Moho Featured Artist: Anansi the Spider
Mario Quinones @
This week our Moho Featured Artist is Anansi the Spider, a Dutch children animation series 🔥 The art of Anansi was created by Moldybyrd Studio and the animation by il Luster. They used Moho as their main 2D animation software ✨
About Anansi the Spider
Anansi is a very smart spider. The Anansi folktales originated in West Africa and are famous all over the world. Iven Cudogham has adapted these stories for animation. The adventures of the super-smart spider Anansi are mega-famous in Suriname, The Antilles, West Africa and the South of the US, but strangely enough less known in the Netherlands and the rest of Europe. These old fairy tales and folk tales have been collected by Iven Cudogham and edited together with il Luster for animation. From today they will be on TV and everyone can enjoy the wonderful stories of Anansi.
Anansi the spider is sooo smart! Thanks to his cleverness, Anansi the spider often gets the animals in the forest excited about his plans. Anansi the spider loves food and socializing with his friends Turtle, Rabbit, Monkey, Cricket and Rooster. Anansi the spider can enjoy a nice walk, his family or just lazing in his hammock. Brave and combative, Anansi the spider is certainly not afraid to take on the greedy Tiger or the bossy King.
Anansi the spider is fun for all children. But especially for children between the ages of 4 and 7. The fairy tales of Anansi the spider are Cultural heritage in a new jacket and appropriate for today's time. The world of Anansi the spider is adventurous and fun in the most colorful environment you have ever seen. Experience the fairy tales of the clever Anansi the spider and his friends and discover what friendship - playing together and sharing together - means.
Tell us about the team
il Luster is an independent company that creates ad-hoc studios for its projects. We like the freedom of *not* maintaining a studio. With this, we are not bound to any technique and do not need to keep ‘a machine running’ with projects we’d otherwise reject. This does mean we heavily depend on our network when it comes to (re)building a studio per project. We invest much time in know-how, a network of good people and not so much in machines or pipelines. Using MOHO with it’s relatively easy learning curve and low price fits in that strategy. Many members of the team have worked on several of our previous projects. Some projects used MOHO some were frame by frame animation and soon we will be producing a hybrid 2D - 3D CGI feature.
Moldybyrd Studio is a small animation and design studio run by J.J. Epping, Diana van Houten and Yngwie Boley. “For Anansi we are assisted by two extra designers. We’re a close-knit group of like-minded illustrators that have stumbled into the animation business, and have been quite happy there. We started working together to make our own short film, the hand-painted animation Pilar. Since then, we’ve been involved in numerous animation films and series as designers and background artists. Anansi de Spin is a special one to us, because we have been responsible for all of the visual design, from characters to backgrounds to the smallest of props. It’s great to work with il Luster and their wonderful team once again!”
Suze Gil is the lead animator, who has previously worked on series like ‘Undone’ and ‘Woezel & Pip’, and shorts like ‘Adventures of Indiana Jones ’ and ‘NIMF’. After working at il Luster on the frame by frame animation for the international co-production feature ‘NAYOLA’ she moved to the pre-production of Anansi. While testing the character animations in Moho and working with the designers at Moldybyrd and riggers, il Luster invited Suze to become the lead animator for the show. Furthermore the studio now houses (depending on the day and corona-rules) 2 - 5 more animators and two scene-preppers/compositors Tom Oudheusden and Witte van der Tempel Off site riggers Jeroen Koffeman and Jesse Tamerius made all the characters and animated props. And of course ‘next door’ there are the two producers/writers Michiel Snijders and Arnoud Rijken, director Patrick Raats and line producer Chris Mouw.
Can you talk about Anansi de Spin and how it is made with Moho?
Anansi is a mythological figure with a rich oral tradition in various parts of the world. The origin of the Anansi stories lies in West-Africa. Through the transatlantic slave trade, these stories were dispersed throughout the Americas, and in particular the former Dutch colonies of Surinam and the Antilles. These Anansi Tori were performed to an audience, and in that way were verbally passed on to new generations.
Showrunner Iven Cudogham grew up with these ‘Tor’ and wanted to bring these stories to a wide audience of young children, to pass them on once again through animation. He contacted il Luster and they assembled the creative team.
Moldybyrd: “For Anansi, we came up with a visual style that is, in a way, very flat. In the backgrounds, perspective is often skewed or non-existent, and depth is mostly achieved by superimposing layers of foreground elements. In the same way, characters are made up of simple graphic shapes, and have clear and recognizable silhouettes. This limits the range of movement and expression that is possible. Limitations however are not necessarily a negative, and have been very much a stylistic choice for Anansi. What is cool about MOHO is that it allows us to take these designs and rig them almost as if they were shadow puppets, keeping that graphic aesthetic while also giving the animators maximum control over the separate elements. It has been a pleasure to see how much life the animators have breathed into these characters this way.”
il Luster: “In that regard this workflow is really part of our ‘model’. If possible we do not set things in stone: for example we always tell animators to give quick feedback to the director whenever they think a scene is more challenging than we had foreseen. So often in other studios, animators spend time on scenes that might easily be changed in the storyboard. Or sometimes a temp-rig can be made for some strange movement only used in one scene. We ‘plan the unforeseen’. What we try is to get people off their ‘isolated islands’ and challenge them to think more ‘holistic’. Understanding the whole flow is also essential for an animator, we think.
