Animation has always been something we’ve wanted to cover in greater depth here on DN. Over our 6 years of interviewing directors on the site, it’s been a privilege to talk to some boundary pushing animators including the likes of Grant Orchard, Rosto, Matthias Hoegg, Andrew S Allen & Jossie Malis. Now, in the first of an ongoing series looking directly at the work of established/up-and-coming animators in the medium of short film, we explore their inspirations, production methods and plans for the future:
Having “accidentally rolled into animation” whilst studying painting at the Art Academy of Rotterdam in 1995, Dutch filmmaker Hisko Hulsing doesn’t show the signs of a man who has stumbled into his field. Anyone who’s seen his work will be in no doubt that this is a master of the craft, his painterly touch, meticulous eye for detail and aptitude for storytelling shining so brightly throughout his films. Experiencing his work is almost like taking a leisurely stroll around a gallery of paintings, whilst someone recalls the most engaging of stories in your ear. Part of you wants to stop, pause and take in the majesty of the visuals, whilst the rest of you is whisked away, caught up in the twisting narrative and the flow of the story.
Hulsing’s initial foray into animation came about because of his desire to collaborate with brother Milan, a comic artist who has been publishing comics and illustrations since the mid nineties. The siblings “fantasised about making an animated film together”, but Hisko’s interest in the craft soon led to full-on obsession as the artist began to comprehend the almost limitless potential of the art form.
“I started studying all aspects of live-action filmmaking, in order to become a good director. I became a real filmbuff, I watched thousands of films, read many books about filmmaking and although I have never directed a live-action film, I use all the knowledge I have to make films that are cinematic and well edited and tell a straightforward story in visual attractive ways”.
Hulsing’s latest, Junkyard is his third short in thirteen years, a portfolio which may seem sparse to some filmmakers, but not when you consider his most recent film was six and a half years in production. Work on Hulsing’s first animation Harry Rents a Room began during his apprenticeship in the Bratri v Triku studio in Prague. The short was completed with finances the director was able to accrue with his commercial work and was even screened before Cronenberg’s Existenz in Dutch cinemas and during select screenings of Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In 2004, Hulsing’s second short Seventeen – the tale of a shy seventeen-year-old construction worker attempting to hold his own in the macho world of roofers – saw the director receive his first taste of critical acclaim. Playing at numerous festivals worldwide, where it wowed audiences and critics alike, in 2005 Hulsing found his ‘magical realism’ styled animation selected as the official Dutch entry in the Best Animated Short category for the 2005 Academy Awards. Seven years on from this success and the director is poised to release his latest slice of dark animation on an unsuspecting festival-going public, as Junkyard begins screening at gatherings worldwide. Hisko was gracious enough to treat us to an enviable preview of his latest production in its 18-minute entirety, before the expected festival buzz begins to build.
A man is being robbed and stabbed by a junkie and in that last second before he dies, a youth friendship flashes before his eyes. He and his bosomfriend grew apart, when the latter was being drawn more and more into a misty world of drugs and criminality under influence of a lowlife dealer who lives with his father on the junkyard in their neighbourhood.
Produced by Il Luster (Wad & Little Quentin) and created using 2d & 3d animation techniques layered over oil-painted backgrounds (120 oil-paintings were created for Junkyard and varied in size from 100cm – 220cm wide), Junkyard is an intoxicating blend of striking artwork and intelligently crafted storytelling. Hulsing takes up his usual roles as writer, director, animator and composer (he also composed and arranged the score on Seventeen) on this latest production and his fastidious attention to detail in all aspects of filmmaking is once again evident.
However, this wasn’t a production without its hardships with the director openly admitting to the frustrations he felt in making “an 18 minute animation in this laborious style”.
“We had to make 25000 drawings, color them and then frame by frame paint the shadows over it. It took us 6 and a half years. It was really a hell of a job that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. Parts of it are fun, like painting the backgrounds, other parts are really boring and difficult at the same time”.
Whilst the visuals created by Hulsing and his small team of 2d & 3d animators (Polder Animation add an extra dimension to Junkyard by creating three dimensional projections of inanimate objects painted by Hulsing) are bound to be the main talking point on an initial viewing of the film, this certainly isn’t a short that is lacking in drama or plot. Junkyard’s story unwinds in a confident non-linear fashion, inspired by its creator’s passion for live-action filmmaking – Hulsing is obviously a filmmaker who is all to aware that there’s little point in putting that much effort into a film’s look if the story has no hook.
“The inspiration (for Junkyard’s story) comes directly from my own youth. I had a lot of friends that seemed doomed to get on the wrong track. I don’t want to spread a message that for some it is inevitable to become a criminal or drug-addict, but judging from my own experiences I seemed more lucky than others, when it comes to environment and upbringing”.
It’s clear that Junkyard is a very personal film for its creator and although “not entirely autobiographical”, Hulsing mixes his own memories of encounters with drugs and crime in his youth with the experience of “being an outsider looking at lives going the wrong way” to create a fascinating narrative. However, brushes with the darker-side of life will not have been evident in everyone’s upbringing and in creating his narrative Hulsing recognised that his film would need more to hook his audience and relate to all his viewers. On the surface this may look like a film about bad decisions, but the director utilises notions of exclusion and rejection as themes that “are recognisable for everyone”.
Junkyard has already had its festival premiere at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in June of this year and should travel the globe touring the circuit for the foreseeable future, before “theatrical distribution hopefully follows, as well as television sales” – but what next for its talented creator?
“I’m not sure yet. I would like to make a feature animation film, because it gives me more possibilities to make an intelligent film with depth. I’m fascinated by religion, I really don’t understand how religious well-educated people can combine their religious beliefs with the scientific knowledge they are exposed to. On the other hand I see a lot of religious habits and thoughtpatterns with non-believers and secular societies and organisations too. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I think that I would like to make science fiction film about it. An anti-religious science-fiction film. I realise that it doesn’t sound like the best pitch ever, with 90 % of the worlds population believing in a personal God”.
Sounds like a pretty good pitch to us Hisko and I’m sure there would be many more that would agree. And if you’re looking for someone to voice some kind of crazed anti-christ, the DN team will be more than happy to lend its vocal talents.