Cirkus Calls Class Back in Session in Cannes
The Kiwi shop, known for its light-hearted and whimsical
work, is determined to teach the world about the
joys of animation, one frame at a time.
By Anthony Vagnoni
School's back in session at the Palais in Cannes, and the old professor, Cirkus Ringmaster Marko Klijn, is in front of the blackboard. Maybe we should just call him Headmaster instead of Ringmaster, given the role he's playing this week.
Klijn is the founder and Executive Producer at the New Zealand-based animation house Cirkus, which playfully titles all of its key people with terms more familiar to life under the big tent than to executives of production companies. In addition to producing a wide range of animated content for agencies and brands, the studio has made a habit of going to ad festivals and agencies around the world to demonstrate not just the joys of animation, which most people seem to be acquainted with, but the ins and outs of what it takes to create and produce animated content as well.
Right now, Cirkus is smack dab in the middle of its 2012 Cannes seminar, dubbed "Do It Not The Same" – this is their third consecutive presentation at the Lions Festival – in which delegates who attended their session on Sunday were given props, miniature sets and the free reign of their imaginations to produce short animated spots shot on their smartphones.
The raw footage, so to speak, was then uploaded to the Cirkus servers, where a team of animation and effects artists took over back at the company's New Zealand headquarters to finish them off. (Cirkus also has offices tucked elsewhere around the world, such as in the US and Europe.) Klijn explains that at "Do It Not The Same," delegates got a chance to create their own puppeteering/miniature/stop motion spot. They were given basic briefs or scripts prepared by the studio, given various props and toys and then assembled into teams with which they could create and record their spots.
Participants can check on the progress of their spots by either visiting the Cirkus stand in the Palais, checking in on the Cirkus YouTube channel (click here to check it out) or by visiting the studio's Facebook page here.
Klijn says efforts like "Do It Not the Same," are more than just fun – they serve a purpose, too. "Animation is no smoke and mirrors, just a tool to do good work," he says. "We all want great commercials but sometimes expectations impact heavily on quality of output," Klijn says. "Spreading the knowledge about what it takes to create whatever form of animation is needed often results in people generating more relevant briefs for us. It also helps guide our prospective clients to understand how long things will take, or how to deal with the approval process. That helps everyone create the best work possible."
What kind of response do they typically get from these events, we asked? "We get great response," Klijn says. "Quite often people are surprised as to why we do this. And yes, while we lecture using mostly our own work as examples, which may be construed as marketing, at the end of each workshop or seminar people leave inspired, with a smile on their faces. I find this especially important, as we should embrace what animation is first and foremost: it's FUN.
"I like simple land," Klijn adds, somewhat poetically. "And in this land, I make cartoons for a living. I go to work with a smile. So if people receive a bit of this spark, that's great - they may even choose their next project as animation. What we want them to discover is that making is not scary or difficult, it's a fun process."
The Cirkus gang has put together a traveling animation seminar called "The Animation Game," which is built around a bespoke board game they designed and built themselves. They presented it at ADFEST earlier this year (for more on that event, click here).
"We created the game to help people visualize the production limitations and possibilities within available time and money," Klijn explains. "It's like 'Snakes and Ladders' meets 'Monopoly' to make an animated spot. You choose your background, character and elements, or you shoot components. It forces the player to think simple, look at alternative production methods and take what we like to call 'shortcuts by design' that allow you to arrive at the best quality production within your project requirements."
How has The Animation Game gone over with players? From what we can tell, it's a hit. SourceEcreative tracked down a number of delegates to ADFEST this year who played the game at the Cirkus seminar there, and we got positive feedback from them all.
Maria Mahesar, a senior copywriter with JWT in Pakistan, said that the prospect of "learning new techniques in animation, and from a company that has already made a name for itself in the industry, was appealing and exciting." Did she have fun? "It was a great learning experience," she said, "engaging and interactive at the same time." As for changing her perceptions about working in the genre, it scored there, too: "It's helped me gain a whole new perspective about animation with relevance to a TVC's execution," she concluded.
