Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Horse Animation

Help! I'm A Fish movie poster (2000)
There is near universal agreement that one of the most challenging things to animate is horses. So when, while working on the Danish feature film Help! I'm A Fish (released in 2000), I heard of a scene with a horse I naturally jumped at the opportunity to do it.

The movie is about three kids who are transformed into fish by drinking a magic potion invented by a crazy scientist. The girl, Stella, who is turned into a starfish, befriends a small seahorse. At the end of the movie when the kids become human again, the seahorse is magically transformed into a real horse.

The horse was supposed to resemble the fairly cartoony seahorse, so we weren't going for a very realistic look. Yet, in order to make it believable, it had to move somewhat like a real horse. So how to go about it? As it happened, I knew where to look.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Hugo Game II - Behind the Scenes

When a computer game runs, a lot of stuff is, of course, going on under the hood. Previously, I explained how the animation for the Jungledyret Hugo PC game was done, from rough hand-drawn sketches to the final illusion that Hugo can roam around freely inside the game's environment.

In this post I will focus on the backgrounds and the technical and artistic aspects which are thoroughly intertwined.

But before we delve into the geeky details, you may want to check out this clip, which I found on an old VHS tape. It is from the Danish TV show "Troldspejlet" (Magic Mirror) on DR's channel 1, and aired in the fall of 1995 when the Hugo PC game had just been completed. It offers a glimpse behind the scenes and a quick overview of the production process. The video is all in Danish but has English subs.

In a game like this, a new image is being assembled from all the different resources up to 60 times per second (depending on the power of the computer). As Hugo changes his position, and the "camera" moves with him, the right portion of the background must be shown on the screen, with all the different characters and objects placed correctly upon it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Jungledyret Hugo PC Game

If I were to choose one project that I am particularly proud of, it would be the Jungledyret Hugo (aka. Jungle Jack) PC platform game based on the animated movie of the same name. Considering the budget and the circumstances of the production, it was nothing less than a momentous achievement.

Screendump from level 1 of the Jungle Jack (Jungledyret Hugo) game, 1995.

I had been working for a while with a group of young self-taught computer programmers and graphic artists on various smaller games and advertizing programs. I shared my experience in animation and visual design, and they in turn taught me programming and other computer skills.

Box, booklet and CD-ROM of the Jungledyret game, 1995.
When, in the spring of 1995, we were hired to do a CD-ROM game as a kind of merchan-dizing for the animated Hugo features (the second one was in production at the time), we immediately knew that we wanted to do a classic 2D side-scrolling platform game. As the game director/art director of the project I was heavily inspired by Disney's newly released Lion King game, which featured high-quality (almost) full classical animation, much resembling the animated Disney feature. So I couldn't resist the temptation to follow Disney's lead and make a similar product for Hugo.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Werner (and the fall of the Berlin Wall)

I recently came across this wonderful picture from Gerhard Hahn Film in 1988. It was posted on Canadian animator Nancy Beiman's Facebook page last month and shows the staff at the West Berlin animation studio as of April that year. Thanks Nancy! I hope you don't mind my stealing the photo, I just had to have it.

From left to right: Michael Hegner, yours truly, Nancy Beiman, Stefan Fjeldmark, Andy Knight, Børge Ring, Gerhard Hahn and Jody Gannon. It even has the NAC Quick Action Recorder, a very early (and fantastic) animation test computer, sitting there on the right! So retro.

The crew at Gerhard Hahn Film, April 1988: Michael Hegner, Dan Harder, Nancy Beiman,
Stefan Fjeldmark, Andy Knight, Børge Ring, Gerhard Hahn and Jody Gannon.

This picture really stirs up a lot of memories. Forgive me for tripping a bit down the ol' lane. If you're not into that, please skip the rest of this post.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

More Hugo Boards

Inspirational sketch / location design by Uwe Saegner, 2006.

Here are two more sequences that I boarded for the feature "Jungledyret Hugo 3 - Fræk, flabet og fri" (see the two previous sequences here).

Hugo has left his best friend Rita the fox on Meatball Charlie's island in order to go hunting for winter apples on the mainland. In the inspirational sketch above, drawn by German illustrator and background designer Uwe Saegner, Hugo discovers an apple tree in the distance. Hugo's apple hunt soon turns out to be a  foolhardy enterprise, as he gets caught in a snowstorm and is almost run over by a car.

Later, Rita goes looking for Hugo, and finally finds him frozen half to death. Hugo, of course, downplays the seriousness of the situation and tries to charm his way out of it.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Jungledyret Hugo Storyboards

There's no denying it. I definitely have a soft spot for Hugo and his friend Rita the fox. These two wonderful characters have been with me since I animated the first sequences for the first Jungledyret Hugo feature back in the summer of 1991. As I did about six minutes of footage before the other animators joined the production, I also had a hand in refining and adapting the character designs to suit the classical style of animation. Especially Rita I have really come to consider my own little baby.

