Friday, May 29, 2015

Jungledyret Hugo

Whenever people ask me which of all the movies I worked on is my favorite, I tend to go for the animated feature "Jungledyret Hugo" (sometimes called Jungle Jack, Amazon Jack or Jungo in English). That is, the first one in a series of three, which was released in 1993.

Jungledyret Hugo movie poster, 1993.
The movie was done with a relatively low budget, and was hardly expected to become an all-time classic of Danish animation. But as the years have passed, it seems to have captivated one generation of children after another. This is probably due to its touching story of a strong but impossible friendship told through a very charming gallery of characters.

And, no less important, the animation in this movie is actually quite good. In retrospect, I suppose Denmark has never had a stronger animation team than at that particular moment. A bunch of us had just returned from a few years at Don Bluth's studio in Dublin, Ireland, loaded with freshly acquired knowledge from the highly skilled former Disney animators there. Others had experience from the first Danish Hollywood-style animated feature Valhalla.

All the lead animators had individual characters assigned to them, enabling us to give very personal and coherent performances. The tight budget required quite high weekly outputs, but that also meant that full sequences were placed in the hands of relatively few people. This, coupled with the fact that most of the animators had to clean up their own animation, assured a high level of control and consistency of each character throughout most of the picture. Its rough and somewhat dated look notwithstanding, the movie still has a lot of life and charm to it.

Cel setup from Jungledyret Hugo, 1993

Unfortunately, very little original artwork exists from the production. The reason is a bit unclear, but legend has it that a warehouse holding all the production material was either flooded or burned down. The true fate of all those lovely drawings, paintings and cells is unknown. The only piece of actual production material that I have been able to get my hands on is this cel setup from one of my scenes with Hugo and his new best friend Rita the fox. In the scene Hugo is relishing in his own victory, after they barely managed to escape some terrifying cats. Rita does not share his triumph, and berates him for being irresponsible and reckless.

I haven't succeeded in obtaining a single original animation drawing out of the roughly 12 minutes of footage that I did on the movie. But here are some modelsheets put together of my animation roughs from the very first sequence that was animated back in 1991, even before the project was fully financed. The style was kind of loose, so these roughs made it right on to the screen without further cleanup.

I don't have any video tapes of linetests either, for the simple reason that I didn't shoot a single test during the production. I mostly worked from home, where I didn't have any testing equipment, and just carried a pile of drawings back to the studio whenever I was done with a sequence. Of course the scenes were shot at the studio, so it's theoretically possible that the tapes still exist somewhere.

All that I could find is this little snippet of linetest which was shot for a program about the movie's production made for Danish TV. It's not actually me shooting the test, which was done at A. Film purely for the benefit of the camera crew. As a curiosity, you may notice that the test is done on a Quick Action Recorder from Japanese NAC. Though a bit outdated today with its 1-bit displays, it was a revolutionary technology in its time, and definitely one of the best test devices ever made for hand-drawn animation.

You can watch the final color version of the first sequence made for Jungledyret Hugo in its entirety on YouTube here (in German).

The sequence was masterfully planned by director Stefan Fjeldmark, with special attention paid to minimizing the work load on the animator, inbetweeners etc. in order to keep the cost down. Hence, all shots were optimized using held cells, animation cycles, reuse and clever camera moves wherever possible, but - most importantly - without sacrificing the life of the characters. The sequence begins at 9:01 in the YouTube video and ends at 10:10, just before it fades into the next sequence (the actual skateboard song). I animated the entire sequence, with the exception of a single shot of Hugo running (around 9:58), which was done by Stefan himself.

1 comment:

  1. I would put it differently. This movie is a lighthearted adventure that is very sincere about it. It is not trying to subvert itself or deconstruct anything, or make fun of itself. It is what it is, and the people put a lot of care into the project.

    This movie is not revolutionary in any way, but when you put love and care into something, it doesn't matter.