The animation in Norway is made in the attic: Interview with Ove Heiborg
This story might have begun on Monday 4th September at 10 in the morning. It was at that moment that I showed up at the given address in Oslo convinced that it was then that everything should begin. Only to discover that our meeting was on the next day, 5th September 2017 at 10 in the morning.
CUT TO 5/09/2017 / INT. OVE’S OFFICE. QVISTEN STUDIOS – OSLO. DAY
Ove Heiborg, a tall man, with strong arms and long hair reaching beyond his shoulders – clean and a little tousled; he is a strong man that may well be a Viking but with something of – and we’re going to discover it later – an Apache chieftain. Ove receives me with a sincere smile but his eyes hide a prolonged tiredness.
Before we begin, Ove has a question for me.
I’ve come to interview you – I tell Ove with a laugh.
OH: Wait, wait. It’s that I want to understand who you are and how, in this little and closed world of animation in Norway, you came until here – he said with a cheerful and tired voice, but full of curiosity.
After satisfying his curiosity, we began with the basics. I looked up the meaning of Qvisten and I discovered that Qvisten is a surname in some countries.
OH: Qvisten is a small attic but it is written with a K in Norwegian, though we chose to write it with a Q. It is where we began to make our animations. It is the attic of this very house. Later on we took the garage as well and with the time we could buy the rest of the house. And surely our ghosts will haunt it when we won’t be here anymore. – Laugh –
MrK: How does it feel like to have more than two hundred thousand frames behind you so far this year?
OH: Well, what can I say. In the last five or six years everything went by pretty fast because we’ve been doing many long films like Flåklypa [translated to English as The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix, Ivo Caprino’s masterpiece], of which we are now making the third sequel. But in between we make our own production Dyrene i Hakkebakkeskogen [In the Forest of Huckybucky]. Besides that, we have parallel works. It’s really crazy, but it is also a lot of work. You know. Finding financing. Waiting for an answer. Many meetings. And suddenly everything works out and you have to carry on different projects at the same time.
MrK: What do you prefer to read Hunger by Knut Hamsun or The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins?
OH: I have to confess I read Hunger 30 years ago at school and I haven’t read The Hunger Games. I think they’ve made a film based on it, haven’t they? – I nod and I inform him they’ve made three films, but the third one is in two parts.
MrK: When was the day that you woke up and said: “I want to make animation”?
Ove stands up and looks up in his huge book shelf, where there are trophies of all kind, collection puppets, pictures, albums, etc.… he takes a book and lays it in front of me on the table: Qvisten Animation, 22.9 Years of Norwegian Animation History. He tells me that he had just received it this summer. They had ordered it for the 20th anniversary of the studios, but it took two extra years and nine months to have the book ready; that’s where the title comes from. The genesis and history of the founders of the studios until the present day is in there.
OH: I knew Fredrik [Kiøsterud] from before – says Ove – we went to Westerdals advertising school together, 25 years ago. We wanted to become art directors. There was no formal education in cinema, but when we had the chance to choose how to do the project works, we decided to do them as animations simply because we enjoyed it. And between the end of the Eighties and the beginning of the Nineties there were a lot of animated music video-clips and big brands like Diesel or Pepsi used animation for their ads too. In the first year we made a short film and we started discovering how to make animations.
We had a camera that took 8 pictures per second. In the second year we made our second exam project, but with a 16mm camera. In truth, everything was out of our own initiative. We went to Volda to ask questions and to get informed. We also went to London, where they treated us very well and they gave us a tour of the studios – the Aardman studios. And at the end of the school, some of our short films were selected for the festival in Grimstad and for the Nordic Panorama in Iceland. We were going to work in an [advertising] agency, but when we saw that our films were being selected we wanted to go on making animation, so we quit the agency before even starting with it. We began here in the attic.
What year are we talking about? – I ask while Fredrik walks across the hallway talking on the phone and Ove points at him.
It was 1994 – answers Ove, his eyes seem to fix on that year.
While I listen to Ove, I flip through the pages of the book and in its first pages, I discover a sort of good-luck or prophetical note by Peter Lord himself – yes, of the Aardman studios. The note reads:
An inspirational message to the creators of QTV.
Keep your hands clean
Move those eyes close together
Don’t listen to anybody’s advice
Use more cows
Good luck. Peter Lord
There is no doubt that the story of Qvisten Studios has something of a legend. Friends that discovered their passion for animation and left everything to do what they liked, everything in an attic; it is the only difference to the American legend where everything happens in a garage.
MrK: How do you take on the responsibility of restyling Flåklypa for the new generations?
OH: When we first met with the head producer of.Maipo Films and we talked about the possibility of making Flåklypa, yes, we were scared. You know, Ivo Caprino. Besides, it is probably the best known Norwegian film in the world. And everyone has his own relationship with the film and the characters, so we had deep respect for it and did feel a little scared about it. Afterwards we had clear that one of the rules for making it was making it in Norway, not taking the production abroad. We are talking about Norwegian heritage. That’s why we decided to bring people here to the production. And the other rule would be that we would make it in stop-motion, not in 3D – that would have been a mistake. So I went on a trip to find the team and bring them here. In the end we had a team of every nationality you can imagine. Everybody giving their best for Flåklypa. And it was the best that could happen.
MrK: What was the response?
OH: Fantastic. Every family went to watch it. I think we found our own style, knowing that the first Flåklypa couldn’t be imitated.
MrK: Do you often go to animation festivals?
OH: Not very often. I have a family and I’m already traveling a lot because of work. I try not to be away for too long.
MrK: What are your influences in animation?
OH: I’ve always liked Švankmajer, the Brothers Quay and Aardman Studios very much. These have been my main sources of inspiration, and Tim Burton as well. I like animation that is based on a good story, a good content.
MrK: Are Norwegians cold?
OH: Hmmmm. I don’t know. I think they come in all types. Personally I don’t consider myself cold. It is difficult to give a clear-cut answer.
MrK: I think animation is a very powerful and suitable tool that can help changing society. What do you think?
OH: I totally agree. It is a very powerful tool. Animation can communicate much better than fiction films. It can make a message more powerful because it can communicate things that sometimes are very abstract.
MrK: Indeed. Because animation can explain something complicated in a very simple way – I noted down enthusiastically.
OH: Yes, yes. It is what I’m referring to when some ads use animation in a good way. They have a greater impact than live-action advertisements – stresses Ove.
Suddenly I discover a photo in Ove’s book from when he was a child, dressed up as an Indian chieftain. On other pages I discover similar photos, with his awe-inspiring long hair and posing like a great Indian chieftain.
MrK: What do you prefer – pop or rock?
OH: I think you can tell – he says it because of his long hair – rock, no doubt – he replies taking his hands to his hair.
The interview is about to end, I give Ove the book back but he says I can keep it. Ove asks me to send him the draft of this chat before I publish it – only to be sure he did not say something inappropriate. I tell him not to worry – I have it all recorded to possibly blackmail him. We laugh. Then he offers to show me around the already legendary Qvisten Studios.