Claus Toksvig Kjaer: A World of Animation
A longtime Dane in the animated world, producer Claus Toksvig Kjaer tells Denmark In New York about his role in the co-production of the feature film Calamity Jane.
When it comes to animation, it does not get any bigger than Claus Toksvig Kjaer. Since his graduation at The Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark, he worked on a number of short films before his international breakthrough joining the acclaimed Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon in 2006. Returning to Denmark in 2009, Kjaer began to lead a series of animated science projects, and in 2013, he started to focus more on animated feature films as he partnered up with Noerlum Animation Studio in Viborg, where he is the CEO to this day.
Denmark in New York reached out to Kjaer to talk about his new film Calamity Jane, how he got into producing animation, and when we will see another project produced by him.
Calamity Jane is an animated feature film that takes place in the year of 1863 in the United States. The main character, Martha Jane, is a 12-year old brave and bold girl. After her father was hurt in a serious accident, she takes charge of her siblings. In the Wild, she discovers herself and a world, which shapes her into the mysterious Calamity Jane. The film is screening at the New York International Children’s Film Festival 2021.
Denmark in New York: Tell us about how you first got into producing the animated feature film Calamity Jane.
Claus Toksvig Kjaer: Actually, this project goes back quite a while. In 2006, I worked for Cartoon Saloon, when they were producing the film called The Secret Of Kells. One of the people working on the film was Rémi Chayé who is the director of Calamity Jane. We became good friends and we actually formed a band. I was the drummer, he was the pianist, and therefore we kept in touch. One day he said to me: “I have this film I’ve been writing on, would you take a look at it”, and now we are here with our second film.
What is the story of Calamity Jane? What does the film mean to you compared to your previous work?
CTK: It is fascinating when you look at strong female characters in a time where you could not be that. There has been strong female characters before, but not back in the Wild West when it was a man’s world. To be a legendary character like her today, that means she had to put some footprints down. Because there is not that many female characters — I do not think there is hardly any — I mean there are Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp, but they are all guys. If you were a girl, you could not ride horses, you could not even carry a gun, and yet she did all those things. Jane kept her name and her braveness.
We dug a little deeper, and Rémi Chayé started to research a lot. There is not a lot of stories about her childhood, so we thought why do we not try to make a story that could have been one of those stories and that is why we call it “A childhood”. We took all the information we gathered, but of course, there are things we did not know, and then we had to fill in the gaps. So, this is the overall journey we took with this film.
Despite your international work with Disney, why do you still live in Viborg, Denmark, and not in Hollywood?
CTK: I think we live in a time where, if I did this in the 1970’s, I might have had to move there to work with Disney. However, we live in a world where we are digitally connected all the time. It is actually not that difficult to work together with all this technology. We can look at some scenes in Viborg, and they can look at it one minute after in LA. I do not feel there are any barriers anymore. We are no longer bound to be at one spot. We can collaborate with each other across borders. It is only the time difference that can be tricky sometimes.
Why did you study The Animation Workshop in Viborg? What was your inspiration for choosing a career path in animation?
CTK: I have always been into animation. I was surprised that you actually could do that for a living. I always wanted to do animation, but I did not know how to get into the industry. In the United States, it is quite easy. You go to Hollywood, find a job at a studio, and you work your way up, or you can get an education, and then you work your way up.
To do animation in Denmark, there is only one school, and that is The Animation Workshop in Viborg. Little did I know that it was actually one of the best schools in the world. I had no idea when I applied to the school that I would have teachers from Disney and DreamWorks flying in from LA to teach me. Therefore, it did not matter whether I took my degree in Viborg or in Hollywood, because you got the same teachers.
How long does it take to produce these kinds of animated feature films?
CTK: From writing the story first, it can take three to four years to make a film, but if you start from where I usually start — when getting the first script, it is normally one and a half to two years in production.
The challenge with Calamity Jane, and the reason why it grew more expensive, was because of the scale of it. Every time she moves to a new location, there is a new thing you have to draw. A great acting scene can also be hard to produce, because if it does not look right, people do not buy it, and then the film falls apart. Therefore, some films are heavier on the production side then others.
When will we see another animated film produced by you in New York?
CTK: I hope very soon. Not to take the focus of Calamity Jane, but we actually completed a film called The Abe Star simultaneously with Calamity Jane. The reason why it is not out in public yet is that they have different time releases. They also pushed it because of COVID-19, but The Abe Star is ready to go. We are still waiting for the right time to release it.
Katrine Nørholm Jensen is the Strategic Communications and Press intern at Denmark In New York.
Sofie Dalhoff Saabye is the Culture and Public Diplomacy intern at Denmark In New York.