Design Plus: Vincent Lammers, animation ambassador
by Mark Tungate (@MarkTungate) “My job is basically about zooming in and zooming out.” Vincent Lammers, head of design and animation at Ambassadors in Amsterdam, shares some career highlights and talks us through the creative process, from brief to polished project.
One of my fellow journalists, Nils Adriaans of Dutch magazine Adformatie, referred to Vincent Lammers in an email as “a creative superman”. Lammers naturally refutes this description but I don’t think he’d mind me saying that he is a gifted and highly imaginative animator. And, luckily for his team at Ambassadors, he gets a kick of inspiring others too. He even sent me a followup message, shortly after our interview, quoting Quentin Tarantino: “The most important job of a director is making sure everyone wants to work on the film.”
Lammers discovered by trial and error that he wanted to work on films, or at least animated ones. “It clicked in art school. I’d always had an affinity with animation — Saturday morning cartoons or Disney features — because of their creativity and sense of possibility; they’re stories bigger than life. But it took me a while to realise that was what I wanted to do.”
He initially wanted to be a fine artist but, at art school in Rotterdam, he gravitated to interactive design due to an interest in technology. “Then I thought, ‘No, actually I want to tell stories’, so I ended up in the animation department, which was in the basement.”
Here, he had an epiphany. “People were ploughing away down there making amazing things. I thought, ‘Damn, this is awesome, I want to do this.’ So I switched to animation at the end of my second year. And now I found I could combine my love of music, technology, stories and pictures. That’s what I’ve always loved about animation — it combines the strengths of almost all the art forms.”
Not only did he never look back but he also took the school with him, in the form of some advice from his teacher, Barend Onneweer, who always said, “Just make cool shit.”
Says Lammers, “Those are words I try to live by every day.”
His fate was sealed, so to speak, by his mentor, Diederik Veelo, who oversaw his internship at Ambassadors. Lammers had made a short animated film about a sentient hill. “It was a sad hill when it was raining; then a flower grew out of its head and it became happy, and the sun came out.” He showed the film to Veelo, who showed it to his two-year-old daughter. “Diederik came back a couple of days later with a video of his little girl watching my film, laughing out loud and saying ‘Play it again, play it again!’ And that small moment for me was like, right, I have to keep on doing this.”
A family affair
That internship took place in 2009. Today, Lammers is still at Ambassadors (with only a short break in 2012 when he did a six-month stint at Buck Design in Los Angeles), which begs the question: what makes it so special?
“It just feels like home. The cool thing about this place is that it combines all the disciplines I was talking about: we have a music studio and composers, editors, graders, programmers, visual effects artists, CG artists — all these different talents come together and we try to inspire one another.” He clearly loves this process. “I’ll show a storyboard to the music guys and they’ll say, ‘If we can make it a little bit faster, or a little bit slower, then we can do this…’ The film becomes this accumulation of ideas from different crafts.”
This “little big family”, as Lammers calls it, is about 60-people strong. Lammers’s job partly involves bringing the right talents together and making sure they are creatively fulfilled. But, of course, he’s also a director. “In animation, the director’s credit is always a tricky thing because it’s such a collaborative art form,” he points out.
An ad may take three months and as many as 15 people. Most projects at Ambassadors begin with a brief from an agency. Once the initial treatment is green-lighted, the team get to work sketching, making storyboards and developing characters. From then on, says Lammers, “every artist builds on what the artist before them has done.”
Talents such as those who work at Ambassadors generally produce work that’s faultless. “From a movement or an animation point of view, I cannot say, ‘This is not good.’ But, from a story point of view, I can say, ‘Well, here we need to focus on his emotions and not so much on his movements.’ I always make sure I have my arguments straight if I want to change something.”He has to keep an eye the details but also on the bigger picture. “My job is basically about zooming in and zooming out.”
He’s particularly proud of a recent spot, Creature of Habit, for ASN bank and the agency Selmore. “It just had some really nice elements to it. We got to build a miniature forest set and put CG characters in there, so we had a lot of fun with it.”
A little while back, a conversation with Adformatie led to another piece of work he is fond of: an animated interview with McCann Worldgroup’s global ECD, John Mescall (of Dumb Ways To Die fame). The music was by Lammers’s frequent collaborator, Joep Meijberg, who started at Ambassadors at the same time as he did. “I threw it open to the entire design and animation team…so it really showcases the strengths of the team. They all took the opportunity to just…well, make cool shit. Again!”
Mark Tungate (@MarkTungate) is the editorial director of the Epica Awards (@EpicaAwards), the only global creative prize judged by the specialist press. A British journalist based in Paris, Tungate is also the author of seven books about branding and advertising, including Adland: A Global History of Advertising and, most recently, The Escape Industry, a journey through the business of travel. Over his 30-year career, he has has written for leading newspapers and magazines in the UK, France and the US.
In this series of articles called Design Plus, Epica highlights creativity in the design field.