Interview with ERIK WERNQUIST, animator at Kaktus Film Sweden and creator of Crazy Frog - Oct 17, 2005
ďÖ if I had known that this was going to be such a big thing, I would obviously not have allowed them to use that stupid name. It has nothing to do with the character. Itís not a frog and itís not particularly crazy either,ĒÖ says Erik Wernquist, animator at Kaktus Film in Sweden, about his animated invention Crazy Frog (originally known as ďThe Annoying ThingĒ) who has sold millions of records (UK No.1 / US Top 20) and ring tones all around the world.
Read about how to create an animated character and have it top the charts around the globe with virtually no marketing effort or music business knowledge at all.
How did you come up with the original idea for the Crazy Frog character?
I heard a funny mp3 sound on the Internet that a friend sent to me by email. Itís a sound of a guy imitating a motorcycle. I wanted to create a character that looked like he could sound like that sound, and I called it ďThe Annoying ThingĒ. Thatís the original name of the character.
How much time did it take in the beginning to program it?
The first animation I did at my spare time. I worked about 6 to 8 weeks on building the character and making the first animation.
Did you do it for any purpose?
I just had fun doing it. I wanted to invent a funny thing.
When did you do the original animation?
The first posting of the animation was October 15th 2003.
Where did you first put it out?
I put ďThe Annoying ThingĒ on my website and posted it on www.cgtalk.com, thatís a cgi forum where cg-artist post artwork and discuss what they do. That was it!
There it was quite a success, so I guess that people started to recommend it to each other and it spread through that. So everybody came back to my website and downloaded it from there and then people started sending the animation to each other by themselves.
Who came up with the name Crazy Frog?
I didnít come up with that name. Itís a stupid name that came originally through Jamba, the company that sells ring tones. They decided to use that name to use the character in commercials to promote ring tones.
I didnít care what they decided to call it, but if I had known that this was going to be such a big thing, I would obviously not have allowed them to use that stupid name. It has nothing to do with the character. Itís not a frog and itís not particularly crazy either.
Do you own the rights of the name Crazy Frog?
Crazy Frog is trademarked to Jamba but the character is trademarked to me as well as the original name ďThe Annoying ThingĒ.
How come it went further to the music business?
Iím not related to the music business. I just created the character of this Crazy Frog-thing that the music business use for their purposes. I have nothing to do with the music.
How did it evolve to being a ringtone?
Eventually they contacted me from Jamster and asked if they could use it. Then they made a separate agreement with the guy who created the sound, Daniel Malmedahl a Swedish guy and used my animation to promote ring tones. Then they sold other stuff, too, like images and wallpapers with my character on it.
Who contacted you from Jamba?
I donít know; it was somebody from the German department.
Did the record contract come through Jamba or did the record company contact you separately?
The record labels contacted me separately.
Where you involved in the music production?
No, but we made both of the music videos here at Kaktus Film. And of course we were involved because they are using my character and we have an agreement with the record labels.
Did you choose the cover songs for Crazy Frog?
Would you not have the ability to say, ďNo, I donít like this musicĒ?
We were in a lot of discussions about things related to this. But my thought at the time was that whatever this is going to be, this is obviously a commercial project and whatever kind of music they choose to run with isnít going to be my kind of music anyway.
So I basically chose not to involve myself in that at all, because they wanted something that they knew could sell and that many people like. So I trusted their judgment there.
Do you get any percentage of the publishing?
Iím not so sure how this works. When the song is played on the radio for instance, I donít think that we get anything. Since they use my character on the records and on the sleeves and everything, we get parts of the royalties of the sold records. We also make the music videos, which are obviously a huge contribution to the success.
Do you get a larger percentage of the record sales or does the record company pay for the video?
The production of the videos is paid for by the record company but of course we get royalties as well.
Can the record company say: ďOh, we want the video produced by somebody else?Ē
No. We decide over here what is done or what is not done with this character.
Do you get any percentage of the ringtones, too?
When they sell a ringtone I donít get anything because I didnít create the sound I just control the usage of my character.
If you would do something like this again, would you change something in the way you did it?
I would never do something like this again. I have no interest in starting this all over again by making new characters with the same purpose.
What would you recommend somebody who has a funny animation to do?
Put it on the Internet. If somebody is interested in it, they will contact you. Itís probably good to make sure that it is clear that it is your copyright and tell everybody how to get in contact with you. It was a problem with the sound, the engine noise that I used for my animation for instances. I didnít know who created the sound so I didnít know who to credit for it. That was because this sound was sent around without any copyright information.
When I had made the animation, I included a question in the end credits where I asked the person who built the sound to get in contact with me. And eventually I got in touch with Daniel Malmedahl, who said he created the sound. Itís probably a good thing if you have something that you want people to see and you want them to know that you made it, put something in there to let people know that you made it. If people like it people will send it around. Thatís the good thing about the Internet.
Another thing is, if you sign agreements with people who have commercial purposes you have to be very sure what you do. Donít sign away any rights that you donít get paid for. Itís probably good to use a lawyer or somebody you believe in.
The guy who did the sound, did he let you use it for free?
I didnít make any money on it in the beginning and I made that very clear. When this was going to get commercial I made sure everybody was aware that I wasnít involved in the sound, and if anyone wanted to use anything related to the sound or my animation they would have to make a separate agreement with this guy. And Iím sure heís happy about that.
When you think about it now, would you have made an agreement with the guy who did the sound and then sell the whole package?
This was just a funny thing and in order to be funny I had to go with my idea of what I was supposed to do. It wouldnít have been as funny if I had imitated his sound for instance. I had no commercial intentions; I was just inspired by the sound. But of course if you have commercial intention itís going to be a lot easier if you have all the rights yourself.
But I donít recommend anybody do anything like this for commercial purposes. Itís going to turn out poorly I think. You canít do this intentionally. There have been a lot of attempts since this character and itís hard to see anything thatís good.
Did you monitor the hits on your homepage during this whole period of the animation?
Itís going up and down but it really got a boost when I first posted it on the Internet.
It was really, really fast. It was like a hundred doubles per week. It had a couple of peaks. In two months it went from 2 or 3 clicks per day to 6000 clicks per day and in 4 or 5-month time it went down to about 4000 and in another few month it went down to 2000 or 3000. And now itís between 2000 and 3000 clicks per day.
What are you doing currently?
Iím working at Kaktus Film as a video animator. But at the moment thereís a lot of administration going on surrounding this character, so I have to spend a lot of time working with that. My ambition is to get that over with and get back to just animating and working with cgi.
Did you work for Kaktus film while you where doing the original animation?
No, I started to create the animation before I worked with Kaktus film. But the ringtone thing I started while I was working here.
So you got the Job through this animation?
No, not really. The animation was part of my show reel but there was other stuff in there as well. At the time I got the job it was just an Internet success.
Do you have the contracts with Jamba and the record company by yourself or through Kaktus film?
Everything is going by this company now and I have an agreement with Kaktus film.
I own the character but itís licensed through Kaktus film.
So what is planned with the Crazy Frog in the future?
There have been discussions about a film but nothing detailed. There will be more songs. We will see for how long that will last. It would be kind of interesting to put some actual context to the surrounding of this character. The character is more or less complete. The videos are just small little adventures, but they donít really have a contextual story. It would be interesting to put something more solid around it.
What has been the greatest moment of your career?
It was probably when I posted this original animation on cgtalk-forum and I got very positive responses from everybody. People really enjoyed my animation. It was all free then, nothing commercial.
Interviewed by Jan Blumentrath
Next week: Interview with Jordan Kurland, manager for Death Cab For Cutie (US Top 5)
Read On ...