At Style.No.Chaser we take art in all its forms very seriously. We scour the globe for artists doing unique things in conventional and unconventional fields to present interesting and always enlightening interviews to our readers. This time, we have the very amicable and brutally honest Hisko Hulsing. Hisko is an Animation Director who dabbles in a wide variety of artistic expression to create visually stunning short films, cartoons, illustrations, storyboards, etc. and even composes music for his films. This multi-faceted artist has received several awards for his work throughout the years and ‘Junkyard’, his 2012 18 minute short animated film, was no exception. The film, which explores friendship, betrayal, morals and consequences in a dark but poignant way, has received over twenty international awards and was Holland’s entry to the 2012 Oscars. Read what makes Hisko Hulsing tick in this very candid interview.
“I am not a fan of conceptual modern highbrow art. It often reminds me of …”
Could you tell us a little about your upbringing – Where were you born? What were your dreams as a child? When did you know that you were an artist? What was/were you favorite movie/tv shows/cartoons/etc. as a child? Where do you live now?
I was born and raised in a suburb of Amsterdam. I drew a lot as a small child, but I think I became really interested in art when my mother started her education at an art academy when I was nine years old. I remember going to pick her up with my father and my brother (Milan Hulsing), and walking through the dusty corridors full of strange plaster human figures and the unfinished artwork of the students. I think that might have been the moment that I became really inspired to draw more seriously and started thinking about a career as a painter. Both my brother Milan Hulsing (who is an illustrator and cartoonist now) and I were pretty serious about music too. We started a band when I was 10 years old. We wrote our own songs, inspired by the Beatles, and later by Punk bands like Wire. We performed now and then, so I was always switching between becoming a musician or a painter. When we were adolescents we discovered comics for adults, French graphic novelists, and drawers like Moebius, Bilal, Jacques Tardi, Manara and later Daniel Clowes. We also discovered animated films like Fritz the Cat by Ralph Bakshi and this might have pushed us in a certain direction while studying at the art academy.
What does ‘art’ mean to you?
I rarely describe myself as an artist when I’m at a party or in midst of people who don’t know me personally. Not because I don’t like art, but because I don’t want people to think that I put shit into cans or build rusty objects besides highways. I am not a fan of conceptual modern highbrow art. It often reminds me of the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’. Art about art (just for art’s sake) delivered in codes and that is only understood by a small group of people is not my thing. This type of art is designed to make one either feel dumb or smart, but to me, most of it is just stupid made up riddles – Not very interesting in my opinion. That being said, I love a lot of art and my taste stretches pretty far and wide. I’m a big fan of classical Dutch, Spanish and Italian painters as well as many different kinds of cartoons, sculptures, films, animated films, literature, etc. I’m also a really big music consumer. There’s not a genre that doesn’t have its pearls. From a professional standpoint I listen mostly to film music from the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s. Because my profession is so broad, I can get inspiration from any and everywhere. I have not been bored in the last 20 years. There’s always something interesting or moving to find out there.
Example of Hisko’s Illustrations
Hisko’s Eisner Comic Series
How would you describe your current occupation?
I always describe myself as an Animation Director, but I’m also a professional storyboard artist and painter. I also Illustrate and make comics now and then. And I compose my own classical film scores for small orchestras.
Hisko Painting – Presentatie
We know you are an ultra-creative person and although your many skills astound us, we do see a link between writing, painting, illustration, animating and directing; one thing we cannot connect is your composition of orchestral soundtracks – how did music become part of your repertoire and how do all your creative endeavors connect in your mind?
As I mentioned before, l started making music very early in my life. My father worked in public relations for the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and this made me familiar with several musicians and critics. I believe that that must have created an early spark somewhere in my psyche. Also, my wife Carmen Eberz, who I have been with for the last 21 years, is a professional violinist and she pushed me to start writing my own film music because she saw my talent for harmony. Composing film music doesn’t come easy to me, it’s hard to make something that is interesting melodically and rhythmically and at the same time supports the drama and doesn’t distract (too much). There’s a fine balance to be found there. When I listen to music I cannot literally visualize it – there is a distortion between my auditory imagination and my visual imagination. It’s hard to explain. I think that the classic films of Oscar Fischinger and some abstract animation parts in Disney’s Fantasia come close to how I see and hear things in my mind.
