- Vassilis Kroustallis
Vassilis Kroustallis talks to the Swiss animation Team Tumult members, in its new series of Swiss Animation Portraits 2022.
It is new, vibrant, and full of animation energy, both in the commercial and artistic sectors. Team Tumult Swiss animation studio (Beni Morard, Nina Christen, Frederic Siegel, Marwan Abdalla Eissa, Justine Klaiber, Daniel Harisberger) has already gained international recognition with animation shorts like 'The Lonely Orbit' (Frederic Siegel, Benjamin Morard, 2019) and ‘Machine Gun Mama’ (dir. Justine Klaiber and Marwan Abdalla Eissa).
The studio has prepared the 2022 Annecy Festival trailer, along with Marjolaine Perreten from Nadasdy, Geneva.
Frederic Siegel and Justine Klaiber talked to Zippy Frames. “We chose the name Team Tumult to somehow make an uproar in the Swiss animation scene; There haven’t been a lot of 2D animation studios around until that point and we wanted to change that. It took a year for the 5 animation graduates of Hochschule Luzern and the University of the Arts Zurich to start the collective, which was initiated in 2017 (unofficially from January 2016).
“We wanted to work as artists, but also in the commissioned field in Switzerland”, Justine Klaiber notes. “And we didn't have a studio where we could go and work. So we created our own environment of where we wanted to work, and where we could do what we want to do and what we love doing”.
The tumultuous approach of the studio came mainly from their observation of the commercial sector itself. “During this period, there weren't that many studios that were doing exactly what we wanted to do, sort of this, high-quality modern hand-drawn animation”, Klaiber states. After years, it seems that the ‘revolution’ plan, as they both described, has borne fruits -based on their own previous expertise, portfolio, and website promotion. ‘We know how to talk with a client that perhaps doesn't know much about animation’, Klaiber insists. And things do change. People become more interested in learning how animation works -even though both Siegel and Klaiber insist that explaining how it works (in a general overview, not the fanciful details) is part of the animation process itself.
The 2D approach of Team Tumult is distinctive, stylistic, and consistent among its many directors and films – both in their commercial output as well as their artistic films.
‘The first reason for this stylization is faster work’, Siegel explains, ‘as the characters in silhouette. It’s just one layer to animate, and one other layer to do the cleanup’ But there are further reasons apart from speed and efficiency. ‘We all like to see how far we can go with abstraction. So, it's still readable, and you can still tell your story’, Justine Klaiber adds.
‘I like abstract aesthetics, Siegel concurs. ‘During my University studies, I discovered the work of Nicolas Ménard, and I was blown away by his flat universe and graphic quality -with just a few colors. And it's still working. It's still a vibrant world’
The 2D animation preference was cultivated in Hochschule Luzern, in a program that both artists describe as family-like (Justine Klaiber now teaches at the same University). The 30 animation entrants per year (the B.A. in animation lasts 3 years) make this a more fluid environment, where directors can experiment in puppet animation, 2D or 3D animation. The program itself has shifted to include more technical specialties, especially for 3D animation, yet the core of educating directors (from script to sound design) remains.
Both directors choose 2D animation as their medium. ‘I was always drawing as a kid, and I never put away the pen’, Siegel confirms, at the same time emphasizing the importance of film culture to him -especially the realm of sci-fi and fantasy films. For Klaiber (who started doing 3D computer animation and puppet animation), 2D animation felt more natural in creating and feeling her own characters -away from the technical /mathematical necessities involved in 3D animation.
Frederic Siegel & Benjamin Morard’s ‘The Lonely Orbit’ is a story of personal solitude coupled with an imminent space catastrophe. A satellite technician keeps solitude at bay by constantly texting with his old friends. After neglecting his duties, a satellite leaves its orbit which causes the world's network to collapse.
‘It’s not really about sci-fi’, but it’s about different worlds’, Siegel will comment. His ‘The Lonely Orbit’ was based on his own hangouts with friends and fellow students. 'I think I'm just interested in different worlds. Even if the world is in your head, and it has nothing to do with space or anything, I think that's just an extension that I like mind worlds, worlds that you can create with your mind. So, I think that's what fascinates me with animation in general too’.
