Telescope Animation Interview with Reza Memari
February 27, 2020 – Today, Reza Memari talks to VFX Online about his experience of Telescope Animation and VFX/Animation Industry.
Telescope Animation, Based in Berlin and Hamburg, Germany, Telescope Animation specializes in the development and production of animated feature films, series and games for the international market. As a transmedia company, Telescope Animation invites global audiences of all ages to see the world through a different lens.
Reza Memari is an award-winning screenwriter and director. Before becoming a filmmaker, he worked as a PR and Product Manager for a major US video games publisher. He then shifted his focus and wrote, co-directed and edited the animated feature film A Stork’s Journey, which premiered at the 2017 International Berlin Film Festival and became a critical and commercial success globally. A sequel, co-written by Memari, is already in the works. In 2018, he co-founded Telescope Animation, a transmedia production company which is in the process of producing his current transmedia project, The Last Whale Singer. The original feature length animated film will be released in 2023/24. He lives in Berlin and Brooklyn.
// From Reza Memari, Telescope Animation
Could you present yourselves to the community? Who is Telescope Animation?
Telescope Animation consists of five founding members: writer and director Reza Memari, producer Maite Woköck, legal expert Henner Merle, writer Ulla Ziemann and producer Roshanak Behesht-Nedjad. We all met and collaborated before or during the production of my first animated feature, A Stork’s Journey, and wanted to create a new company where we could tell our own stories in our own way.
What are the roles of the main people involved in the production of The Last Whale Singer?
I am the writer and director of the feature film, and Maite is our main producer. Ulla is our dramaturg, Uwe Heidschötter (Revolting Rhymes, The Gruffalo’s Child) is our character designer and Tobi Trebeljahr (Klaus, Lego Movie 2) is our production designer. Daniel Bjarnason is our composer and Tyler Fitzmaurice is our sound designer. There are many more people involved and the team will grow significantly once production begins, but these are some of the main ones. As the game and other projects enter full development, we will expand as needed.
Tell us more about The Last Whale Singer. When did the project start? How did it evolve to its current form?
It all started with a documentary I was watching around 10 years ago about humpback whales and their special song. I never knew about this amazing ability, and I recognized immediately that there was a movie in there somewhere, even if I wasn’t sure exactly what it was. At the very beginning, the story was about a rebellious humpback teenager who needed to find inner peace in order to sing, and this core is actually still very much there. But over time it evolved into this epic and moving story of a timid humpback who can’t get over his parent’s death, but must defeat an unstoppable deep-sea monster with nothing but his singing voice.
What is the artistic goal you wanted to achieve, especially for the animation and visual part?
From the start,I wanted to capture the true beauty and magnificence, the pure magic of these gentle giants of the sea. That meant that the designs needed to be faithful to reality, while stylized enough to be expressive and emoting. The same goes for the underwater world.I wanted to really let nature be nature in all its beauty and perfection. For the kind of story we’re telling, the world also needed to be realistic enough so that dangers and challenges are believable enough.
Tell us more about the workflow of The Last Whale Singer.
The bulk of our work is yet to come, but our workflow to create the trailer wasn’t much different than any other animation production. We start with a script and character designs, set design, modelling, rigging, texturing, lighting, layout, animation, comp and sound mix. The one big difference between this production and most is our use of Unreal Engine during production. That changed a lot of our “usual ways” and created new challenges, but also new possibilities. It also allowed for sharing assets created for a movie to other mediums, including games.
Telescope Animation is working on Film, Game, TV Series, AR/VR Project in one medium. Share something about that?
The Last Whale Singer is a transmedia project, so we aim to utilize more than just one medium in order to tell more than just one story. It begins with a children’s book for preschoolers, then expands into a video game and feature film for all audiences. It will then move into a VR/AR experience and an episodic series later on. Our whale singer and his friends will initially be in the center of this brand strategy and spread out in different ways and for different age groups over a longer duration of time.
How was the support for The Last Whale Singer? How did companies like Creative Europe MEDIA, Whale & Dolphin Conservation support you during this process?
We are very fortunate to have received a lot of support for our project early on. It all started with treatment funding from BKM/Kuratorium junger deutscher Film, and continued with development funding from Creative Europe MEDIA. We were then selected as the first animation project of the great “Outstanding Films for Children” initiative, which acts like a hub for all the German funders and broadcasters. These funds have helped us to write a strong screenplay, produce a teaser and plan the production of both the film and the game. Overall, we couldn’t be happier with the support we have received so far.
On the partnership side, we are very proud to partner with the Whale & Dolphin Conservation (WDC). They are one of the leading charities for protecting marine life, and since the film’s message is about saving the oceans, we really wanted to have a partnership in the real world that would reflect that aim and help us spread the word.
Share something about real-time game engines and real-time editing?
It was my first time with a real-time engine, but I quickly became accustomed to the many benefits. One of the great things about it from the directing perspective is that game engines allow me to keep refining and reiterating far more often than would usually be the case in a traditional workflow. In the past, a shot had to be locked after 2-3 retakes before getting pushed onto the next step of the pipeline, but with a real-time engine, we were able to keep improving almost every element up until the last second.
Can you talk about your future projects?
We have a few projects on the horizon and are planning releases years down the road, but we haven’t announced our next projects yet. For now,our focus is firmly on The Last Whale Singer, but there is much more to come.
What advice would you give to someone who wishes to get into this industry?
Work hard, stay healthy and happy, and never give up. Animation is much tougher than people think, and requires dedicated focus over many, many hours, days, months and years of continuous work –it’s almost never a sprint, it’s a years long marathon. So while we all must give our very best, I think it’s good to maintain a healthy distance to it all, to stay fit, take care of personal relationships, keep your ego out of it. And of course, never stop dreaming.