Cooked Selected for Cannes Cinefondation

Cooked, a short animation directed by Jens Blank has been selected for the Cannes Film Festival’s Cinéfondation competition. The film depicts the exciting tale of an unlikely love triangle that springs between a walrus, a seal and a lobster in an arctic sauna. Born in Cologne, Germany, Jens headed to the UK and studied art and design, and worked for Nexus- productions on a short film called ‘This Way Up’ that was nominated for an Oscar in 2009. Jens pursued his passion in animation and studied at the NFTS in the UK, recently completing his 2 years masters degree with Cooked as his graduation film. Renowned filmmaker Atom Egoyan will judge the Cinéfondation selection this year along with other respected actors and directors.

Discover how Jens created the concept behind Cooked and the people that helped him make his ideas a reality.

Interview with Jens Blank

Iain: How did you come up with your characters and are they in part influenced by people you know?

Jens: Coming up with the characters was part of the writing process. I knew at quite an early stage that I wanted to tell a story using anthropomorphic animals. They allow the kind of freedom fables give to the storyteller. You can stereotype without pointing fingers or offending.

In the early development stages I had a lot of meetings with Caroline Bruckner, my writer. I had this very rough idea to do something in a steam bath / spa. In one of the sessions we came up with the concept of placing animals into a sauna. When looking at what kind of species would be interesting to work with, the lobster – walrus – seal relationship stood out.

I then started to do the actual character design which shaped the writing process and vice versa.

The characters are not based on anyone in particular but on the types most of us can relate to or have experienced at one point:  the talkative girl, the insecure guy etc.

Iain: What was the sound design process like, and how did you work with your actors to match the animations?

Jens: The sound design was quite an interesting process for me as I had not previously worked with sound designers to this extent. It was also one of the parts were I had to rely only on communicating as a director as opposed to being hands on like with the animation process. I was lucky enough to have an exceptionally good sound designer (Jussi Honka) who also happened to be from Finland where sauna is a big part of the culture. I wanted the outside to feel very cold and the sauna to be blistering having Jussi was a perfect combination. I remember him coming back from Helsinki with hours of recorded sauna material.

Working with the actors was a real challenge for me. First was the time constraint, we only had about one hour to record each of them so there was no room for mistakes. Also, as an animation director you can be quite removed from the real world, directing with a mouse and a pencil. Dealing with real people is not always on our agenda.

All our actors were quite established which made for fantastic performances but got me quite nervous. However ultimately, I tried to give direction as precise as possible and let them do their work without interfering too much.

Iain: Is there anyone in the film industry that has inspired you in your animation work or helped you as a mentor to take you to the next level?

Jens: There are always people who influence you. In my case I tried not to look at too much during the production. Nowadays there are so many animation, motion graphics and design blogs that it becomes quite difficult not to be over-inspired. Lots of people look at the same stuff and there is the danger that work starts to look same.

I guess my biggest inspiration during production was music and looking at animation from a technical point of view. There’s an animator called Cameron Fielding whose website I looked at a lot and who, without his knowledge, gave me a lot of inspiration.

I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I had a mentor, but I was able to get in touch with a couple of very good people who have worked in the industry for a long time and feed off their experience. This was the first time I had a proper composer on one of my projects and the time we had to work together was quite tight. I started collecting reference material and testing it in the edit. This way I could hear which parts of ‘cooked’ worked with music and which didn’t. I looked a lot at gipsy and klezmer music as I wanted this slightly sad and pathetic undertone in the score. This kind of music is also very impulsive and I liked having the option to accentuate scenes using a particular instrument. After the initial draft was nailed down my composer Paul Lambert and I worked quite closely together, feeding material back and forth between the two of us until we were at a point were we could record with the artists.

Paul Lambert

Iain: How did you collaborate with your composer and come up with a theme for your film?

Jens: This was the first time I had a proper composer on one of my projects and the time we had to work together was quite tight. I started collecting reference material and testing it in the edit. This way I could hear which parts of ‘cooked’ worked with music and which didn’t. I looked a lot at gipsy and klezmer music as I wanted this slightly sad and pathetic undertone in the score. This kind of music is also very impulsive and I liked having the option to accentuate scenes using a particular instrument. After the initial draft was nailed down my composer Paul Lambert and I worked quite closely together, feeding material back and forth between the two of us until we were at a point were we could record with the artists.

Iain: In what direction would you like to take your ideas next, and what have you learned from shooting Cooked ?

Jens: I’m currently working on developing something of a longer format from ‘cooked’ with my producer Tom Leggett which we’re looking to get some interest in. For me, the most fascinating thing about directing, especially animation, is the script and conceptual phase. However I’d love to have a go at commercials as well. I do enjoy the fast turnaround and the variety of work that comes through. Commercials are very much about a look and mood. Coming from an illustration background I’m naturally fascinated by that.

The learning bit is hard to sum up as there was so much of it. Managing a production with about 20 people involved was a task I’ve never had to deal with before. The biggest challenge in directing is in communicating what you want to your team, in a way that what you get out of them is actually what you wanted. I found that that is a skill that cannot be taught but only learned through practice.

However there is this one quite harsh sentence that I got from a tutor when doing my BA, which stayed in the back of my head during production

Someone who sits down to watch your film will not get those five minutes back so make it worth their while!

Find out more about Jens work here : http://animateme.me.uk/blog/
To find out more about the film and its screening time: http://www.festival-cannes.fr/

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