Television series Alfred J. Kwak often dealt with serious topics such as drugs, whale hunting, poverty, the environment and diseases. Another topic was fascism. The main villain of the series was the crow Dolf de Kraai [Dutch name]. Dolf is an interesting villain, different from your ordinary vicious pirate or mean stepmother, that you often see in children television series.
Early episodes give more insight in Dolf’s childhood. His father was an alcoholic and his mother died when he was very young. Because of his unstable childhood, Dolf always seems to walk the dark path of life. This becomes most evident when he starts his own political party called the National Crows Party, and becomes the dictator of Great Waterland. Dolf, with his small moustache and military uniform, is clearly a caricature of Adolf Hitler.
One of his political plans includes that all crows have to be completely black. There cannot be any white crows or crows with spots. Ironically though, because, since his mother was a blackbird, Dolf has a yellow beak himself which he paints black with shoe polish every day. Also animals that are against Dolf’s plans, are deported.
Due to their different personalities, Alfred J. Kwak and Dolf de Kraai often cross paths throughout the television series. Thanks to Alfred’s actions, Dolf’s political party is dismantled, and Great Waterland becomes a democracy again.
Below are model sheets by Harald Siepermann and Hans Bacher of Dolf as leader of the National Crow Party…
… and below are a series of sketches by Harald Siepermann.
30 years ago, on April 3, 1989, the television series Alfred J. Kwak premiered in Japan. Early discussions for a potential television series started in late 1987 after television producer Dennis Livson, founder of the production company Telecable Benelux B.V., discovered the first comic book of Alfred J. Kwak, at the Frankfurter Buchmesse. The comic book, that was designed by Harald Siepermann and Hans Bacher, sparked his interest and he saw potential for a television series of 52 episodes.
Harald Siepermann worked out the story arc of the series together with Dutch artist Herman van Veen, and he did all the character and prop designs together with Hans Bacher. Siepermann made the character designs with pencil, and Bacher did the inking and the colors. Eventually they created over 200 unique characters for the series. An amount that’s quite unprecedented for animated television series.
Once the characters were completed in August 1988, the designs were collected in a book called Character- and Color-Designs for Alfred J. Kwak, which served as an instruction guide for the animators in the Japan, where the actual animation was done. The book contained model sheets that explained the structure of the characters, color codes, costumes designs, and character comparative sizes.
When the production continued in Japan, Harald Siepermann spent several weeks at the studio in Tokyo to supervise the production, explain the background of the stories, develop storyboards and explain the animators how to draw the characters. Also when Siepermann returned to his home in Germany, he remained the first person to consult the production and to approve the storyboards for each episode, and create additional characters when needed.
After Alfred J. Kwak premiered in Japan the episodes were aired on a weekly basis. On December 24, 1989, the series premiered in the Netherlands, and a year later in other countries around the world as well. In many countries the series became an immense success and a merchandise phenomenon.
Harald Siepermann often used songs as a source of inspiration drawing subjects, “I was using their lyrics as a source of inspiration, I was kinda listening for cues, illustrating their songs or people from them,” he commented about his sketch work in 2006. “I was, without thinking, doing little character design studies. This again ‘just happened’, I never thought about it as a concept, I was just desperately looking for things to draw, and I always preferred stuff from my imagination rather than drawing existing people, mimicking styles or doing landscapes.”
Below are several sketches from one of Harald Siepermann’s sketchbook from 1985, based on the song Every Sperm is Sacred from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.
This post is about episode 11 from Harald Siepermann’s popular television series Alfred J. Kwak, called Alfred Joins the Circus. In this particular episode the duck Alfred J. Kwak wants to join the circus. There happens to be a circus in town and there is a position for clown available. Alfred is up for the task. However, as confident Alfred thinks he is, ones the public starts enters the circus arena, Alfred gets stage fright.
Funny detail about this episode is that, while the series consists of animal characters, there is actually one human in the series, an overly aggressive man. In this reverse world, it is the human who is behind bars and part of the circus act.
Here are several character designs by Harald Siepermann for the episode:
In this post you’ll find several drawings from Harald Siepermann’s 1985 sketchbook. At that time Harald was in his early twenties and studying Graphic Design at the Folkwang University in Essen, Germany. Searching for content to draw, he turned to popular German songs, and turned the lyrics into cartoonish characters.
