When I realized I was about to meet the animator of one of the series I used to watch a lot: I was so excited. But the proposal film director and animator An Vrombaut did, to go feeding squirrels together, made me happy as a child.
An Vrombaut is the creator, writer and co-director of the TV series 64 Zoo Lane which has been broadcast on BBC/CBeebies since 2000. She followed an animation course at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent and later on, she moved to London to make her short film Little Wolf at the Royal College of Art. She won the Nottingham Children’s Book Award with her book Smile, crocodile, smile. And most recently made the short film The Tie.
Waiting at a station in London, An came over to me and Anne ‘Are you Carmen?’. At this very first moment I didn’t realize it was An! See, I have been emailing with An and I can sing the whole Dutch theme song of her animation series ’64 Zoo Lane’, BUT I only had the following picture of her in my mind:
I realized that she must have been An, since there would in no way appear a lady with eyes as round as in the drawing, 😉 I introduced Anne and myself and we walked together towards Regents Park, while An was telling us how she always walks through the park when she has to work at Camden. Anne and I walked all the way around the park, before arriving at the station. So we knew it was big. But entering the park was just amazing, it was beautiful!
Soon we saw the first squirrels. An was prepared and took out her little bits and bites for the little cuties that were chilling in the park. Attracted by the good food An had for him, the squirrel came closer and ate from An’s hands. It was so adorable. You could also definitely see how An loves animals.
THE SQUIRREL WHO LOST HIS ACORNS
In An’s former neighbors’ backyard, a big oak tree had fallen down. It fell into three gardens and it was sad to see. An told me how during the days after the fallen tree she had seen a little squirrel running over and around the tree to find his acorns. He was so busy to make sure to find his little gems again. This inspired her to a story she wrote and illustrated: The lost acorns. It is about a squirrel who forgets where he hides his acorns, every time. It is a sweet story about friendship. To me it is even more special since I know now what the inspiration was for this book. I just love how a thing like a fallen tree in the backyard can be the base for a children’s book. That’s proof of great fantasy and an eye for detail. Would you mention a squirrel running around and keeping an eye on it?
We continued our walk after the squirrel ate almost everything An brought and surrounded ourselves with gorgeous flowers, well organized in the park. We saw a cute place to sit down and that is where An told me about a book that is a big inspiration to her. And to tell you: this is a big inspiration to me too, I used to read that book… a lot. And I have it on my shelves here next to me in my room. The book I am talking about is ‘Pluk van de Pettenflet’ by Annie MG Schmidt. Wait, isn’t that a Dutch book? Hell yeah! And to add to that, we actually spoke Dutch during the whole meeting. Because An is from Belgium.
One of the things in Pluk van de Pettenflet An really likes is the ‘Heen-en-weer-wolf’ (this is not really translatable) which was a wolf that had a little ferry to cross the river. Since the sign was partly broken the sign said ‘Weerwolf’ (werewolf) which scared possible customers away. A way of bad marketing, An laughed.
Her love for Pluk van de Pettenflet may subconsciously influenced her while making this animation called ‘Little Wolf’, something I immediately thought of when she started about Pluk.
An is a film director and an animator, she also writes and illustrates books. 64 Zoo Lane has a whole series of kids books about the animals. Georgina the Giraffe is An’s favorite character. When I asked her how she designed her animals she explains she uses references of animals in books and takes some main characteristics to create her own version of the animal. Quite a good idea, but maybe she needed a little more research on the moose. She received an email from an American 3-year-old (probably his mom, yes) as a respond to 64 Zoo Lane that he mentioned the moose she created has antlers and it’s a female. But according to the little smart boy, a female moose doesn’t have these. So what’s the moral of this story? Kids in the Netherlands, England and America watch this show. And I am sitting next to the creator haha.
Another character she was working on was a hippo. Not just a normal hippopotamus, but a hairy one. So she created a little book of little pieces of paper stuck to each other, where the whole set up for the story was sketched out in colors. She brought it with her on the tube but she lost it there! And everything that people lose in the underground of London, goes to a big lost and found place. There she was, An, standing at the desk of that lost and found building. ‘What are you looking for, madam?’ – There are hundreds of umbrellas and even prostheses! – ‘I am looking for a little paper bundle of colorful drawings of hairy hippopotamuses.’ You can imagine how the man looked at her, but luckily they found her important tool.
BE PROUD OF WHAT YOU MAKE
Actually An told me many lovely stories, but I tried to narrow it down to this. I really enjoyed being around An and learn more about animation and her inspirations.
An’s work, just like the other works in the Traveling Sketchbook, will not be shown completely. But here you can see a part. You will be able to see the full creation during the Traveling Sketchbook exhibition. But that will take place after I had some more travels in the search for more of these inspiring stories.
Photos by: Anne Neijnens