Netflix has unveiled a footage from its first original animated feature, Klaus, at the Annecy Animation Festival on Wednesday.
Directed by Sergio Pablos (Despicable Me), Klaus is a wacky Santa origin story that boasts innovative 2D. This is Netflix’s first animated Oscar contender which will qualify theatrically this holiday season.
Klaus, follows a young, lazy Scandinavian postman named Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) who gets exiled by his father to a contentious village in the cold north to launch the postal service, where he meets a mysterious, white-bearded toymaker named Klaus (J.K. Simmons).
The retro look of the film has a definite Disney vibe, full of classic squash-and-stretch and illustrative design. But it’s enhanced by stunning lighting and texturing, courtesy of new tracking software from Pablo’s studio in Madrid, which takes 2D into the 21st century with some digital flourishes.
Pablos mentioed, “We knew we had a story that would be better served by traditional animation, but we did not want to rely on nostalgia alone. I strongly believe that traditional animation still has a rightful place in the feature animation scene, but in making this movie, we knew that bringing traditional animation back would not be enough; we had to bring it forward. We methodically looked at all the steps in the traditional animation pipeline.”
Veteran animator and Netflix character animation head James Baxter (How to Train Your Dragon, The Lion King), has been assisting Pablos and his team: “This breaks the mold of hand-drawn as a more graphic and illustrative experiment. It creates a sculptured, modern look. But there’s no model building or virtual lighting that you would see in CG. It’s still done by hand by visual development artists that have been trained to use the software as light shapes on characters, which then get tracked through the shots,” he added.
Of his Santa origin story, Pablos added, “The message we’re trying to present has to do with the contagious and transformative power of good will. The story is presented as a comedy, but there’s a deep heart behind it. I would hope that after seeing what traditional animation can still offer, other creatives and producers might choose that route for their animated projects.”
Netflix certainly has high hopes for stirring up the animated Oscar race while modernising 2D: “It’s really charming and an openly emotional holiday film and really delivers on that. But, in terms of the animation technique, we jumped over to CG and left 2D behind, so we’re trying to innovate in that form to create incredible looks and create our capabilities in that space. As far as the Oscar potential, we’re taking it one step at a time,” Netflix VP of original animation Melissa Cobb noted.