We Interviewed Mette Tange - Character Animator

Posted at May 9th, 2014 by AnimDesk.

Mette Tange - Character Animator at Illumination Mac Guff

Mette graduated with a Bachelor Of Arts In Character Animation from The Animation Workshop in 2009 with the 2D Animated short-film "Pig Me".

At the moment she is working at Illumination Mac Guff on new features. While she worked at Sony ImageWorks, she have had two shots with an honorable mentions to the Sony crew and received a Sony Pictures Entertainment Applause Award for outstanding performance and lasting contribution - Demonstrating exceptional initiative and teamwork on the film "Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs 2.

She have been working as a 3D character animator and a 2D character animator on various feature films, TV-series and short-films.

Her main tasks has been archiving the best quality of animation within tight deadlines collaborating with lead, supervising animators and directors.

Mette Tange - Character Animator

Thank you very much Mette Tange for this interview, we would like to start by telling us about yourself. Where are you from?

Thank you for taking contact. I am more than happy to share.

I am from a small city called Graese Bakkeby, Frederikssund in Denmark. I lived there between an inlet, fields with cows and a forest. Best place to grow up.

So many good childhood memories. Building small huts in the forest, looking for dinosaur bones in the dunes near the water and playing hide and seek in the cornfields.

What do you love to do when you’re not animating? Any hobbies? Extra passions?

I always have a million things to do. I love drawing, I love doing masks, hand puppets, sculptures and playing guitar while singing really loud and false.

I also like to jump around on a badminton court pretending to be in the Olympics.

How do you summaries the growing up part? Does it involve around animation?

Not so much. But every Tuesday the Donald Duck magazine would come out and I would run to the shop after school, buy it and then spend all afternoon reading it backwards and forward – yes I did always start with the last page.

Growing up, did you draw a lot? What style did you like the most? Did you have a favorite film?

I always liked to draw but it wasn't something I was very good at. That dream came much later. Back then I wanted to be an astrophysicist.

But with that said I do remember that the Donald Duck magazine had, in one of their editions, a trace paper. One could draw on top of the drawings in the magazine and the trace paper would trace the drawing on to a clean sheet of paper. I made a couple of cartoons like that. So maybe that was the start?

There was a lot of great Danish cartoons back then: Fuglekrigen i Kanøfleskoven, Bennys badekar, Jungledyret Hugo, Valhalla etc. I love those. And then there was the American stuff on TV like Loony Toons, Darkwing Duck and Ducktales.

The first Disney feature film I watched in cinema was The Lion King. I pretended to be a lion for months after watching that film.

Mette Tange - Character Design

"I wanted to find a hobby for my monster. I thought that maybe he would like to learn how to fly. I attached some balloons to his horns and to his tail and threw him out of an airplane. He didn't enjoy it very much and when he landed (safely) on the ground he was very angry with me. We didn't speak together for a whole day. To make it up for him I cooked his favorite dish for dinner. Pirana wrapped in palm leaves baked in the oven at 200° for 40 minutes. He forgave me instantly and I promised that I would never throw him out of an airplane again."

Where did you go to learn the art of Animation? Which School was it?

I went to The Animation Workshop in Denmark where I graduated with a Bachelor of Character Animation in 2009. Great school and great people - I loved it. I really recommend that place for anyone who wants to enter this industry.

Did you have a natural talent or you always had the skill to draw and animate?

I don't really believe in talent. I believe that if you are passionate about something you will seek more knowledge in that direction. If you find it funny and exiting you will keep on doing it and at some point you will become good at it.

One day someone will tell you that you are talented. You might believe them because all those hours, months and years of working seems like playing.

But in real life, and looking back with reality glasses on, it actually took you forever to get there. I am not talented at all I just really like to do what I do.

2D Animated short-film "Pig Me" Graduation Short by Mette Tange.

What was your first work you ever worked on professionally? How did you get it at first?

My first animation job was when I was still in animation school. I did some small 2D flash cartoons for the Danish television to use in a program about herbs.

It was pure luck that got me the job. I was told later by the producer of the show that he had overheard a conversation I have had at the animation school. I had said something like - “I am probably the best flash animator in the world”. Because of that he contacted me when he got the flash project on board.

I had never animated in flash before so I sat down and learned the program before project start and everything turned out great.

Tell us a little bit about Illumination Mac Guff, how did you end up animating for them? And what steps did you take to get there?

When time was up at Sony Pictures Imageworks I heard that Illumination Mac Guff was looking for animators. I took contact and luckily they asked me to join their team. It's so cool to be around so many good artist. I feel very lucky to be here.

What a typical day looks like at Illumination Mac Guff?

We have animation dailies in the morning and in the afternoon. In between, before and after dailies I animate, tell jokes and go to meetings - That’s pretty much it.

Why did you decide to leave Sony Imageworks? Was it mainly for working on their Cloudy 2 film?

I went there to work on 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2'. It was a dream come true. I absolutely love the original 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs'. Sony Pictures didn't have any cartoon projects after Cloudy 2 so I got off after that film.

When do you wake up and what do you on average every day at the studio?

I try my best to wake up early (it doesn't always happen). I like to come in early at the studio because I really like the silence before everybody starts bumping around and there is no queue at the coffee machine.

What part of your job do you like best and why? What makes it so awesome in your eyes?

My favorite part of the animation process is the idea part. I love to explore the different things that can happen with a character in a shot within the guidelines and restrictions given by the directors and supervisors.

I love to dig in a shot and then dig a bit deeper. Sometimes I find a little treasure chest with a great acting idea - It almost like being a Pirate.

When I start digging I keep asking myself - why does he do that? - Why does this happen? Why Why Why…

Its fun – Its really fun!

