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Immersed in Movies: The NFB Heads to LA Shorts

Immersed in Movies: The NFB Heads to LA Shorts

The NFB has three shorts in store for Los Angeles International Short Film Festival(Sept. 3-10), including the North American premiere of If I Was God by two-time Oscar nominee Cordell Barker along with The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer by Randall Lloyd Okita and In Deep Waters by Sarah Van Den Boom .

If I Was God (screening Sept 9 at 3:15 pm) marks the stop-motion debut for 2D animator Barker (Strange Invaders, The Cat Came Back). It explores the awkward transition in middle school when kids imagine themselves to be omnipotent and uses a variety of techniques. Ironically, Barker admitted that his memory for the past isn’t very good.

“There was a lot of manufactured stuff and whatever came to mind to create a story,” Barker explained. “I wanted to do a parody of remembering [your childhood]. And to me, coming of age at 12 or 13 is a true gateway. It’s more about the glimpse into adulthood rather than the actual transition into adulthood. I like the idea of projecting ahead and imagining the power of adulthood and the inability to contain it.

“It was a blend of using pros and doing some of it myself because I wanted to have hands-on. So while I took on the cutaway imagination sequences, the classroom stuff is legitimate, professional grade stop-mo. So I had this couple in Montreal doing that and that gave me a comfort level. It was still difficult because I had to convey it. I actually went through a pretty laborious process to make sure I would get what I wanted. I learned how to use Maya in order to build the room and figure out what was in each shot and lens choices. And for the timing, I created all of that CG; I created coded animation so I could work on when characters blinked and when an arm would move and exact timing of actions. And I gave each shot to the animators so they would know the exact tempo that I was after. I’m used to taking short cuts, but you can’t take liberties with a three-dimensional design. And every time I drew up these three-dimensional characters, they looked bland so I had to keep tweaking it forever.
And when I finally went to Montreal with all of my props and everything, I found it unbelievably daunting to take that first frame and start moving forward. It was freaky all the way through. I’m used to throwing out 2D animation but stop-mo is an all or nothing discipline. It was a fantastic moment when I hit that last shot. It was like being released from jail.”

The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer (screening Wednesday at 1:00 pm) represents Okita’s first animated work. It’s a visually arresting short about two brothers who share the scars, though not the memories, of an untold history that has driven them to existential extremes, combining high-speed camerawork, striking art direction and intricate animation.

“It’s connected to my experiences and inspired by my family,” Okita said. “I particularly made it for my mother and for members of her family who are survivors and seeing how people deal with traumatic events and build themselves up. And I was very much interested in the idea of identity and how we think of ourselves and build up ideas that either towards or away certain habits or certain incidents in our lives. And then also how much distance can develop between the people that we are closest to or have the most shared history with. I wanted to make a story about the aftermath or the rebuilding rather than what started it.
“I started with a lot of references: stills, design photography. This being my first foray into animation, I wasn’t adept in a lot of the techniques. That’s a scary and interesting place to come into that conversation because that ignorance is blissful when you’re chasing something and you don’t know how difficult it is to get there. We employed dozens of different kinds of techniques (photographs, motion graphics, 2D, 3D) and experimented with trying to determine the right flavor, look and feel of these different moments and then still made sure there was a coherence. 
“Having worked in live-action, you can get to a rough cut and see if it’s going to work and then polish it. When you’re working on intersecting techniques that are coming together at different stages, sometimes you’re not sure that it’s gonna work. You make yourself very vulnerable because it was a whole new level of parameters and a whole new level of emotional excavation.”

In Deep Waters (screening Friday at 3:15 pm) explores the close bond shared by twins in the womb and what happens when one of the twins dies during the pregnancy, leaving the other with nearly a lifelong feeling of grief. Van Den Boom tells the stories of three people who are deeply affected by the death of their twin in utero, a phenomenon rarely discussed yet not uncommon.
“My interest in this particular subject, vanishing twin syndrome, goes back to a conversation with my mother: I learned that while she was pregnant with me, she’d had massive bleeding around the third month. She’d been hospitalized and the doctors thought it was a miscarriage. I had heard about vanishing twin syndrome, so the possibility hit me very hard, like a shock wave,” Van Den Boom recalled. “There were no ultrasounds back then, and I’ll never know for sure in my specific case, but the subject was fascinating to me and I wanted to learn more about it. Searching on the Web, I found a forum on the topic, with people swapping stories. It was then that I had the idea of making a film, and I went to meet some of them, all across France. I think it’s something that’s hardly ever talked about, and ‘survivors’ themselves are quite discreet; it’s hard for them to open up about it. My film is more about questions than answers: an invitation to raise the issue and observe it with sensitivity.
“The interior sets were created using miniatures photographed and then treated as 2D backgrounds, into which we integrated hand-drawn characters using traditional animation. The exteriors and the natural history museum that we see at the end were done with photomontages. I wanted to create a more ‘palpable,’ realistic environment than in my earlier films, because the interviews I had done had taken me into people’s homes, with their possessions, their environments, for a few hours. Of course I invented the apartments we see in the film, but I wanted to recreate a tangible everyday reality for these characters. I could have gone with stop-motion puppet animation, but I’m a 2D animator to start with. Plus, these people aren’t very anchored; there’s something keeping them in another dimension, so the fragile aspect of drawings seemed natural to me.

“The undersea environments with the icebergs were built from resin, then photographed and shot in multiplane. When my hero dives under the ice, I wanted to generate a feeling of both wonderment and slight claustrophobia. And ice, when it melts, can take on such an organic look that the connection with the uterus was easy to make.”

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