There’s a buzz around the new Beast animation studio in Mechelen. Partly it’s the sound of power tools putting the finishing touches to the building, partly it’s the hum of activity that goes along with stop-motion animation, the beast speciality.

Text: Ian Mundell

Beast animation‘If we go into 3D animation studios we see a lot of people sitting in front of computers with their headphones on, not talking to each other,’ says Ben Tesseur, one of Beast’s two founders. ‘All you hear is click-click-click and the computers whirring.’

In contrast, the people working at Beast chat away and listen to music as they adjust lighting rigs, dress sets and manipulate puppets. ‘The atmosphere on a stop-motion set is similar to live-action shooting,’ Tesseur says, ‘but without the screaming. It’s more or less the same madness, but a bit slower.’

There’s also a certain amount of tension, because a stopmotion sequence has to run through in one take, just like live-action filming. ‘We start a shot and we finish it 10 or 12 hours later,’ explains Steven De Beul, Beast’s other founder. ‘It has to be good from the first, and if not you lose a day. In 2D and 3D animation you can go back and change things.’

Panic

De Beul and Tesseur set up Beast Animation in 2004, providing animation and directing services in their Brussels studio as well as facilities for hire. They decided to specialise in stop-motion animation, but not to limit themselves to one style. They have animated puppets, cut-outs and people, as well as bringing everyday objects to life in films, commercials and other visual products. ‘We try to do everything possible with stop-motion animation. We go for diversity,’ says De Beul.

After a while they were also drawn into production, first with some Lotto commercials and then as co-producers of the feature film A Town Called Panic, which they also helped make. ‘It was the first Belgian stop-motion feature made in 60 years,’ says De Beul, ‘so for us this was a once-in-alifetime opportunity to be that close to a feature film project.’ De Beul worked as director of animation on the film and Tesseur was first assistant director. Production duties were handled by a third member of the team, Pilar Torres Villodre. She decided to leave the company at the beginning of 2011, so now Tesseur and De Beul are handling the production side themselves. ‘It’s not really a distraction from filming, but we have less time to be really creative.’ says De Beul. ‘That’s why we love animating, preparing sets and discussing light. As well as producing something we want to be creative on the set.’

Creative appeal

Moving to new premises in Mechelen, a medium-sized town between Brussels and Antwerp, gives Beast a more adaptable and presentable work-space. Alongside the studio there is a workshop for building sets and offices for the production side of the business. ‘We are happier in this building,’ says Tesseur. ‘There is more light, the space is different – it’s bigger and the ceilings are higher – and we can divide the shooting studio up according to the production we have in-house.’

The present buzz on the studio floor is down to Oh Willy, a short film being made by Emma De Swaef and Marc James Roels, which tells the story of a large man lost in a world of cotton wool and fabrics. Beast is producing the film, along with Vivement Lundi and Polaris in France and Il Luster in the Netherlands. Meanwhile Tesseur and De Beul have just finished working on a commercial for a scheme which promotes environmentally sustainable forestry, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). The spot commissioned by Mc Cann Lowe involves paper cut-outs of trees rising and falling out of a page, the animation producing a tactile atmosphere that appealed to the client.

Creative appeal is always an important factor when Beast decides which projects to take on. Sometimes the challenge will trump the lack of budget, as it did when they were asked to animate a series of dead animals for French director Bertrand Mandico’s La Resurrection des natures mortes (The Resurrection of Still Lives). ‘It was so weird,’ says Tesseur, ‘but it was a crazy experience and it’s a nice thing for us to put on our show reel, and the film will be shown at the Venice Film Festival.’

Published on Thursday 28 July 2011

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