We’re really not in the business of playing favourites here at DN, but if we were, Péter Vácz’s playful story of a friendship which persists across dimensions, Rabbit and Deer would certainly be up there. Which goes a way to explaining just how excited I was to discover that Péter had been commissioned to create the music video for All I’m Saying from James – the band who hold the honour of being my first taste of live music. We talk to Péter about rising to the challenge of a tight deadline and working with James frontman Tim Booth to find another level to this very personal story of loss and regret.
We last spoke to you about your excellent short Rabbit and Deer which to put it mildly, has been a smash hit worldwide (over 100 international awards) and is a possible 2015 Best Animated Short Film Oscar contender. What impact has the film’s critical acclaim had on your career?
I got to travel a lot and meet many wonderful people. They gave me a lot of positive feedback and throughout these conversations I realized that Rabbit and Deer talks about kindness and caring – values that we seek – which I wasn’t fully aware of back when I made the film. It’s interesting to learn something by listening to other people’s thoughts on your own creation. The awards and recognition can be very hard sometimes to handle but it’s a great feeling when a job like James’ music video comes in and I get credibility and trust because of my previous works.
Was your signing to Picasso Pictures a direct result of Rabbit and Deer’s success?
No, actually they contacted me earlier because of my first film Streamschool. It was just when I was in the middle of making my graduation film Rabbit and Deer and I didn’t even think about how great an opportunity this could be until I finished the film. Then I went to visit them in London and I signed to them. All I’m Saying is our first project which I believe is a perfect start.
How did you get involved with the All I’m Saying music video? What was the brief that came in from James?
Sam Hope, the wonderful executive producer from Picasso Pictures sent me over the band’s brief asking if I was interested in making a music video in 3 weeks. The brief was very simple – they wanted to continue the ‘unique and quality feel’ that Ainslie Henderson did on their beautiful Moving On music video. There were two more reference videos for the mood and a very tough deadline… In the next two days I made a few sketches, a puppet and even some animation tests because I really wanted to get the job. A couple days later they selected me so I cancelled my already arranged trip to a Russian festival and continued working on the video.
How much do you feel the film’s narrative relates to Tim Booth’s lyrics? Was that an important factor for the project?
Yes, it was. I liked the contrast between the energetic music and the sadder lyrics about loosing someone you love. That’s a thing that we all can relate to somehow. After Tim saw my treatment he called me on Skype and told the whole story behind the song – it was beautiful, spiritual and astonishing. That experience became my main source for making the video. This is how Tim described it in the interview with John Mullen on The Quietus: “…there was the death of somebody in the world I loved most apart from my wife. She’d kept her cancer from me, and I hadn’t seen her in a few years because of a stupid disagreement. I flew to New York to see her, and I was too late. I was devastated – and I still am when I think about her.”
Did the band take a hands on approach throughout production?
I only Skyped with Tim during the whole project. He was a really wonderful companion and he encouraged me a lot to follow my own instincts. Due to the short time I had I couldn’t work out what exactly was going to happen with the main character so I just made a rough plan and started to shoot the scenes that I was sure about. Tim and I talked every 3-4 days, when I was done with a new part of the music video. During these conversations he said things he was concerned about (just like me) but without trying to tell me what to do and with a lot of trust – that was a great feeling.
I think that’s one of the best moments in the video because it refers to the many personalities we carry in ourselves.
One night close to the deadline he called me on the phone because the ending still wasn’t clear so we had a half an hour brainstorming about: who was going to remove the wolf mask, who or what was going to be behind it and what would happen after it had been removed. I knew I didn’t want to show a person underneath but I didn’t know how to execute it. Tim was throwing in ideas that came into his mind and at one point – I don’t remember why – he mentioned the ‘flip-books’ and right at that moment I saw the scene in front of my eyes with the ‘masks rolling through the man’s face caused by the touch of the spirit’. I think that’s one of the best moments in the video because it refers to the many personalities we carry in ourselves and it’s very surprising. I’m happy we found it together.
