If the childhood anxiety of being the only kid in the playground waiting for their parents to arrive long after the final school bell has rung still plagues you, then you may want to brace yourself before watching Tamar Odenheimer’s Bezalel Academy short Loop. DN invited Tamar to discuss how she discovered that minimalism in both narrative and design was the best way to convey the emotions of this story of absence and abandonment.
What about the Bezalel academy and the work they produce led you to study there?
What I like most about films that come out of Bezalel is that they surprise me. I remember that before I started to study there, I looked at the work some of their students had done, and one film stuck in my memory. It was very simple and very short. Almost without any animation. Just the voice over of a young man telling a little story, almost an anecdote, about how he and his friends used to make prank calls over the phone. I remember thinking: “this isn’t like anything I have ever seen before.” And still today, after having seen dozens of films by Bezalel students, films from Bezalel students are still capable of surprising me. I think the greatest compliment I can give to this educational institution is that it taught us and reminds us that animation can be anything. That with animation it is possible to do anything. I think that is the main thing that Bezalel taught me. Not only the lecturers but also and mainly the bright and talented students that studied with me.
Loop will have a painful poignancy for anyone who’s ever been the last kid in the playground, how did this quiet film of abandonment form?
The most significant development that happened to me because of Loop was having the courage to make a film in which nothing happens. This was a journey that continued throughout the whole length of my work on the film. I am sure that having doubts about our work during the process is something that many of us share. But when I was working on Loop these doubts loomed especially large for me. I knew that it was a film about waiting, about hoping for something that doesn’t happen. I felt that because of this, nothing should happen in the film, and there should be only one character, and within the bounds of these limitations, I had to show the feelings that this character is experiencing. And I kept taking one step forward and two steps back. I tried to create action in the film, and I thought of all kinds of ideas, including adding characters and events, and each time I understood again that this would be missing the mark, and I would come back to my starting point, and to the question which had accompanied me the whole time: If nothing happens, what does happen? And step by step, I got to the solutions that I liked.
I understood that the mother does not have to appear in the movie at all, but that her presence, or rather her absence, was to be felt.
I think that one of the most important and complicated developments that I went through between my first idea and how I implemented it in animation was to take the mom out of the story. In the first version, she comes to get him at the end of the film. Afterwards, I considered making a film that had two simultaneous plots – I would show what was happening to the mother while the boy was waiting for her. In the end, I understood that the mother does not have to appear in the movie at all, but that her presence, or rather her absence, was to be felt, and that is how the scene with the fence was born.
Could you explain the significance of the loop the boy draws in the dirt?
Another idea that came later on in the work was the loop the boy makes in the ground, which is really the unique idea of the film. It has a few different kinds of significance, which even contradict each other, but all together they express the situation he is in. The first meaning, the one that gives the film its name, is the loop that he is trapped in. He enters into a kind of distress that he can’t get out of, and on a psychological level, he keeps circling and circling around himself. But this act is also a show of strength. And of activism in the passive situation he is in. No one comes to take him home, so he creates a home for himself. By marking a circle around himself he is marking a place that belongs to him, he is making a place for himself in the world. Until now, the love of his parents defined him and his existence was dependent on them. The circle he marks around himself is a declaration of sorts that he exists in his own right.
In addition, it’s a kind of pronouncement that he is angry at the world. This circular dance is a dance of anger, of frustration. It is an announcement that he has ‘had it’, and the circle he draws is a kind of separation between himself and the outside world, like a kid who is angry and locks himself in his room. A Jewish story, from the Mishna (compiled in the 2nd century CE), tells of a man, whose nickname was given to him because of this story, called ‘Honi the Circler’. After a long period of drought, Honi the Circler draws a circle around himself in the earth, and announces to God that he will not leave the circle until it rains. Because God has a special love for Honi, his protest works, and in the end, the rain comes. I think that in drawing this circle around oneself, there is something of this stubbornness, it’s a rebellion. A standing up to the arbitrary rules of the world.
How did you develop the film’s efficient, stripped down style? Were there any existing works which inspired you?
From the beginning, it was clear to me that the film’s style had to be very simple and minimalistic. This is a film about an experience from childhood, and I wanted some of the childlikeness to be expressed in a stylistic manner. The advantage of a simple and flat style, which does not attempt to imitate a realistic look is that you can play with it. You can take it to the border of the abstract and play with that border. This gave me a lot of freedom. Also, this was a film that we worked on only during one semester, about four months, including concept development. So actually, almost every decision I made in the film was the result of practical necessities and the attempt to save time and minimize the amount of animation to be done.
