Interview No. 126
Interview By: The-Great-One
Today's guest is truly a skilled animator. She has been presenting us with her beautiful works for quite sometime now here on Newgrounds including Tales of Zale, which would win her a Daily 2nd Place prize, The Adventurer which would win her a Daily Feature prize, and Little Merry Ego, which would win her the Triple Crown of winning a Daily Feature, Weekly First Place, and Review Crew Pick awards. She is also the winner of The 2013 Newgrounds Annual Tournament of Animation. The Interviewer is pleased to welcome Hikarian.
Q: How did you find Newgrounds and why did you join?
A: Well, I’ve known about the website ever since I was little. When we (my fellow young classmates and I) were placed in front of computers in school, Newgrounds would always be one of the first websites we went to. I always thought that the quality of the flash games there were generally much higher than on so many other sites.
I of course only visited for the sake of the games back then. I had no idea about the animations and community that could also be found here – I could barely speak English at that time, so I guess it isn’t so weird that I had no idea what that was all about.
I forgot about Newgrounds for quite a while, but I rediscovered it later back in 2009 when I became interested in animation and wanted to get my flashes out to a wider audience. That was when I joined the site for real.
Q: When and how did you become interested in art and animation?
A: When I think about it, I’ve always loved animation. When I was a kid I would sit in front of the TV and become mesmerized by the cartoons shown. I often became really annoyed when live action kid’s shows came on, even though they where just as much directed towards my age as the animations were. It just didn’t speak to me in the same way. I didn’t realize that animation was an actual profession till later on – as a kid I kind of imagined that the computers did all the work.
But I did love drawing and expressing myself from early on. My mother was an artist, so she always made sure to give me the materials I needed. At one point I wanted to become a manga-drawing archaeologist/palaeontologist – at another a writer. It was always about telling stories in one way or another, though I had yet to find any stories worth telling.
When I was about 12 I finally discovered Youtube. And I learned that I could watch anime that hadn’t been shown on Danish television there. While working my way through Naruto, I stumbled upon some fan animations in the recommendations. Some of these were basically no animation and only lip sync, but it was really entertaining! I remember some of my favourite artists being SnowDragon and FloriParty – it was the first time that I was actually aware of the people behind the creations. The most inspiring thing about these flashes were that they were so simple that anyone would think they could do something alike, and that’s how I first got the idea of becoming an animator. One thing led to another, and soon I had my first couple of “animations” up on my channel. These were fan flashes, mostly starring Naruto characters, and sometimes some from Bleach. I still keep them on my channel just for the nostalgia.
When I started using flash to make my animations, I pretty much only tweened, as it was the custom with many of the fan flashes I had seen. It didn’t always look that pretty, but I was not one to spend countless hours on animation at that time.
I didn’t get much response on my videos, and what I got was mostly “lol comments” on the character’s action and not so much on the work itself, but one day someone commented that my tweening was garbage and I should stop doing it. I think a more experienced Youtuber would just have ignored a comment like that, but it was some of the first real critique I had gotten, and I felt very hurt, so I went ahead and pm’d the guy. He did apologize if I had sounded a bit rough, but what he said he meant was that I’d be better off learning frame by frame animation. He even sent me links to a few examples to check out.
I think it was around this time that I decided that I wanted to become an actual animator, and that I’d try to focus on creating original stories and characters rather than fan animations.
Q: The first movie I want to talk about is one that has caught my attention and it is entitled A Barn Owl. An interesting movie. Why the idea of a barn owl for one of your earlier movies?
A: Together with SilverDragon, this was one of my first attempts at so-called “real animation”. I had gotten really intrigued with owls after watching the trailer for Legend of the Guardians, which had some amazing visuals. I didn’t speak too much about this source of inspiration around the time of Tales of Zale, because I was afraid people would accuse me of just copying ideas. In my head the original idea for the series was a little too similar to Guardians of Ga’hool to be proud of. But that’s coming from the same kid who thought using references was cheating in the world of animation. I might have gone a little too overboard with my inspiration-paranoia.
Q: Your barn owl would be making a return in a movie that you and your friend would make entitled Tales of Zale. A pilot episode of a series that you were working on. Where did the inspiration for this series come from and will we see more of it?
