process of this wonderful concept?

Alex : Lars the Little Polar Bear was my first real job in the industry. I had shown my illustrations and comic strip pages to the producer, Mr. Thilo Graf Rothkirch at Cartoon Film in Berlin, and got hired immediately. I provided conceptual art during some months while the script was still in development and it was really important for us to develop a way to make the ice and landscapes interesting on the big screen, at the same time keeping some of the style of Hans de Beer's original illustrations for the children's books.

Alexander Lindner

After the concept design phase I was hired to lead the layout department in Antwerp, Belgium. Since I had done most of the original set designs and concepts I was able to bring those ideas directly to the layout team. Back then it was a debate if we should make the layouts as line drawings, but I managed to convince the producer to shade them with grey values, so that the background painters would get better idea about volumes and lights. It's hard to draw ice and snow landscapes in lines only and get a satisfying result. Due to the decision to make shadings, the cost in the layout department went up somewhat, but I think it paid off because the painters had fewer problems to solve and we got much better backgrounds at the end.

CG Today : The Little Polar Bear garnered several awards including DVD Champion 2002 Family Entertainment award as well as 1st Prize, L'Enfant Lune. As an artist do you look for inspiration when starting to work for such movies and do you know from the very start that the concept has potential for critical and popular acclaim?

Alex : Yes I always look for inspiration, but that can come from a lot of different sources, not necessarily from other films. I try to get a feeling for the vibration in a society, the general mood and expectations. It always changes so you have to keep a finger on it. For example, back in 2001-2005 Studio Ghibli's films finally made it to the general public on a large scale, here in Europe. Before that, those films were only known to insiders and enthusiasts. It was hard to get a copy, and they were almost always only in Japanese. All that changed when the films were translated and made brought to the big screens in France, Germany and the United States. Moreover, kids had already been reading more Japanese manga's than American or European comic strips for a while. Japan was increasingly present in the kid's rooms. That was a reason for me to say to my producers that we should look at Miyazaki's films for the first “Laura's Star”. I wanted them to look at Japanese anime as inspiration for our German animation production instead of looking at Hollywood, Disney or Pixar. That was a completely new idea back then, and it took a lot of convincing. But I think it paid off – you can see those influences in “Laura’s Star”, and we didn't walk into the trap of simply copying manga and anime styles either. We kept a good balance. I knew we would win some critical and popular acclaim, and we did.

Alexander Lindner

CG Today : You have been with SunAnimatics as a concept artist. Can you tell us about your experience on Eshan, the story of a stable boy in Bhairavi who falls in love with the princess?

Alex : I provided workbook and some concept art. It was a nice experience working on an Indian movie for a change. I like Indian art and architecture, the legends and stories.

CG Today : You have various skills like Storyboarding, matte and digital painting, comic book art, concept design and set design, to name only a few. This takes us to the profile of animation professionals, where some are good at multiple roles and some are experts at one particular field. Did you make a conscious effort to learn as much as possible in the animation industry or did you just go with the flow?

Alex : No, it came naturally with the years. At the Academy St.Luc we were trained extensively in all kinds of traditional techniques, including a lot about storytelling. Comic strips train you to storyboard a narrative, because you have to establish the images to draw in a page. It's a sequential art. As a comic strip artist you are used to draw everything in a fast and effective way, be it people, buildings or vehicles. It's a great training for someone who wants to work as concept artist or storyboarder in films, because you are prepared to find a working solution for almost everything while being under time pressure.

 

 

CG Today : Way back in 1986 and 1990, you had won awards for Wall Painting and Photography. Were animation movies a logical step in your evolution as an artist? What do you do to keep yourself up with the pace of the industry and what is your inspiration?

Alex : Originally I wanted to be a comic strip artist. My idols were Moebius, Tardi, Pratt and a lot of other people in franco-belgian comic strips. But I always had the fascination for movies as well. Already as a teenager I was aware of the work of Syd Mead for “Blade Runner”, Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie for “Star Wars”. I knew there were great artists involved who conceived the visuals for these fantastic worlds... those great space ships didn't just come from nowhere! When the offer came to work in the animation industry I was excited about the opportunity. Concerning keeping up with the pace, I honestly don't feel I need to do anything other than what I always did: Being interested in a lot of diverse things, watching films, checking out new games and books and so forth. If you keep a natural curiosity it makes you stay alert and you keep trying out new things.

Alexander Lindner

CG Today : You are a part of the team working on Odyssey, a series of interactive story apps for the iPhone. It has a talented team that involves Prakash Dantuluri and Mark Zaslove, a daytime Emmy winner. How was the experience working it?

Alex : When Prakash Dantuluri contacted me to illustrate The Odyssey I was really thrilled. I love this classic tale and this is a great opportunity to revisit it and to bring it to a new and young audience.

CG Today : Odyssey is a first-of-its-kind 3D graphics application on iPhone, more of which could follow in Androids and iOS. What is the difference between working on a 3D animation movie compared to a 3D graphics app for smart phones?

Alex : I am free to create some really cool illustrations as I would like to see them, and that is how they will be seen by the public, unchanged. That's the best thing about it.

CG Today : For artists keen on digital and matte painting, a key component in animation, is there a word of advice that you could lend?

Alex : If I were to give advice it would be that you have to learn the basics of drawing and painting, perspective, image composition, anatomy, all that. No computer will make you a better artist and it won’t save you if you don't know how to build up an image to achieve a certain emotion or mood. So my advice would be, get an artistic education, go to an art school. Learning a program like photoshop is easy, it's just buttons after all, nothing more. Understanding art however is hard, and it takes years to master. Get yourself all the help you can get, it will definitely pay off.

CG Today : What is the thought process behind Deviant Art? For an artist how important is it to strike a balance between personal creative work and clients’ work?

Alex : Personal creative work is important because it's when you are free to test out the stuff you really like doing. Your experiences and findings will flow back into the work for your clients. It's important to have a good balance between the two.... working for paychecks is not everything in life. You should keep the passion for your art going for yourself, and personal work is great for that.

Alexander Lindner

CG Today : As someone who has seen the animation industry in so many countries, from so close, for so many years, can you tell us about your favorite animation movie/movies? What are the reasons for your choice?

Alex : There are so many! As I said earlier, I definitely love Miyazaki's films and also other Studio Ghibli films, like the films of Isao Takahata. His “Only Yesterday” is a true gem of a movie, and sadly less known to a broader audience than “Graveyard of the Fireflies”. I hope people reading this interview will check it out! There are many other Japanese productions which are classics, “Akira” of course, which introduced a lot of us western fans to anime films. I also love “Millenium Actress” and “Tokyo Godfathers” by the late Satoshi Kon. I have never seen more impressive background paintings than in “Millennium Actress”! They are out of this world, I can't fathom how they managed to do them. Of course I love many American productions too, like “Monster's Inc,” or “How to train your Dragon”. But I don't only look at animation films, haha! “Blade Runner” is definitely one of my all time favorites, or “The Lord of the Rings” films by Peter Jackson. I think they had the best concept design and art direction since the original Star Wars trilogy or Blade Runner. It was an amazing achievement.

CG Today : Mr. Lindner, it was wonderful to hear about your experiences and insights into the animation industry. I am sure our readers will appreciate the gems you have shared with us today.

Alex : Thank you!

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Alexander Lindner – Visual Consultant

Blog: Blogspot | e-mail : alexander.lindner [at] gmail [dot] com

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