Of all the filmmaking disciplines, animation springs to mind as the area in which meticulous, to the frame pre-planning is essential. After all, who wants to wait days for a render or painstakingly stop motion their way through a scene only for it to remain on the cutting room floor? That being said, improvisation in film when done right can sometimes lead to moments of creative genius which would never have been achieved had you attempted to explicitly set them out beforehand. When German musician and animator Chris Luehning was approached to create the visuals for Heart Island’s remix of Rue Royale’s Pull Me Like A String, he brought the same flow of consciousness approach he applies to his music to the commission. Chris discusses finding his way as a relative newcomer to 3D animation at the time and how he transformed computational restrictions into bold design choices.
At a birthday party shortly after Christmas I got approached by a friend who recently saw some of my previous work. He asked if I wanted to give it a shot and animate some visuals for an artist called Heart Island. I’d only been using 3D software (Cinema 4D in particular) for about 9 months then and had no idea if I would be able to pull it off in a way that would satisfy me and the musicians. But I’ve learned that saying “no” to opportunities is no option for me as an artist, even or especially if I haven’t done something before and have no clue if it’s gonna work. So I agreed and got to work the next day. I should probably also mention that it all happened without a budget and out of pure love for music and animation.
Anyone who uses 3D software knows that rendering time is a big concern when planning a project, so I decided that I would go with a look that didn’t need much realistic lighting or reflections. And to make it seem dark and mysterious, I figured black and white would be the way to go. I remembered this game called Limbo from a while back and liked how they used this foggy cut out kinda look, which wouldn’t be too hard to realise just by tracing objects and extruding them in Cinema 4D. I partly wanted to create a world that looked a bit like a theatre stage where everything is moved mechanically. Since the song sounded like a dark sci-fi fairytale, I imagined an atmosphere that resembled the way I feel every time I’m alone in the forest, gazing at the moon through the trees. It makes the universe open up and turns all the animals around me into mystical creatures.
So two days later I sent out the first few style frames and test animations, they gave me the ‘go’ and it took about 2 weeks to finish the whole project. I tried to work in 20 to 30 second sequences and set myself the goal to imagine and animate one of them each day. I’m sure it’s not the most common way to work, but it’s the way I do it when I record electronic music as well as when I’m animating. I don’t plan much ahead. I just dive into the world that I’m creating and let my consciousness flow. Afterwards I’m always surprised with what it came up with in a really short amount of time and without me getting stuck creatively at any point at all. Even if I plan things beforehand, they always turn out completely different in the end. So many impulses happen while you’re at it, that it would be silly of me to stick to a plan and not just go for the new ideas
So yeah, that’s basically it. All I used to realise the film was Cinema 4D, which is the most amazing program I’ve ever laid my hands on, and After Effects to composite the shots.