Short film Kop Op (Heads Together) tells the tale of three friends who exchange heads by accident and have to adapt to each other’s lives – think Parent Trap but on a slightly more surreal, yet just as funny, scale.
Created by Dutch animation trio Job, Joris & Marieke, the piece was initially inspired by the headless horseman from the 1999 film Sleepy Hollow. “It’s a very spooky character in the film, but we thought it would be really funny to make a short film in which the main character would have no head without there being a specific reason for it,” says Marieke Blaauw.
But Kop Op was created as part of a competition that came with a few conditions, including the theme ‘multicultural societies’ and a target audience of children aged eight to 12. “We had to find a way to combine our headless character idea with the multicultural society theme,” says Blaauw. “And that is how we ended up with the concept of three friends exchanging heads.”
Captured in sleek, colourful CGI, Kop Op has only just been released online in full after several years on the festival and awards circuit. “Animation is a pretty unglamorous business most days, so it is really nice that once in a while we get to go to a festival and maybe get an award. So for Kop Op to win an International Emmy was quite an event,” says Joris Oprins.
“With all these festivals, already a lot of people have seen the film. But it was not online yet. And that is a pity because we want everyone to be able to see our work. Especially this film because it has a theme that should be shared with kids all over the world. We are very happy that almost five years after the premiere, everyone can watch Kop Op online.”
Job, Joris & Marieke met during their studies at the Design Academy in Eindhoven and have worked together since then. “We were all being educated to become product designers, but we discovered our passion for telling stories was bigger. We started working together for the first time on a school project, as an exception we were allowed to make a short film,” explains Blaauw. “This collaboration and the fact that we were able to make a short film was so much fun that we decided to work together more often. And that’s how we founded our animation studio after we graduated.”
As friends and colleagues for almost two decades now, Oprins says they have developed a “shared brain”. “We don’t like to think in separate disciplines. Every part is equally important, and we make all major creative decisions together. That is also why our credits are very short: we just say it is a film by Job, Joris & Marieke,” he explains. “But if you had to point out areas in which each of us have a leading role it would be that Job is our composer and art director, I do the bigger part of directing, and Marieke does a bigger part of the writing.”
One of the biggest challenges while making Kop Op was working with dialogue, as the trio’s previous projects had always been without. “This film was too long and the concept too complicated to have no dialogue. When we read the scenario from our screenwriter Lotte Tabbers we had to get used to our characters having a voice but at the same time we were very excited because it was so well written,” says Blaauw.
“It was our first time working with voice actors and we were thrilled about the fact that our work process finally got some spontaneity because there was room for improvisation and lucky mistakes. Animation is such a time-consuming technique that nothing is left to chance. But now we finally had found a small space in the process where there was room for some unintended playfulness.”
At 20 minutes, the film is also double the length of any other shorts they’ve made so things were scaled up and workflows had to be adjusted. “Managing a team was new for us. We were used to working with the three of us, and because we are usually on the same page and we want the same result, the process of making the film flows naturally,” explains Blaauw.
“This was the first time we had to become aware of our process and we had to find a way to communicate every step of the process with our team so we would all be on the same page. So this project has helped us step up our game.”
The trio are now stepping up their game once again, with a 12-episode series based on Kop Op, due to be released in early 2022. For now though, by seeing these three friends experience life in someone else’s shoes, Job, Joris & Marieke hope their audience will be inspired to think differently.
“We hope watching our film will make kids fantasise about being someone else for a day, which is a good thing because trying to see things from someone else’s perspective helps to grow empathy,” says Blaauw.