Hisko Storyboard Visual
What does ‘animation’ mean to you?
I used to be obsessed by the fact that I could create a whole universe out of nothing. That got me going. Right now it’s a lot of hard work, and although I see the limitless possibilities, I can also see the many limitations. I think it is much harder to connect with adult people. There is a whole worldwide adult animation fan base, but it is not nearly as massive as the live action film fan base.
What is your life philosophy (what words do you live by)?
I try to work as hard and do the best that I can, and not be afraid to fail. Failing is a very natural state, we do it all the time and it is better to get adjusted to it than to let it limit us.
You have received several accolades for your work, does any one particular acclaim stand out for you?
My last film Junkyard has received 24 international awards to date, and it was the Dutch entry for the Oscars. I think two awards touched me most – the Grand Prix in Ottawa, Canada, because it is one of the most important animation festivals, and the audience award in Stuttgart, Germany, which felt like a warm bath. An award by an audience feels a bit more genuine, because there are no politics or debates involved. On the other hand, with juries, it is not always the best film that wins, but often the film that all jury members can live with (so to speak).
Grand Prix at the 2012 Ottawa International Animation Festival – Junkyard
Animation’s Jury Grand Prix – Magnolia Award – Junkyard
One thing we have noticed in your animated films, especially in Junkyard, is your meticulous use of light and your demonstration of emotion through the focus on the characters’ eyes – could you elaborate on this and why you choose to do this?
I think the strong use of light and dark comes from my love for that 16th and 17th century painters like Caravaggio, Velázquez and Rembrandt. I cannot really explain it. A lot of stuff comes very intuitively – the way I ‘see’ it in my mind’s eye is how I want to paint it. In Junkyard I also used a lot of elements to support the narrative, from summer oranges, to rain, to fuzzy mist, and ultimately winter by depicting the muddy remains of snow. As far as demonstration of the characters emotions goes, I do that entirely intuitively as well. People tell me that characters tend to look like me…..I think I am pre-acting in my mind before I draw it, and this creates certain emotions with the viewers (so I hope).
Use of light and demonstration of expression in scene from Junkyard
Example of use of atmospheric background in a scene from Junkyard
What is the worst criticism you have received about your work and how did you respond to this?
I have not met really harsh criticism about my last film Junkyard. Talk about the film often revolves around people’s personal taste, and when they start criticizing, they also tend to rationalize their comments afterwards by stating what they felt unconsciously while watching the film. I’m always aware of that, so I’m not so sensitive about it anymore unless they say something that is clearly wrong or mean spirited. But I heard someone say that he couldn’t believe that Junkyard won so many prizes since it is so ugly. I can only laugh about such ridiculousness.
What simple advice would you give to an up and coming animator?
It depends on what career they are planning to pursue. If they want to animate on a large Hollywood film, they will find their way by studying motion, anatomy, etc. etc. If they want to create films from scratch, like me, it is really important to educate themselves about film rules, storyboarding, writing, music, sound, painting, drawing, anatomy, motion, acting, lighting, perspective. That can all be done by watching tons of films, reading books and watching online tutorials on YouTube and Vimeo etc.
What are you working on now?
I’m not allowed to talk about the American film for which I will do a large part of the animation.
What music do you listen to that helps you get into the zone?
When I’m painting it’s largely classical music, trippy library music from the 60’s and 70’s but otherwise it can be anything from Frank Zappa to funk, to jazz, to folkloristic music, Bossa Nova, modern classical or pop music.
We are a men’s lifestyle magazine so we need to ask – could you mention something(s) that are tangible or intangible that you believe are essential to a man’s individual style/character/well-being?
Try to have an open mind (but not so open that your brains fall out). Keep mentally healthy by doing sports. I run twice a week and play soccer. This question is so broad that it’s hard to answer.
My individual style of clothing is not something to brag about by the way, I’m known for my showing off my chest hair which hasn’t been very fashionable for many years now.
How can people stay in touch with your work and projects?
My website is a good source for information and my new projects are usually mentioned in film and animation reviews.
Watch the 18 minute short film ‘Junkyard‘ below. It is really worth your time.