Tekst (smal)

Kaboom: Dutch animator Paul Driessen

On the eve of Kaboom 2024, SEE NL chatted to the legendary Dutch animator Paul Driessen who launches his autobiography, My Life in Cartoons, at the festival.

Portrait: Paul Driessen

Now in his early 80s, Paul Driessen is a legendary figure in Dutch animation history… and one in Canadian animation too. The Oscar-nominated filmmaker has just published his autobiography, My Life in Cartoons, which will be launched during the upcoming Kaboom Animation Festival.

“My life is kind of interesting in the sense that I travelled a lot,” Driessen reflects. “As a freelance animator of short films you depend on different countries for resources.”

The animator was born in the Netherlands in 1940. Shortly after the war, his father got a job in Moscow at the Dutch embassy. The family moved to Soviet Russia - one of Paul’s first trips abroad. Since that time in Moscow as a kid, he has often been constantly on the move.

When Driessen was growing up, the Dutch didn’t have much of an animation tradition. He therefore evolved his own film language. In the 60s, he started his career making short commercials for Cetabever glue. These were only a few seconds longs but “were a lot of fun to work on” and provided excellent grounding.

One of his first big breaks was as an animator in London on the mind-bending Beatles movie, Yellow Submarine (1968). No, he didn’t spend much time with the Fab Four. “But I met Paul McCartney. He just passed by because he was curious,” Driessen remembers. The Beatles made the film as part of their contract with United Artists. They were keen to go off to India and didn’t want to work on another movie. Their producers pointed out that if they did it as a cartoon, they wouldn’t “have to be there.”

He has been making his own short films for over 50 years. No, it hasn’t made him rich but he has never had to compromise. He has dual nationality and spent many years moving between the Netherlands and Canada, finding public funding for his short films in both countries. 

The much travelled Driessen was a professor in Germany (teaching animation at the University of Art Kassel). He now lives in France where he is hard at work on a new project, What The Cuckoo Saw. The main character is a young cuckoo who, when inside her clock, speculates about what she is going to see when announcing the hours outside. When time progresses, she learns that it’s not a friendly world out there.

“It’s typical of what I do. I work a lot with timing, dimensions and different points of view.”

Wherever he has gone, Driessen has kept notes. He has records of the festivals he has attended and the people he has met. That made the autobiography relatively straightforward to write. 

“I think I was in the right places at the right times. Life has been kind to me,” the veteran animator purrs. 

Much of Driessen’s work is now available on the web but he has mixed feelings about this platform.

“I don’t like online. It’s not so much because of pirating. I don’t really care what happens to my films after I have made them because I am always interested in the next one. But the thing that bothers me is that the screen size is always very small. I am a designer and I love the big cinema screen,” the filmmaker argues that the intricacies of the work are lost when it is viewed on, say, a cellphone. 

The author and animator isn’t the type to bask in the limelight or to boast about past glories. “One of the things is that I am very critical of myself. I see all the errors and things I could have improved. It’s kind of embarrassing for me to be there with an audience.” 

Driessen likes answering questions but often apologises for shortcomings in his work. “I would say it’s all very nice but I could have done better. I don't mind explaining what it is about and how I went about it, but sitting through them myself is not always pleasant,” he confides. 

Find more info on the presentation of My Life in Cartoons and the Paul Driessen retrospective program at Kaboom here.