Animation Interview: Klaus – The Creation Of A Short Animated Movie
December 13, 2019 – Klaus is a 2019 Spanish-American animated Christmas comedy film written and directed by Sergio Pablos (in his directorial debut), produced by his company Sergio Pablos Animation Studios (also known as the SPA Studios) with support from Aniventure and distributed by Netflix as its first original animated feature. Co-written by Zach Lewis and Jim Mahoney, the film stars the voices of Jason Schwartzman, J. K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, Will Sasso, Neda Margrethe Labba, Sergio Pablos, Norm MacDonald, and Joan Cusack. Serving as an alternate origin story of Santa Claus, with a fictional 19th-century setting, the plot revolves around a postman stationed in a town to the North who befriends a reclusive toymaker (Klaus).
Sergio Pablos is a Spanish animator and screenwriter best known as the creator of the Despicable Me franchise for Universal Pictures. He became the third sole-creator of an animated movie franchise that went on to generate over $1 billion from theatrical and ancillary markets after only one sequel.
Today, Sergio Pablos spoke to VFX Online about his work experience in the Animation Industry, and also talked about Klaus.
// From Sergio Pablos, Director, Klaus
Where did the idea for Klaus come from? Where did you find your inspiration?
Well, I was intrigued by the realization that there’s no one single widely accepted version for Santa’s origins. It seemed to be a mish-mash of history, religion and many different traditions. Although I feared that it might lead to a very corny concept, I thought it might be a good exercise in story-telling to try and find an honest story in there. Once the pairing of Klaus and this selfish postman came to mind, I realized that this had potential.
What is the artistic goal you wanted to achieve?
I thought it was time to give traditional animation another chance, but I really thought we should try and break down some of the limitations of the medium, so we made it our mission to identify which of those limitations we could overcome. It became very apparent that the use of light as a story-telling tool was in dire need of an update in 2D animation, so we decided to try and develop a style that would perfectly integrate all of the elements in every shot as if they were painted by the same hand. If we did our job right, you’ll feel like you’re watching a living piece of hand-crafted artwork.
What’s your biggest accomplishment on Klaus? How does that feel?
Well, a lot has been said for the new and improved 2D look of Klaus, but I strongly feel that the real challenge was the story. As a first-time writer and director, I must say that ending up with a film that’s receiving such praise for its heart-warming quality has to be what I’m most proud of.
How difficult was it to find the right voice of Klaus?
Not at all, actually. Our great casting directors sent us a list of their proposed actors for Klaus. At the very top was J.K. Simmons. I remember reading that name, putting the list down -without looking at the other names- and saying: “Yes, please.” And to my surprise, he agreed to take the part!
Could you describe the animation pipeline for Klaus? What were the challenges faced in terms of animation and how did you solve them?
The pipeline is very similar to any other modern 2D pipeline, all the way from story-boarding through Ink&Paint, all generated in ToonBoom. It is then that we incorporated two new items to the pipeline: a Lighting Department, where artists created the light on top of the characters, and a Texturing Department, where a certain subtle texture was added on top of them to give them a sense of solidity and roughness. Both these pipeline items were implemented using tools developed by the incredibly talented guys at Les Films De Poisson Rouge.
How was the support from Netflix?
It was absolute. We did have to try hard in the beginning, as we were pitching our way up the ladder, but once we convinced everyone that this was a film worth making, they basically said “Alright. Go make the film then.” And they stayed completely out of the way except for when we requested their help or support, which they were always eager to provide. It was like no other relationship I’ve ever had with any studio before, as we’re usually accustomed to a lot of interference and notes.
What is your favorite scene in Klaus? What’s your most challenging scene in Klaus?
The answer to both questions is the same sequence: It is that moment when the kids have just learned about the naughty list, and there’s a montage showing the sequence of events that follow. So many things had to be conveyed visually in such a short time, and it took a lot of iterations until we figured it out. But I love how this montage of the kindness “virus” spreading turned out.
What’s your plan for the future?
More stories. Always more stories.
What advice would you give to someone who wishes to get in to this industry?
I’d advise them to not only focus on learning one single discipline. Animation is a craft that encompasses many crafts, so try to get proficient in as many as you can, one at a time.