‘Titina’ Director Kajsa Næss Brings a Little Terrier’s Historic Adventure to the Big Screen

Director Kajsa Næss‘ charming 2D animated feature Titina premiered last week at the Animation Is Film Festival in Los Angeles. The film centers on the adventures of an Italian engineer, who is asked to design an airship that will allow him to explore the North Pole in the 1920s, all seen through the eyes of his loyal fox terrier companion, Titina. We had the chance to ask Kajsa a few questions about his charming movie:

Animation Magazine: Can you tell us a bit about the development history of Titina?

Kajsa Naess [NFI]
Kajsa Næss [NFI]
Kajsa Næss: I came across this story by chance. I found a book about it, and I realized that this story is not very famous in Norway. This felt very strange, because we are very proud of Roald Amundsen, one of our most famous and iconic polar heroes. I was not aware of the fact that we had airships in Norway, or that the small terrier Titina was the first dog that travelled all the way to the North pole.

In Norway, we know that if you bring a dog to the North Pole, it must be a dog that can work, and that can save you in difficult polar situations. They need to be big, furry and strong. The presence of Titina onboard a gigantic airship opened up a new angle on Norwegian/ European polar history that is both fantastic, magical and dramatic.

Umberto Nobile and Titina
Umberto Nobile and Titina © Air Force Museum of Vigne de Valle.

Why did you decide to tell this story in animation?

This is a film about small feelings in big landscapes. I love working with animation because it is a magical film technique. It can be realistic and fun and metaphoric and absurd, even at the same time. It is fun to work with this kind of storytelling and bring it to an audience that opens up for it. The animation audience is open and playful and fun to tell stories to. Both children and grown ups.

I also think that a story about airships in the arctic is perfect for animation. Airships are like big flying whales, almost mythical creatures. And I find it difficult to understand that huge airships was thought to be perfect vessels for the cold and harsh arctic nature.

I also fell in love with the small dog Titina, and I thought it would be fun to tell the story of these big heroes through her eyes. It felt like a perfect opportunity to shed a new light on the story, and to tell it from a fresh angle.

Titina
Titina

How long did it take to make and how many people worked on it?

Since this is my first feature, it took a long time. We had to spend a long time on development and financing the film.

The production felt more like a high speed train for me, but that was around three and a half years. The film was completely finished in mid October this year. So, it is very fresh!. More than 350 people and one dog worked on Titina.

Which studios created the animation/Which animation tools were used?

Animatic was made in Story Board Pro. Backgrounds were done in Photoshop. The film is animated in Toon Boom Harmony and composited in Fusion. I wanted to have thin, classical cel lines on the animation. And we worked with flat colors and shapes in the BGs — that is why we chose Toon Boom Harmony.  I also wanted to make the final film in 4K, and it was convenient for us that we could  work in 2K and the later export to comp in 4K.

We did all the preproduction in Oslo at my studio in Mikrofilm. We did the animatic, character design and art direction. Then the production was moved to Belgium. Layout, posing, animation and cleanup and inn between was taken care by Studio Souza in Brussels and Lumiérestudio / Lunamime in Ghent. We outsourced the in-between and clean up to Kecskemét studio in Hungary and A. Film, among others.

Titina
Titina

Who are your biggest animation inspirations?

Difficult question … because I think there are so many to choose from.

I am very fond of classical animation, so I must go to the masters in Japan, Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki. I love how they mixes realism with magic and tells deeply human stories about love and failure and forgiveness. Their storytelling and tempo is inspirational. I am also very fond of their very human  and ecological messages.

But this is the short answer. I would also like to mention some fantastic short film directors like Joanna Quinn, Paul Driessen, Caroline Leaf, Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis and Christopher Hinton, among many others…

What do you love about the final film?

I love that we have made a film that is both funny and emotional. A film that looks and sounds wonderful. And I love that the audience comes out with tears in their eyes and smiles on their lips.

Titina
Titina

What were your biggest challenges as you set out to tell this story in animation?

First it was convincing financers and investors that we could make this film. Then it was to manage the film production during COVID lockdown. I have worked with wonderful artists in all departments so the production itself was of course hard, but also very enjoyable. I loved working with the creative teams. Filmmaking is a strange mix between terrible and fantastic.

What do you think of the state of animation in Europe in 2022 and beyond?

I think we are making a lot of wonderful animated films in Europe now. Both high end commercial films and beautiful and interesting indie films. I think we have grasped the possibility to tell stories about our history also in animation. And we all see that possibilities animation can have for the European audience.

Titina
Titina

What do you hope audiences will take away from Titina?

I do hope they will learn a bit about polar history, but also that they have experienced a human history about ambitions and disappointments and forgiveness

Are you a dog lover yourself?

My father is a dog lover, so I grew up with lots of dogs.  But I must admit I am more a cat person myself. But I do think that dogs are marvelous actors — I believe Jacques Tati said that!

Learn more about Titina at mikrofilm.no/Titina.

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