“I’ve been into films and animation since I was a kid,” says Ansgar Niehbuhr. “I shot JAWS 4 using rubber sharks on strings and an 8mm camera! But when I started there were few possibilities to learn animation in a classic education, so I was very lucky to join Trickompany, an animation studio in Hamburg. I worked on Hayo Freitag’s nightmare scene for the animated feature film FELIDAE, based on Akif Pirici’s novel. Later I worked on Lindgren’s KARLSSON ON THE ROOF and many others.“
For Niebuhr, now aged 47, “the characters need feelings and moods as well as movement. They have to act and show emotions, which is not easy since production in Europe tends to be spread over multiple places and studios – it is important to keep track of the narrative and the visual.” Niebuhr, who has just taken over direction on the feature film CONNI, has “pulled the elements together so it works at various levels: we have a great script and characters, these are the most important elements.”
A great admirer of Pixar and Disney, Niebuhr praises how the best animation can “work better than current live-action blockbusters because the latter tend to be too formulaic. Just look at ZOOTOPIA: it’s both smart and funny!
For Germans and Europeans the narrative signature is more poetic than going for every beat and heavy movements, as in blockbusters: there’s no emotional explosion every three shots. And we, as European filmmakers, are still developing: there’s great stuff coming from Ireland and France at the moment.”
With far less money to play with than US producers, “we finance through subsidy and co-producing,” Niebuhr explains. “We bundle our competences and strengths because we can’t keep rewriting scripts endlessly or develop from scratch. If you have a known property it makes financing easier, such as with Princess Lillifee or Max and Moritz, but I would like family films to be able to achieve this independence one day. Never say never!”
For Niebuhr, the ideal situation would be “to have an own development fund and with producers and directors willing to take the plunge; I am sure we will get there. There is such a wealth of wonderful material, such as fairy tales. The Irish have their mythology, the US had mad fun with fairy tales as in, for example, SHREK. The Czechs have also revisited their past. European material is such a broad and rich field and we can make the best of it. The smartest animation today comes from the US but we have such a vast potential in our own stories.”