***This interview originally appeared in the May ’22 issue of Animation Magazine (No. 320)***
For the past three decades, Thorsten Wegener has been producing high-profile international animated features and TV shows which have been entertaining family audiences around the world. After producing three successful Maya the Bee movies in 2014, 2018 and 2021 (Maya the Bee 3: The Golden Orb) as well as the 2019 Princess Emmy feature and the 2019 Vic the Viking and the Magic Sword, he is back with a big-screen adaptation of the popular TV series Mia and Me.
In the new feature Mia and Me: The Hero of Centopia, directed by Adam Gunn and Matthias Temmermans, an ancient prophecy surrounding the magical gem in Mia’s bracelet takes her to some enchanted remote islands where she faces a powerful enemy. We caught up with Wegener to find out more about the new Studio 100 Film project, which will be showcased at the Cannes Film Market (May 17-25):
Animation Magazine: First of all, congrats on your latest movie. Can you tell us a bit about how you got involved with this project?
Thorsten Wegener: Mia and Me was already internationally successful and extremely popular when Studio 100 Media acquired m4e, the company that created, produced and distributed the TV show, back in 2017. Because of its production value, the colorful characters, fancy unicorns and artistic themes, we always considered this to be a top-notch brand which deserved a movie adaptation. In fact, it was so strong that we decided to produce a fourth Mia and Me season. This led to the next logical step of making a film, which made the whole project come full circle.
When did you start the project and when will the movie be ready for delivery?
The basic idea of producing a movie for Mia and Me had been in our minds for quite a long time. But the real concept for it only ignited and came to fruition when Studio 100 teamed up with the show’s creator, Gerhard Hahn, to write the story for the movie. The project started in June 2019, was challenged by the global pandemic and today we are happy that the movie was completed in April and is now ready for delivery.
Where was the animation produced and how many people worked on it?
The animation was created at multiple studios as part of the co-production work split. The four key studios were based in Germany (Studio 100 Media / Studio Isar Animation), India (Broadvision Services) and Australia (Studio B Animation Pty. Ltd./Flying Bark Productions), but we also had contributions from New Zealand and Spain.
As with any animated film, the size of the crew is enormous; from the writers and designers, the technical crew, every department of the pipeline process as well as all voice talents, sound FX and the orchestra recording the score. There were over 600 people involved in the production of the film. Plus, we had all the crew involved in the live-action elements, too. We had a lot of people working through the COVID restrictions. In fact, we were very lucky to get the live-action shoot done before the massive lockdowns in 2020. The crew had to be very vigilant throughout as they didn’t have any rapid antigen tests then, so it wasn’t easy to monitor and test everyone on set.
Which animation tools were used to produce it?
It was a pretty much standard animation pipeline. The modeling was done with Maya and for texturing we used Substance. We animated in Maya, used ShotGrid for asset and shot management, the lighting was done in Katana and rendering in RenderMan. We also used Nuke for compositing and the FX was created in Houdini.
What would you say makes this feature different from other similar fare targeted at family audiences?
I really love the message this movie brings to the audience. Mia teaches you to feel empowered and not to be afraid to follow your heart. She shows the true values of friendship and how to overcome any challenges in life, especially with the help of friends. And finally, by showing her courage, determination and a vast inner strength, Mia brings a lot of girl power to the movie!
What makes this movie outstanding is the unusual combination of live action and CGI animation. The original TV series has already set new standards in terms of production values and the quality of the animation. With this movie, we want to raise the bar once again, within the scope of our capabilities and possibilities. So, the characters will have a much more detailed look. For example, you will see real fur on Pan Phuddle and on the unicorns. The overall look stays uniquely true to the work of famous Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, which already inspired the TV series creators in terms of patterns and shape in the world of Centopia.
What would you say were your biggest challenges in the process?
Needless to say, our biggest challenge was the COVID pandemic arriving shortly after the start of production. Suddenly, remote working was the norm and we had to get used to it very quickly. While we managed to work from home, we did face some delays because of the effects the pandemic had in the countries where our co-producers are based. Our Australian partners had to send their entire teams home to work remotely without losing any time in the schedule. The same thing happened in Germany and India, where many people became ill with COVID. But the worst situation was in India, with so many people sick or even in a critical condition — and, sadly, so many crew members even losing family members. It truly was a difficult time for everyone.
Like the series, the movie is a mix of live action and CGI animation, which is a special challenge to the production team since you have to plan a real movie shoot with real actors whilst at the same time handling a complete CGI production. Here, too, the pandemic posed major challenges in terms of timings, permissions, testing, etc.
What do you hope audiences will take home from the movie?
While the core target group of the series are girls, we are aiming to expand the franchise and brand with the movie to include boys as well. The new adventures and storyline really promote a wider audience and for Mia to conquer even more hearts worldwide. Overall, the audience can expect an exciting ride from the real world into the fantastic realm of Centopia, with all its mysterious and fabulous creatures, thus continuing the ongoing saga of Mia and Me. This is not only a movie for the fans of the series — it will attract the whole family and beyond!
Can you tell us why you think the Mia and Me brand has been so popular over the years?
First of all, elves and mainly unicorns have always been top favorites over the decades — and the series adventures revolve exclusively around these characters. The show offers tremendous identification potential, since friendship, team spirit, trust, courage and adventure are always at the center of its stories. There are also still far too few strong female leading roles encouraging fans not to be afraid, to take their lives into their own hands and to go their own way. Mia and Me concentrates a lot on true friendship and trust, so any challenge can be faced with friends standing right by your side. And last but not least, the series’ extraordinary look, inspired by the works of Gustav Klimt, attracts viewers too.
You’re quite the veteran of the animation business. What is your take on the state of European animated movies in 2022?
The animation movie market is continuing to grow and evolve. Many projects are focusing on streaming content given the quota, which offers new possibilities for European content. The classic independent companies are still around, continuing to produce wonderful and outstanding high-quality animation films for the world market. We know there are a few animation projects on hold or that have suffered delays due COVID, but hopefully they will have a chance to be seen on the big screen in the near future.
Studio 100 Film’s Mia and Me: The Hero of Centopia will premiere at the Cannes Film Market this year. The film is set for theatrical release in Germany, Austria & German-speaking Switzerland on May 26, with additional European releases slated through summer. For more info, visit studio100film.com.