Bert Smets, Hopla: 3D Production For Kids

Bert Smets

Bert Smets

Bert Smets is CEO and Creative Manager at Bert Smets Productions, the production company of Hopla, based in Ostend, Belgium. They focus on children’s edutainment (education and entertainment) and children’s merchandising. Being active in the worldwide children’s market since 1988, Bert Smets worked as an illustrator for numerous European children’s magazines and publishers. Since Bert created his character Hopla, this is the only thing he is working on since then, both creatively and business wise. His animation series Hopla can now be watched in more than 35 countries (US, Canada, Japan, UK, France….).

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Bert Smets

How do you get into the illustration field? Were you self-taught, or did you have industry specific education?

I always created books and comics since I was a little boy. I published my own stories and sold these in my neighbourhood. After my education at the Academy of St. Luke in Antwerp, Belgium, I started as a self-employed illustrator and comic artist.

I started in 1993 with 3D and it took me 2 years to get this software known very well. I started to create a whole new 3D-world, especially for children, with warm colors and round edges.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Hopla project? How long have you been working on it? What kinds of mediums are you working in? What kind of auxiliary material have you used Strata products to create? (eg. merchandising, etc.)

Bert SmetsIn August 1999, I created Hopla and his house. I developed the project so that I could create everything by myself, except the music. The music was created by someone else. I visited the international TV fair MIPcom in Cannes (France) with a pilot from Hopla and I had the opportunity to sell 52 episodes to an important broadcaster. So then, I had to create 52 episodes in one year. Thanks to my wife, who helped me with the animating, the first episode was broadcast in September 2000. And it became in our regions immediately a success. So the first books and videos were published in 2001. Later on, Hopla started broadcasting in other countries (Israel, Canada, Slovenia) and I needed to create another 52 episodes. Because Hopla is a series for babies and preschoolers, the animation is not tough and the rendering went very fast. Most of the time, I was busy with modelling new characters, objects and environments for the Hopla-world. Once there was a train, that took me four days modelling.

I’m very precise in modelling, because a good model is a good basis for animation and rendering. Hopla became more and more popular and through the years more merchandising was created. The designs of this merchandising are also developed in house and thanks to Strata it was possible to create the best virtual packshots to show at licensees.

Hopla went bigger and bigger, so I had to engage employees to help me at the creative and the business side. Bert Smets Productions is now a company of 4 people and is able to sell worldwide 130 episodes, 32 Hopla-books and a number of merchandising. And all are created with Strata!

What made you pick up Strata 3D? Was there a specific problem/need that caused you to seek out a 3D application?

Bert SmetsWhen I made my comics, I often became tired by drawing each time the same characters. In my searching for a solution for this, I discovered StrataVision in 1993 and later on Strata StudioPro. At that moment, I knew immediately that 3D was my personal thing.

How has your workflow changed since incorporating 3D design?

One of the most important changes is that my hands kept clean since working with the computer. No more ink on my hands and clothes.

Another important change is that I only had to create once a new character or object and that I can reuse these whenever I want it.

What’s a typical day for you? What other software do you use on a regular basis?

Bert SmetsThis is my day (I work 6 days a week):

8am: business issues
10am: creating for Hopla (mostly merchandising and books)
1pm: lunch
2pm: business issues
3pm: creating for Hopla (mostly merchandising and books)
5pm: business issues and approvals
7pm: dinner
9pm: creating for Hopla (mostly merchandising and books)
12pm: reviewing my day

On a regular basis I’m working with other software like Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Final Cut.

How did you learn 3D, or Strata 3D in particular? Would you recommend your method to new users?

On computer software, I’m a self-made man. Also with Strata, first StrataVision, then Strata StudioPro, later on Strata 3d and now Strata 3D CX.

In the beginning it was difficult, but thanks to my three-dimensional feeling, it advanced. Anyway, I proceed with rising and falling. Because in those days, internet communities were not spread that much, I sometimes called from Belgium (Europe) to the US for support. I learned many things with this method, but it is not the fastest method.

Any advice for new users? Where to start, what to avoid, creative advice?

For new users, I recommend to get some 3D lessons and then practice every day for a minimum of 2 hours.

Thanks for your time, Bert. We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!