Do animators collaborate with each other at the studio? Do you guys and girls also hangout after work?

People help each other out at the studio both with feedback, ideas and shares their way of working. It is very inspiring.

We also hangout after work. It's mostly the foreigners though. We are all new in town and all trying to learn the magical French language.

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?

I am proud of almost everything I have done. All the projects have brought new thoughts and ideas on the table. I have worked on very different projects with many different styles. I really enjoy to try new things. It keeps me inspired.

What’s your animation workflow like while animating? How do you break down the steps in your head?

It changes a bit from studio to studio.

The overall thing is that I try to come up with ideas that are as entertaining as possible. Quite often I have a million ideas for a shot.

I usually make two or three poses for each idea and show those to the supervisors and the directors. Then they can either choose a direction to go in or maybe we can get an even better idea together based on one of the rough ones I have suggested.

Then planning planning planning either in my head, on paper or in front of a camera. It doesn't matter as long as the idea is set in stone before I start animating. And then 'kapow' animation begins.

The main poses and breakdowns I usually do in stepped (it depends on the shot though) then I spline it and then I polish until the deadline or the shot it called final.

A good idea is to keep developing your shot when you work on it. So every time you show your shot to the supervisors and directors you surprise them with a new sweet detail - they tend to like that.

Which cool methods and ‘tricks of the trade’ do you use the most when animating professionally?

My only trick is to either look at your shot in a mirror or flip it when watching your play-blast. That somehow tricks your brain to look at it with fresh eyes and it gets easier to point out what doesn't work.

Do you find yourself watching a film you have been a part of at home, or at friends place? How does it make you feel to be a part of that magic?

I have never watched a feature I have worked on. I would really like to but I have either been in a country where it hasn't been released or I have not been able to find it in the original language.

I have been slightly unlucky with that. But I am sure I will get totally excited when it happens one day.

I have watched the short films I have worked on together with family and friends. I can feel my face blush when my shots are showed on screen and I always get a bit nervous. I kind of like it and don't like it at the same time – it is a strange feeling.

In retrospect, do you look for imperfections in your work?

Haha... I don't have to look for them. They are all over the place. When I finish a shot there is always a million things I would like to do better.

Tell us a little about the tools that you are using, what’s your preferences? Plugins? Methods?

There are a few scripts that I always have open when I animate in Maya. I use Tweenmachine, auto tangent and a rotation order script. Other scripts depends on what the different companies have in their pipeline.

What are your thoughts of the general ‘work instability’ that a lot of animators talk about?

For me it has been okay so far. I have never had a hard time finding jobs but I have also been flexible and ready to move around the world.

What is your favorite 2D or 3D animated film(s) of all time and why?

That is an impossible question for me. It would take me until the sun explodes to choose one.

What are your thoughts about Japanese Animation? Are you a fan or prefer good old American Animation and style?

I like some Japanese animation but there is far between the projects I really enjoy. I think I might be a bit more classic toony by heart.

Have you ever had a character or a scene that was too difficult for you to animate?

I don't think so. I am a fighter so I always try to do the absolute best I can. If I get into trouble on a shot, I grasp another animator and asks if he has some feedback and then things seems to work out.

Who influenced you the most in the animation industry? Who is or was your ultimate Mentor during your early stages?

At the animation school we had changing teachers every third week. I took a little bit of knowledge from all those guys. That is also how I have learned since. At every studio I have taken a piece of the animation knowledge cake and stored it inside my brain.

Have you ever thought about going solo? Becoming an animation entrepreneur and create your own stamp in animation history in an indie film or project?

I don't know yet. At the moment I am happy to work for other people.

I do work on my own projects beside work so I get my artistic freedom there.

2D animation vs. 3D animation what are your thoughts on this endless battle?

It's a stupid battle. Both mediums are great. People keep saying that 2D is dead because Disney gave up on it. It’s not the case.

Here in Europe there are great 2D projects going on. Cut out, stop motion, 2D or 3D all have their advances and flaws. For me the medium doesn't matter as long as you have a good story to tell.

Tell us about the time you have been animating in 2D, what projects were you working on? And why did you choose to switch to 3D?

I never really switched to 3D. I do both 2D and 3D animation. I have mainly worked in 2D on short films and 3D on feature films. I think it’s nice to be able to switch back and forth between the mediums. It keeps your animation mind fresh.

What are the main key features in your mind every animator or aspiring animator should possess in his bag of tricks?

Study and always be curious. How does other people work? Study animation, study live action movies and most importantly study life – your own as well as others. Sounds a bit creepy when I say it like that – haha, but the best acting choices usually doesn't appear in front of the computer.

Inspiration is everywhere - find out what inspires you. Feeding bears in the forest, a roller-skating competition, a trip to the moon - whatever suits you.

If you could choose to work with any artist (past, present) from the animation business, who would it be and why?

I would absolutely love to have long lunch or work together with Eric Goldberg. I have never met him but I have always loved his toony approach to the characters. His animation is always so full of funny ideas and he can execute them so well.

If you could animate any character in the animation world (past, present) who would it be and why?

Goofy! I would love to animate Goofy. I absolutely love the old Goofy 'How To' short films.

Tell the audience and us a little bit about your latest projects, what are you working on as for 2014?

Right now I am working on a feature film for Illumination Mac Guff. I think that’s about the only thing I can say. It’s a super fun project and I think it will bring lots of laughs to the people who will watch it. I laugh everyday so I hope that will transfer through the screen.

Lastly, is there any advice you can give to an aspiring animation student or artist trying to get into the animation or gaming business?

Be happy, kind and curious. Love what you do and I am sure there will be a place for you. Thanks for this interview now I feel like animating some more :)