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Behind the Scenes: Interview with Lené van Heerden of We Are Batch

Dylan de Koning

Dylan de Koning

31 January 2024

Behind the Scenes: Interview with Lené van Heerden of We Are Batch - Voquent

We Are Batch is an all-female studio making waves in the world of animation.

Collaborating with We Are Batch on our new animated dubbing ad was a HUGE HIGHLIGHT of our 2023!

We wanted something that stood out from the crowd, raising our profile with content creators looking to grow their international audience. Thanks to Lené, Daniéla, and the rest of the We Are Batch team, we ended up with a super-cool ad packed with pick-axe-wielding critters, flying fish, and even a space cowboy! Yeeeeeehaw!

Join us as we sit down with Lené van Heerden, Partner and Executive Creative Director at We Are Batch, and discover more about the exceptionally talented team, industry inspirations, animation achievements, and the future!

 

Q: Who are ‘We Are Batch’, and how did you come to be?

Lené: We Are Batch is an all-female creative production studio based in South Africa. It was founded in 2018 by Daniéla de Lange, founder and Managing Director. Growing exceedingly frustrated by the standards of the creative industry, Daniéla decided it was time to remove herself and start her ‘own thing’ so that she could have more autonomy over her time.

Working overtime to make somebody else richer really starts to take its toll! So, the one-woman band slowly started getting really busy, and Daniéla felt a natural inclination to outsource to other females and provide them with the healthy working opportunities that she struggled to find. Fast forward to 2024, and we’re a growing team of females with similar experiences who are all aligned on what Batch stands for. Batch was founded with the purpose of creating and cultivating safe, professional working environments for womxn in the creative industry.

 

Q: What’s it like to run a studio based in both South Africa and Scotland?

Lené: Beyond illustrating and animating ‘cool stuff’, we believe that creatives need to have a lot of things lined up in their lives before they get to tap into their craft and skill. We run a tight ship, but we make sure that everybody is healthy, feels respected, and seen in their environment in order for them to participate efficiently.

We have a two-week break at the end of the year, a one-week break mid-year and a long weekend every month to instil wellness in the studio. Everybody has autonomy over their time, so if they have life admin that needs to get done, we won’t stand in their way. We believe that this approach ultimately makes everybody more productive and keeps us excited about our craft.

We also regularly have a social, digital meet-up with everybody. We call it ‘Burnout’, and it’s a fun call where we play games, drink wine and unwind early in the day before a weekend. This helps keep us, a mostly remote studio, connected.

 

Q: Animation involves a detailed production process. Can you walk us through the key stages of creating our ad?

Lené: Sure thing! So, for a project like the Voquent ad, we knew it was going to be a bit ‘all-over’ with the crazy ideas we came up with in the brainstorming phase. We needed to be in constant communication with the client and establish very clear guidelines for the process. Backtracking during any stage would for sure have been detrimental to the project, so we feel really fortunate to have been able to work on a dream project while also having the client align with the process that allows for it.

We start off with doing some Visual Development, which is when we write out a play-by-play, parallel to the script, on what can be expected to happen. This is a stage where we feel least precious because everything has only been jotted down. So, changing up ideas and playing around early on allowed us to really chop and change. That gets sent, along with a mood board for the style, for approval.

Characters from the Voquent ad.

Once that is finished, we go into storyboarding, where we roughly sketch out compositions and shots in order to give an idea of the flow of the piece. Once the storyboard is signed off, we usually create an animatic next to the VO for timing and start rolling out the illustrations for the piece. We always start with denser environments and important characters.

Once the illustration is signed off, the animation begins! It was such a pleasure to see it all come together with the sound added by the Voquent team. It is important to note that during all of these stages, there are multiple check-ins with the client, some of them being calls where we chat and brainstorm together. We feel fortunate that we were able to problem-solve with Voquent in real-time creatively. It kept us ‘ahead’ in the project and allowed us to do our thing!

Watch the full ad here:

 

Q: There are many fantastical locations and characters in the advert. Can you share some insights into the character and setting design?

Lené: Unfortunately, there really is no method to the madness. We decided on major environments that are vastly different to one another. Think jungle, mountains, space, underwater, etc. And then we literally thought of objects you won’t find there and placed them in these environments. Fish in space? Mushroom trees? Desert muscle car explosion inside a recording studio?

POV: Inside a spaceship watching a dog and fish in space.

I guess if there had to be a method to the madness, then it would be having contrasting concepts with a heavy play on surprise.

 

Q: Do you have any favourite animations or animators that inspire your work?

Lené: Oh, way too many to include here. Some favourites to check out would be Rick & Morty, Adventure Time and Night of the Mini Dead.

 

Q: What animation project stands out to you as your proudest achievement?

Lené: Probably Voquent’s animation (I’m not just saying that!), The Outsiders and our short film, The Diver. Voquent allowed us to show a bit more technical skill by exploring cel animation and expansive illustration work. The Outsiders is a really cohesive project with a wonderful pace. The Diver is conceptually and narratively very strong.


They are our favourites for different reasons, but all operate in the sphere where we get to have creative autonomy and push ourselves a little.

 

Q: What would be your dream brief from a client?

Lené: That’s a tough one. We have so many different skills, tastes and talents in the studio. For me, it would be to do an MTV/Adult Swim ident or music video. For Deoné, one of our illustrators, it would be a mural. For Viola, it would be to make ‘ugly pretty’ work so that she can lean into her awkward and naive illustration style. Daniéla does really well when it comes to conceptualising short films, and her most impressive work has been in that sphere. All we can do is keep pushing, putting ourselves out there and hoping that somebody trusts us enough to lean into those spaces and occupy them. (While getting paid, of course!)

 

Q: Are there any animation apps or tools that you can’t live without?

Lené: We live and breathe Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects. We’re always testing out new apps, but the Adobe suite ties into one another the best, which makes our process more streamlined. Some After Effects plug-ins we’d recommend is Easy Ease, which allows you to copy and paste ease graphs on multiple keyframes. Motion 2 is also great for seamless/faster workflow.

 

Q: What’s next for ‘We Are Batch’?

Lené: We have some fun upcoming projects that we’re quite excited about. We’d love to push our illustration work a little bit more this year and possibly lean into doing more editorial work.

On the culture side, we keep pushing boundaries and asking ourselves the necessary and tough questions so that we can keep evolving and creating a working environment that is safe and forward-thinking. Onwards and upwards!

3 illustrated women waving to the camera.

 

Summary

The mission and legacy of We Are Batch stand as a testament to boundless creativity, global talent, and the inspiring journey of womxn in animation and creative production.

At Voquent, we just wanted to say a HUGE THANKS to Lené, Daniéla, and the We Are Batch team for crafting such a compelling animated ad for us. You’re all superstars!

We hope you visit their site to discover more of the incredible productions We Are Batch has brought to life.

 

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Dylan de Koning

By Dylan de Koning

Dylan de Koning is a narrative writer, script reader and film buff from Scotland.

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