An Adventure in the Swiss Alps With Adorable Claymation Marmots

By Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg

In the fine tradition of the Swiss claymation series Pingu, this charming short tells the story of a group of mountain creatures on a quest to rescue their sleepwalking friend. Mungge - Nid Scho Widr! (Marmots - Not Again!) stars three marmots and a hedgehog, babbling in an entertaining blend of languages as they find their way through the dangerous, rocky crags of their home turf. Like any really good stop-motion animation, the film's appeal is in the physical details -- little yellow flowers, mountain crystals -- and the goofy expressiveness of the characters' handcrafted movements. Irmgard Walthert, who directed and animated the film with Claudia Röthlin and Adrian Flückiger, talks about their creative process and their plans to turn Mungge into a TV show in a short interview below. 

The Atlantic: In an era of digital animation, what inspired you to do claymation? 

Irmgard Walthert: I love to work with materials. It inspires me much more than if I'm sitting at a computer all day long. It's a different way of working and much more intuitive for me. To hold a puppet in my hands while animating brings the character much closer to me. I'm still very impressed by how you can take an everyday object and bring it to life with the right animation.

How did the idea for the story come together? 

This project has been different from others I've made. Together with two friends (Claudia Röthlin and Adrian Floyk Flückiger), we planned to develop a concept for a TV series. While thinking about different topics, characters, and worlds, we thought of using marmots as our protagonists and because marmots go into hibernation, the idea of sending one sleepwalking came quite early. The surroundings of the mountains made it even more interesting to think about a story with a marmot walking around while sleeping.

What was the production process like? How long did it take?

It's difficult to say how long it took to make the movie because there’s a whole concept for more stories behind it. But I'd say it took the three of us about four months to make the film. We started with the script and the puppet design, followed by building the sets before we could start with the animation. When we started animating, the end of the story wasn't fixed. It was suspenseful even for us.

We didn't divide up the work at first. We did that on purpose to find out who would be best for which part of the production; now we have a better sense of that.

Why did you decide to have the animals speak Swiss German? 

Why Swiss German. Hm. I think because it was the most intuitive way for us to find out what they could say. We started writing down the dialogues but we were never satisfied so Floyk started to act out the characters. He did the voices for three of them. While just talking we figured out what they would say in each situation. Actually, we thought we would dub them later, but now they still have the original voices.

What’s next for you?

We're now trying to find support to develop and animate more stories to make the TV series come alive. Searching for the right producer seems to be quite difficult.

For more work by Irgmard Walthert, visit http://irmgard.walthert.net/.

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This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/archive/2012/09/an-adventure-in-the-swiss-alps-with-adorable-claymation-marmots/262926/