One could be forgiven for not having heard of A Hologram for the King, the Tom Tykwer-directed film that holds the dubious distinction of being the lowest-grossing film starring Tom Hanks in the last thirty years.
The film, which opened in the United States last April, had an inventive animated opening sequence that was chopped up at the last minute, but the filmmakers—young Austrian animation studio NÖT (Neuer Österreichischer Trickfilm, which translates to New Austrian Animated Film)—have posted the full version of the sequence online now that the film has been released onto home video:
The studio became involved in the project after Tykwer, director of films like Run Lola Run and Cloud Atlas, discovered the diploma film of NÖT co-founder Benjamin Swiczinsky on a dvd of student films from Filmakademie Baden Württemberg. The film that attracted Tykwer’s attention was Heldenkanzler, about the short-lived Austrian dictator Engelbert Dollfuss:
“Basically my cell phone rang and Tom Tykwer was on the phone and asked me if I could come to Berlin as soon as possible,” Swiczinsky told Cartoon Brew. “We then did most of the stuff in our studio in Vienna and stayed in close contact with Tykwer, production designer Ulrich Hanisch, and editor Alexander Berner via Skype, email, and telephone. And occasionally there were meetings in Berlin together.”
A Hologram for the King, based on the Dave Eggers novel of the same name, stars Hanks as a down-on-his-luck salesman who tries to change his fortunes in Saudi Arabia. When Swiczinsky came on board the project (his partners in NÖT are Conrad Tambour and Johannes Schiehsl), there wasn’t much direction in the screenplay, which simply had a placeholder caption for “dream sequence/music video.” Swiczinsky was also handed live-action footage filmed in Boston and Berlin (the latter used as a stand-in for parts of Boston) that the film editor had mounted to the track of Tom Hanks singing to the Talking Heads song “Once In A Lifetime.”
The vagueness of the concept gave Swiczinsky the freedom to suggest visual concepts and character designs, centered around the basic themes of economic collapse and its effect on the protagonist Alan Clay, portrayed by Tom Hanks:
Swiczinsky handled the design and storyboarding of the sequence, and later animated the sequence with assistance from Santiago López Jover, an animator who has frequently worked on Cartoon Saloon projects such as Song of the Sea.
After the finished piece was handed in, Swiczinsky learned that significant chunks of the sequence would be cut because the filmmakers deemed that it didn’t fit the evolving tone of the overall film, which had become slower-paced. The crew at NÖT has stayed busy though, working on music videos and short-form web series that focus on their mission to create “narrative animated films and create authentic and intelligent animated characters.” A few recent examples of their work can be viewed below: