“Do you know that children have unlearned the capability of climbing a tree?”
5 years long Europe has awaited the return of the curious and helpful doggy-girl from Gadgetville. Back home in Estonia fans didn’t have to exercise the same patience, as books, musicals and TV-series about Lotte were presented. And soon the LotteWorld theme park will open its gate.
Janno Põldma is a modest man. “Usually I don’t talk much… unless you come to mention Lotte.” With great passion he speaks about his brain-child and about his partner in work Heiki Ernits, with whom he shares the spiritual fatherhood over Lotte; 15 years they’ve been working together.
5 years have gone since LOTTE FROM GADGETVILLE. What has happened to Lotte in the meantime?
Janno Põldma: “She is immensely popular in Estonia, where we launched several activities. I wrote books about her and together with a composer I worked on the libretto for ‘Lotte the Detective’ and ‘Lotte the Astronaut’, the 2 most successful Estonian musicals of all times.”
Which didn’t leave you any time to work on a film.
Põldma: “Usually we schedule 3,5 years for one film, but with the current economical situation in Estonia it took us a bit longer. The budget was a bit smaller than expected, so we had to do more by ourselves.”
Is Lotte still the same girl or has her character evolved?
Põldma: “Lotte never changes. Sometimes we’re blamed for creating a character that never evolves, but that’s how we want it. Lotte is very human; she lives all the feelings that are familiar to an average child of her age. But she’s a fixed character, going against the dramatic rules that were standardized by Aristotle, stating that a character by overcoming all challenges, by the end of the story has changed and become a new individual.”
You replaced Aristotle’s rules by your own regulations?
Põldma: “Lotte is our life-work, that’s why we take her so seriously. Throughout the years we developed some inviolable dogma’s, often based on our offence for films using violence to solve a conflict. Rule 1: No violence. Rule 2: Everything is possible. Rule 3: Pay attention to the smallest (like the tiny creatures and insects often crawling around in the margin of our images.) Rule 4: Be as curious as possible. There are no shops in Gadgetville (the things you need, you have to create yourself), all food is vegetarian and there are no superheroes, only vulnerable creatures, like in a Chaplin movie. Because there are no ‘bad guys’, there is no conflict, only problems to be solved. Like a road movie, in which the road is more important than the destination. And of course the general rule is to use as much fantasy and creativity to make the result as playful as possible. Parents often come to thank me for that.”
And those rules are followed vigorously?
Põldma: “Even in our next project: the LotteWorld theme park. We bought the land, we got European money, the plans are ready and the construction works have started. Problems have risen in our struggle with bureaucracy but we’re moving on, hoping to open next summer.”
What will LotteWorld look like?
Põldma: “Exactly like in the books and films, with Lotte’s house and the other buildings from Gadgetville. Especially the youngest guests should feel at ease: actors conducting all sorts of games, there’s a sports field, a long steeple-chase,… Every attraction will have its strange twist, combining reality with absurdity. In the planetarium a voice guides you through the universe while simultaneously bizarre starships float around.”
How would you describe Lotte’s character in one word?
Põldma: “Lotte cares. She gives confidence. In Lotte’s presence, children feel secured and fostered.”
She also stands very close to nature.
Põldma: “Heiki and I find that rural feeling very important. City children often live their life indoors. We invite them to come out onto the streets and squares. In LotteWorld there will be trees to climb in – do you know that children have unlearned the capability of climbing a tree, which was such an essential joy in my childhood? We’re not so naïve to think that we can change the world, but we try to make a positive contribution.”
What about Lotte’s friends who joined her on her earlier adventures?
Põldma: “This time we solely focused on Lotte and Uncle Klaus. We deliberately kept the fellowship small, otherwise the relationships would become too complex.”
The moon is an important element in the movie. Did you research moon mythologies, like the Maya cult, the mystery of the pyramids, etc?
Põldma: “At first we did. We even found a Maya image picturing a rabbit in the moon. But finally we created our own mythology. No student will ever write a thesis on the mystical cult in LOTTE AND THE MOONSTONE.”
How can you get away with all that craziness? Nobody else can make children believe that fish are baking pancakes for the fishermen on the bottom of the lake.
Põldma: “All the crazy ideas come from the unique co-operation between Heiki, co-author Andrus Kivirähk and me. When we sit together around the table, there is something in the air – we only have to reach out and grab it. Nobody knows where it comes from. A session usually takes 30 minutes. Then we all go our way, thinking about the result, and two days later we meet again. It’s an extremely creative process. We can’t capture it in a formula without limiting ourselves. We enjoy the concept and don’t want to make any compromises.”
In Gadgetville you’re never scared to turn the world upside down.
Põldma: “Recently I was invited to make a speech for teachers. I told them how the school in Gadgetville would look like. In Lotte’s school arriving late is considered something positive: whoever comes too late has to justify himself with a story and telling stories is good for you! By the end of the day children give marks to their teachers. In LotteWorld we’re building such a school where you learn math by counting pancakes and where Uncle Klaus teaches imitating bird sounds. And we work on online educative games that should make certain subjects more accessible.”
Yet you always maintain a link with reality.
Põldma: “Because we work from our own memories. Lotte’s house combines the memories that Heiki and I have to the houses where we grew up. I’m also a fanatic collector of old postcards and Heiki is a great artist. His characters are full of details that children want to discover and watch over and over again.”
The animation looks appealing. Has it evolved over the years on the technical level?
Põldma: “Surely! We added a small 3D department to our studio which surely meant a progress on the visual level. But our work is still organized the same way. We work together on the script and the direction. Heiki does most of the drawing; he designs the characters and backgrounds. I work with the animators, the rendering, the editing, the actors,… We constantly consult each other. And we don’t find it important who’s name comes on top.”
Does your work fit into a greater tradition?
Põldma: “Estonia has a strong festival tradition, thanks to people like Priit Pärn, who made wonderful films and won many prizes. It was Priit who gave Heiki and me a chance in this industry. But 15 years ago we immediately realized how different our approach was. Artists like Miyazaki for sure have inspired us.”
The movie again is full of fantastic inventions. Do you have a favourite?
Põldma: “I surely do! The machine that scratches your back… I’d adore it!”