“I had developed the habit to listen a lot to German chansons, what we call Liedermacher over here, probably because they were telling little 3 act stories in their songs, sometimes silly sometimes full of pathos,” commented Harald Siepermann. “I was using their lyrics as a source of inspiration, I was kinda listening for cues, illustrating their songs or people from them. I was, without thinking, doing little character design studies. This again ‘just happened’, I never thought about it as a concept, I was just desperately looking for things to draw, and I always preferred stuff from my imagination rather than drawing existing people, mimicking styles or doing landscapes.”
Today it’s been 6 years since Harald Siepermann passed away at the age of 50 after a battle with cancer.
Harald is still dearly missed by family, friends and colleagues. Many people who worked with Harald described him as one of the greatest character designers and an incredible kind and humble human being. While Harald Siepermann left us with an immense legacy of wonderful artwork, his passing remains an incredible lost for the world of animation.
In continuation of the post about Harald Siepermann’s transition from Mulan to Tarzan, this post is about his first assignment for Walt Disney’s Tarzan.
During Harald Siepermann’s first conversation with the directors Kevin Lima and Chris Buck in the summer of 1995, they asked if Harald wanted to explore the primate world and their relationship with a young Tarzan. Siepermann went back to Germany, and, based on the book Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, he did just that.
The above illustration was Harald’s very first gorilla drawing for Tarzan. “This is my favorite drawing right here,” he commented about the illustration. “I remember doing this coming straight from the very first meeting with Chris and Kevin, after they had introduced me to the project, asking if I was interested. ‘Ok,’ I thought, ‘they want me to do gorillas, what do they look like again?’ and I did this small drawing, without reference with just a ball pen, some watercolor and a bit of coffee…, yes coffee, and I was just lucky. This gorilla has an incredible presence, he’s just ‘there’. It’s one of those phenomenon’s, it’s your first go at something, beginners luck maybe.”
From his home studio Siepermann created as much gorillas as possible and exploring different artistic approaches. Some more realistic and some more cartoony, and some with a young Tarzan. The illustrations below are just a few of the many gorilla designs.
In the early 1990’s a chain letter was circling around Hollywood and also made its way into the animation world. Hans Bacher, who got the chain letter from Daan Jippes, listed Harald Siepermann as one of the five people to pass the letter on to. “In 1993 I got a copy of a chain letter from London, which had been through all of California before,” commented Harald Siepermann. “It promised eternal luck if the chain wasn’t broken, you know these kind of letters. The list of names included the likes of Whoopie Goldberg, the Zuckers, James Newton Howard, F.F. Coppola, Dinah Shore, Jane Fonda, Art Buchwald, etc. It somehow got into the hands of cartoonists and I got it through Daan Jippes and Hans Bacher.”
The person that received the chain letter had to send it to five other peoples. Harald Siepermann decorated the letter with a funny drawing of Alfred J. Kwak and passed the chain letter on to Herman van Veen (co-creator Alfred J. Kwak), Shigeko Nonaka (Vice President of Telescreen Japan, Inc.) Christian Schnalke (friend and co-writer of several animation productions Siepermann worked on), Heribert Schulmeyer (German comic book artist), and Andreas C. Knigge (German publisher of the Alfred J. Kwak comics).
Here are several of these chain letters by various artists, that Harald Siepermann kept in his archive.
In continuation of the two previous post about Oscar and Rebecca from the cancelled Walt Disney project Fraidy Cat, here’s another post about the character Doris, the owner of the cat Oscar.
During the period that Harald Siepermann worked on Fraidy Cat, the script described Doris as a single lady in her early twenties, wearing a thick rimmed glasses, and who lives in a small apartment in London. She works as a secretary in a small office building across the courtyard from her apartment. From the windowsill of her apartment Oscar and the goldfishes Bernard and Herman follow Doris throughout the day. They wonder what she’s doing there sitting down all day, while she can do that at home as well. The lonesome Doris has a shy and introverted character, and like Oscar has to gain more confidence throughout the story, Doris makes a personal transition as well.
Here are various illustrations by Harald Siepermann with different design approaches in the search for a possible look for Doris.