CGheute: You have come quite a long way in Animation. Starting as an 2D Animator in Germany and now working as an international Artists in 2D and 3D animation for companies like Disney and Lucasfilm. Can You please tell us something about your very first approaches to animation itself.
Oliver Acker: Yeah, it was around 1988 when I decided to become an animator. It wasn’t totally out of the blue, I was always a big fan of Disney productions and my friends always encouraged me to do something with my artistic talents. I didn’t have much confidence in the idea of becoming an artist, even though I used to doodle all the time in school and hence seldom paid attention to what the teachers had to say. The German education system, at least back then, never supported or encouraged creative minds. If you didn’t want to become a banker, insurance guy, physicist or electrician you were pretty much on your own. There weren’t any schools on animation in Germany back then either and obviously we had no Internet, so if you had no rich parents that could afford for you to study abroad, you didn’t have another choice but to find your own way of achieving this goal.
I decided to write letters. And I wrote TONS of letters! To Don Bluth, German TV stations, animation veterans in the States and even to the parents of Andreas Deja. Andreas was the first German animator that managed to make it over to Disney in the States, where he became very successful. He later designed and animated characters such as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, Jaffar in Aladdin and Scar in Lion King. I still remember how much work it was to find out addresses back then without the help of INTERNET. It was detective work! Foreign Countries seemed light-years away and when I sent away my letters it always felt pretty much like throwing a message in the bottle into the ocean: Uncertain if they would ever arrive at their destination.
It took weeks, partially months, but I did get reply to most of my letters. Don Bluth’ secretary was the first that replied and recommended the Preston Blair books to me which I ordered and studied without putting them down for weeks. The absolute highlights were a letter from Ollie Johnston and a phone-call from Andreas. They both decided to help me out. This sounds almost absurd, but it was THAT easy. You have to understand, animation was in a sort of depression in the late 80’s. Movies like ‘Basil the Great Mouse Detective’ and ‘Oliver & Company’ were showing and Disney even considered to completely closing down the entire animation department. There weren’t many people interested in animation, so I guess fan-letters of animation enthusiasts weren’t such common things as during the 90’s, when Disney produced one hit after another.
Both, Ollie Johnston and Andreas Deja helped me tremendously with all the information I needed to become an animator. They were both saying the same thing: Draw the Human Figure, take Life-Drawing classes, go to the Zoo and observe and sketch animals! I have to admit, I was a bit taken back by that. I always drew cartoons, but REAL humans? ‘But if that’s what it takes, I’m going do it’ I thought. And that’s when I nearly became obsessed with the idea to succeed and spent a couple of years drawing, exchanging letters, studying, taking funny part time jobs and creating my portfolio until I landed my first job.
CHeute: Very early in your career you completed a three month Internship at the company you admire the most, Disney. How did it come to that? How was work there and was it like you expected?
Oliver Acker: Well, I have been extremely lucky. After a couple of years exchanging letters and having conversations I became friend with Andreas Deja. When I finished my duties at the army, Andreas invited me over to visit the Disney Studios in California. I was expecting a studio tour. The producer at Disney owned Andreas a favor and to my absolute surprise Andreas prepared a desk for me at Disney and that’s how I ended up being there all of a sudden and receiving animation exercise from Andreas and from the new friends I made there at Disney. It was a mind-blowing experience. I just couldn’t believe how lucky I was. I was sitting in meetings with the team that developed Jaffar on Aladdin and at my desk I did my first walk cycles and Clean-Up exercises on the characters Andreas worked on. This is almost unthinkable these days. Security became so tight that it’s pretty tough to even just step into the offices at Disney if you’re not employed at Disney, not to mention to sit down at one of the desks and just work!
It was an overwhelming, amazing experience and I am still very grateful that I have been THAT lucky. A dream came true and I have to admit, I have been also extremely spoiled with this experience. It set my expectations and hopes so high for my further doings, that it was hard to keep that same passion and enthusiasm over the years.