A: The idea of Tales of Zale actually began quite a while before I knew about the Ga’hool books, with a very immersive dream I had. It was about two young foxes, brother and sister, who searched the world for a place that was “good”. A place where they wouldn’t have to freeze or starve – one like the one they remembered from their early childhood when their mother was still around. They traversed the snowy landscape and had to make their way over mountains, through ice caves and over frozen seas. On their way they met a lone wolf who had lost his daughter to the humans in the north. There was also a sparrow at one point, but that’s as much as I remember from it. The story changed quite a lot as I tried to rationalize it, and with the inputs I got from other people, but that’s how it started anyways. One of the foxes became Zale, while the other turned into a barn owl named Elva because of the influence of Legend of the Guardians.
In one way or another Tales of Zale will continue. This past year I’ve been working with others to turn it into a TV-series, but if that doesn’t work out I’m probably going to turn it into a web-series consisting of 10 5-minute episodes, since I’ve already got it scripted and storyboarded.
I would need to find myself some assistance though. After all, the pilot took me about a year to make. I don’t want to spend 10 years on just this series.
But yeah, you might still see Tales of Zale around in the future in some form or another.
Q: When last year's winner Emrox was here, we talked about one of his entries into the contest entitled Animals of the Metropolis. The theme of that round was "Elephant in the Room". You would be a participant in that contest with your entry entitled The Elephant. You said that you had a lot of symbolism throughout this piece, but that it probably went too fast. Could you shed some light on the symbolism in this movie and what about the pacing do you think you could have changed to make it better?
A: I’m afraid I’ve long forgotten my original vision for the Elephant. But with the 3-weeks time restriction I had a hard time finding a workflow that fit me, and since this was the first time I had to work with such a deadline, I would find myself getting caught in over-ambitious ideas, resulting in me having to cut down the story to a point of it not making much sense. When working on The Elephant I forgot all about the initial message of the animation, but I didn’t feel like I had time to stop and think about if I were to make it in time. It just ended up as one big mess in my head, and that’s probably where most of my regret lies.
Q: Making horror or thriller movies is not always easy. Your movie The Door however, has certainly scared me and made me feel uneasy. You state that a full movie of this will never come, is that still so?
A: I didn’t ever think of The Door as an actual movie, but calling it a “trailer” gave me the freedom I wanted to just work with the atmosphere. I really like horror movies, and I kind of wanted to see how seriously one could be taken when if it was presented through the animation media.
Q: J&J: Sweet and Sour, makes for a nice throwback to the old detective days, while having a modern spin on it as well. Where did you come up with this idea and will we possibly see a series of this in the future?
A: At this time we were having about Film Noir in school, so that’s pretty much where my whole inspiration came from with this animation. I felt like I needed to experiment with the genres at this time to find a style that I would be comfortable with.
While I did think of this as an intro in a series to make things easier on myself, I never actually intended to continue Jack & Jones. But maybe the characters will return in another form someday. Who knows?
Q: We now come to what I believe is the turning point in your animation, with Dreaming High. As a writer I can say that this story is absolutely perfect from beginning to end. Where did the inspiration come from for this? What did you mean by taking a step back to something a little more... "me"?
A: This was coming after having worked on The Door and Jack & Jones for the past two months. I had just been working with formulas that others had thought out and perfected long before my time, and I didn’t actually feel like I had brought something new to the table. I was afraid that I would get stuck making cheap imitations if I didn’t take a few steps back, and so I decided to go with something that was a little more meaningful to me.
When I was younger I pretty much only drew dragons. I was always working on a dragon-drawing in school in which I would carefully draw each and every scale and colour it three different colours. Safe to say each drawing took quite a while to complete.
When I found out that my father had cancer (for the third time) there really wasn’t much left to do, so I did what I did best and began making him a drawing. He fought very hard, and at one point it seemed like he was going to make it, so I stopped working on the drawing, but eventually took it up again when things turned for the worse. I was able to finish it just a few weeks before my father passed away, and at least it was by his deathbed when I couldn’t be there. I called this drawing “SilverDragon”, and it’s that design which the dragon in Dreaming High is based off. The rest of the story just kind of wrote itself from there – I had no storyboard, and I didn’t even know that the main character was going to die in the end when I began.
Q: Don't Look Back is quite the surreal experience. I interpreted it as to keep moving forward and not looking back. I also sense something related to Alice and Wonderland with the white rabbit being chased throughout the movie. Am I getting warmer or colder? You also state that are a few things you wanted to do differently if you had more time - what would those things be?
