Mari Tolkkinen trained in traditional animation at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki. She has worked as a freelance for Finnish TV and a local digital media consultancy. A year ago Mari approached Blueberry in London for work. Within half an hour Blueberry chief executive Russ Sellers had called her in.
‘I had been looking for someone like Mari for a long time,’ says Sellers. ‘But I wouldn’t have known where to look in this country, because I find that in the new media industry animation has been rarefied.’ Mari has worked for Blueberry on sites for Ted Baker (www.tedbaker.co.uk) and Watership Down (www.watershipdown.net), as well as the interactive on-line version of the family board game Dingbats (www.dingbats.net).
So is Internet-based animation any different? For Tolkkinen, the most important thing remains a sense of ‘rhythm and timing’, regardless of the medium. The essence of her work is still labour-intensive – she hand-draws hundreds of frames on her light box, scans them for manipulation on computer and maps the final sequences to selected audio. ‘Computers may help,’ she says. ‘The most important thing is not how the picture looks, but the life it has, whether it’s an animated button or a cartoon character.’
Working on different projects means coming up with a range of solutions. Sometimes the characters have been designed as two- dimensional and need to be animated, other times they are someone else’s designs which need to be adapted for the site.
On each project, Tolkkinen is closely involved with the audio side. ‘The [animation] director has a vision,’ she says, ‘And the image has to go with sound.’ For that, she will personally act out her character and time it with a chronometer to get the movement and rhythm right. The intention is to make animation human and humorous, but maintain the illusion of effortless creation. These animations will eventually be downloaded by users, so it’s important the file sizes stay small. ‘As an animator you have to make things as simple as possible, and with the Internet even more so.’