An Vrombaut is this month's Featured Illustrator. A familiar name to many children's animation and picture book fans, An originally came to the UK from Belgium to study animation and quickly made a name for herself as the creator of the 64 Zoo Lane TV series as well as numerous picture books. See more of her work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery

I grew up in a household with lots of pets. We had a dog, a cat, a tortoise named Kamiel, chickens, ducks, rabbits, LOTS of guinea pigs, tropical fish and even stick insects – a real mini-zoo! My mother loved animals and she often took us to visit a farmer friend who had a big horse.

With my mother and younger brother riding the farmer’s horse

As a child, I loved drawing animals. In fact, I much preferred it to drawing people. When I was six I drew a picture of a giraffe. I kept this drawing in a drawer and, two decades later, it inspired me to create the character of Georgina the Giraffe in the 64 Zoo Lane animated TV series.

Giraffe drawing I made as a 6-year old

One of my early inspirations was the book Pluk van de Petteflet by the legendary Dutch children’s author Annie M. G. Schmidt and illustrator Fiep Westendorp. It’s not a picture book, but a chapter book with plenty of colour illustrations. Published in the seventies, I still love this book for the quirkiness of its characters, the freshness of its writing and the subtle manner in which it conveys its environmental message.

Pluk van de Petteflet
I’ve always loved writing, too. From a young age, I put little books together. Over the years, I’ve worked as an animator, illustrator, designer, author, scriptwriter and film director. If I had to sum it up, I’d say simply I was ‘a visual storyteller’. For a while, I considered working in the field of comics. Growing up in Belgium, comics had been a big influence on me. Tintin in Tibet was another favourite of mine. However, at the last minute I changed my mind and decided instead to study animation at the KASK (Royal Academy of Fine Art) in my hometown of Ghent. After graduating, I moved to London to study for an MA at the Royal College of Art where I made my first film Little Wolf.

Little Wolf - By An Vrombaut from An Vrombaut on Vimeo.

Little Wolf was very well received at festivals, picking up several international awards. This helped to get funding to produce a pilot for 64 Zoo Lane from CARTOON - part of the EU Media programme. 64 Zoo Lane (Millimages/Zoo Lane Productions) took seven years from concept to broadcast. This may sound like a long time but it is not that unusual in animation. The programme was an international co-production with people working in the UK, France, Ukraine and Romania. 64 Zoo Lane has now been broadcast for 17 years on BBC/CBeebies. I mainly concentrated on the writing, design and voice-recordings, with my co-director in Paris taking on the animation direction. I love the teamwork aspect of animation. In this respect it differs from working as an illustrator on picture books, which is a more solitary occupation.

The animals at 64 Zoo Lane

I was quite exhausted after working on two TV series without a break. Because my children were young, I decided to focus on writing and illustrating picture books next. Working in publishing is definitely less stressful than working on TV animation! My favourite production stage, whether I’m working on a book or a film, is always the story-board. First, I do a thumbnail board - just for myself so this looks very rough; sometimes I struggle myself to decode it! Then, I draw a more detailed board to present to others for feedback and comments.

Thumbnail story-board for The Tie

I use Caran d’Ache Neocolor and Neopastel crayons to do my illustrations. I like to blend the colours together with my fingers. Sometimes, I build up layers of colour and then use an empty pencil-lead holder to scratch and reveal the hidden tones.

Illustrations from the Dragon Festival at the Norfolk & Norwich Millennium Library
My favourite picture book is Smile, Crocodile, Smile (OUP). It’s about Clarabella Crocodile who has so many teeth to brush it takes her all day. The story was inspired by my 2-year-old daughter who did not like brushing her teeth. I always carry Clarabella’s 6ft toothbrush me when I travel to schools or events! (See the header photo)

Most of my animated films have been hand-drawn. More recently, I decided to make a film using 3D computer generated imaging. However, I did not want it to be rendered in a glossy photo-realistic manner. So I spent a lot of time working with the animation company to achieve a look that’s close to the oil pastel technique of my illustrations. The Tie is a minimalist film: there is no dialogue, the characters don’t have mouths and there are very few props. I have found that limitations can encourage you to work more creatively.

The Tie - trailer from An Vrombaut on Vimeo.

The Tie (Lunanime) was premiered at the Berlin film festival to an audience of 2,000 children - quite an experience. I had a 3D print made of the main character – yet again a giraffe!- which I took with me to Berlin for a picture shoot on the red carpet with my producer Annemie Degryse.

At the Berlinale with my producer and the giraffe character from The Tie

Most of my ideas are inspired by nature. I love animals, but also plants. I rent an allotment which is a short minute walk from my desk. I sometimes pop over there during my lunch break to add a little creative touch to the sunflowers…


See more of An's work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery
An's personal website is here
Twitter: @AnVrombaut
Her Agent (for TV work only) is Rebecca Watson at Valerie Hoskins Associates


  1. An, I loved reading and watching this. I am totally in love with the Little Woolf movie. In fact, I want to be the "boing" sheep.
    It was also really interesting to read about the mediums you use for drawing and blending the colours. Best of all, for me, is knowing you (a little)and your wonderful daughters.
    PS My goodness, you look like your mother :-) xxx

  2. Really enjoyed reading your story, An! My children grew up with 64 Zoo Lane and I hugely enjoyed watching The Tie. When I see giraffes, I think of you.


We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.