Alexei Alexeev’s award-winning short, KJFG No. 5, inspires a delightful new TV series.
How do you capture lightning in a bottle? One way is to put a talented bear, a rabbit, a little wolf and an improvised instrument made out of a tree branch in a whimsical animated short. Then you give the project an obscure and baffling title’let’s say KJFG No. 5, and, bam, you have an international festival circuit hit on your hand.
That’s what happened to Russian animator Alexei Alexeev, whose wonderful short KJFG No. 5 was a huge hit at Annecy last year, and is returning to compete in the festival in 2009 with Log Jam, a TV series based on the short. Nickelodeon has already bought worldwide TV rights (excluding France) for the show, Canal Plus picked up French rights, and Aardman nabbed its Internet and mobile rights.
Alexeev began his career in animation at Moscow’s Pilot Studio, working alongside veteran artists Alexander Tatarsky and Igor Kovalev, after earning his degree as a rocket scientist. The talented animator created the short at the Budapest-based Studio Baestarts, a thriving animation house with the popular Pettson & Findus and Mamma Mu movies and the upcoming Huhu series on its credit list.
‘I did the short just for myself and didn’t want to show it to anyone before I was finished,’ says Alexeev. ‘I made about 12 minutes of animation in about six weeks, but then I decided to cut 10 minutes from it just to keep it and fun and silly. There is no theme in the film, no message and no moral’that’s what I enjoy doing! I wasn’t afraid to be misunderstood because there is nothing much to understand!’
Then there was the enigmatic title’which was just pulled out of thin air so Alexeev could submit the short to a festival. ‘I had this problem with a title because I felt any normal title would bring some unnecessary meaning to the film,’ he explains. ‘That’s why I called it KJFG No. 5, which mean absolutely nothing to me. But then I started getting letters about it. It turns out that there’s a gymnasium in Germany with the same acronym Kurfurst Joachim Friedrich Gymnaisum. They wanted to know about the No. 5 part of the title. I also got a letter from China, where they produce the KJFG 800 air cleaner!’
Alexeev says because the acronym began to have unexpected significances around the world, he had to come up with another title for the TV show. It was Nickelodeon U.K. producer Peter Drake who thought of the new and clever title, Log Jam for the TV series based on the short.
Alexeev says he’s trying to adjust to the new one-minute length for each episode (the short was two-minutes long)’ ‘It’s not easy to come up with one-minute storylines,’ he says. ‘I know very boring films that are one-minute long, so the big challenge for me is to avoid that problem!’
When asked about the source of his inspiration, Alexeev jokes, ‘Really, I didn’t have any specific things in mind. I just wanted to make something that I liked’as I mentioned, something stupid, silly and meaningless that was short enough! The story for me is about how these animals (Bear, Wolf and Rabbit or Hare’who knows!?) live their lives in the forest as well as The Hunter and his Dog. If people find it funny then I’m happy!’ He also adds that he has been quite surprised by the popularity of his little short. ‘Of course, I didn’t expect that so many people would like it. It made me feel great because it meant that I wasn’t alone in liking this particular kind of animated film!’
Studio Baestarts’ co-owner and the show’s exec producer Andras Erkel points out, ‘People love Log Jam because of its humor, because of its human touch’although it’s about the animals!’and because of its simplicity.’
The 43-year-old Alexeev may be just pulling our leg when he says he thinks that the animation world suffers from the same kind of sicknesses that humans do. ‘There are new viruses like bird flu or swine flu, but I still haven’t heard about bear, wolf or rabbit flu,’ he says. ‘So I’m hoping that we’re not disturbing any new infections. You never know!’
When he’s not working hard on animating his sly menagerie, Alexeev enjoys playing music on different instruments. ‘I also like to go camping in the wild, rafting, swimming, skiing, drinking and enjoying the company of my friends, or do absolutely nothing in moments devoted to eternal laziness!’ He adds, ‘One day, I wish to be more serious than I am today!’ We hope that won’t really happen for a long, long time.