We also spend a lot of time in pre-production. Many producers know how difficult it is to actually spend enough time and money on pre-production because there is always that deadline. But we think it is also a mentality thing. Most companies float on the big turnover: the production budget. We do not. We do not mind spending 4 months extra with just three people prepping, making sure everything works properly. The designers from Moldybyrd have had a long lead time creating the artwork and also lead animator Suze Gil has had plenty of time to animate with the Riggs as they were being developed.
Suze Gil: “Rigging, designing and testing went hand in hand in the pre-production. This was important: By testing out the rigs beforehand, alterations could be made either in design or in the rig. Knowing that I can ask riggers and designers for any solution if something does not work for a particular scene, was great. This made us able to build an entire library of assets, backgrounds, scripts and rigs within Moho that we could use or reuse.
Also the mindset behind the rigs was clarity in keyframe placements within the timeline and easy to use bone systems. Making clever use of systems like the sketch bone to make animation time quicker, especially with our 8 legged spider Anansi. To use switch bone tools within a single bone layer to make animation manageable in the timeline and more. Therefore ensuring the animators are free to start a project/scene and bring the characters to life easily. Even now we - animation team, riggers and designers - are re-doing some details and creating some (minor) characters as production is ongoing.”
Where do you get inspiration?
Moldybyrd: “We are particularly inspired by African fabrics, such as Kente from Ghana and Dutch wax prints. These often have a colonial history almost as complex as the Anansi stories themselves. The striking color combinations, the geometric patterns and the hand-fabricated look all influenced the style of ‘Anansi de Spin’.
African masks and artifacts are another source of ideas. For example, Anansi’s body is inspired by the shape of a Nguni shield. Then there’s also the Surinamese colonial connection, which has its own distinct flavor. Because ‘Anansi de Spin’ is a fairytale, we want to invoke all of this heritage, but without pinning it down to a particular place or time. You’ll see Anansi just as easily use a fridge. In fact, Anansi loves to cook and eat, so that gave us a lot of opportunities to draw tropical fruits and vegetables that you might find in a Surinamese market, as well as all sorts of dishes.
We’ve had a lot of fun bringing this eclectic and colorful mix of influences together in our own style.”
Suze Gil “Regarding the animation and style of animation I try to aim for not only an ‘animated’ way of movement, but also to try and give the characters real weight in their movements. To keep the young audience focused, animators need to make very ‘readable’ poses and movements, a real ‘show, don’t tell’ method of acting. For an expressive character like Anansi, the animation style can be a bit theatrical and slightly overacted. Especially when shots are sometimes quite ‘busy’ with characters and/or colorful backgrounds, our focus needs to go to our little boastful spider in the middle. Hence large theatrical movements.
One of the great things is that Anansi as a spider has eight limbs - either arms or legs - and four eyes. That is animation gold; making facial expressions with four eyes is simply ‘twice as fun’. And Anansi can gesticulate with two arms while doing something with the other four.“
What's your hardware setup?
Moldybyrd: All of the design work was done in Adobe Photoshop CC, on a Cintiq screen hooked to a PC.
il Luster: At the studio everything runs on Mac-mini with Cintiqs. Large screens are used either as digital ‘pinboards’ with artwork and or as a means to keep the mandatory 1,5 meter distance between director and animator.
What do you like best about Moho?
Suze Gil: “That we can animate fast with the rigging tools and deliver animations with great results. Moho not only has the possibility for animators to specialize in either just rigging or animating. But also to add scripts to essentially alter Moho to make it customizable for an entire production like how Anansi is built. Making it easy for the animators and riggers to not only work remotely, but also to make alterations without creating a list of time consuming errors. Of course, in my experience, errors in any software are inevitable (A woman can dream). But having a little know-how about Moho from our riggers, a couple of forums later and the problem is solved quickly. Ensuring that the animators can continue working fast without compromise to achieve our deadlines. Also ensuring we can just have fun with our spider friend. And that’s my personal philosophy, ‘let’s have fun.’.”
How has Moho helped you in your creative process?
Moldybyrd: “When rigging the characters, we’ve had to think a lot about how our designs would work in motion, and thoroughly explore all the different expressions for each character together with the riggers. It really forced us to create consistent designs that work well under all the stress the animators will put it through. We have a strong preference for clearly readable poses, and thankfully Moho allows for that very well. We thought it would be a big challenge to have a main character with eight moving legs, but the animators found all sorts of creative and fun solutions for that which surprised us.”
Would you consider Moho an industry tool?
il Luster: “For us it is! We like that it is an animator's tool like TVPaint. Animators like to work with Moho. We have never been impressed by the sale pitch of software builders who kept showing us the ‘production tools’ where we had the impression it was always an Excel sheet on steroids. Of course it is more, but still this kind of series does not require complex integrated software and therefore we avoid working with it. With "Kitzu" project, all tracking and approvals are handled. Current production is 15 episodes of 8 minutes and also the feature film will not require some heavy tool.”
Where can we follow your work?
Anansi de Spin
Watch online (Dutch): https://www.zappelin.nl/anansi