#WEANIMATE MAGAZINE

The Thrift and Triumph of Animation in the Midst of a Pandemic

Meet Bento Box’ Art Director Hans Ranum in Hollywood.

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The Thrift and Triumph of Animation in the Midst of a Pandemic

Meet Bento Box’ Art Director Hans Ranum in Hollywood.

It’s been Hans Ranum’s dream to go to Hollywood and draw cartoons.

He would draw his favorite characters, and also create his own, fantasizing that they were the new stars of Looney Tunes and Disney.

But by the time he finished 10th grade, he still wasn’t in Hollywood.

Ranum ended up going to graphic design school—not exactly what he wanted to do, but it was better than other alternatives at the time.

It was something that would still involve drawing and creativity.

Then on the day of graduation, his academic advisor—who had recommended the design school in the first place—handed him a brochure for The Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark.

Immediately sold, Ranum didn’t hesitate to start over at another school.

Since then, Ranum has made it to Hollywood, working on cartoons in California like Family Guy, Central Park, and the upcoming Koala Man.

In a chat with WeAnimate, he talks about life in California, the greater demand for animation during the ongoing pandemic, and working on an experimental episode of Bob’s Burgers.

DUNCANVILLE: Jing and Jack start a child birthday band together and Annie takes on managing them. Meanwhile, Duncan and his friends try to raise money to buy a massage couch they tried out at the mall, by charging scooters in the “That Jing You Do” episode of DUNCANVILLE airing Monday, June 28 (9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. DUNCANVILLE © 2021 by 20th Television, Universal Television LLC and Fox Media LLC.

 

WeAnimate Magazine: Could you talk about your successes as a character designer?

What draws you to character design as a specialty in animation?

Hans Ranum: For the first 10 years of my career, I did mostly environments, background design, and layout.

It wasn’t until I started working on early designs for Disney’s Planes, followed by The Cleveland Show and later Family Guy, that I switched to character design as my main focus.

I genuinely love doing both characters and environments and treat both very similarly, putting as much personality and story into whatever I’m working on.

Characters have to feel like they’re about to start a conversation with me and environments have to feel like they have a history.

While I was on Family Guy, I did some freelance development on a few projects for Bento Box Entertainment, which ended up with them offering me a full-time position, doing design development in Special Projects.

I’ve been there for 8 years, and am now art directing on several different shows every week, developing new looks and styles, and it’s truly a dream job for me.

Of shows currently on the air that I’ve done original design for, there’s Netflix’s Hoops and Fox’s primetime shows Duncanville and HouseBroken, with more to come.

I’ve also done early initial design for Central Park and The Great North.

A few years back I was contacted by Will Ashurst and Animando in Norway to do character designs for their movie Anchors Up, which I really enjoyed, as I haven’t had a chance to work much on Scandinavian productions.

Characters have to feel like they’re about to start a conversation with me and environments have to feel like they have a history.

 

You’ve also done character design for “Brunchsquatch,” an episode of Bob’s Burgers that combined multiple pieces of fan art. 

How did that work though? 

What did you design on an episode based on art from several fans?

That was actually a very fun and different assignment…and a lot of work.

What happened was, we got literally hundreds of very different takes on the Belchers from fans all over.

I can’t remember exactly how many I was handed, but I had to make sure the design and look stayed as intact as possible, but still make them in a way that was more animation-friendly.

So it was a lot about studying little details, drawing habits, and linework to mimic and nudge, without losing the original look of the fan art.

Once I had done that for the whole family, I had to do full turns of them all as well and then on to the next one.

 

Copenhagen, London, Indianapolis, Tampa—you’ve lived in a lot of places.

Now you’re in Los Angeles.

What’s it like living and working in LA?

How has the ongoing pandemic affected it?

Los Angeles is a “love it or hate it” kinda city and we—my wife and I—really love it.

We have great friends here, who are like family to us, as both our real families are far away, with mine being in Denmark and my wife’s in the Midwest.

California is an amazing state with so much to offer. 

If you wanted to, you could, within one weekend, be skiing in the mountains, sunbathing on the beach, and going wine tasting in the rolling hills.

