20 years ago Mikrofilm, an Oslo based animation studio, laid the foundation of what today is a vivid and thriving industry. They are most famous for their Oscar win for Torill Kove's film Den danske dikteren (The Danish Poet) in 2007, but Mikrofilm has worked with several generations of Norwegian directors like Kajsa Næss, Astrid Aakra, Inga Sætre, Julie Engaas, Hanne Berkaas, Annette Saugestand Helland and Kristian Pedersen. A lot has happened, 957811 drawings have been created, yet Mikrofilm still finds the job very rewarding and fun.
You've done this for quite some time now (congratulations on your 20th anniversary!). How has the industry changed since your first days?
There were no such thing as a Norwegian animation industry when Mikrofilm was founded. There were a few studios and directors, but we basically had to create our own job. We started out with a lot of enthusiasm and curiosity, making up our way of doing things as we went along. In addition to having run Mikrofilm for the last 20 years, we also established Frame by Frame, a yearly conference, as well as a database of Norwegian animation; norskanimasjon.no. So, we humbly believe that it's safe to say Mikrofilm has been an important part in building what has with time become a large, thriving industry.
And how have you changed?
First of all in size and the fact that we are more 'grown up' now. We've managed to gain some structure and a steady course, and today we develop much larger projects than we used to (feature films). At the same time we still work project-based and with what we think is the best animation film creators in the industry, just like we've always done.
Why animation? What's the best thing about working with this format?
The freedom. One thing is the technical freedoms that allow you to create almost all kinds of expressions. But we also feel that the audience is more open in meeting with the animated film. They've become more accustomed to the fact that 'anything can happen', which provides us with a lot of freedom in terms of what stories we can tell and how to tell them. Compared to live action, there is less pressure to stick to traditional narrative techniques. You can define the logic yourself. In addition to this, animators are a particularly nice group of people — it's always fun and pleasant to be at work.
How do you really create an animated movie?
It really depends on what kind of animation you are making. At Mikrofilm we primarily work with cartoons, but we also make stop motion and cut out. Common for our films is that absolutely everything that you see on the screen has been created by us. In live action, you have locations and actors that really define the visual expression. Every Mikrofilm project starts with a blank page.
Imagine a simple scene where a character kindles a fire. What's the scenography like? How is the character itself designed? Is she human or a bear, coloured or outlines only, are her proportions realistic or is her torso twice as long as her legs? How do the matchsticks, the flame, embers and the smoke look? How does she move — realistic or exaggerated? Is the animation in a soft and smooth Disney style, or more like a rough jumping jack cut out?
There is an enormous amount of preparation, selection and planning behind a film. When we create a cartoon we usually create 12 drawings per second. The entire scene, which would probably last around 5 seconds, would require 60 drawings — first a rough sketch, then made in to clean drawings and then colourised.
The beauty of this process is that you have a great amount of control throughout the process. The production is never a victim to weather changes or a hotel strike. You can control your way to the result you're looking for.
You've created 957811 drawings since 1996, which is a lot! Can you point out five films you think represents Mikrofilm throughout these years?
We have produced 36 short films of our own during these 20 years, and to choose only five would be like asking which of your children you love the most. But the filmes that have defined Mikrofilm:
Pussig (Toothsome) (Directed by Lise Fearnley, Kajsa Næss and Alana Orvung, 1994): This was the first film we created during our studies, even before Mikrofilm was founded. It's quite a silly film — 90 seconds about a toothbrush that has to brush an ugly mouth. It's fun and foolish, but it showed us what was possible. We could actually make films.
Leonidestorm (Leonid Shower) (Directed by Kajsa Næss and Julie Engaas, 2004). At Mikrofilm we've created many animated documentaries, where we've mixed animation with live action. I guess this has been some sort of a trademark for us. Leonidestorm is a film that's often highlighted by others as typical Mikrofilm.
Den danske dikteren (The Danish Poet) (Directed by Torill Kove, 2006). We won an Oscar with this film in 2007 — Norway's first Oscar since Kon Tiki in 1951. Awards and nominations are usually not that important to us, but this award has meant a great deal for our reputation. It's an exceptionally wise, playful, poetic and funny movie, thanks to Torill Kove's distinct narrative voice.
Du velger selv (It's Up To You) (Directed by Kajsa Næss, 2014): This is an animated documentary about kids whos fathers are serving prison sentences. Thematically it's perhaps the most important film we've ever made. The film has had a long life and is used extensively both in schools and correctional services. It's also been dubbed into German and distributed in the correctional system there.
Bøygen (The Bøyg) (Directed by Kristian Pedersen, 2016): We had to let a man join our directors ranks as well. Bøygen was a milestone for Mikrofilm, since it was the first time we created a completely abstract film. It is a graphic representation of Bøygen (a troll in Scandinavian folklore), inspired by both Ibsen and general anxiety. It was great fun to produce something that was so unlike anything we've created for 20 years.
To celebrate the event, Mikrofilm has gathered an impressive amount of work in an exhibition at Grafill (lasting until February 5th).