Editorial note: The following article was written as part of the Animationsinstitut's anniversary publication "20 Years 20 Projects". This commemorative publication celebrating the Institute's 20th anniversary featured 20 iconic projects from the Animationsinstitut's eventful and moving history. The article below was written by Filmakademie alumnus Johannes Weiland about the project ROLLIN’ SAFARI.
Johannes Weiland works as a freelance director, animator, film musician, and lecturer in Ludwigsburg. After successfully completing his studies at the Filmakademie’s Animationinstitut in 2003, he initially gained professional experience at various European animation companies.
However, he was drawn back to Ludwigsburg. Over the years he has realized several award-winning short films and TV series productions together with the company Studio Soi. He also works at the institution he formerly trained at: since 2007, as senior lecturer at the Animationsinstitut, he has been supervising the AniFilm/AniPlay module and a large number of student projects from the initial idea to completion.
Johannes’s best-known directing projects include short films such as DER KLEINE UND DAS BIEST (THE LITTLE BOY AND THE BEAST), DAS GRÜFFELOKIND (THE GRUFFALO’S CHILD), HESSI JAMES and the TV series TRUDES TIER (TRUDE’S FLATMATE) and PETZI (RASMUS KLUMP).
Constantin Niklas Paeplow (left) was born in Hamburg in 1988. He completed his high school studies at the Kaiser-Friedrich-Ufer Gymnasium in 2007 and began working at Trickompany Filmproduktion in 2008. In 2009 he started studying Animation at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, where he graduated at the Animationsinstitut in 2015.
In 2014 he began working as animation director at Passion Pictures LTD in London, together with his fellow student and directing partner Kyra Buschor (center). Since then, they have won multiple awards and have worked on numerous projects such as commercials, trailers, and short films. Nowadays, both are mostly known for the ROLLIN’ WILD (formerly ROLLIN’ SAFARI) project that was developed during their studies at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. Kyra and Constantin continue to work on further episodes of ROLLIN’ WILD.
Ännie Habermehl (right) moved to Berlin and worked in various VFX studios after graduating from the Filmakademie. In 2018 she decided to take an extended break from the film industry and travelled for some time. She has since found a new home in Freiburg and a new passion: gardening. Ännie now animates all sorts of plants in real time.
“What if all animals were round?”—that is one of the many questions that I have had the opportunity to address over the last 15 years. Because everyone who begins their studies at the Animationsinstitut is confronted with the mantra of the former director of the institute Andreas Hykade: every film needs a central image and a central question. The so-called “trailer semester” has been and still is my main point of contact with the Animationsinstitut over many years and I think I have slowly come to regard myself as its bedrock.
It began in 2002, when the Animationsinstitut had just been founded and I was completing my own project course there. We students were asked if we are interested in creating a trailer, a short animated promotional film, for the Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film (ITFS). It sounded like a good idea for some fruitful cooperation: the festival got a readymade film, the students something for their showreel. The film was also shown on the big cinema screen. We signed up for it and designed an ITFS trailer as a team (BUNNIES).
This trial cooperation then became a fixed part of the project course. The following year, the five-month seminar assignment by the name of “ITFS Trailer” began. The aim was to create a short, high-quality film for the ITFS. Every student had to take part in it.
New trailers were developed in every new year of study. All the completed films were then shown at the ITFS, but only one was used as the so-called “main trailer”. Achieving that was the holy grail. The FMX had an eye on these projects as well and also picked a film as the FMX trailer—an even holier grail that the teams secretly coveted even more...
In 2007, I had the opportunity to take on a post, providing regular artistic support for this trailer semester and I have witnessed the involvement of every year of students without interruption ever since. I have probably supported the development of around 75 projects now.
The years have passed. I have been confronted with some difficult, crazy, sometimes boring, but also completely fantastic ideas for potential trailers. I remember one particular day very well. It was the project development phase and we were all sitting together in a circle. Anyone who wanted to speak had the chance to present their project ideas. It was the turn of the team of Kyra Buschor, Constantin Paeplow, and Ännie Habermehl, and they held up a picture they had painted themselves. It showed a leopard hunting a gazelle. Both animals were completely round, blown up like balloons with short arms and legs—and clearly neither was in control of the situation. The team explained: “We asked ourselves: What would it be like if animals were round, if they wanted to do their typical animal things, but were not in a physical position to do so?”