The nature here is unbeatable.

Before the pandemic hit, I was full-time at the studio and I actually didn’t think I’d enjoy working from home. 

That turned out not to be true.

I found there to be so many benefits from working at home that I’m now planning on continuing to do so, as much as possible, even after things return to normal.

Besides being more productive, I also get to be around my kids and wife more, which is a win-win all around.

Our daughter was born during the pandemic and because of me working at home, I’ve gotten to spend much more time with her, my 3-year-old son, and my wife.

DUNCANVILLE: Amy Poehler records the voices of Duncan and Annie for the new animated family comedy DUNCANVILLE, premiering Sunday, Feb. 16 (8:30-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2020 Fox Media LLC. CR: Frank Micelotta/FOX/PictureGroup

 

Workwise, things have also been going really great, with three shows coming out during this time that I have designed.

I have been very fortunate to be working in animation and for a studio with very healthy growth and stability during the pandemic.

While pretty much all live-action shows had to shut down, animation production has been able to continue undisturbed.

In fact, even more animated shows have been put in production because of it.

So I feel very, very fortunate that we have been able to go through all this so far—knock on wood—with our health, sanity, and everything else intact.

 

 

So you’ve experienced an increased demand for animation as a production alternative for film/TV during the pandemic?

A big yes!

And I know this firsthand, because of my position in development, being in direct contact with everyone from creators and writers to network and everything in between.

Studios and networks want the machine going constantly, so when they can’t produce live-action, their attention will be drawn to things they can produce and in this instance, that’s animation.

There have never been as many animated projects in production as there are right now.

 

 

While more animated projects are in production, have you noticed any misunderstandings working with people new to animation?

For example, do you think studios that are new to animation and that look at it as an alternative to live-action have a lot to learn about the medium?

I have and it’s a constant thing, not just now with more animated productions in the works.

Many of the people we work with are creators and writers who have never done animation before, and are therefore not aware of how different it is to write for animation than writing for, or creating, live-action shows.

So there’s a bit of a learning curve sometimes as well.

It’s a whole different way of thinking when you have to design characters for animation, so it’s our job to really try and understand and “get” exactly what type of person and character they’re looking for, and then translate that into something that makes sense visually, but still 100 percent conveys what they had in mind. 

Ultimately we want to create and show something where they think “Yes!!! That’s exactly him/her!”

It’s hard for non-animation people to know or imagine what works and what does not work in animation, but you also don’t want to say “that wouldn’t work” to all of their wishes and ideas.

First of all, because nothing is more demotivating; but [when avoiding such discouraging messages] it also helps push creativity, exploring new ideas and ways to do things.

It’s about finding a balance and a solution that makes everyone happy.

I don’t think I’ve ever come across a person who has overestimated how difficult and expensive it can be to make animation.

People are always shocked and fascinated when they realize how much work and effort it actually takes.

Before the pandemic hit, I was full-time at the studio and I actually didn’t think I’d enjoy working from home. That turned out not to be true. I found there to be so many benefits from working at home that I’m now planning on continuing to do so, as much as possible, even after things return to normal.

BOB'S BURGERS: In order to help with anxiety about an upcoming oral report, Mr. Frond lends Tina a crystal that his new girlfriend alleges has special powers. Meanwhile, Bob and Linda buy a box of imperfect produce and try to use it all before it rots in the “Crystal Mess” episode of BOB’S BURGERS airing Sunday, Oct. 3 (9:00-9:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX. BOB’S BURGERS © 2021 by 20th Television.

 

 

The Animation Workshop is critically acclaimed, with online hits like the graduation films “The Reward” and “The Saga Of Biorn.” 

What was it like studying there?

It was such a great time in my life, studying there.

It seemed like for the first time ever, I was learning stuff I actually wanted to learn and I eagerly soaked it all up.

The school was still fairly new at that point and we didn’t even have a real building to sit in, so we were all sitting in barracks, with piles of animation paper and old animation desks all over the place.

Studying together with a group of super enthusiastic and creative people was just an explosion of inspiration every day.

