‘Bestia’: How the Oscar-Nominated, Stop-Motion Short Explored Chilean Torture

The Annie winners talked about exploring one of Chile's darkest periods, and meeting Guillermo del Toro at the recent Oscar Nominees Luncheon.
Bestia Stop-Motion Short
Courtesy of Hugo Covarrubias and Tevo Díaz

Bestia” is certainly the most provocative and unsettling of the Oscar-nominated shorts this season, exploring through stop-motion the complex mindscape of Ingrid Olderöck, the notorious “Woman of the Dogs,” an agent of the secret police who trained dogs to torture and rape women during Chile’s military dictatorship of the ’70s. “Bestia” won the Annie award for animated short, giving it momentum heading into the Oscars.

“We tried to represent this topic as if it were a regular relationship with a woman and a dog at the beginning of the film,” said Chilean animator and director Hugo Covarrubias. “More than a pet and like a companion, their relationship is very symbiotic. In our vision we made a fiction based on real events. We took her mental images so you don’t know what’s real and what’s not. And the symbolism is a lot more indirect than direct.”

Covarrubias, who previously worked in theater and TV, found a kindred spirit in documentary filmmaker Tevo Díaz, who produced “Bestia.” The timing was perfect: The Chilean animation community has become a force to be reckoned with, thanks to the global outreach of the Oscar-winning “Bear Story” short from 2016. “Bestia,” too, has been celebrated, with President Gabriel Boric tweeting about it before taking office.

Both Covarrubias and Diaz were keen on shining a light on Olderöck’s human rights violations half a century ago, especially given the backdrop of the 2019 social protests in Chile that have led to constitutional reform and transformational change. “Bestia” began ambitiously as a potential series before pivoting to a short because of limited funds. Stop-motion seemed the appropriate technique, though, using porcelain-like puppets to convey Ingrid’s cold nature, and felt-made puppets to convey the dog’s joyous warmth.

“Ingrid’s puppets are made out of resin because it’s lighter and unbreakable,” Covarrubias said. “It looks like ceramics or porcelain but the concepts are the same in the feel and brightness of the material. She was a woman with no expressions, and also we needed to represent the different abilities of this person with the material.”

Bestia Stop-Motion Animated Short
“Bestia”Courtesy of Hugo Covarrubias and Tevo Díaz

“We used the same expression in different environments, based on the Kuleshov effect [in Russian cinema] with different lighting and different sounds,” added Diaz. “That contrast is very shocking for audience to [symbolically] witness the abuse of the dog. Then you ask yourself: Who’s the real bestia?”

But there were also six replacement heads to express various emotions as dreams or imaginary constructs, such as when Ingrid angrily rebels and splits her bedroom in half. “The darkest moments occur when she’s in her bedroom,” Covarrubias said. “It’s like a slice of the brain.”

In depicting the house as Ingrid’s brain center, they constructed the environments out of gray cardboard. This reflected the general blandness of her world. “In Chile, at that time, the reality was gray. That was our moment in history,” Diaz said. But it was hard to work with such a cold color. “It was difficult to light because you wanted to see the texture while also respecting the color of the cardboard,” Covarrubias said. “We could rarely use painting on top [except for the  imaginary purple in the bedroom for decadence], so we relied on the real materials for color [in the clothing and decor].”

Bestia Stop-Motion Animated Short
“Bestia”Courtesy of Hugo Covarrubias and Tevo Díaz

One of the most powerful imaginary constructs was a giant bullet (made out of cardboard) piercing through the house and causing a total destructive breakdown. “I was thinking of that time when you wake up between a dream and reality,” the director said.

The ultimate tribute for Covarrubias and Diaz, aside from getting nominated, was attending the recent Oscar Nominee’s Luncheon, where they met one of their heroes, director Guillermo del Toro, whose stop-motion “Pinocchio” premieres on Netflix in the fall. Not only did del Toro pick their brains about their puppets, but he gave them the highest praise.

“He told us that, for him, this was the best short,” Diaz said.

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