"I've always been a big fan of animated commercials and, in fact, prefer to use animation rather than actual shoots in my commercials," said Andrew Ebell, Creative Group Head at Lowe LBD in Sri Lanka, who also played The Animation Game at ADFEST. He said it helped give him a better idea of what's involved in the process. "Even though I do quite a lot of animated commercials, the technical side has always been quite alien to me, and so I usually leave that to the animation house," he commented. "Now I understand it better, and will have a better plan in my head even before meeting them."
In addition to its Cannes and ADFEST gigs, Cirkus has also mounted presentations titled "How Much Animation Does My Dollar Buy?" and "Get Creative With Your Mind and Money" that have been presented both at agencies and directly to clients, Klijn says. "And The Animation Game travels along on our road trips and has been played at agencies in China and the US," he adds. "Any agency or client that is interested can contact us and we'll hop over for a chat and a game." In addition, its video clip "The ABC of Animation," has been viewed over 100,000 times on YouTube, he notes, "so we're having traction in the creative community for sure."
And then there's the Cirkus Book, a handmade volume that shows up-close the handiwork of its artists and illustrators. The studio has painstakingly assembled several versions of it, and these often accompany the Cirkus folk on their seminars, workshops and agency tours. All of this, mind you, is in addition to the bevy of work Cirkus has produced for agencies and clients, much of which is either posted to its web site, parked on YouTube or, of course, available on SourceEcreative.
If anything, all of the studio's breezy self-promotion not only helps them explain the mystery behind various animation techniques, but also demonstrates their own admirable skills in these disciplines and crafts.
"That's it exactly," says Klijn. "The Book contains a lot of our concept art. Good work originates from good design - hence our catchphrase, 'shortcut by design.' As we're experiencing a continuous drive down of budgets and schedules, there's been an accompanying bottleneck of expectations. This is made worse by the fact that many scripts seem to have all this 'stuff' in them that's often not part of the core idea. So the seminars, workshops, The Animation Game, The ABC videos, The Book, they all fit in our philosophy to keep things simple and work from a strong design."
Seems that much of Cirkus' global goodwill tour is paying off – the studio is handling more work from a wider range of countries than in the past. Being based in New Zealand, Klijn notes, makes all of Asia their market, and they're doing more and more work for agencies in China and Vietnam, among other countries. This includes a recent spot for Coca-Cola's Nutriboost nutritional beverage that combines live action and animation to show a young man who's transformed into a robot superhero by the product.
The studio also produced a cool animated spot for Thien Long, a Vietnamese brand of school and office supplies, that features a range of 3D objects and animals, as well as a spot for that country's GiaDinh Bank via Hanoi agency Gbrand that combines paper cut-out animation with miniature sets.
Cirkus is also working in the new media space as well, recently producing a clever animated Facebook ad for Perth's Edith Cowan University, working via Perth agency Longtail. It's designed to show prospective students how they can get to the "next level" in their studies or their career choice. The app snares your headshot from your own FB page and inserts it into the animation. (Check it out here.)
The studio has been making news in the States, too, a relatively untapped market for them, producing a job for the retail icon Sears out of the Chicago office of mcgarrybowen and naming a slate of new reps. FinnSaxon is now handling them on the West Coast, while Gay Guthrey & Associates is handling the Midwest and Texas. Sales for the studio on the East Coast of the US – a mere 16 hours behind its hometown of Auckland – will be handled by Klijn and Executive Producer David Hofflich, who's based in New Zealand but is an American with years of experience in the US commercial production business.
Klijn says that the driving ethos behind all of this is to maintain a sense of fun in the work they do and make sure that people who are interested in working in animation understand what the process demands of them conceptually.
"We want to show them, in a lighthearted and leisurely fashion, that there are lots of ways to make things that people will find interesting," he says. "You don't always have to go out on a shoot and spend a ton of money." What better place than Cannes to drive home a point like that?
Published 20 June, 2012