Tagged: film

Jan Švankmajer’s Final Film

Jan Švankmajer is in the process of making his final film, ‘Insects’. He has successfully crowdfund part of the production on indigogo, which is getting more common with filmmakers of his level.

When asked about why he chose crowdfunding over more traditional funding methods, Svankmajer stated that “It gets increasingly difficult to fund independent art that scrutinizes the very core of our society. Who would deliberately support their own critics? We make a film every five or six years not because of a lack of ideas, but due to the lack of funds to back up our projects. Our hope is that crowdfunding may be the way to change this. The initial $150,000 we aim to raise on Indiegogo will enable us to start shooting with live actors; eventually, we will need to raise far more in order to complete the animations and post-production.”


The film will be based on the satirical Čapek Brothers play, Pictures from the Insects’ Life. Svankmajer has stated that “The Čapek brothers’ play is very misanthropic. I’ve always liked that — bugs behave as human beings, and people behave as insects. My screenplay extends this misanthropy further while also reflecting Franz Kafka and his famous ‘Metamorphosis.’”

“To those of you who choose to support our effort, I want to thank you. I promise you that I will invest my entire body and soul into this last feature film of mine. After all, that’s the only way I know how to create.” (JŠ)

I’m really looking forward to seeing what Svankmajer accomplishes with Insects, but also sad that this will be his last film.


Aspect Ratio!

I’m about to begin story-boarding so I’m currently looking into what aspect ratio to use for my film. Although it seems like a it’s pretty small and inconsequential decision, it will impact how I compose and edit the shots and the overall look of the film. It’ll also be really hard to change even half-way through pre-production.

Everything I’ve previously worked on (except for a few old 4×3 projects) has been 1.78:1 (or 16×9). This is pretty much because 1.78:1 is the main standard for HDTV and web based videos these days, so it has almost become the default choice. However, there are some other aspect ratios that are worth looking into.

There have been many aspect ratios used throughout the history of cinema. Here’s a great video from FilmmakerIQ on the history of aspect ratios for those interested.

I’ve also found a great vimeo channel called Unsusual Aspect Ratios which highlights the diversity of aspect ratios people are using out there.

Most contemporary feature films use one of these three aspect ratios:
2.39:1 – ‘Scope’
1.85:1 – ‘Flat’ or ‘Theatrical Widescreen’
1.78:1 (16×9) – HDTV

Of course there are exceptions to this, such as Mommy (2014) by Xavier Dolan which is mostly uses a 1:1 square aspect ratio, or The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) which changes between 1.37:1, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1. These rare aspect ratios are interesting but I’m mostly interested in using the 2.39:1 ‘scope’ and 1.85:1 ‘flat’ aspect ratios. There are several pros and cons to both which has made it pretty difficult for me to decide on which I want to go with.

2.39:1 ‘Scope’ aspect ratio (sometimes referred to as 2.35:1) gives a wide field of view which is great for panoramic shots, landscape shots and tight close-ups. The wide frame can lend your cinematography theatricality and gravity.

The cons of 2.39:1 lay in distribution. Depending on your digital distributor, your film may be required to be ‘pan and scanned’ (cropped) down to 16×9. This is unacceptable as it will ruin the framing of your shots completely. Thankfully this seems to be getting less common as digital distributors are happier letterboxing the film to fit 16×9 screens.

Many of my favourite live-action films such as Kwaidan (1964), Kuroneko (1968), The Sword of Doom (1966), the Lone Wolf and Cub series (1972), The Devils (1971), Onibaba (1964), Dogtooth (2009), the Female Convict Scorpion trilogy (1972) and Old Boy (2003) have been shot in 2.39:1 scope ratio.

OctoberTheDevils4The Devils (1971) ~2.39:1

maxresdefaultWe Are The Strange (2007) ~2.39:1

kuroneko 2Kuroneko (1968) ~2.39:1

1.85:1 ‘flat’ is wide yet not excessive. It’s the middle ground of theatrical aspect ratios. It is also close to 1.78:1 so on 16×9 screens the letter boxing is minimal or optionally (but in-advisably) you can cut a little off the sides to fit the frame.

Many great films such as A Clockwork Orange (1971), Fitzcarraldo (1982) and The Birds (1963) were shot in 1.85:1; as well as many great animations such as Ghost in the Shell (1995), Akira (1988), Angel’s Egg (1985), Princess Mononoke (1997), Waltz With Bashir (2008).

g1Ghost In The Shell (1995) ~1.85:1

a-clockwork-orange (1)A Clockwork Orange (1971) ~1.85:1

angels-eggAngel’s Egg (1985) ~1.85:1

One of my initial hesitations for using 2.39:1 is that until pretty recently there just isn’t that much animation done in that aspect ratio. Some early Toei animations such as Magic Boy (1959), as well as the more recent Evangelion 3.0 (2012) used 2.39:1, however nearly all theatrical anime has, and continues to use 1.85:1 ‘flat’.

With the exception of a couple of 2.39:1 Disney animations such as Brother Bear (2000) and Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), the majority of Disney films were shot in their preffered aspect ratio of 1.66:1.

Another rare example of 2.39:1 aspect ratios being used in animation is M Dot Strange’s feature films We Are The Strange (2008), Heart String Marionette (2012) and I Am Nightmare (2014) which all use the 2.39:1 aspect ratio.

Many of my favourite western and independent animations had extremely tight budgets, so they tend to be a mix of 1.37:1, 1.66:1, or 1.85:1, such as Fantastic Planet (1.66:1), Midori (1.37:1), Hair High (1.66:1) and Alice (1.37:1).

Let’s look at the DCP frame sizes.
. Flat (1998×1080 or 3996×2160), ~1.85:1 aspect ratio
. Scope (2048 x 1080 or 4096×1716), ~2.39:1 aspect ratio
. HDTV (1920×1080 or 3840×2160), ~1.78:1 (16×9) aspect ratio

The majority of my audience will access my film through VOD or from downloading it, which means the film will most likely be watched on TVs or computer monitors; the majority of  which have an aspect ratio of 16×9. This means that if I went with 2.39:1 for my film, most people will see the film letter-boxed. Letter-boxing isn’t such a big deal for me (I actually kind of like it), so I’m not going to let that influence me.

What could influence me is if a distributor makes me crop the finished film to 16×9. That would be the worst possible scenario for a 2.39:1 film. While it’s worth considering hypothetical situations and problems that may come down the line, it isn’t enough to sway me. It also seems to be coming less frequent as network bandwidth’s improve across the globe.

I’m instantly drawn to the 2.39 scope ratio. But is it the right choice for my animation?

To help me decide I made some 1.85:1 and 2.39:1 (or 2.35… whatever!) viewers from cardboard and duct tape so I could frame some shots and find what feels better to me.

aspect ratio viewers
I framed multiple shots of various types to get a feel for the frame ratios. I looked at framing human figures, objects and landscapes in Extreme Close-ups, Very Close-ups, Close-ups, Medium Close-ups, Mid Shots, 3/4 Shots, Long Shots and Extreme Long-shots and in a wide variety of angles.

aspect ratio viewer 1 aspect ratio viewer 2Sketch by Jared Brown

The shot framing tests pretty much just confirmed what I already thought.

1.85:1 is a solid aspect ratio. It excels at framing MCU’s, CU’s, MS’s and 3/4 Shots. Framing long shots or ECU’s with it is ok, but it has less room to create interesting compositions. I feel that this aspect ratio would be great for framing scenes inter-personal conflict and intimate subject matter.

2.39:1 was good at framing at CU’s, MCU’s, MS’s and 3/4 shots but it was a little harder to frame them effectively due to it’s width. This aspect ratio was excellent at ECU’s, LS’s, ELS’s, panoramic and scenic shots. The 2.39:1 aspect ratio will be great for impressive scenic shots, grand, intense or epic subject matter as well as dynamic compositions.

Ultimately (as you may have guessed), it really just comes down to taste. What kind of film do I want to make? What kind of actions will be occurring on screen? What kind of cinematography will suite the style and content? What am I most comfortable using?

After thinking about this for some time and swaying back and forth multiple times I’ve decided to go with 2.39:1. The wide frame gives heaps of room to create dynamic and expressive shot compositions. I also feel that the wide frame will suite my film better, as the subject matter is intense and will contain a fair amount of large set pieces and spectacle.

Maybe I overthought this, but as it’s something that will be hard to change once I’ve begun, I thought I should really try to figure out what I wanted. I hope this helps any other filmmakers or animators out there trying to decide which aspect ratio they want to go with. If you have any questions hit me up.

-Hamish .S


SO you’re making your own animated feature or ambitious short film. You’re dedicated and working as hard as you can to make the best film possible, but you still need to eat, pay the rent, get equipment/materials, pay the electricity bill etc. So there comes the big question. How you fund your creative project?

Options really depend on where you’re living/making your film. I live in Australia and there are certain options I can take that might be different from ones where you live, but I’ll try and keep this list as globally relevant as possible.

I’m sure you’re already clued into crowd-funding. But if not, sites like Kickstarter, Pozible and IndieGoGo can help you get funding by giving you a platform to ask people who may want your work to fund it in small donations in return for content. For crowd-funding to work you’ll need to already have produced some content like concept-drawings or trailers to allow possible donors to see and become interested in what you’re offering. I also recommend not asking for too much money as if you don’t reach your target in the allotted time you don’t get the money. Crowd funding seems to work best for creators whose audience has taste inside edges of mainstream. Content such as genre films, pop culture references or sequels to already well known IP is often successfully funded. It probably won’t be very successful if you’re trying to fund you weirdo art film or avant-garde comic book but you might as well give it a go because one of the best things about crowd funding is that you have nothing to lose by trying.

In Australia artists/filmmakers can apply for grants from Screen Australia for film, or Arts Council for more experimental work (art). Getting a grant extremely competitive and you really need to know how to write applications in a certain way. You’ll also need to fulfill and fit neatly in their key criteria depending on the specific grant. It really depends on the project you’re working on whether you’ll even be eligible to apply. It’s not looking like I can apply for funding for my feature at either of these funding bodies due to my unconventional production (solo animated feature), but I’ll keep looking around and maybe I’ll be able to in the future.

UK: The British Film Institute looks like it’s your place to go.
Germany: Check out The German Federal Film Fund.
USA: Unfortunately there’s no federal film funding body in the US. Certain states offer tax credit but it’s unlikely it’ll be useful for D.I.Y or underground filmmakers.
Other Countries: It really depends where you are. Have a look around for federal or state/provincial film funding. Send out some emails to people. It can’t hurt.

This is what I’m doing for my first feature. The idea is that you get a job you work at 2/3 days a week that will pay enough to cover living expenses. The rest of your time you use working on your film. You’ll probably be living below or close to the poverty line but it’ll be worth it in the future when you’ve got films to sell. Just be careful the job & the lure of more money and easier living doesn’t suck you into doing too many days and compromising on your film. I’ve seen it happen. You’ll end up with no film AND a shitty job.

Independent filmmakers have been known to use bank loans or credit cards to fund their feature film productions. It’s pretty a pretty risky move though due to insane interest rates which mean you end up paying much more than you actually borrowed. Filmmakers Susan Buice and Arin Crumley took out a bunch of credit cards to fund their 2005 debut feature Four Eyed Monsters and accrued over $100,000 in debt. I’m not sure if they’ve paid it off yet but I doubt it. Be careful, doing this might help you make your first feature but will cripple you financially enough that you won’t be able to make your second for ages.

Investments: Generally to get a large enough return on any investment you need sufficient capitol invested to begin with. So… probably not the most useful to us as if we had that kind of money we wouldn’t need funding to begin with. Keep an eye out for stuff like bit-coin though, even though it’s high risk (markets could crash and you lose your moneys).

Hook Up With a Rich Person: Long shot here… but you could always hook up with a sugar mummy/sugar daddy. Unethical and kind of immoral… but if you love each other I guess it’d be ok.

Medical Research: Robert Rodriguez did it! Didn’t work for me unfortunately but maybe they’re more willing to use human guinea pigs where you’re from.

People Will Try to Discourage You – Especially Other Animators Pt. 1

If you’re going to get into solo feature film animation, not a lot of people will understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and you’ll face a lot of derision from some of these people.

Already this early in my life as a filmmaker I’ve faced disapproval, people telling me that what I’m planning on doing can’t be done and general opposition. I’ve had this sort of reception from many different types of people including family and friends, but what really surprised me was that this response most often came from people who work in the ‘animation industry’. When I was at art school I would walk across to the animation school and talk to the teachers there about animation as they were so called ‘professionals’ in the industry. Whenever we got onto the topic of solo feature animation and what I was planning to do, they dismissed me and said it was impossible.

I recently had a similar encounter and thought I would share it with you all because you’ll likely come across the same thing. I went to a party the other night and began talking to a friend who works at an animation company about the feature I’ve started work on. Now I don’t normally talk to people IRL about my animation because the more I talk about it the less likely I’ll actually get it done and most people don’t really understand or care(and I don’t expect them to), but she asked me what I had been up to and I was a bit drunk. She seemed at first taken aback and then posed a series of arguments as to why I shouldn’t do what I’m doing.

“You should just make a short film. It’ll be much easier and you can try and get it into Annecy.” 

Well there are many reasons why I want to make a feature as opposed to a short film. The first would be that I view the two formats as fundamentally different in what you can achieve with them. With a feature you are able to weave great stories with considerable character development to push your conflict and therefore your narrative. In comparison a short film it is much more difficult to do this because of the time constraint. That is why more short films are whimsical and quaint and tend to lack the depth capable of being generated by a feature. In saying that though it is not a rule, there are short films who do this better than some features but they are very rare. Another reason is the fact that I find animated features more intriguing due to their scarcity whereas animated shorts are everywhere. If I’m to pour my heart and soul into a project for 3-5 years I would rather it have a duration I can really work with to make it great and stand out, rather than another short even if that short was well executed. The third reason is that all my favourite films and most of my influences are features. Why is that? Again, it’s because you can do MORE with a feature film. I like plenty of shorts sure but the films I really take inspiration from tend to be longer form.

“You should collaborate instead of doing it yourself.”

There are pros and cons to everything. Here are some I’ve discovered about the differences between solo and collaborative film making.

Benefits and drawbacks of solo filmmaking

  • Complete control over your project
  • Don’t need to compromise vision
  • Other won’t let you down
  • You will likely develop faster
  • Have to do it yourself
  • It’s more difficult
  • It takes more of your personal time

Benefits and drawbacks of collaborative filmmaking

  • You can use others skills and expertise
  • It’s easier
  • It will take less personal time
  • You will likely need to compromise your vision
  • You will need to pay them in either time or money
  • You will be reliant on others who will possible let you down or doom the project

Both modes of production are valid and it’s really up to you with what you want as a filmmaker. Personally I much prefer the idea of doing it myself and creating something personal than compromising my vision and relying on others. This maybe because I’ve had a LOT of bad experiences with collaboration so I see the pitfalls of it clearly. Perhaps one day I will work collaboratively but not until I’ve got enough behind me to not have to compromise.

“Have you heard of the ‘Thief and the Cobbler’, making a feature by yourself is impossible. You’ll just end up like Richard Williams.”

Richard Williams is an animator who tried to make a feature animation called ‘the Thief and the Cobbler’  for over 20 years and never finished. Firstly Williams wasn’t a solo feature film animator. He had an entire team working on the Thief and the Cobbler. He also wasn’t working on it full time due to his work on commercials to raise money for the expensive cell animation style his team were working in. In my opinion the real reason he never finished it was because he never really wanted to finish it, at least subconsciously. It was his fear of failure masquerading behind perfectionism that stopped him from completing it. While the story of Richard Williams and ‘the Thief and the Cobbler’ is a good lesson on what NOT to do, it still doesn’t really have many similarities to the idea contemporary solo feature animation. Technology has advanced so far that it’s perfectly possible for one person or a small team to complete a feature animation provided they put in enough effort. It’s not even like i’m the first person ever to make a solo feature film. Frank Sudol, M Dot Strange, Nina Paley, Jeff Lew, John Bergin, Bill Plympton, Ray Nowland and others have done it so why can’t I? The real answer is you can if you want it and the only things that can stop you are your health or your will.

“What’s your end game? What do you hope to achieve with this film?”

I hope to make a good film and I hope to say something. There is no other end game. This is the real thing. When I finish this film I will make another. I don’t want to get picked up by any animation company, I just want to have the resources to keep making better and better work and improving. One day I hope to have made good enough films to have some people who find watching them rewarding.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my rant. It’ll be up in a few days.

-Hamish .S


Using Narration in Animation

Narration is an interesting storytelling tool as it’s probably the closest aspect of moving image to literature. I’ve always been a bit averse to narration especially when it’s used heavily or too much. I’ve been known to yell at television sets and movie screens “show don’t tell motherfucker”.

Even though it’s not really my thing, there are certain instances when narration can be really effective. I’ve observed that when it’s used NOT in conjunction with diegetic dialogue it can work particularly well. But when it’s used in conjunction with characters speaking on screen it just comes off lazy.

One such instance of effective narration I can think of would be the intro at the beginning of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring which was quite remarkable and still sends shivers down my spine when I watch it.

Another example would be the Dishonored: Tales of Dunwall animations. Besides the annoying child’s voice narrating(would’ve been better with Cate Blanchett) it’s extremely well done and an example of an good story(or part of one) and great storytelling technique.

I recently came across this student animation, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Tom Beg. Adapted from parts of Oscar Wilde’s novel of the same name, the entire short is comprised of visuals that take cues from the constant narration without actually depicting what’s happening in the story. Although not something I would personally pursue, It’s a technique that might interest some of you out there with budding stories. It’s an interesting way of visual storytelling and could be developed further.

– Hamish .S

Weekly Inspiration #1 Jojo in the Stars

Jojo in the Stars directed by Marc Craste has been one of my favourite short animations for some time. It’s simple yet grimy design really strikes a chord with me, not to mention the amazing sound design and just plain excellent storytelling. It really follows the list of priority of elements in filmmaking I try to follow;





Jojo in the stars was inspired by ‘The Carny’ by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, of the album ‘Your Funeral… My trial'(1986) which is one of my all time favourites.

It’s sad to hear that now Studio AKA who helped create Jojo in the Stars and another great short animation ‘Varmints’ are now mainly just doing advertisement work or less than original shorts. Such is one of the biggest traps of being a creative, the giant maelstrom of corporate work and the promise of money, ‘nice things’ and beautiful people who are attracted to nice things slowly sucking you in… but more on that topic later.

Now sit back and watch ‘Jojo in the Stars’