What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Hans-Christian Mose Jehg and I am building production pipeline and asset management systems for animated features and TV-series, in the company HoBSoft. I’m not artistic at all, but I like making life easier for the production crew so they can spend less time on administration and put more art onto the screen. Our way of working is especially well suited productions working at several sites, like co-productions or outsourcing situations.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I worked in an innovation green house. The idea was to take all the crazy ideas we could get from employees, marketing, customers and other inspirational clients. The good news was that we only had to find one good idea every two years to keep 1000+ people employed worldwide. The fun part: I got to play with high voltages, lasers, ultrasound and even x-ray 🙂 The most important thing I took away from that job was the ability to take of my blinkers, those things horses have next to their eyes so they only look straight forward, when developing ideas. It takes a lot of training to get them off so you can think outside the box.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I have been fortunate enough to have been working with really really cool projects recently. My favorites are “The secret of Kells”, “Chico and Rita” and “Song of the Sea”.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in small town Denmark. Went to University and started working in my field of electronics and software.. and thinking out of the box. One day one of my friends calls me up and says: I have an idea, how about coming over to discuss it? Over a beer we discussed how to online/conform animated films – well really any film – with a normal PC in stead of renting an inferno suite for a day two times during the production – which is what was in the budget of less than 6Million€ feature films. Actually it starts something like this… Some people calls up my colleague and says: We want to make 10 minutes of 2K animation, but with our entire budget we can not even afford to rent a beta tape deck for the period of the production. My colleague says: No way. They say: Well, we know you’re a smart guy. Go home and think about it, then call us in a couple of days. Basically online/conform is (almost) just sorting some images in the right order according to the edl from editing – right? That’s where I come in. We discussed a bit, I made some software, and we started on-lining feature films. First 10 minutes, then Terkel in trouble. We got our big break on the 22Million€ Asterix and the Vikings. The real advantage was that we could assemble the film every day during production. That way it was easy to get a grip on the current state of the film. The director could start doing what he wanted to do – directing. Bring the team into the small digital cinema, play the parts of the film currently worked on, pointing to the image with a stick, saying something like: The hookup doesn’t work, he is on the wrong foot. ..or.. More clouds here, remember it will be raining… The bicycle is missing… Of course, once you go from 10 minutes to a feature film then you need to get very much more systematic, for two reasons: You really need a file tree that works, and you save weeks of work by doing things automatically. We started building the filetree in advance, based on the animatic edl and some extra tracks, with all the right dummy files, including dummy frame-stacks of the right duration. The edl method is still our preferred method of populating a production database in a matter of hours. Having seen the Asterix, a production made in several studios, we saw that plenty of problems still occurred. A-Film were getting frames in from studios all over the place. Wrongly named, wrong color space, wrong resolution, wrong bitdepth, wrong… you name it. They were keeping track of the production with Excel… We started looking at solving those problems. You need a production database. You need to make sure that people are always working on the latest files, you need to make sure people can’t deliver unless the naming, numbering, resolution, color space… is correct. It needed to be automatically integrated into editing, so you can see animatic, layout, Work in progress and approved footage next to each other. In short, you need a system that allows people to continue working as they used to in the studios, but that would take care of all the booring, tedious, repetitive, error prone and expensive! routine work, plus make it easy to see where the production is at. We made a system that would take part in the production in stead of trying to follow it. People forget to report progress, and who can blame them. But now, when delivering through the system, they would report at the same time. Just click the button and continue with the next scene/shot/asset on the To-Do-List, HoBSoft will do the rest, including quality control(duration, resolution, color space…), data transfers, rendering and presenting the footage to Supervisor and Director after integrating automatically in the editing in several studios. On Asterix they would use several man-days a week just to call around to the studios following up on what had been delivered, if it had been approved, if they need more work… Now with one common production database it is much easier. The fact that our system takes active part in the production means that the data are correct, we are not trying to keep up with reality like some tracking systems.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Depending on what time-zones we would be working in, my day could be like this: I would check up on the servers on the European studios to make sure everything is running smoothly, fixing whatever problems might have arisen during the night so everything would be ready for the start of the day. Perhaps I would look at a bit of footage fresh in from Sao Paolo – that would be for my own pleasure obviously. Then I would do development for some hours before the day ends in Manila. There are always questions at the end of the day. A bit more development and then on to the end of day questions for the European studios. Around midnight I would check up on the servers in Manila again to make sure everything is running for their workday to begin again.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
When I see the first images come through the pipeline. I have always been fascinated by the lines/objects taking life. When colors started to arrive for Chico and Rita I knew we would be in for a treat 🙂 People doing animation in Europe, where we have the main part of our activity, are for the most part really really nice people, and they are usually ready to talk about things, share techniques and tips and tricks, it is generally a very pleasant work environment. I have had equally good experiences in South America and Asia.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Administration – accounting=boooring… 🙂
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
I work with databases, web servers, file servers, networks and programming every day. Things happens really quickly in the network and disk speed departments. Things that forces you to think differently. When Google started making responsive design (ajax…) we started doing the same thing, and adding some cool features too. Now the director can draw comments directly on films in our interface, and 10 seconds later the drawings and comments are available to the artist half a world away.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Very often people has planned to run their production using Excel and/or Project. We come with an entirely different approach to the production, an approach that has been thought while stepping back a bit from the usual daily production problems. For instance: We usually don’t do detailed planning of each artists time, everything runs on priorities. We’d typically give base priorities to the sequences in reverse order of the production, highest first. Any fine details are usually automatically taken care of by internal dependencies, like Key-Scenes has to be made before scenes that use their color models… That way you have made a basic planning of the production in less than 10 minutes. That can be a bit difficult getting your head around – but it actually works very well once you embrace it, especially when you are working in several studios.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
In Annecy I had the pleasure, a great many years ago, to have lunch at the table next to Ray Harryhousen. He was a very well spoken and nice person with an exceptional gift for telling stories. A true pleasure.