A: I feel like I’d be killing many of my stories if I explained them in too much detail, but you’re definitely not wrong. I always thought of the white rabbit as a dream I wouldn’t want to lose sight of.
To be honest I was a little short on ideas for this theme. I wanted to do Dreaming High after and let the story write itself, but in the process I think it lost a bit of its soul. I never really identified with the main character as much as I would have liked to. And it didn’t really help my workflow that it was busy, busy Christmas season and there was so much else to do and so many other places to be.
Q: Matchmaker seems like a title sequence to what could be a very engaging series. You have interesting characters and settings and a catchy little intro tune as well. You state however...
"Sorry if this doesn't make much sense -- it was never really meant to. Feel free to take a guess at what the story would've been about, your guess is as good as mine."
What would be your guess of what the story would've been about?
A: That video was originally meant to make for an intro to a series. I was mostly inspired because we had just had about the industrial revolution and a bit about a matchmaker’s strike in school. I had a hard time containing my inspiration, so I went to the local museum and drew all the items they had from this period. When that wasn’t enough to put my mind at ease I began playing around with the idea of making a series, taking place in this age, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to keep myself motivated to make a whole series. After all things were also stirring with Tales of Zale at this point in time. Instead I just worked out an intro, so I could at least get it out of my system.
The story was originally going to be about the young Jacob, son of a poor matchmaker (as in match-stick maker) who’d meet up with Liz, a runaway-rich girl who dreams of building a flying machine. She’s being chased by this “Raven” in a plague doctor-mask, who can only be defeated by light/knowledge. Yeah, the story was kind of vague…
Q: We now come to what I believe to be your best animation and what would be your first step into the 2013 NATA with your open round entry entitled, Blume. I have a review criteria that I follow in writing my reviews for Newgrounds and very few movies and games have received perfect scores from me. This movie has attained a spot on my masterful list. I would simply like to say thank you for giving us this wonderful story and animation, it is great to see young animators truly master the visual medium.
The theme was entitled "A New Holiday" and you present to us a tradition passed down from generation to generation and then was expanded upon by a young girl. Where did this idea come from? Also how did you come up with the idea to present it in a form of a school lesson?
A: It’s difficult for me to pinpoint where the inspiration for Blume came from. I had been playing around with a character design similar to that of Bell (the girl), just before the round began, and so I kind of build the universe and the story around that. I had recently worked on an illustration for the children’s book “The Little Prince” for a school project and I kind of wanted to try a somewhat similar style of storytelling.
Q: The Adventurer is a wonderful love letter to those who love video games. Why is it though that you see this as a worst possible outcome? What other ideas did you have for this?
A: I might be a little too hard on my own animations sometimes. But you are your own best critique for better or worse, right? When I watch The Adventurer now, I actually kind of like it. But there were many points on which I didn’t really feel like this animation worked out, such as the animation quality itself and overall story. I feel like I could have planned out that much better. I wanted to expand upon the universe, but felt restricted by the music rather than using it to its best potential.
Q: Draculine Verde has a wonderful concept behind it. You stated that you wanted to do more with it, however complications ensued with that of a stylus. Could you tell us the idea behind this and what else you wanted to do with it? Can you share the complications with the stylus? Also will there be a sequel in the future to expand on your ideas?
A: Well, summer vacation had just begun and I was traveling around a bit. Of course I bring my tablet with me for longer trips, but I realized too late that I had forgotten to bring my stylus. I kind of wagered that I wouldn’t make it to the next round, and so I didn’t pay it much attention – but I lost that wager when the results came in, and so I had to do something. In my laziness I ended up just ordering a new stylus, which seemed like it was compatible with my Cintiq, but when it arrived 4-5 days later it turned out not to be so. I had no choice but to hop on a bus and take the 8-hour trip to go get my stylus the next day. Which I should probably just have done in the first place.
After that I had to hurry if I were to make the deadline. I had gone ahead and worked out the storyboard and contacted the voice actors, and even made an animatic while I was without my stylus, but it’s the animation and backgrounds that is the most time-consuming to me. In the original version of the story I had been more ambitious when it came to the universe and characters. I had planned to do more with the boy who saw Verde from his window, and the structure of the story wasn’t so out-of-balance. But I really had to cut the whole thing down to its very essence. I think the only thing that saved it for me was Verdes reflection at the end – otherwise the whole thing would have been extremely banal and one-dimensional.
