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Laila Petersen-Jama • Storyboardeuse

“Je traduis en images les émotions des personnages”


- Entretien avec la storyboardeuse danoise installée en Allemagne pour en savoir plus sur les particularités de son métier

Laila Petersen-Jama • Storyboardeuse

Cet article est disponible en anglais.

The Danish-born, Germany-based storyboarder Laila Petersen-Jama is part of this year's promotional campaign Face to Face by German Films. Petersen-Jama is a prolific animation artist, who helped define the aesthetic character of a big selection of German features and TV series animations. We asked her about the different processes a storyboarder is involved in and what the German animation industry looks like. 

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Cineuropa: What is your exact job title and which tasks does it include? 
Laila Petersen-Jama: I am a storyboarder. I get the script of an animation production and imagine the pictures. I translate into pictures the emotions of the characters. I also define the frames and decide therefore of the camera work, the acting and the editing.  

How would you define your style? 
I am more focused on animations for pre-school children. My style could be defined as “cute” as it is more representative of some German productions such as The Little Dragon Coconut or Lillifee

How many storyboarders work normally on a team? How is the work on a film or series organised?   
In most cases we are five to six storyboarders for one project, sometimes only three. When the project has a smaller team, we often only make the main boards and the rest is done outside Germany. The character and set design are done before I get on board. Normally, each storyboarder is assigned either a certain character he or she is particularly familiar with, or a set of certain scenes. For example, I would do all the scenes in the kitchen. For TV series, one storyboarder is usually taking care of one episode.

How does the job market work for storyboarders? How do you get from one offer to the next? 
I worked for a long time for the same animation production company. Then it split into two companies and I kept working for one of them. Often I find out about new opportunities through friends and by word of mouth. Also I search the market by myself for companies I like and attend animation film festivals to stay up to date. For the work on storyboarding, the companies often need to spend the money on people who are settled in the region which finances the production. So that can cause some dependencies. 

What importance does the language of the script have for you? 
When I started to work in Germany, I couldn't speak German, but the communication was mostly in English. Then I worked on the project Lillifee in North Germany and the team wanted me to be able to communicate in German, and I had to learn the language. For most projects the scripts are originally written in English, and then translated to German or any other language that is needed. This goes also for the German productions, since the aim is to think internationally. 
Till now there were no problems for the animation, since the attitudes between German and English are very similar. But at the moment, I am working on a French project and for the first time, I experience some differences about the movements of the characters linked to the language and also to cultural differences.

Why did you start your career in Germany after your studies in Denmark?
I went to an animation school in Denmark where we had international teachers. One of them came from Munich and was a clean-up artist. She told me about a company that was looking for a 2D animation artist and I applied. My first job was in Halle, then I went to Spain, back to Denmark, and finally again to Munich. 

Among your latest works are very different projects such as Pets United, which is more a film for the whole family, or the series Jessy & Nessy and Musifanten, more aimed at a very young public. What are the different requirements for those different age ranges and what do you prefer to work with? 
The company I work with, Caligari Film, is focused on preschool films and therefore, this is also my own focus. If you do productions for older children, you have to cut faster, there has to be action and the film needs to be wilder in general. I am not used to it, but I am still open to all kinds of projects and willing to broaden my portfolio. 

With a series like Jessy & Nessy, which has already had over a hundred seasons, do you have to think of the work process as rigid and, in a certain sense, as a kind of assembly line work, or are there still opportunities there to contribute yourself?
You can always add stuff yourself, even though the characters are fixed and you won't change them. Of course, it depends on the production, but often I can add some funny gags that are not in the script. 

Would you like to do your own animation project?  
I like to work as a storyboarder. I don't feel the urge to have a story by myself, I like to tell an existing story in pictures.

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