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5 minutes with...

5 Minutes with… Hans-Christoph Schultheiss

Sehsucht creative director on manga, having an alter-ego and sophisticated CGI

5 Minutes with… Hans-Christoph Schultheiss

At the age of three, Hans-Christoph Schultheiss put pen to paper and began creating new universes, plucked from his imagination. “Actually, I never stopped,” he says. And that couldn’t be more truthful today in his role as creative director at German creative studio Sehsucht (he is also repped by WIZZ in France and Ground CTRL in the UK). Influenced by a love of manga, his reel boasts an array of complex CGI to transport viewers to otherworldly, supernatural environments. LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Hans to find out more about this self-proclaimed workhorse - and to pick his brain about his alter-ego, HANZOHANZO. 

LBB> Where did you learn your craft? I’ve read that your first gig was at a local studio in Aachen..?

H-CS> I’ve been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. And I always used these outlets as a way to tell the stories I imagined. Later, when I was 16 or 17, I helped on some small animation projects at a local studio (actually it was just this one strange guy). Classic pen and paper. That experience introduced me to animation. After school I took an internship at a small post-production studio, which is where I first learned to combine animation and film. My later studies just gave me a stronger background in design and concept. I still consider myself to be learning and I hope this will be the case for as long as possible.

LBB> You have an alter ego named HANZOHANZO, which I have to ask about. How does your creative output under that alias differ from your standard name?

H-CS> Friends and colleagues from my time in Cologne always called me Hanzo after this one little animation job I worked on, creating a DVD title and menu design for a Japanese Samurai flick named “Hanzo, the Razor“. Weird film. Weird character. Fit quite well. My plan was to use this name online to present only the work that I designed and directed myself. Just like this lonesome Samurai-weirdo.

LBB> Why do you have an alter ego?

H-CS> I’ve always wanted to work on international projects. My real name, however, is quite complicated for everybody except German natives. So I thought it would help me have something recognisable and fun. But it’s mostly for presenting my work online. Most of the time people just call me Hans.

LBB> The bio on your website suggests that you have a crazy work ethic - not enough hours in the day, gaining a design diploma while working full-time and freelance, working late. Is that true? If so, why do you enjoy putting in so many hours?

H-CS> Yes, I work a lot. Because I truly enjoy what I am doing and what I do (usually) takes a lot of work, time and energy, especially when you want it to be great. Over the years I have become more selective with which projects I choose. It is important to me that I can relate to the project or idea on an intuitive level. I don’t want to lose my passion because the projects bore me.

LBB> Considering that work ethic, what does a ‘general’ day for you look like? If there is such a thing…

H-CS> No, there is not a typical workday. The range goes from “email all day”, to “pitching day and night” and “meeting marathons” to “Yay! We’re going to the shoot!”. Now I have a family and kids, I try to be more organised though.

LBB> When you do switch off, what do you get up to?

H-CS> I enjoy time with my wife and kids. As much as possible. They always cheer me up. I also spend my time reading, immersing myself in stories, articles and documentaries about cyberpunk and artificial intelligence and all stuff related to post-humanism. Which eventually brings me back to my work…

LBB> I can definitely see a lot of comic book, supernatural vibes to a lot of your work. Even looking at your spots for Lexus and Mazda - automotive ads can obviously be a bit dry sometimes but yours are far from that. Would you agree with that?

H-CS> “Supernatural vibes“ - I am flattered. Thank you. And yes, I find most car commercials - and car product films in particular - quite boring. In most cases you cannot change the product, but you can work with the surroundings and how the product behaves in it. If this means that things become somehow “supernatural“, I am totally fine with that.

LBB> Linking to that question about comic books and the supernatural - what are your biggest influences?

H-CS> As you guessed, comic books have always been a great influence to me, classic mangas like Akira and Appleseed in particular. I still love stories and ideas about alternative realities. Not fantasy exactly. Something that is based on reality but has some twists in it. As said, cyberpunk in the broadest sense is something I draw a lot of inspiration from. It might sound like a trend from the ‘80s, but I really think this topic is coming back hard.

LBB> How would you characterise your style of animation? Are there certain techniques which you most enjoy to work with?

H-CS> My best work is always based on complex, sophisticated CGI. Although I love to create a realistic and credible look, I use CGI as a way to create something that isn’t possible in real life. Why bother with CG when you could have done all of it in camera? In the future, I want to combine both worlds – live action and CGI – much more. Then, I hope, my ‘style’ will evolve. I think my best work is still to come.

LBB> Is there a piece of work from your career that you’re most proud of? Why?

H-CS> Lamborghini Pacemaker. It’s this primal force that I like so much about it. And it was the first project I directed at Sehsucht.