Sunny Side Up

Shy The Sun has taken their brand of quirky fantasy and broken commercial boundaries both locally and abroad.

From the Series

First Published in

Stepping into the offices of Shy The Sun, an unexpectedly clean open space encloses the gentle buzz of computers at work. A spiral staircase leads to more office space and an outdoor area where, on occasion, those within dare to venture. It’s difficult to believe that this is the studio responsible for widely acclaimed productions such as The Tale of How, United Airlines’s “Sea Orchestra” advert and the latest game trailers for Alice: Madness Returns. That’s because its founders, Jannes Hendrikz, Ree Treweek and Nina Pfeiffer, aren’t interested in creating for awards or becoming a global conglomerate.

For them it’s about ensuring that each project offers them new challenges in creating high-quality, fantastical work at a global standard. While seemingly idealistic, listening to the trio talk about their exploits at Shy The Sun gives reason to believe that this philosophy is in fact the cornerstone of their success. “When we get offered a project, before we take it on, we first discuss what we’ll learn through this project and how it’s going to push us,” explains Hendrikz. “It’s not always about the product, but more about how we got to the end result and what we can take away from the project.”

Shy The Sun was born out of a demand for the work that was first showcased by the Blackheart Gang in The Tale of How. Comprising Hendrikz, Treweek and Markus Wormstorm, after the success of The Tale of How, the Blackheart Gang were approached to do commercial work for local as well
as international clients.

Not being a commercial enterprise, Treweek and Hendrikz partnered with Pfeiffer to start Shy The Sun in 2007. “We all share a similar vision in the work we do and always want to produce work of the highest level,” explains Hendrikz.

“We’re also a bit mentally insane,” throws in Pfeiffer from behind her signature dark sunglasses. In fact, Hendrikz and Treweek are also hiding behind their rockstar visors. Insane or vampires?

In the short time that they’ve been around, this “concept shop” – as they prefer to be known – has hardly had time to take a breath with the amount of work their unconventional style of animation keeps bringing in – though they really wouldn’t have it any other way. “We’re lucky in that we started by doing work we wanted to do and work we love,” points out Hendrikz.

“We have had great clients who give us pretty cool briefs,” adds Treweek. “So we have the creative freedom to go crazy and be more experimental.”

And experimenting is what Shy The Sun does best. “With every project we try to experiment with different techniques,” responds Hendrikz.

Although, Treweek is quick to point out, they also do try to take what they’ve learned from other projects they’ve worked on and find ways to incorporate that in a new way. “It’s really a continuous cycle that allows us to not only grow as a company, but ensures that we always produce top quality work,” the redhead elaborates as she gazes distractedly at the mountain.

Nonetheless, Hendrikz says that it’s much easier being experimental on local jobs then it is on the international ones. “Whenever we get an international job, the brief is usually detailed with image references and developed stories. While it makes the job easier, at the same time it dosn’t allow us as much freedom as a local job might,” bemoans the brooding self-taught director.

Though this isn’t quite the case with the United Airlines commercial. Known as the “Sea Orchestra”, the brief read simply: “Sea Orchestra serenades a flying plane.” The rest was up to them

and their idiosyncratic brand of fantasy with Hendrikz’s imaginative direction, Treweek’s exceptional eye for detail and Pfeiffer’s tireless need for production perfection. “The international field is a lot more competitive,” they all confer. “We’re competing with big companies so we have to work harder to not only produce top quality work, but work that showcases what it is we can truly accomplish.”

While it’s great to be represented internationally by both Strange Beast and Passion Pictures, the trio agree that the best jobs are by far the local ones: “With the amount of creative freedom we get from local jobs, it gives us the chance to learn new skills and techniques, which are then applied in a skillful and sophisticated manner to our international projects.”

One such example is the commercial spots that they did for M-Net’s “Believe in the Magic” where they experimented with using miniature sets and creating stereoscopic commercials. Having never worked in the medium, this didn’t stop them from finding solutions to make it happen. “We’re no longer just an animation studio,” Pfeiffer points out. “We produce work over all creative mediums and facilitate production beyond animation,” the svelte blonde continues throwing in her boisterous laugh.

When asked why they think their work has caught on with such fervour, they break it down fairly simply: “The work we do is honest, sincere and driven by aesthetic beauty. We create timeless pieces that are crafted to become artworks.” It’s difficult to argue with that. The attention to detail in the surreal landscapes and creatures they create gives the effect of watching a painting come to life. And it would seem that gradually more and more companies are looking to brand themselves through creativity. With a studio like Shy The Sun, clients are rewarded with their own masterpieces fit to be framed and hung up.

Watch the Talk with Jannes Hendrikz