Under the Influence: Tomas Skoging

October 9, 2015 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The ACNE co-founder gives us a glimpse into his varied and colourful inspirations.

It’s almost 20 years since Swedish director Tomas Skoging set up ACNE with Jonny Johansson, Jesper Kouthoofd and Mats Johansson in Stockholm. Since then the studio has become a global force in advertising and filmmaking, with offices in Berlin, London and Los Angeles and Tomas has directed commercials for huge clients including Nike, Evian and Unicef.

Being Swedish, we know where his inherent sense of style comes from, but we asked him to list five things that influence and inspire his work. Here are his choices.

Filip Nilsson

“He is my new partner in crime. And I love him. Forsman & Bodenfors are one of the most successful agencies in the world over the last ten years. He was running that agency as the ECD for more than 20 years. He built that. He’s a creative and cultural leader that inspired the agency towards all their success.

Two or three years ago he quit his job because he wanted to do something else and we started to talk about being together in directing. He moved to Paris for two years, then he called me late this spring and said ‘I’m moving back [to Sweden]. Shall we do this?’

‘Yeah. Fucking hell let’s do it!’

So me and him will partner up as co-directors. We have more than two decades of experience. I have my craftsmanship in graphic design and have mostly been filmmaking for the last 15 years, so combining my skills with his idea-driven agency-side experience of just making the best ideas work, I think that’s the best combination I can imagine. We both love great ideas and storytelling.

When we get our heads together and talk about ideas and filmmaking, I think his brain is such a compliment to mine. When I read a script I easily get lost in the visuals or this amazing detail or character. That’s not always the quickest way to the message. Filip’s mind is super sharp like a laser beam to the message – how to tell a story in the most effective way.

That inspires me a lot because I think I’m pretty good at this, but hell no, I have a lot to learn from this guy. And he has a lot to learn from me when it comes to the craftsmanship and making it work, that’s why I think the combination is so great.

We also like to challenge the way we’re working. We just want to be closer to the creative core at the agencies. Because many times it’s like the directors are over here and the creatives are over here. Then we have these layers and layers and layers of agency producers and producers. I just want to sit in the same room, to be close to the creative and solve it together with the agency and not make it so complicated. We’ll sit in a room together and solve this thing.”

Tim Burton

“For me he personifies the feeling of ‘I want to be that man.’ What I find amazing is he started to do this as a kid and he’s been so focused in coming from stop motion and that’s what I started to do when I was a kid. I had my first camera. My dad was not allowed in the garage anymore. He had to have his car out throughout the harsh winters and I built my studio in the garage and started to do my stop motion stuff, making all sorts of weird stories.

He’s coming from stop motion, filmmaking and he’s an artist too. Have you seen all his illustrations where he’s creating all his characters?

He has this weird mind. I just adore him and his world of storytelling. I can’t even think of anyone else that does everything himself when it comes to creating stories, creating the characters, creating the roles and then making it happen. He’s like a one-man band.

All of his films have a surreal darkness, but it’s a fun darkness and a crazy darkness.

Looking at his body of work it’s amazing to see. He’s just having a shit load of fun with his sketchbook or when he’s on a shoot or putting up this world in front of the camera and everything kind of melts together in the frame. It must be amazing to be him.

That’s exactly how it should be. Parts of you should never grow up.

Minus his love for musicals. No one is perfect. I don’t really like that. It’s just annoying. Sometimes I think it’s fun but that’s something he always comes back to. He loves musicals.

I would quite often refer to Sleepy Hollow. That one for me contains all the things I like. It’s a historical piece with all these textures in the wardrobe and the characters and it’s comedy at the same time because the characters and the story and are just weird and funny. It’s a beautiful tone within a fantastic, cinematic package. Everything is so beautiful about it. The darkness is there. That movie has everything. And there is no one singing.”

Gregory Crewdson

“He’s a guy I always come back to. What I find amazing with this guy is it’s like you have a feature film in one shot. Every shot is so beautifully made. It’s empty and it’s silent and it just explodes at the same time with emotions. There is something happening after this and you never know what happened before it. That’s what makes it so special.

Maybe he’s just messing with us. Let’s just put this car here and some sort of strange man in his underwear and there is a lit window over here and some phone in the background. And he’s standing there looking at some empty briefcase.

It’s a thing I admire. I might use some of his references for one out of ten jobs because it’s so surreal. I just like to lose myself in watching these fantastic pictures.

To see behind the scenes how he’s producing them, every shot is like shooting a movie scene. He’s got so many people involved even if it’s just a still. It’s very complicated and an extremely expensive production I would think.

His prints are enormous. They’re super big, like one and a half, two metres. They’re extremely expensive. But I will buy one. I’ve already looked it up and there are some art auctions or galleries that you can find some of his work in. I would rather buy one of these than a Porsche. Check back in three years and we’ll see if it’s on my wall.”

Charles Burns

“He’s a comic book illustrator and artist. Being a kid I thought I was supposed to be an illustrator. So I thought that was my future and I was in my room doing these drawings all the time.

I read comic books all the time as a kid. I had metres of them. Every penny I saved I took my bike to the store and bought new ones. I was reading them all the time.

I bought my first comic book when I was six. I remember that so clearly. I saved my coins so I could finally buy my own. It was from the 50s, Prince Valiant. It’s a Medieval setting, King Arthur, out-dated but also amazing. I had all the Prince Valiant books.

I remember trying to imitate the techniques. Of course it never worked and I was frustrated. No one could explain to me as kid he didn’t have those kinds of pens, he had pencils and inks and I had to sit there with my stupid childish pens and trying to make sharp lines. It didn’t work and no one could tell me why.

Watching these guys, they’re spending so much time on detail. It’s like reading a movie. They’re like moviemakers with a pen. Every frame is so well laid out and thought through in a perfect way. The framing, the layout and everything is perfect. And these amazing details. Every line is just perfect.

His work is very dark, but funny, stupid. In my everyday work this does not influence me. On a daily basis it’s hard for me to apply Charles Burns on scripts I get. But it thrills me in a way to lose myself in these amazing worlds.

I actually just bought two originals from Charles Burns - 'before and after' pictures from Black Hole [pictured above] - from Adam Baumgold Gallery in New York.”

Playing Adventure Games

“Just for relaxation, I’d rather do that. Many people spend hours watching the latest Netflix stuff. ‘Have you seen True Detective?’ ‘Have you seen Interstellar?’ Blah blah blah. Hey. It’s great, of course, but I’d rather flick on my PlayStation and spend four hours playing an amazing adventure game. Then I’m IN the movie. Someone has scripted it for me, but a really good game can really suck you in.

I’m very picky with what I’m playing. Usually I play very atmospheric kinds of games. The kind where I can sit back and just walk around in this world for an hour without even having to do something.

I’ve been playing the latest Assassin’s Creed for example in the French Revolution. How they crafted Paris with all the characters, the wind and weather. You can smell the stench through the TV almost. All these dirty characters with rotten teeth and the rats. It’s amazing just jumping across the rooftops of Paris in the late 1780s. I get lost in that world.

Sandbox is the word, like I don’t know how many hours of Skyrim I have played, but I can just run up and find myself atop a snowy mountain and this choir of men starts to sing and you see the northern lights. You’re in the movie instead of sitting on the sofa half asleep watching it.

It ties into being a kid, being part of an amazing world. If it’s well crafted it really pulls you in. It’s a drug.”

Have a look for these influences on Tomas’ reel

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