Time has caught up with Bulgarian animation director Theodore Ushev. After making more than a dozen dark, allegorical shorts (“Blood Manifest” was animated with his own blood), his latest — “Blind Vaysha” (from the NFB) — has captured the zeitgeist about our tumultuous times as well as his first Oscar nomination.
Ushev, who specializes in linocut block printing, ambitiously recreated the century-old process for his animated work, adapted from the short story by his friend, Georgi Gospodinov, about a woman cursed with a green left eye that sees the past and a right brown eye that glimpses the future.
“I wanted to personalize this anxiety of being pressed between the past and the future,” Ushev told IndieWire. “I think that many people are very nostalgic for the past. And, of course, they’re afraid of the future. And now they’re afraid even more.”
Ushev also wanted to convey the graphic texture and European atmosphere of a folk tale. Thus, the existential crisis about the misplaced present is brilliantly visualized through bucolic landscapes and Benedictine architecture.
Ushev began at the Fontevraud Abbey in France, where he wrote the script, inspired by medieval drawing. He then made 50 paintings during his stay in Maine-et- Loire, drawing inspiration from the Abbey’s architecture and with the design of film’s protagonist influenced by paintings of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
“I really wanted to push forward this feeling of being part of some hidden knowledge that we all knew, but we forgot and are lost in everyday life,” Ushev added.
“What’s unique about this technique is that you don’t animate characters — you animate the colors, sometimes three, sometimes four,” he said. “And you animate by separating every color and after that you have to print them digitally, and I found a small algorithm that superimposes the layers so they look like they’re printed by hand. And this algorithm constantly moves the colors and every frame is like a unique print.”
Colors were like cheap wood paint and the director went for very simple ones: brown, beige, black, white, green, red, orange. However, orange was made from superimposing yellow and red.
Interestingly, Ushev found thematic similarities to Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival,” which also bends time in a story about uniting humanity. Their paths even crossed when Villeneuve made Canadian shorts. Plus, they share the same sound designer: Olivier Calvert, who worked on the alien shell craft.
“When I was watching the film, I noticed the similarity of vision that comes from Quebec, where we live, and during the dark winter we have clairvoyance,” he joked.