Inspirational sketch by Uwe Saegner, 2006

Luckily I have had the good fortune to work some more with Hugo and Rita over the years. In 1995 I produced and directed a PC game based on the first feature, for which I also did most of the animation. I have drawn modelsheets and developed walks and run cycles for the Hugo TV series, and illustrated two books about Hugo's further adventures. In 2003 I made character designs for the third feature, back when it was supposed to be done in 2D - that is, as hand-drawn animation. And three years later, when "Jungledyret Hugo 3 - Fræk, flabet og fri" (aka. "Amazon Jack" or "Jungo Goes Bananas") had finally been financed - and changed into a CGI project - I ended up storyboarding half of the movie.

Here's a couple of sequences from the animatic for that film. It's a temporary edit of the raw boards. It has been shortened somewhat in the final film. The dialogue is in Danish.

In the beginning of the movie Hugo is spending the winter with Rita in Denmark. He dreams about the jungle where he belongs, but Rita introduces him to the fun of ice skating on the frozen lake. Meanwhile, a mouse is struggling to get hold of the only apple on the island. Alas, to no avail.

A bit later, Rita enjoys the romantic snow setting, while Hugo is bored and wants to go hunting for more apples across the lake. The mouse seeks revenge for the loss of the first apple, but again fails miserably.

The storyboard panels below are from the second sequence.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Nocturna is an incredibly beautiful movie. It has that magic from the old Disney features, the feeling that you are simply there. This universe really exists. It sucks you in.

It's hard to deny that the character designs in Nocturna are pretty weird. Especially the main character, Tim, looks very odd indeed. Honestly, those designs are too artsy for my conservative taste. But the backgrounds, the colors and the mood of the film is just wonderful.

So when I saw the teaser on the internet back in early 2006, I just knew that I had to be part of this film. I contacted the Spanish animator Sergio Pablos, whose studio, Animagic (now SPA Studios), had made a substantial part of the animation on Asterix and the Vikings, which I also worked on a year earlier. Animagic was subcontracting on the animation for Nocturna, and I managed to get a piece of that action.

How such a good looking film was made on a EUR 8 million budget seems a bit of a mystery. Well, one explanation is probably the Spanish wages. I worked pretty hard, churning out some six seconds (nine feet) of animation per week, but still only made about a third of a regular Danish animator's salary, certainly not something you can live on in expensive Scandinavia. But hey, I've got scenes in Nocturna, that's what matters.

This is a linetest of a sequence that I animated with Tim and Tobermory the cat (carrying the star, Adhara, on its back) as they run across the bridges in the sky from which the stars of Nocturna are suspended.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Character Reuse Galore!

Lineup of the five main characters in Marco Macaco by Dan Harder, 2010.

Given the financial constraints of the Marco Macaco feature production, the character modeling process was deliberately planned for maximum reuse between the characters. Hence, a Build-A-Bear-style system was devised in order to create models consisting mainly of other characters' body parts.

The core model was the main character, Marco, followed by the two villains, Carlo and the President, who both inherited Marco's eyes, ears and hands, but had alternative mouths setups. Carlo got a copy of the President's nose. Thus, for the heads, we had one type of eyes, ears and hands, two kinds of noses and three different mouth setups. The monkeys' mouth areas were by far the most expensive to produce because of the many blendshapes needed for the characters' expressions and ability to talk. All facial features could be reused in variable sizes and with a certain amount of distortion.

Lulu was entirely a variant of Marco, only with different proportions and new clothes. So was the Captain who, however, received a nose from the President. The bodies of Carlo and the President were unique, but pretty much everyone else's were reused in all sorts of manners. Overall we had four types of bodies to make combinations from: normal, strong, big and fat. All existed both in a dressed version and one with a naked torso (for the pirates and a number of local monkies). We had two kinds of legs, one with shoes and one barefoot. There were long trousers and shorts, long sleeves and T-shirts. The sleeves of all jackets were somehow derived from the President's (which were in turn stolen from the Disco Worms villain, Tony Dean). Monkey kids were made by shrinking the mouth and nose region and enlargening the eyes. And so on and so forth. The cast also included some turist pigs, which were all built from the same template, just with different clothes and accessories.


You won't be after a quick peek at this simple chart, clearly describing the pattern of reuse.

Sunday, November 22, 2015


One thing that helps make character designs more interesting, is if the individual characters are distinctly different from each other. Not just in the details, but in their overall graphical shapes.

Most of the regular monkeys in Marco Macaco are relatively similar, but our three villains are indeed represented by three different basic geometrical shapes. The President is an upside-down pyramid or triangle, Carlo is a big fat cone, while the Pirate Captain is more or less a ball.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


Baboon Carlo sketches by Dan Harder, 2010.

Nailing the design of Carlo, the primary villain of Marco Macaco, took a little back and forth before the director Jan Rahbek was happy. As you can see from the early sketches (below), a number of different ideas had already been floated prior to my arrival on the project.

Early sketches of Carlo by Jan Rahbek and Teddy Kristiansen, 2009.

Suggestions for Carlo by Kim Hagen, 2009.