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Zebra Julia Ocker Zebra Julia Ocker

In this ongoing series, we profile the most interesting independent animation filmmakers working today — the artists who, through short films and other projects, change our ideas of what the medium can do.

This week’s subject is German animator Julia Ocker, whose engaging collection of children’s films uses sparse dialogue, colorful and minimalist designs, and original stories that touch upon an assortment of issues kids face on a daily basis.

In a sentence: Tinged with light-hearted humor and a variety of animal protagonists, Ocker cleverly explores themes of peer pressure, loneliness, ethics, fear, and anxiety, while celebrating the differences in each of us. Her Animanimals series is rewarding for kids and doesn’t beat them over the head with preachiness or condescending tones.

Where to start: Animanimals: Anglerfish. You could really dive into any episode of Ocker’s wonderful mini-series for kids, but we went with Anglerfish (2018) because of the clever, humorous, and compassionate way it explores the familiar theme (for kids and adults) of night terrors.

What to watch next: Animanimals: Zebra (2013). This multi-award-winning piece has been viewed over 12 million times on YouTube. One of the earliest entries in Animanimals, Zebra follows a, you guessed it, zebra that crashes into a tree and struggles to get his stripes back in place. At its core, Zebra tackles the issue of difference while encouraging and celebrating the uniqueness inside each of us.

Other key works: The entire Animanimals series, especially Octopus (2015), Flamingo (2018), and Sloth (2018). You can also check out her student films Die Astronauten (2009), co-directed with Thorsten Löffler and Moritz Schneider, and Kellerkind (2012).

Influences: “I am definitely influenced by Andreas Hykade and Gil Alkabetz, because they were my teachers in Filmakademie. Also Terry Gilliam and Don Hertzfeldt because making films is, for me, not so much about technical perfection and more about telling your idea in a simple way”

Says:Animanimals all have their little quirks and flaws, but in the end, they find a happy ending because of that. It’s about the fact that it’s okay not to be perfect, that it’s not worth adapting. It’s these supposed flaws that make you lovable.”

Currently working on: Ocker’s latest short, Hello Stranger (2022), likens the experience of a young astronaut to those of a newborn child, or indeed almost any child. It’s a simple, clever tale about exploring and contemplating the mysteries of life without rushing to judgment. Ocker is also finishing up a new season of Animanimals.

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Chris Robinson

Chris Robinson is a writer and Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF). Robinson has authored thirteen books including Between Genius and Utter Illiteracy: A Story of Estonian Animation (2006), Ballad of a Thin Man: In Search of Ryan Larkin (2008), and Japanese Animation: Time Out of Mind (2010). He also wrote the screenplay for the award-winning animation short, Lipsett Diaries.

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