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Matthias Hoegg, Beakus and “The Numtums”

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Matthias Hoegg is an award winning designer known for his much acclaimed short film “Thursday” which alongside his fellow graduates of the Royal College of Arts Mikey Please and David Prosser, was nominated for a BAFTA in 2011. “Thursday” and his earlier film “August” share a distinct pleasing geometric design as well as storylines in which a little chaos is introduced to the serenity we are originally welcomed into.

Stills from “Thursday”

Since graduating Matthias has started work for London based Animation studio Beakus alongside director Steve Smith on the brand new CBeebies series “The Numtums” introducing a young audience to the world of numbers in a bright colourful and, although they may be a little young to appreciate it, stylish way. Matthias’ designs bring a clarity to the show that creatives can appreciate from a design point of view as well as being immensely enjoyable for the pre-school audience at which it is aimed.

We caught up with Matthias to discuss the process of designing for a pre-school show, his styles and influences and a little about “A Liars Autobiography” based on Monty Pythons Graham Chapmans book which Matthias and Dan Chester directed a sequence of for Beakus.

Hi Matthias, thank you for talking to Skwigly. You have recently completed work on The Numtums, a childrens TV series for CBeebies what can you tell us about it?

Numtums is a 25×5 minute series we created for CBeebies at Beakus and is currently broadcast twice a day as part of CBeebies’s “Love to Learn” cluster of shows. It’s a show about numbers, introducing pre-school kids to fun that can be had with counting objects and drawing numbers from 1-10. Every number is embodied by one of a group of numtums, very playful creatures who are modelled on numbats, an Australian marsupial. Each numbat has its own distinct personality and, as nature would have it, the amount of stripes on each numtums tail is the same as the number on its tummy.

Steve Smith directed the shorts and you worked as a designer, how much say did you have on the final design?

The process of designing a show for children is a very different one from working on my own short films, most of all because it is a collaborative process and you have to put yourself in the mindset of a very young audience. Many designs were passed along between myself Steve and CBeebies. I created the initial repertoire of visual styles, expressions and poses and then these were matched with personalities that evolved in the script-writing. The intention was to put together a set of personalities that is strong and diverse enough to populate longer stories in the numtum universe further down the line, as well as pursuing their main tasks – counting objects and having a lot of number parties.

Work in progress sketches from The Numtums, Image courtesy of Beakus

What inspires the style of your personal work?

When I was working on my short films I was inspired by the geometrical patterns of American quilts and modernist illustration, such as early posters of Transport for London. In the field of children’s illustration I really look up to the designers from the “Golden Age” of American Animation, such as Mary Blair. I love her bold, confident, slightly abstract visual language, where  expressionist painting isn’t at odds with a kid’s world – I like this optimistic and adventurous attitude.

Both Thursday and August feature bold, bright colours and a rather geometric, clear design. Were you chosen to work on Numtums because of this or did you bring that to the design?

I hope it was a bit of both. I like working with a clear colour-palette. I always start with a schehme of coloured squares which  then turn into characters and backgrounds. When you develop such a large amount of characters and episodes it helps to be quite methodical with the design process. The backgrounds of the numtum world had to be quite abstract and non-descriptive, so they wouldn’t distract from the exercises in the foreground. But we also wanted a consistent setting and continuity throughout the episodes, so I eventually created a selection of background shapes which provided a graphic stage for the action.

Is it a different pace working as a designer on a project rather than as a director? Which role do you prefer?

Having directed my own short films I’d have to lie if I said that I wouldn’t rather have my say in every step of the process and see things done in my personal style. But with a project as ambitious as Numtums, where we produced 25 episodes in a small studio in less than half a year you couldn’t really juggle the roles of designer and director. And it needed an experienced director like Steve Smith to be decisive and focus on the expression and educational purpose of each module rather than getting caught up in the intricacies of the visual style. It allowed us keep looking at the series afresh from two different angles. I’m still amazed that I got to make a mark on such a large amount of work in such a short space of time.

Yourself and Dan Chester have directed A Liars Autobiography based on the book by Monty Pythons Graham Chapman for Beakus. What can you tell us about what your section of the film will feature?

“A Liar’s Autobiography” is an animated feature films that was produced across a number of Animation Studios in the UK and the US. My chapter of the film features Graham Chapman past the peak of his career, living in the luxurious tax haven of LA in the 80s. He surrounds himself with a mind-numbing amount of celebrities and is suffering from a rare name-dropping addiction. The film is my first stereoscopic project. I tried to create the look of illuminated acetate on a multiplane lightbox with digital tools, so everything is super-imposed. This seemed the right fit for graham’s hazey sense of reality in the candy-coloured world of super- stardom.

Stills from “A Liars Autobiography” Directed by Matthias Hoegg and Dan Chester . Images courtesy of Beakus

What else are you currently working on?

Unfortunately my current projects are still under wraps and I can’t really give away anything. Perhaps I can make my answer slightly more interesting though by revealing that one of them will feature the voice of Steve Coogan.

You can watch The Numtums on CBeebies throughout the day and right here

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