Siegel admits you have ‘to put work into maintaining relationships’ after the years of high school and University excitement are over. His own first film, ‘Ruben Leaves’ is the story of a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder; the character risks his own appointments in order to create a frightening, alternative world of room chaos. The film is as funny and as personal to its director as ever (‘I regularly miss my train because I have to go back to check if I closed the door’); yet it also reflects another lonely world that the animators know so well.
This is the reason that the 4-year project 'The Lonely Orbit’ was created as part of the Team Tumult studio. ‘I really had to learn how to communicate with other people or with a bigger team, we need to maintain a schedule and be on time’, Siegel admits. And this is also why the studio’s short animated Anijams were created.
‘We started doing these Anijams’, Klaiber mentions, ‘because we wanted to push ourselves, but, at the same time, to just have like a team-building exercise. For a few days a year, we usually go to some other place and drink a few beers, go swimming in the lake or walking in the mountains and brainstorm and try to come up with an idea and then produce something -and learn something new in a very short time’.
An equally satisfying team effort is ‘Machine Gun Mama’: a kick-ass Llama Lady is supermom by day and gangster by night – a film co-directed by Justine Klaiber and Marwan Abdalla Eissa.
‘It started as a story that we all built together', Klaiber explains. This was done in the framework of the 50th anniversary of the Swiss Animation group, and Team Tumult had its own assignment to make. ‘All five of us started brainstorming on this, throwing in different ideas. And then after a while, we narrowed it down a bit’. The goal was to have fun and still make something funny, both Klaiber and Siegel confirm.
Klaiber has her own fascination with space and sci-fi, growing up with the ‘Star Wars franchise when she was young -even though she confesses she did not care about the technical details, but more about the ‘ethos’ of the worlds themselves. Her upcoming animation short film project (working title “Lost Touch”) in development is set in space, and it's on the topic of coping with loss and losing somebody very important to you (‘a ghost story in space’). Siegels’s next directed project (working title „TV“) is about technology; a little boy is watching for too long, and he gets squared eyes and bad things happen around the flat (‘more like Ruben Leaves in terms of mystery and uniqueness’). This will also be the first Siegel film with dialogues (Swiss-German).
TV, Frederic Siegel
The other Team Tumult members are having their own individual projects: Marwan Abdalla Eissa is actually working on a game and a short film (as an intro for the game), Nina Christen is also working on a personal short film project.
In the meantime, Team Tumult is doing the Annecy Festival 2022 trailer and visual design, in collaboration with Marjolaine Perreten (‘a big responsibility, but we don’t want to think about it that much’, Siegel states). Siegel and Perreten co-direct, brainstorm, and do everything together.
At the top of a snow-capped Swiss mountain, a bubble suddenly appears and disturbs a little insect that was hibernating. The noise it makes when it pops intrigues it even more! When a new bubble appears, it doesn’t hesitate for a second and follows the bubble as it floats off – Annecy Festival trailer concept
Siegel was more in charge of the overall design and editing, while Perreten had her hands on character design and character animation. Siegel is doing the compositing and the backgrounds, like more of the world, and Perreten is in charge of the characters.
Festivals proved to be a curious presence and absence during COVID times. ‘The break occurred right in the middle when ‘The Lonely Orbit’ was still in the festival round’, Siegel remembers. ‘So, I had some festivals in person in the beginning, but, after that, it was just all online festivals. And that was pretty depressing’.
Festivals connect people, as both directors admit, and not just in watching films; social encounters and their own culture matters: ‘I think it works as a connection; to talk about something with these people, after watching the films together, Siegel adds.
Group dynamics is very present in Team Tumult. Nina Christen and Justine Klaiber animated in ‘The Lonely Orbit’, and all collective members use their respective skills to undertake the different creative tasks. Even for sound design and music, all members have a stable network of friends and colleagues in Switzerland (Swiss sound designers, by the way, have their own collective: ‘Noisy Neighbours’).
So, the only tumultuous thing in Team Tumult is the actual content of the film, and the different, adventurous worlds it takes us into. Can’t wait to hear and watch more of that.
Swiss Animation Portraits 2022 series is conducted in partnership with Swiss Films.