A Glimpse Into "The Tiny Chef Show" with animator & producer Ozlem Akturk

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

Chopped vegetables are strewn across the counter. A pot sits on the burners, ready to be brought to the boil. The cooking show host is getting his final touches before the cameras roll. This all sounds commonplace for your typical cooking program, but this is not your typical cooking program. And he’s not your typical chef. He’s Tiny Chef and stands about 6” tall to be exact. A production this huge for someone so tiny takes a lot of human-sized help.

One of those integral characters behind the tiny green machine is Ozlem Akturk aka Ozi. She is a Cinematographer, Co-Creator of The Tiny Chef Show and also the show’s Director of Photography. For years, she helped to build the organic international following of Tiny Chef through animation on social media and YouTube. This past year, their efforts made it to the big leagues as the already critically-acclaimed and wildly successful television series The Tiny Chef Show premiered in the US on Nickelodeon. It is now also available in the UK with plans to expand reach globally. 

Fans across continents have connected with the earnest and empathetic tones of Tiny Chef’s documented life which is relayed thanks in part to Akturk’s mood engaged lighting techniques, cinema-esque filming style and adaptability on set.  

We sat down with Ozlem to talk about her journey to Tiny Chef.

PH: Tell us about your upbringing. How has it influenced your filmmaking style?

Ozlem Akturk: As the German-born daughter of Turkish immigrants, I grew up navigating the lines between cultural and customary norms. From a young age, I understood the need for spaces to be created where all felt welcomed. Growing up, I found solace in mediums such as art, photography and ultimately cinematography. 

PH: Tiny Chef has a singular visual style. Who are your influences?

Ozlem Akturk: My stylistic inspiration comes from many sources: David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, from creators such as Hiro Murai, Bong Joon-ho and the duo know as the Daniels - Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. I have since gone on to work on the sets of Tim Burton, and Wes Anderson, and the culmination of those influences and experiences can be seen within every aspect on The Tiny Chef Show set. 

PH: While cooking is Chef’s main vehicle for which he is most known, the heart and soul of The Tiny Chef Show is sharing kindness, encouraging inclusivity and strengthening viewers’ (known as Cheffers) empathy muscle. What inspired you to create such a character?

Ozlem Akturk: This closely mirrors the way I myself move through the world. I credit my mother, Sengul, for instilling kindness, empathy and an understanding that others may be living a different experience than you. I want to evoke a mood through the visual storytelling, and guide the viewer through an inner journey. I love working on the concept and visualizing it, but more than that I love being in production and actually bringing the vision to life.

PH: Producing animation is a challenging process. How do you stay motivated and energized?

Ozlem Akturk: I think the freedom of independent decision-making on a hands-on production allows my adaptable nature and quick thinking to shine. It takes a couple of weeks to a month to film just one minute of stop-animation depending on the subject matter and character involvement. Each episode of the The Tiny Chef Show has rapid turn around with extraordinary attention to detail: four sets to expedite production but all require continuity across sets with lighting and dress. 

The team shoots in small isolated units, between 150 - 300 sq feet while maintaining complete darkness to prevent light leaks and flickers. In addition to the close quarters, I work within a sensitive stop-animation set. The placement of the sets are much less forgiving than those of their live action counterparts. When simulating daylight in confined space, oftentimes the team has to be extremely resourceful. Each shot is a new opportunity to push the limits of what is possible and find ways to make the stop-motion animation more realistic and engaging. 

The excitement of overcoming obstacles and finding solutions to problems is what makes my work as a cinematographer truly rewarding. 

PH: You have spoken before about managing a work-life balance. How do you create a sustainable life within such a demanding industry?

Ozlem Akturk: I am an advocate for physical and mental health to not only fulfill your industry work but for a balanced and enjoyable quality of life long term. 

I encourage colleagues and peers to embrace the uncomfortable. Failures are a normal and inevitable part of learning. No one succeeds without experiencing setbacks and challenges along the way. See failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.

I live by this quote from Steve Jobs: “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” 

I have also seen that when you put goodness out into the world, it is often reflected, which I can see in Chef’s fan base. We have attracted mindful and wonderful humans. 

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