We’ve seen that you’re well versed in a variety of animation styles. How did you come to settle on the stop motion approach for All I’m Saying?
I really wanted to make something darker and less cute this time and it seemed to be a perfect opportunity to use stop motion again. The handcrafted objects and puppets have much more soul and an immediate presence on the screen. Also I had to be very efficient and I knew that I’m the most creative when I work with stop motion. I find a lot of joy in making real puppets from all sorts of materials and then bringing them to life through animation – it’s really magical. Maybe I don’t even have to mention that The Shins – The Rifle’s Spiral music video directed by Jamie Caliri was a big inspiration whilst I was working.
What was your production method working on the film?
After I had a rough plan I bought all the equipment and materials I needed and rented out a bigger studio room where I set up my workspace. In the very beginning I decided that the fox character would be mostly in front of dark, more or less neutral backgrounds so I didn’t need to build complex, time consuming sets. After I finished the main character I started shooting the ‘falling’ scene. For the animation I used Dragonframe and a Canon 60D camera with two Carl Zeiss flektogon lenses.
For the film’s visual language I mainly worked with the different combinations of the materials, lights, camera lenses, puppets and their actions. The sets were always abstract and improvised. The only background I painted was for the opening scenes before he jumps. To achieve the cloud, smoke, fog and fire effects I used colored roving wool, and aluminium foil for the ‘muddy-mirror’ floor that sucks him down. I also re-used the ‘water effect’ from my earlier film Streamschool created by rotating a glass jar frame by frame in front of the camera lens and the running scene is pretty similar to the one in Rabbit and Deer. I made the puppet of the Raven spirit at very end of the production when I had to start to shoot the scenes with her.
My good friends Mette Ilene Holmriis and Mahdi Khene (composer of the end song in Rabbit and Deer) helped making the 24 masks that roll through towards the end on the man’s face. My sister Rózsa encouraged me from the very beginning to take the job and that it’d be amazing – that helped me a lot. Basically I designed and animated the whole video since it’s quite hard to involve people when you’ve only got 2-3 weeks and you don’t know what’s going to be the next step.
Did the fact that All I’m Saying was a music video alter your approach to the filmmaking?
I don’t think so. I find it really helpful to work on existing audio because it already defines the mood, the rhythm and it’s easier to make decisions within this frame. In the end I feel like I made a film inspired by Tim’s story and I edited it to their song.
My main concern was time. I couldn’t see how I was going to animate almost 4 minutes in two weeks all alone.
Were there any major stumbling blocks you hit along the way?
My main concern was time. I couldn’t see how I was going to animate almost 4 minutes in two weeks all alone. I never did that before but I kept telling myself to calm down and take it as a challenge. If I’ve only got two weeks then I’ll have to find the simplest and most efficient way to make it in that time. Of course I worked every single day and I only went home to sleep but I made sure to always have enough sleep. It was a very interesting experience.
One major question was the ending and the whole meaning of the film. After the idea of the ‘rolling masks’ Tim and I found another level to the story by creating the ‘Tree of Masks’ which you can see at the beginning and the end of the video. It’s an important symbol representing the many lives from which we can choose and it became the frame structure of the man’s spiritual journey as he tries to follow the feather through the main cosmic elements; air, water, earth and fire.
What projects have you got coming up next?
I’m still travelling to a few festivals in the next two months with Rabbit and Deer – probably the last ones – and my friend Joseph Wallace and I will do the Joe & Peter’s Film and Music Show again in two French cities in December. From the beginning of next year I plan to start working on a new project, something longer than R&D. I’d love to try directing live action too sometime so maybe a mixture of both. We’ll see.
It’s been a long wait for those who’ve only been able to see the Rabbit and Deer trailer. Do you know when they can look forward to watching the film online?
I think I’ll put it online this month but it’s not 100%.