The second year I was there, the school started to expand and we left the barracks to move into an old fire station.

All our teachers were actual working artists, from all major studios like Pixar, Disney, ILM, etc., who were there teaching us 2-3 weeks at a time, so it just never got old.

We were also lucky to attend a full weekend Master Class with Richard Williams, which left a big impression on me as well.

I am still good friends with many from our class and I love seeing what everyone is doing, whether they continued in animation or went some other route.

 

 

Do you keep up with animation trends in Denmark and the rest of Europe?

I try the best I can to keep up with what’s going on everywhere in general.

As an art director for a special projects team, I constantly have to come up with new looks and different styles for many new shows, so I spend a lot of time researching and seeing what’s out there to get inspired by.

I think in general, European productions are still more willing to take chances with different styles that vary more from each other than here in the U.S., but I also think it has something to do with the size of the budgets.

European productions have considerably smaller budgets, so the risks aren’t as great and it forces you to be more creative.

I’m very proud of what comes out of Denmark and my peers over here are always impressed.

There are always trends in animation and I’ve seen that a lot too, with networks and creators coming to us, really liking the way this or that show looks and then wanting something similar and it’s often the same three shows they all like until it’s another three popular shows dominating.

 

Do you feel like there’s a particular style used in adult-oriented animated comedies in America at the moment? 

Like you discussed before, do you think this could be partly due to culture and budget concerns?

Although I mentioned earlier there could be more variety and risk-taking in American animation productions, I think it’s getting better, but there still is and probably always will be a certain tendency to ride on the success of prior shows, instead of trying something completely new—but that’s just the entertainment industry in general.

There are always trends in animation and I’ve seen that a lot too, with networks and creators coming to us, really liking the way this or that show looks and then wanting something similar and it’s often the same three shows they all like until it’s another three popular shows dominating.

The reason I’m saying I think it’s getting better is that there seems to have been greater variety in what creators and networks have liked stylewise over the last couple of years and less of those “same three shows.”

Besides that, different networks also don’t want their shows to look too drastically different from each other in style, ‘cause there’s an interest in “brand recognition” as well.

Meaning they would like for people to be able to see a show and then immediately think “that’s a Fox Primetime show” or “that’s an Adult Swim show,” or “that’s a Disney show,” etc.

A new show has to fit in with their existing lineup.

My thinking is, that usually the more money is put into a new production, the less room there is for taking chances and risks.

I think they would like to know that something works, before investing a lot of money in it.

In many cases anyway.

 

At the same time, there also seems to be growing diversity in American TV animation for adults across different genres, such as action and drama with shows like Primal and Castlevania. 

What are your thoughts on that?

I think it’s super awesome that the industry has finally realized that animation is more than kids shows and satire.

There’s literally no genre that cannot be mastered and enhanced by animation when done right. 

I hope maybe there’s a growing tendency to make more, but smaller productions with greater variety, over concentrating only on the big expensive “safe bet” productions.

BOB’S BURGERS: When the Belcher kids participate in a beach clean-up for Wagstaff Volunteer Day, Louise gets drawn into a battle of wits with Mr. Fischoeder. Meanwhile, Teddy surprises Bob and Linda with a new look in the “Beach, Please” episode of BOB’S BURGERS airing Sunday, Nov. 7 (9:00-9:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX. BOB’S BURGERS © 2021 by 20th Television.

I love seeing diversity in animation and styles.

So much more inspiration to draw from and I applaud any type of risk-taking when it comes to design and style, ‘cause that’s the only way to stumble upon new things.

You will never find the new Simpsons, etc., if you’re not willing to try something a bit “crazy” every now and then.

There’s been a mantra for many years, saying “it’s all about the writing” and while yes, the writing is super important, I will dare to say, “so is the art!”

Personally, it probably wouldn’t matter how well a show was written, if it looks horrible or even worse, boring, I’m very unlikely to watch it.

The visual aspect is equally important in my opinion, just as it was when I was a kid, “reading” comic books before I could read.

When the writing and the visual art are both excellent and compliment each other, that’s when you have a truly great show.

 

by Alyssa Wejebe for WeAnimate Magazine

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