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By Gabrielle Kennedy

Design Academy alumnus Niels Hoebers was nominated for a Dutch Design Award in the category of Young Designer. He graduated in 2010 with his puppet Walter who was suffering an existential crisis. Since then he has experienced a dream creative ride with a host of creative clients.

“I have been lucky,” he says. “Big companies have so many limitations in place that you end up being really restricted. I much prefer to work in a sort of collaboration with my clients so I reach their needs while maintaining my own signature. So far I have been able to achieve that.”

Hoebers still thinks of himself more as a designer than an animator. “I work with ideas, concepts and materials,” he explains. “I think animation is just my technique.”

After graduating, Hoebers had two internship options - one with Maarten Baas and one with Polish animation studio Se-ma-for. “It turned out that Maarten was moving studio so I went to Poland instead,” he says. There his affection for puppets, gremlins, Muppets and weird creatures all started to make sense. He arrived amidst the creation of the 2008 Academy Award winning animation Peter and the Wolf.

It was invaluable training, but Hoebers maintains that is was his years at the Design Academy that have made the most difference. “There I learnt about design thinking and that is what I use day in, day out,” he says. “I worked out how to use feelings and emotions in my work. When I get interns from art school they are already too shaped, and the ones from the animation academies are only focussed on technique when what you really need is creativity.”

And animation schools rarely teach stop motion. “They think it is too much work, but you also need to know how to make things with your hands and most people don’t. In the Design Academy workshops I worked with ceramics. I made moulds from silicone. I am trained to make things but now instead of making vases I make body parts.”

Hoebers says his department – Man and Leisure– really values the individual - their approach is quite personal which affords each student the time and space to work out what he or she is best at. “For a long while nobody could work out what my specialty was,” he says. “Wineke van Miuswinkel and Irene Fortuyn were patient and gave me the space to grow … I think in other departments like Man and Living it is tougher. There they really appreciate solid ideas.”

During Dutch Design Week Hoebers’ films for clients like Maarten Baas, Nacho Carbonell and by Borre will be playing at his studio in Section C. There is also other work for clients like microbiologist Dr. Toby Kiers. For her he created an animation about underground ecosystems and their connectedness by using LED lights on sticks and black paint, which he carved to reveal what was happening underground.

Next year - 2015 the year of the mines - Hoebers will release an animation he is making together with award-winning film-maker Michiel ten Horn about the destruction of whole social structures in the south of the Netherlands after the discovery of gas in the North Sea in the 70s.

“Sometimes people touch a puppet and there is nothing,” Hoebers says. “But with others something magic happens. It comes alive, which is what I am always hoping to achieve. Stop motion rather than the more technically perfect CGI will always be my preferred medium because nothing is perfect. I like that even if I try to make my work look perfect it never does and of course I like to play God – I control it all – the light, the motion. I like to hold the string in my hands.”

Published: 24-Oct-2014 11:03
  • Animating the World


  • Animating the World

    Niels Hoebers

  • Animating the World

    The animation box Hoebers graduated from the DAE with

  • Animating the World

    Walter 1

  • Animating the World

    Walter 2