When I was a a kid I remember watching late night tv and seeing a program of shorts on a science fiction station. They were always interesting but this one, where a man oddly moves around a room and sits across from another man, follows a series of instructions and a meal is produced from his silent dining companion and who, after eating, becomes the meal for the next hungry customer really seemed to stick with me. But it wasn't just the content that made this film unforgettable, what made this short film stick with me for my entire life was the fact that it was shot in stop motion using humans, my first glance at pixelation.
Little did I know that years later I would help make Gravity, an entire feature where I was a human, animated puppet. That short that lodged in my young brain was made by none other than the brilliant Jan Svankmajer . His gross, dark humor and intensely unique (and skilled) animating seriously paved the way for animation to be seen as a serious artform. And, last night, we met the legendary Jan Svankmajer in the meaty flesh!
His most recent feature, Surviving Life, which I finally got to see last night as well, is made of an insane mix of live action footage and (mainly) animated cut outs, a hybrid that Svankmajer jokingly explains at the beginning of the film as evolving from lack of funding "We saved on catering since photos don't eat." The cut outs are made from vivid photographs of the actors placed in front of stale, sterile black & white photographed backgrounds. As someone who has been through the process of an animated feature, the thing I was most impressed with was Svankmajer's editing in this film. He was able to move fluidly through real time footage to these photographic, jointed puppets to his signature close ups of actions and fragmented body parts (usually mouths) in such a completely seamless way that I was floored! Brent always says that he filmed Gravity completely in stop motion in order for your eye to adjust to the strangeness of it, so that you wouldn't think "O, it is animated now, something weird is going to happen" but Svankmajer, being the old master that he is, was able to make the transition almost un-noticebly allowing for scenes to move form reality into a dreamlike state of giant hands applauding out of windows and portraits of Freud & Jung duking it out in a psychoanaylsts office wall.
We met Svankmajer at an art opening here in Rotterdam at the Czech Culture Center for an exhibition composed of collages based on his film, further proving how he has paved the way for our way of life! He doesn't speak English so a translator awkwardly introduced us to him. At first he seemed like he wanted to hide but, when I told the translator what film we had made, she quickly forced him to pay attention- another testament to the amazing reception Gravity has been receiving over here in Europe! I think this was an amazing experience for Brent, I really can't explain how incredible meeting the creator of this thing we do was, to meet the person who has really made it possible for animation to be the life (and livelihood) of not only us but also of so many of our friends! Thank you Mr. Svankmajer! (wipes tear from face, smiles) Thank You!