Loud laughter was the response from our circle. Everyone understood this image clearly. You could already see the film playing in your mind’s eye. It was not just that the balloon-like animals looked extremely funny in their design. Also, the idea that, because of their physique, they were completely at the mercy of their environment was actually genius. A perfect central image with a perfect central question! Wherever they showed their painting, the reaction was always the same: enthusiasm.
What would it be like if animals were round, if they wanted to do their typical animal things, but were not in a physical position to do so?Team ROLLIN' SAFARI
Yet, it was still hard work for the team to tease out the real core and humor of the idea. They had to realize, for example, that their idea was at its most powerful when it was left on its own. Any complex plot that they tried to narrate was in vain and turned out to be more boring than the basic idea. Therefore, they decided that they would rather show a few brief moments so that they could pick up on the situational comedy better.
A very wise decision! Because in this way, the world of the ball animals could unfold properly: the familiar animals were joined by ball-shaped zebras, round flamingos and inflated crocodiles in other scenes... all of them very funny to watch.
There was a realization that film scripts could certainly work through visual jokes alone and did not necessarily have to deliver a tense plot or interesting dialogue: a plot such as “a leopard chases a gazelle—both trip over” is clearly not a masterpiece of the dramatic art. But anyone who sees the clips immediately recognizes that even a plot like “a leopard falls from a tree” can be extremely amusing, provided that it is also visualized in such a distinctive way.
The three of them really realized their idea with a sense for great timing and staging, wonderful camera work, and well-observed animation. Four episodes were made, which poked fun at the typical scenes from animal documentaries in a highly amusing way. The mini-series, which until then went by the working title of “ball animals,” was then given its official name of ROLLIN’ SAFARI (2012).
Then came the final semester presentation with the usual procedure: Uli Wegenast, the artistic director of the ITFS and Thomas Haegele, the head of the institute at that time, took another look at the finished trailers to select the film for “their” respective festivals (keyword: holy grail!). In fact, there was a series of great trailers that year, but the two of them were fixated on ROLLIN’ SAFARI. Both claimed it for themselves and they began to argue—a bit like two stubborn boys. It took some beer and wine in the Blauer Engel (a restaurant on campus in Ludwigsburg) to arrive at a mediated solution: they simply shared the trailer (there were four episodes, after all). So, both festivals were able to base their marketing on ROLLIN’ SAFARI and work together effectively. The ball animals had therefore won both grails... very impressive!
Of course, the resonance at the official premiere of ROLLIN’ SAFARI was outstanding. Two of the three team members, Kyra and Constantin, decided they wanted to continue to exploit the potential of the concept going forward. With the project in their bags, they were invited to London. Passion Pictures tempted them with an offer of permanent jobs, with the result that they only spent part of their time in Ludwigsburg throughout the rest of their studies. For their diploma, they produced three more ROLLIN’ SAFARI episodes and then moved entirely to London. Kyra and Constantin seem to have found themselves as a directorial team. They are still working together—eight years on—as advertising directors with Passion Pictures.
ROLLIN’ SAFARI has also become a brand, now known as ROLLIN’ WILD. Now and again, when they have time, Kyra and Constantin make a new, short, amusing clip. Then, it is shared online and, in some cases, accumulates as many as fifty million views! ROLLIN’ WILD has just under 100.000 followers on Instagram. They offer a wide range of ROLLIN’ WILD products in their online shop: clothes, accessories, and round cuddly toys, too! It was a little merchandising dream that they fulfilled during the coronavirus lockdown, they told me.
But for both of them, the ROLLIN’ WILD brand is now a side-line to their main directorial work. Nevertheless, the ripples that this apparently simple idea from their old student days has made are remarkable.
For the Animationsinstitut, the course of the project also had a particular effect at another level: it could be that ROLLIN’ SAFARI gave birth to today’s “AniFilm/AniPlay” semester. What was once the ITFS trailer semester has continually moved on over the last ten years. Short, high-quality projects still have to be produced in just a few months. But the remit has changed fundamentally: instead of a film, the challenge is now to invent an interesting brand, an intellectual property (IP), that can be exploited in a wide variety of forms. All the specializations at the Animationsinstitut play a part in this. A central image and a central question are now turned into multiple products (films/games/installations, etc.).
The “ball animals” were definitely a milestone in the history of the Animationsinstitut. I am excited to see what will come next. The question “What if all animals were round?” has certainly not yet been answered completely. I hope that Constantin and Kyra will think up one or two more amusing animal stories. But even the existing episodes will continue to bring a smile to the faces of many more thousands or even millions of people, I am sure. Thank you for that!