Our encounter with Jonathan Lindgren’s latest work was a case of love at first sight. Playful, cute and surprisingly moving, How to Make Sushi follows the life of a lonely sushi chef as he perfects his masterful craft.
As a kid growing up in “a teeny tiny town” in Sweden, Jonathan was fascinated by cartoons and stories. “I was always interested in comics, manga and animation but I never saw it as anything more than a hobby or interest,” he tells It’s Nice That. While studying computer science at university, however, the art of animation entered his orbit once again. “We had a short course in character animation,” he recalls. “It made me realise how much fun it was, but also how insanely hard character animation was.” The shock of that deep-end dive saw Jonathan retreat once again from the character side of animation he loved so much: “I pretty much aborted it immediately and cowered into doing more approachable things like animating shape layers in After Effects.”
After graduating, Jonathan moved to Stockholm, freelancing on anything 3D graphics and animation-related before moving to London two years later. “London was a warm slap in the face,” he reminisces. “It opened up my eyes in terms of design and animation, but also in terms of how much a community within an industry matters. Seeing all the different initiatives, events and meeting all kinds of different people was (and is) super inspiring.”
During this time Jonathan learnt the importance of bringing personality the objects he animates – whether they are living and breathing characters or not. “For me, storytelling becomes so much more effective when you’ve got something that has character,” he muses. “Whether you’re animating a ball or a sushi chef, you can convey a type of personality through the way it moves. I find that really intriguing.”
This attitude comes into its own in How to Make Sushi where each ingredient, utensil and item of clothing become characters in their own right. Their individual personalities are a testament to Jonathan’s meticulous attention to the details of even the smallest of movements and gestures.
A film borne of the young animator’s fascination of those who have an obsessive dedication their practice, How to Make Sushi is both an ode to the beauty of this commitment and a reflection on its pitfalls. “There’s something intriguing about people who dedicate their lives to craft; seeing someone practice something they’ve mastered through years of dedication is incredible,” Jonathan muses. “But I think a lot of people – myself included – can relate to the feeling fo getting carried away with work and forgetting why you’re actually working, or what truly makes you happy.” It’s a reflection that spawned the film’s comedic payoff – a moment of playful levity that also carries a serious tone.
Designing the first frame in late 2018, the vision for the film was clear in Jonathan’s mind from that moment on. Recalling the process from that point he tells us: “I started blocking out the whole film before animating anything in detail. Then a few friends of mine said that they loved the style of the movements, even though I had no intention of keeping it that way. Once I saw what they meant, it helped me to understand what sort of mood and pace the film should have.”
It’s a collaborative spirit that Jonathan carried throughout the process and which became vital to the film’s audio styling. Yoshi Amao puts in a fantastic vocal performance, making this mysterious faceless chef feel more familiar, while Luke Brown’s sound design draws out all the subtleties of the scenes’ motion. “He’s the perfect collaborator in my opinion,” Jonathan gushes about his frequent creative companion. “He gets genuinely excited when I send him stuff and it triggers a new love for the project when he starts developing the score or sound.”
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