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The making of Strawinsky and the mysterious house (part 1)

A magical adventure inspired by the Chronicles of Narnia, Walt Disney animated musicals and the parables of Jesus Christ

By David Hutter

During my childhood I was always attracted to movies and film-making which resulted in my siblings, friends and guinea pigs having to star in a great variety of home-made videos that were shot using my Dad’s handheld video camera!

Our technology though was really limited as many computers at that time were still using 16 colours. At the time, I couldn’t really imagine what sort of videos it would be possible to create from your bedroom just 15 years later!

No qualifications, experience or budget – let’s do it!

Many years ago – in 2007 to be precise – I decided that it would be really cool to create a 3D animated movie. At that time I was finishing my Business and Marketing degree at Canterbury Christ Church University in England.

As you might probably guess – having a degree in Business is not necessarily the best foundation that really prepares you for making cartoons. So whilst I really enjoyed my studies and learned a lot of useful stuff, I had zero training or qualifications in media or animation, had no budget, software or equipment and still had fairly limited computer knowledge overall. I had never done any animation before, had pretty much no experience with Photoshop and just three years prior – at the beginning of my degree – couldn’t even use simple desktop publishing software such as Microsoft PowerPoint.

What I didn’t lack however was lots of enthusiasm, passion, excitement, stubborn determination, a sometimes irrational “can do” spirit and complete and utter naivety about the complexity and effort that goes into the development and production of an animated movie.

The power of animation

I was inspired by a series of animated movies by Scott Cawthon, an animator from the US, which I accidentally came across during my time at university. Whilst I’ve always been interested in movies and filmmaking, I wasn’t really into animations. I always believed it was impossible to create anything substantial without having millions of pounds to invest and an army of animators to command. I also assumed that this was a genre that only appealed to children and therefore was entirely unsuitable for communicating a more adult message.

When watching his Pilgrim’s Progress animation, however, I was totally shocked how the animation connected with me emotionally and even moved me to tears. I was amazed how Scott could create hour long animated movies that far exceeded the quality of early VeggieTales animations all by himself – in his spare time – whilst holding a full time job.

As I was a Christian, passionate about my faith but often unable to communicate it appropriately, this seemed to me a very powerful tool to share the hope and truths that I had discovered and experienced over the years, in an engaging and meaningful way.

First steps

So I ventured out, got hold of an education-only license for a state-of-the-art animation software package that I was told was also used for feature films such as Harry Potter and slowly started to work my way through hundreds of tutorials, exercises and manuals.

My progress was very slow. I didn’t have a fast computer, was finishing my degree, had to write lots of job applications and eventually started to work 50 hour weeks shared across two part-time jobs as I was trying to make ends meet in order to get established in the world of business.

Hope Animation

In addition I really wanted to help promote Scott Cawthon’s animations as they had given me such a huge amount of hope and inspiration. I contacted lots of Christian publishers and distributors to see if they would like to include Scott’s animations in their catalogues. To my disappointment however I received rejection letter after rejection letter. These often only came in after I had sent out lots of follow-up emails chasing my contacts for any kind of response.

Consequently I decided to distribute the animations myself and started up a little website called Hope Animation. As if learning how to make an animated movie was not enough I started to teach myself web design and programming skills. This also proved to be very useful for my day job and I was able to give Scott’s DVDs away for free.

Anyone interested in his animations could send me a message via the site stating which DVDs they would like and where to post them to. People could give donations if they wanted to, but were not obliged to do so. This worked really well for the first 2-3 years and 100s of parcels were sent to England, the US, Germany and even as far as Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia. We received some fantastic and very encouraging feedback from people all across the world – some of which you can still read on our website.

Maintaining a balance to stay on mission 

This first experience and feedback gave me a lot of boost and encouragement to go ahead and keep learning how to make animations. It was difficult to find spare time as my jobs were demanding and life was busy. Very soon, I realised that in order to remain spiritually healthy I had to ensure that I kept a careful balance between my work, marriage, animation, friends and family, church, our social life and time for learning and reflection. I felt it was really important to maintain a very high level of positive intake through sermons, books and prayer because I knew that I could only give as much as I had received. Otherwise, I would quickly burn out with a hectic schedule, increasing demands, growing frustrations and a lack of spiritual nourishment and refreshment.

I set myself a clear order of priorities that started with my relationship with God, then my marriage, next my work and finally – at the bottom of the pile – my animation project. As you probably would expect the progress of my animation was therefore still very slow and not much was happening yet.

For the first two years I wrote myself a basic mission statement:

Foundation: The Bible and prayer are of utmost importance for everything I do. All my decisions and attitude should be based on this foundation.

1. Skills: To become as professional in my work as possible
2. Networks: To develop friends and partnerships with like-minded artists and supporters
3. Finance: Trust God to help me finance the project through my work and donations from supports and website visitors.

Aim: To honour and praise God, teach and encourage people

Whenever I found time to work on my animation project, I made the most of any opportunity for further training and study as I believed it would be necessary to become as professional in my work as possible to make a positive impact. I’ve completed a video training course with Vivid Broadcast that taught me lots about camera work, lighting and composition. I continued to read software manuals and tutorials, watched online training videos and kept practising the various skills I had learnt.

The birth of Strawinsky

Some additional work and overtime enabled me to purchase my first high-speed animation computer. With a limited budget I was able to get a custom-built eight-core render machine that proved to be a good starting point for creating fairly detailed, high-resolution images. One of the things I didn’t consider though was how much cooling power it all required. So whilst it was lightning-fast for its time, it was very noisy and sounded a lot like a helicopter!

In February 2009 I finally started work on Strawinsky, the main character of my first animated movie “Strawinsky and the mysterious house”. The story is based on a six episode fantasy series that was released as a Christian audio drama in the 1980s in Germany. Whilst I used to listen to it as a child, it was already out of print for several years when I contacted the German publisher to get official permission for creating an animation based on one of the episodes.

By that point it was already very clear to me that creating a cartoon is quite difficult all by itself. So I was very glad that I didn’t also have to come up with my own story but could rely on a tale that I really enjoyed as a child myself!

(This concludes part 1 of 2. See how Strawinsky came together through much hard work and dedication in our next issue!) To find out more about Strawinsky or Christian animation please visit or

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