On the Radar with Sehsucht

Part of Sehsucht’s Hamburg studio

Plan of attack for “Black Poem”

Plan of attack for “Black Poem”

A peek inside some C4D files for “Oil”

A peek inside some C4D files for “Oil”

A couple weeks ago Motionographer’s esteemed Editor and Chief of Staff, Justin Cone, wrote a post about a fiery epic from Hamburg motion graphics firm Sehsucht. In his post, Justin wrote about Sehsucht’s “inventive approach to motion design, one that blurs the line between real and unreal,” and in the end, he revealed that “Sehsucht remains one of my favourite studios not just in Europe, but in the world”.

This got me thinking: Yes, Sehsucht is also one of my favourite studios in the world, but why do they seem so under the radar, only making a blip every once in a while with an absolutely amazing animation? With that in mind, I decided the best way to understand them was to get in touch with them directly and find out.

What I discovered was a group of outstanding creatives whose main goal in this field was not necessarily to turn a profit as a company but to create something bold and new with every opportunity. No wonder they are the recipients of so many awards, including a recent Gold Lion at Cannes Film Festival.


JON SAUNDERS: Thank you guys for talking with us. In order to give everyone a better understanding of Sehsucht, could you describe its origins?

OLE PETERS: We always had a great passion for motion graphics. It has been rather unknown in advertisement. We realized its potential and in Germany we were kind of missionaries, going from agency to agency, reporting and trying to delight people with these new ideals and passions.

NIKO TZIOPANOS: Of course, in the beginning it was broadcast design and the common logo animation. But this was only the beginning – for us that was natural. I always had a weakness for motion in the web.

MARTIN WOELKE: In this situation we founded Sehsucht in 2000, and we were crazy about working out unseen graphical compositions rather than making effects and picture manipulation.

JS: As Sehsucht has grown, have you developed any design/animation philosophies that get carried into every project?

MW: We are no dogmatists. The freedom of thinking and the freedom of creative processes are always very important for our work.

NT: Money and time are the only limits. And not the technology. The idea is in the limelight. The first question is: How can we express and realize the idea? And then: Which technique do we need?

OP: Sure – working hands on. And not being restricted by our tools, but somehow surfing on the edge of realizable borderlines.

JS: Your work is consistently innovative. Do you spend a lot of energy convincing clients of your creative vision? Or do you seem to attract clients that are already open to your ideas?

MW: Today we are well-known for our work. Our clients know our idea-management and the way we work. Normally, the agency has the first idea. Sometimes it’s a rough thought, sometimes it’s only an impression. Sehsucht is the interpretator of the idea. So sometimes it’s commendable in being in a permanent work-flow with the agency. We inspire each other. And in that way we are the attendants of the pool of possibilities.

OP: In our field, we are not just the directors, we also have to take care for defined processes and unique solutions and that means: We get the script and we have to kick up the plot in the best way.

JS: What are some of your sources of creative inspiration to “kick up the plot”?

OP (smiles): Why am I creative? I have no other choice. Inspiration and its influences for
my work is my daily job – and not really a job. It’s a permanent state of affairs. Everything can influence and inspire me. A surface in a special light, a little girl looking to her father angrily, sticking her tongue out at him because he doesn’t want to buy her sweets.

NT: Really everything can inspire us. But in an unconscious way.

OP: The other way to inspiration is the classical: movies from blockbuster to nouvelle vogue or Japanese cinema, literature, music, fashion.

NT: One thing is very important: Every creative of Sehsucht has his own philosophy of being human and his own perception. Our creatives are really open-minded.

"Black Poem" for Konzerthaus Dortmund

JS: What was the creative brief you received for this project?

NT: For spots like Black Poem there is no creative brief in the common way. You have moods of imagination, the world of fire, which stands for the passionable character of music, and we try to find an example that provokes special emotions. We had no description and no descriptive structure. It’s all about: What does the music stand for? What is characteristic of the music by the Turkish composer Fazil Say? Which emotional pictures can transport the music? So we tried to transform the music into pictures. For me it was also an emotional and dreamful inner journey.

JS: The rules of doing a regular 30 or 60 second on air advertisement do not always apply to a lengthy title sequence. What sort of challenges have you found when dealing with this different type of project?

OP: For Sehsucht there is no difference between 30 second on-air advertisement or two minute short films. The piece has to have an appropriate dramaturgy and the optimal impact for it’s specified timing.

NT: The first step is we think about the script. Second, we look for the best team.

MW: That’s it. For every job we see ourselves as consultants, channelling ideas and telling them strictly with our own language.

NT: But that’s right. We are used to making short films.

JS: There seem to be a lot of compositing tricks going on throughout this animation in order to create this living, breathing (flying) fire, could you describe some of the methods you used for this effect?

NT: (With a wily smile) We like the myth we are living in. Seriously – we don’t want to reveal our technical benefits that separate us from our competitors. But in the beginning, there is the idea. And then we find out how to realize it. Try and find out – this means free-style. In “Black Poem” I wanted to create flames running through a forest like a wild dragon.

JS: Understandable, well answer me this: Your projects always have strong musical accompaniments that do not always seem to be standard advertisement fluff. Is this just the American in me that is used to hearing terrible music from ad agencies or are you given some freedom to produce your own scores? To what extent do you rely on these scores to influence your animations?

OP: We think in pictures. But of course we are aware of the importance of sound design. Sound design is a picture for the ears with its own character, emphasizing the pictures and provoking emotions.

NT: Our art department is responsible for the investigation for the best music. The creatives describe or propose which music is the best for the film and its intention. There are only a few sound studios we work with.

MW: And that’s also the other side of the coin. If the music or sound isn’t the opposite equal leading act, the whole thing can be worthless.

Mercedes-Benz "Oil" and "G-Class"

JS: Both animations have that “Sehsucht aesthetic” with a complex world being developed from a simple idea. In production this can become messy very fast, especially in the case of Mercedes-Benz “Oil,” where it is a single camera move. What steps do you go through in pre-production to make the pipeline as smooth as possible? How much do you allow yourself to ad-lib during actual production?

NT: We had a treatment with “must-haves”. Our task was to find the best animations and their execution.

JS: The first thing that struck me about "Oil" is the length. Was this a request from the agency or something you pushed for? Since this is clearly not a standard broadcast length where is it being shown?

MW: “Oil” is not a commercial. It transports notes and advantages on a visual journey.

OP: But not a typical one. The Mercedes-Benz-friend in the showroom should be captured by the film.

NT: It’s like a symphony full of emotion and well-dosed information for the viewer, composed in the color of oil and its consistency.

OP: What is oil? It’s blood and spirit for engines and so their future. So we chose the character of an elegy and a technical symphony.

JS: Finally, you have any tips for readers out there in Europe trying to make it in the
motion graphics world?

MW (smiles): Visit us in Hamburg – what else?

JS: Thank you, guys.


About the author

Justin Cone

/ justincone.com
Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.