I like the Draculine Verde-character, and I’d like to work more with her, so maybe she’ll appear in a sequel one day.
Q: "Little Merry lives in an iceberg below the surface of the sea. She's a perfectionist and doesn't like when things are out of the ordinary, so she has made it her job to make sure the truth-bubbles that makes it to the surface are absolutely perfect. One day, however she comes across a truth that she doesn't like, and has a hard time getting rid of."
That is what you wrote down for your idea on the theme "A Dark Confession" for the 2013 NATA. The movie in question is Little Merry Ego. This would mark the first time winning the Daily Feature, Weekly 1st Place, and Review Crew Pick thus hitting the triple crown on Newgrounds. I guess it shows that deep down inside we all have our own little icebergs, and things we wouldn't like to surface we try to keep them contained. This is certainly a movie that I can identify with and I loved how you presented it with so many light tones. It started as a storyboard on a napkin, where did it go from there?
A: Well, when the round began I was stuck on a ferry all day, and there wasn’t much else to do except to plan out the story. I wanted to make something much brighter than Draculine Verde, but at the same time it had to fit the theme of “a dark confession”, so that was quite a challenge.
When I then got the idea of making a visual interpretation of a psychological aspect, I knew that bringing voice actors into it, wouldn’t necessarily benefit the story, but at the same time, finding a piece of music that fit, was near impossible. I’m no good at music myself, so I hurried up and contacted Matthew (deadlyfishes) and asked him if he’d be able to compose something for my soon-to-be animation. He said he’d be able create something in the short time given, so I went ahead and began the animation. For better or for worse, this is probably the most concentrated I’ve ever worked on an animation. I animated without any storyboard and without any music to sync to, so it was a very open process. I was able to finish the animation about 3 days before the deadline, so I could send it on to Matthew, who then did an amazing job of scoring it in such a short time.
Q: You have not only competed in two Newgrounds Annual Tournaments of Animation. The 2012 NATA and the 2013 NATA. You have been crowned as the winner of The 2013 Newgrounds Annual Tournament of Animation. What made you want to enter the contest two years in a row? How did you feel when you found out that you won? What have you learned from being in these contests?
A: 2012 had been quite a busy year. First I entered NATA, and then another tournament much like it. After having worked on so many animations with such tight deadlines, I wasn’t really planning on entering NATA again – but a few comrades of mine were talking about entering, and I thought I might as well show them how it was done by making something for the open round. I got a little carried away from there. I never planned on making it very far, but I wouldn’t be a very good sport if I just threw in the towel, now would I?
After seeing Pahgawk’s final round entry I was almost certain that he’d win the tournament, so I already thought of it as a loss, even before the scores were released. As you can probably imagine, I was quite stunned when I got news about the opposite.
I feel like I’ve improved a ton from competing in these contests, and I can only recommend it to any upcoming animator who wished to put his/her skills to the test. I have learned a lot about animation and storytelling - and so much more.
Q: You are a very talented animator, however I feel that you're an even better writer. When did you become interested in writing? What would you say your style of writing is?
A: I’m not really sure I’ve found a particular style of writing yet. I just write what comes natural, or what my dreams inspire me to write, and that might just be good enough, though there is of course always room for improvement. In the end both animation and writing is just another way of conveying a story that one can strive to master in order present the tales in the best way possible.
I don’t know when I became interested in writing, because I can’t remember ever not having been interested.
Q: What can we expect from Hikarian in the future?
A: As you can probably tell at this point, I really want to make some series. Those are just very time-consuming, so people will have to be patient about that. I hope I will soon have something that is worthy of being uploading to Newgrounds, but until then you can expect a few short things on my Youtube channel. There will be lots of new animation from me in the future none the less.
I honestly didn't know much about Hikarian before going into this interview, that is truly one thing I love about the Newgrounds Annual Tournament of Animation. You become exposed to so many artists and animators through it. If it wasn't for NATA, I probably would not have known much about this wonderful animator or the works she has done. We may have also not received the beautiful masterpiece that is "Blume" if it were not for this tournament. The creators bring their best at this tournament and it truly shows. I can honestly say she will certainly be climbing up the ladder here on Newgrounds even higher than before.