Job Roggeveen, Joris Oprins and Marieke Blaauw, who founded their Utrecht-based animation, illustration and design studio in 2007, used Cinema 4D and After Effects to make the film, which is in Dutch with English subtitles. At 21 minutes, Heads Together is quite a bit longer than their previous shorts, including Otto; A Single Life which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2015; and Mute.
Roggeveen, Oprins and Blaauw met at the Design Academy in Eindhoven, in the Netherlands, and all three collaborate on the films they do, as well as music videos, educational projects and commercials. Oprins and Blaauw primarily handle storytelling and animation while Roggeveen heads up illustration and music.
Here Joris Oprins talks about the making of their new film and how it’s different than other films they’ve made so far.
Describe the three characters and what happens to them.
Sef’s family is middle class and has a Moroccan background. He likes making music on his synthesizer, and his older brother, Jamal, bullies him. Wesley lives with his father and his baby brother in a very untidy but friendly household. He’s a big fan of soccer, and plays very well, though he thinks girls aren’t good at anything, especially not soccer. Wesley is secretly in love with Marjory’s older sister, Anne. Marjory is a tough girl, a bit bossy and not afraid to speak out. She lives with her parents and her older sister Anne in a sustainable, designy house. Her parents are both architects and wish to raise their children in a responsible way, but they are never home for dinner.
In the film, Sef has to be Wesley for a day, so he has to be a tough boy and he becomes more confident. Wesley has to be Marjory, and that helps him develop a more positive view of women. Marjory has to be Sef, which shows her the value of being together as a family.
How did you come up with the idea for this film?
We made this for a Dutch competition called Now or Never. Young directors submit ideas for 20-minute films. They fund projects every years, and ours was one of them in 2016. To enter this competition, films need to have a theme focused on multicultural society. We struggled for a while because we were set on making a film with a headless character, and that didn’t fit the required theme. But we didn’t give up, and after a lot of brainstorming, we came up with a film about three characters exchanging heads. It was a lot of fun creating the three characters and finding ways for them to be as different from one another as possible. We liked the idea of each character struggling to fit into an unfamiliar family and all of the blunders he or she would make.
All of your films are different. What sort of look did you want this film to have?
We wanted the film to have a stop motion/vinyl-toy look. The vinyl look was achieved by using, basically, the same type of semi-glossy material for everything. Only metal, glass, water and grass are made of different materials. Another important aspect of the look was the lighting and rendering. We decided to use Octane because it’s a very fast and intuitive render solution, which worked great for the look wanted to achieve. It was also very well integrated in Cinema 4D, so it was pretty easy to get used to. We animated the parts that look like they’re stop motion at 12 frames per second. Also, our style of animation, with the snappy movements and long holds, made it look more like stop motion.
How did you built the rig for lip-syncing?
The character rig contained a handy feature for the lip-sync. We pre-composed all the mouth shapes we needed, and we had a system where you could check a box for every syllable. We had shapes for the AA, the AH, the EE, the M, the W and so on, but we didn’t make shapes for all the possible sounds because some sounds are very similar. The shape of the W was the same as the shape for the F, for example, and we had about 11 shapes in all.
Because we worked at 12 frames per second, we could do the lip-syncing by simply replacing the shape of the mouth with another shape instead of having to morph the mouth into different shapes. We were able to work really fast that way, and it helped with the stop-motion feel.
How was making this longer film more challenging for you?
Before this, our short films have been around 3 minutes, except for Otto, which was 10. The big difference with Kop Op was the script. We don’t usually work with a script because we use storyboards or blocking. But for this, we really needed to work with a script since it was longer and it was our first film with dialogue. So we asked Lotte Tabbers to write the script based on our treatment. This was also our first time working with actors, and we had a great time recording their voices. We worked with very talented actors: Nasrdin Dchar, Steye van Dam and Paulien Cornelisse, who had really uplifting energy together. It was amazing to see how they brought our characters to life.
To do all of this, we worked with a bigger team than we usually do. I usually work with Marieke on animation for our films, but we had other animators helping us this time, as well as two modelers. Marieke and I switched to being more directors than animators. Job usually models all of the sets himself, and this time he was in charge of two modelers who helped him. It was an exciting, new experience for all of us to coach a team.
What has the reaction to the film been like?
The film has been selected for more than 20 festivals, and has been showing different places since October. Our first screening was at the Cinekid Festival in Amsterdam for a group of children. They were cheering and laughing, but the best part was afterwards during the Q & A when one kid said he could really identify with Sef, the Moroccan character. He liked the fact that he could finally identify with a main character because he rarely ever sees movies that have people with a Moroccan background in them. We thought that was a very nice. It made us happy, but it also made us sad knowing how uncommon it is for kids with different backgrounds to be able identify with main characters.
Kop Op was named the Grand Prize Short at the New York International Children’s Film Festival, and it was screened at the Sarasota Film Festival in Florida in March and at the Internationales Trickfilm Festival in Stuttgart, Germany in May.
What are you working on now?
Ever since we started making short films we’ve dreamed of making a feature-length film, and at the moment we’re really close to doing just that. We have joined De Oversteek/The Crossover, a competition set up by the Dutch Film and the Dutch broadcasters. The competition supports new directors who are making their first feature film. Our film is going to be a tragicomedy with an absurd and somewhat philosophic approach. It will be for grownups, and such films a rare and it will be a nice challenge to find the right audience. We hope to start working on this production by the end of the year.
Directed by: Job, Joris & Marieke
Produced by: Viking Film-Marleen Slot
Co-produced by: VPRO, Job, Joris & Marieke
Screenplay by: Lotte Tabbers and Job, Joris & Marieke
Art Direction: Job, Joris & Marieke
Animation: Joris Oprins, Marieke Blaauw, Lex Tilleman, Ruth Taylor
Modelling: Job Roggeveen, Joris Oprins, Eric Smilde, Yoshi Klarenbeek
Meleah Maynard is a writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota.