"I connected these two ideas, about people living in difficult conditions and how they can adapt to them." hmv.com talks to Watersprite Festival winner Robert Loebel
The director of this year's Waterspirite Festival-winning film, Wind, animator Robert Loebel has had a busy year. One year on from the film's premiere at Pictoplasma in Berlin, we caught up with him to chat about the last 12 months, and what he's up to next...
Why did you decide to make the film?
"Wind was actually my graduation film, and also the first film of my own. Before this I was making films together with my student colleagues but for this I wanted to try and make a film on my own, using my own idea."
What inspired the concept?
"It was at the beginning of 2012 at a time when the Occupy movement had become really big and we used to have conversations in our shared flat on Sunday mornings. It became a kind of tradition, we would sit at breakfast and read the newspapers and talk about what was happening. So you had this movement happening and people getting mad at the system, I mean the whole system of capitalism. So the first idea was born out of this, I had this idea that I wanted to make a film where I could create my own system, or a film about destroying the system, where people are living in an existing system that breaks down and falls apart. This was the first idea."
"The second idea came from an architecture lecture at university. There was this lecturer talking about informal settlements and he showed pictures of slums in the Phillipines, China and Rio de Janeiro. I was fascinated by the idea of how people in these slums have really poor living conditions but also, in a way, this kind of creative lifestyle, having nothing but building houses on illegal spaces, on top of rooftops, on the water or wherever. So I connected these two ideas, about people living in difficult conditions and how they can adapt to them."
How long did it take you to make?
"The initial concept period took a long time, about four or five months just thinking about this idea as well as other concepts and how to make it precise. It looks like it’s made really fast but the hardest part was thinking ‘well, maybe I need to tell the story a bit more. There’s no main character, no narrator’. When you look at the film it’s very simple but this was the result of spending several months thinking about it and eventually going, ‘well, maybe it is better to keep it simple’. So I went the long way, all around the idea and came back to pretty much where I started! Then the actual animation process took about four months."
Was it just you working on it alone, or did you have help?
"I worked mainly alone, at the end I had some help from my friends with the colouring the characters and stuff like that, but yeah I was mostly working alone."
Can you describe your animation process?
"I bought this Wacom tablet that you can use to sketch on, so I saved a lot of time instead of drawing on paper and scanning the frames in to a computer and stuff. So it’s a really fast way of animating and if you look at the characters they are really simple, they have really hard edges.
"I start with a storyboard and make an animatic, I also draw a lot of character walks in the beginning. Everything is in 2D, so I would draw the walk cycle and then drop them into After Effects so I could loop the animation, which again saves a lot of time. For example, in the haircutting scene where there are people moving forward in a line, I drew just one character and then copied the, changing the colours for each one."
When did you decide you wanted to become an animator?
"Well, when I first started out studying in Hamburg I wanted to be a comic book artist, I was studying illustration but was becoming more interested in animation. Then I met another guy who had changed his course of study to animation, so we ended up both making a film together. This was the turning point, I really liked the way we worked, it was really experimental and I liked making things move. In the end, this film process was maybe more like coming back to a comic book style, the way the characters are drawn. In the future maybe I’d like to work in 3D, but for now I really enjoy working in a 2D style. For me the story is also really important, I think if you write a strong story it doesn’t matter what technique or style you use."
Are there any animators or filmmakers that have been a big influence on your work? Or do you take inspiration more from comic books?
"I think it’s both, but the style of the characters in Wind is partly to do with trying to make the process really fast, but I also thought this style of drawing with really hard edges suited the story, so I wasn’t trying to be too perfect. There were some films I really liked by Kunio Kato that were to do having a conflict with nature. There’s one called La Maison En Petits Cubes where these characters live in houses on water, but the water is rising, so they have to adapt to their conditions and keep building the houses higher on these blocks. So I liked this idea of people adapting to difficult conditions or struggling against something."
Has winning the Watersprite award had a positive effect?
"Ah, well the film has won quite a lot of awards now, so the effect I feel is maybe more like pressure to do something new! But it was really cool to win and the last year has been a year of traveling, touring the film, which has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of other filmmakers. But this is the thing that keeps you making films I think, meeting other filmmakers and discussing ideas. So it’s not so much about winning the prize as it is having given me this opportunity to meet other filmmakers and be inspired."
What are you working on next?
"At the beginning of this year I was working as a freelancer doing some commercial projects, but this week is the Pictoplasma festival where my film premiered one year ago, so I will take this as the starting point for my next film. I have some concepts in my sketchbook so I have to take a little time to decide which one I want to focus on, then next week I will start the next project."
What are your ambitions for the future? Where do you ultimately want to go with your work?
"I think I want to discover more of own storytelling. I think Wind has a really strong conceptand I like the jokes in it, I also like that there is this society view.When I look now on my new ideas it’s like I’m going in the same direction, but I didn’t go away thinking I want to have this overview of a big system, where everything is connected and the characters work together. Maybe I want to explore some of the details in a smaller more isolated way."
Do you think you’ll ever go back to doing comic books?
"Yeah, I think so. Last weekend in Berlin there was a big comic book exhibition and I was invited to take part in a comic battle, so there’s a moderator and six artists with six overhead projectors and it’s done in front of an audience. The moderator gives you a topic and then the audience shouts out what you should draw to battle against the guy next to you. So in this case I had to battle the other guy with a fart. He had a slice of buttered bread."
Really?? Did you win?
"No! I thought I had the better weapon, but he did a better drawing, so that was it, I lost! But it’s great fun!"