Veggie Tales Animator Offers Peek Behind the Scenes

Post a Comment » Written on December 11th, 2002     
Filed under: News
By Craig Pinley

LOMBARD, IL (December 11, 2002) – Nathan Tungseth, a graduate of Covenant Bible College-Canada and North Park University, was one of nine animators for Jonah – A Veggie Tales Movie, a Christian animated version telling the Old Testament story of the prophet Jonah.

Big Idea Productions, Inc., based in the Chicago suburb of Lombard, produced the 83-minute, G-rated Jonah film (, earning $6.5 million during its opening weekend in October. The company is also known for its 16 Veggie Tales Christian videos, which have sold more than 21 million copies since the company was founded in 1989.

Tungseth grew up in Minnesota and came to Christ at an early age. He attended Elim (now Crosstown) Covenant Church in Minneapolis and later attended nearby Excelsior Covenant Church. Tungseth said positive camping experiences at two Minnesota summer camps were integral in his faith development. He currently attends an Evangelical Free congregation near work. Both of Tungseth’s parents, Clarke and Iris, attended CBC and North Park and have begun work for Project Brazil (, an organization started by a Covenant pastor in California that seeks to connect the Evangelical Covenant Church to Brazil. Tungseth also has two sisters, Heidi and Angie.

“Although I’m not attending a Covenant church currently, it’s still fun to think of myself as a Covenanter, and I appreciate all the ways that the Covenant church is being used by God to further His kingdom here on earth,” Tungseth said. “I know that Covenant people have been very helpful in my life, encouraging me and helping me grow closer to God.”

I asked Tungseth about his start in animation and his career with Big Idea, along with questions about the Jonah film project:

Pinley: How did you get interested in animation and who influenced your career?

Tungseth: “I’ve studied animation since I was a kid, reading books on the subject and trying things with my dad’s video camera. My biggest influences in animation were Disney and Warner cartoons I saw as a kid. I remember when Disney shorts were aired on Sunday nights and being mesmerized by Pluto sniffing around a magic top hat. I wondered how it was done and thought, “That’s what I want to do.” Another huge influence was the great Chuck Jones creation- “Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.” I loved all the creative stuff they did with the teeter-totters and boulders. I would go up to my room and try coming up with my own ideas. I would draw all the time, and sometimes made flipbooks. Although North Park didn’t have any classes on the subject, I chose animation as my senior project in art. This involved much more work and time than I could have imagined.”

Pinley: What caused you to choose Big Idea to work for and not some other animation organization?

Tungseth: Early on, my dream was to use animation for God. If I hadn’t found Big Idea, I would have tried creating an animation studio with a very similar mission statement. When (a senior in college) I began looking for a school internship in animation, Big Idea happened to be located just south of Foster Avenue about two miles away from North Park.

When my sister’s friend (Karen Durche) suggested Big Idea, it was the first I’d heard of them. I bought “Rack, Shack and Benny” and found it creative and amusing . . . but it didn’t contain any contact information. Later, I printed a web page of local studios, which included Big Idea.

After visiting an advertising agency downtown, my friend So-Jung Kim (who came with me) said, “I want to work for a Christian company.” ‘Me, too,’ I remembered. So we called Big Idea from a pay phone and took the “L” (elevated) train to visit the studio. The two night-shift animators, Ron Smith and Tom Danen, showed us around. They were working on “The Toy That Saved Christmas” at the time. I submitted my demo reel (a video work sample) and Danen and Ken Greene saw promise in me, even though I didn’t have experience with computer animation. Danen volunteered to train me on the computer after-hours. By the time the director had time to consider me for an internship, I already had some computer training.

Pinley: What’s the most enjoyable thing about what you do?

Tungseth: Animation is most enjoyable when I can really get into character – as an actor – and get the real emotion across in the animation. Doing that involves both the mind and the heart. It’s a major challenge, but it’s worth it. Comical stuff is also really fun. There have been times when the work made me laugh while I was working on it. I’m sure it looks ridiculous to see me laughing at my computer when no one else is in on the joke (and it’s not finished yet). Successful humor is very rewarding.

Also, I really enjoy the technical stuff that makes computer animation possible. I’ve worked on controls for the Veggie eyes and mouths and some other animation tools to help make our work easier. I tend to dream big, just in case the best idea turns out to be possible.

Pinley: What exactly was your role for the Jonah movie? Did it differ from your regular work?

Tungseth: My main role in the studio has been to do character animation (making the characters act). In the movie Jonah, I animated the scene where Jonah confesses to the pirates on the ship; I also animated Jonah and Khalil sitting on the cliff, when they are just waiting. I did some of the stuff at the beginning of the film, when the kids are singing in the van, Bob struggles with the map and dodges the guitar and dad also plays the harmonica. Besides animation, I also got to sing in the choir for the song, “A Message From The Lord.” I love breaking up the day with things like that.

Pinley: How long did this movie production take and how did the process affect you and the company?

Tungseth: I think Jonah took just about three years to make. We started it, put it on hold and came back to it later, so that’s really just a guess. Animation took about eight months of that time with only nine character animators. I’m amazed at what nine animators were able to do . . . Making a feature film is a lot harder than making a half-hour video, (but) I really like the finished product. At first, I had some concerns about the story structure, but these were alleviated by all the improvements made during production. I really like the climax scene in Nineveh, which was a later addition. Now when I watch the film, I get chills. I love how believable Jonah’s relationship with God is.

Editor’s note: To learn more about Jonah – A Veggie Tales Movie, read the December issue of The Covenant Companion or visit the home page of the Covenant web site at and select the Companion cover image.

Copyright © 2011 The Evangelical Covenant Church.

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