An illustrator, a blogger, an animation producer, a children's book author and an artist. Christoph Niemann redefines what it means to be a multitasker.
From the work studio at his home in Berlin, Niemann's illustrations are internationally renowned and his work has graced the cover of The New Yorker more than 20 times, as well as widely recognized publications such as Wired and The New York Times Magazine.
Now, he's turning his hand to more interactive drawings. Enter Petting Zoo and swipe and tap the animals to see their hilarious reactions; it's a suitably sharp-witted creation from someone this talented and is oodles of fun for all ages. And then there's CHOMP, where you can watch your kids get creative as they put their face on quirky hand-drawn animations of animals.
So, what was the inspiration to take a step away from putting pen to paper and to design these apps? Here's the story of how they were made, and what his philosophy on drawing is.
From analogue to digital you've worked with traditional media for many years?
I was an illustrator for magazines and newspapers for a long time. But before all of that, I was an imaginative little boy. What if my drawings came to life? What is the inky torso, got up and ran across and out of the paper?
Then one day, I met the iPhone. The screen related instantaneously to my touch. I got my first idea there. Drawings that come to life at the touch of a finger!
And that, as. result, developed into Petting Zoo in 2013?
My idea became more concrete and refined while I was playing video games with my kids. My kids were owning me in the game, and recommended that I try the practice mode. I pressed a button, and the football player lifted his leg. Another button made the character pivot around. The unexpected reaction of the character made it fascinating and very fun. So that's where I decided to apply that concept to an app for children.
Petting Zoo only required one finger to interact with the drawings, but CHOMP adds a new element to it: the face. When your face is reflected on camera, your likeness becomes part of the moving drawing on screen, A rabbit with the face of... me? It almost feels like I'm playing a role.
What technical challenges did you overcome?
When I was still a kid, I collaborated with a friend who was great at coding. Together, we created a computer program for leaning maths and Latin, but the process was like that of playing a game. That experience gave me a basic understanding of coding. Nonetheless, when I developed my app, the first successful moving drawing took me a good six months! Rather than tackling it alone, I teamed up with Jon Huang, who was a programmer at the The New York Times. The collaboration was virtual, as Jon coded in New York, and I drew in Berlin.
You also wrote a children's book. What specially appeal does an app have over the traditional book?
I think that would be sound and movements. I find my kids giggling while they play with my apps. Their touching and tapping are immediately met by a reaction in the drawing, and that's great. It's like playing hand in hand with a friend. I obviously don't mean that apps are superior to books, but such experiences are difficult through books.
Perhaps one day, the number of app readers might be greater than that of book readers. As the world and the readership changes, do you think the same changes are needed on the part of creators?
I think so. Obviously, there's a level of discernment necessary on the latest developments. However, turning a dismissive blind eye to 'the latest trends' is a dangerous attitude to have. I'm only speaking as an artist, but I think the way people approach and engage with drawings will continue to change. So, there'll always need to be some sort of adjustment to make sure we're speaking the same vernacular.
The Art of simplicity - All the drawings in the two apps were hand-drawn
Except the concept sketches I drew with a pencil, the rest was done entirely on a tablet. That approach was conducive to capturing the big picture of the app, the aesthetic experience and how it all flowed together. Petting Zoo features about 8-10 minutes of animated drawings, and that required more than 4,000 drawings. Had I approached that challenge the traditional way, I might still be drawing.
Simple, yet insightful drawings leave a lasting impression. What considerations did you make to move away from a more photo-realistic and elaborative approach?
My intention was not focussed on conveying an experience of reality. Let's say I draw a car, that was archetypally simplified, yet not very realistic in a practical sense. Then let's saw the car was rendered in a 3D with maximum realism. What type of experiences do you think the two would convey to the user?
For example, 3D model cars convey a great deal of information; whether it's the manufacturer, the texture of the rubber treads or the metallic tone of the body. All that information is consumed by the user.
But what about the simpler drawings? They convert to the viewer their own memories that can fill in. For some, it'll bring back memories of their first car, while for others it might be the special ride they have been saving up for. It could even be a memory of an amazing F1 race car seen on the circuit. Rather than a symbol of hard, non-malleable information, the drawing becomes a means to evoke memories. So, this simple drawing of a car is the essence of archetype of what a car can be. I think in that context, simplicity can touch hearts.
Seeking that essence is what many of the App Story editors who write about apps also aspire to do.
I think writing shares a lot of that. What is truer to the essence: 'eating fruity and savory hot soup' or 'slammed down a bowl of soup'? Using more words or fancier words with verbal acrobatics won't make the same soup any zestier. There's an economy of self-control to it. The best writing comes from using the right words in absolute moderation.
So, the two apps are also the result of tremendous self-restrain?
Of course. I absolutely adore drawing. I can get greet fully tied down on a portraying each strand of animal's furry coat. However, before making the choice of 'to fur, or not to fur', I. must ask myself the following: does drawing the fur help move the story along? Or is this becoming a vanity project? The important thing is how well I convey the story of this animal, not how amazingly I can draw it.
What top priorities or purposes did you set when creative Petting Zoo and CHOMP?
I wanted to place user experience before my experiences as an artist. To a 5-year-old in Korea, or an 8-year old in Brazil, my drawing skills are actually not very important. Finding a connection, moving their hearts and minds. Those were really my only goals.
Source ð App Store
I often wonder what all other designers and artists are using for their artworks. Whether others share or not, here's what all I like to carry, specially when I am traveling.
First and foremost, my art-book, CANSON XL Mix Media Pad, 60 Sheets, 9x12-Inch. This size may be too much for backpacks, so my way is a bit different. I get this and have it cut from a local vendor in half so I get two of 9x6-Inch, good quality paper book for lesser cost and gets easier to carry in backpacks or zipper pack to water-proof.
Second comes pencils and erasers. I like to use the regular pencils instead of mechanical ones, has more hold on its stroke and depth. I carry a pack 12 Staedtler Mars Lumograph Drawing Pencil used for Design and Drafting with 2 pieces of Staedtler Mars 526-508 Plastic Combi Eraser. Usage is smooth and you don’t have to rush your hand too much to erase.
Now if you don’t have much space, carry only a 2B and a 6B, those two should be good enough for light to dark shades. And another great option Staedtler Eraser with Holder. Its easier to use, like a pencil and softer.
Thirdly, my pack of 6 Staedtler Pigment Liners. I always have these with me. This offer from amazon you can also get a Mechanical pencil with it. If you are keen. Get it!
Lastly but not least, 10+3 color set of Staedtler Triplus Fineliners, mostly have the shades I like to carry for tiny highlights when required. So if you are into coloring, then why not this light weight set? :)
All above are what I like to carry. I am always curious to know what other talented artists like to carry to try them on. I like to travel light but if you have your special tools to share then do share, I would love to give them a try. Checkout my Amazon Wishlist, I keep it updated with latest offers and stuff I like.
Keep Creating and have fun.