They say that limitations spur creativity, and I think this is one of the great advantages of animation; every second comes at the price of work and effort, and therefore you think about every shot ten times before you include it. I had to show that the boy was the last one left in school. But in more standard animation and directing, this would have forced me to design and animate additional characters, and four or five additional shots, at least. In addition, that is just the beginning of a film which is not long in any case, and I didn’t want this part to be such a major part of the film. So I broke my head, trying to crack this one, and that’s how I thought of the first shot of the movie.
The shadow of the fence, that looks like a line of people including a mother and child was also a solution for this. In my previous answer, I explained where the idea came from, but it is important for me to add that, in addition to the meaning I was trying to create, I also wanted to create something ‘on the cheap’, that is to say, without having to spend too much time or too much animation. I feel that this limitation brought me to a more elegant solution. Of course there were films that inspired me, probably every film I ever saw influenced me in some way. But the three that especially influenced me were Each Other, Brume, Cailloux et Métaphysique and Father and Daughter. Three amazing films. Stylistically, they had a simplicity and charm which inspired me.
I was especially influenced by the film Father and Daughter, which was also about the endless expectation for a parent who does not return and does it with delicacy and charm. I also took a lot from the art of the film, very delicate and minimalistic, and from his rhythm, and the atmosphere that he creates. Even though his theme is ‘heavy’, and he creates a melancholy atmosphere, he manages to weave humor into the small details. This was something that was very important for me to create, I wanted there to be amusing moments in Loop, like when the boy gets angry and kicks the floor. From Each Other I took how the film played with the border between realism and abstract, especially in the final, ravishing scene in which the running man turns, in stages, into something which may be a man or may be a bird, then may be a living creature or not. This animation inspired what I did with the shadow of the fence, which is, again, perhaps the shadow of a fence, perhaps people standing in a line.
How did the production of Loop progress? How long did it take to create from conception to completion?
It’s hard for me to estimate how long I worked on the film, because I gave it in when it was still not finished, and worked on it in my free time and during vacations. I worked on it about four and a half months straight, in which three of these months were dedicated to pre-production (developing the concept, the script, direction, and art) and a month and a half to animation. I got to the presentation of the film at Bezalel when most of the animation in the film was still rough. Afterwards, I worked on it two more years in summer vacations. As I already wrote, I changed the concept many times, and during the making of the film itself a lot also changed, including two shots that I took out just three weeks before I presented it.
What tools, software, and techniques did you use to create the film?
I did all the work on the film in Photoshop. In retrospect, I would not have done the animation in Photoshop, because for animation it is too clumsy and heavy a software program. Some of my files became so heavy it was difficult to work on them, and also their timeline was not comfortable to work on. The reason I chose Photoshop was the high level of the brushes and the organic feel of the program, and the truth is that I got the look I wanted in the film relatively easily, and I was able to keep the look unified throughout the film. I also loved the idea of doing the whole film, including the backgrounds, within the same program. I felt it helped create the unified look between the character and the background, and gave me a lot of flexibility.
They say that limitations spur creativity, and I think this is one of the great advantages of animation.
I didn’t do almost any post-production on the film, I just connected the animation with the backgrounds without any special effects or changes in the color. Because the style is so simple and minimalistic, any intervention from without looked very out of place. Another thing that I really invested in is the textures of the film. Because the art of the background was so minimalistic, I felt that there needed to be a variety of textures, and interesting ones, that would add depth and keep people’s attention. I did all the textures in Photoshop, by using a number of different brushes and sizes and specifications in each brush. I also used the eraser to create texture. This is a very easy technique, and in general, all the work on the film was very hands on, almost traditional. I don’t think that this way to work is the most practical, but for me it was a lot of fun, and also was right for the concept of the film.
Max Gasanov’s music is extremely sparse, which of course fits well with this tale of a lone child. How did the two of you develop that score?
Loop is about loneliness and expectation, it was thus clear to me that the music had to be delicate and expansive. When I thought about the music, I tried to imagine a melody that the child was humming to himself while he was waiting, and this thought stayed with me throughout. It was a lot of fun to work with Max on the score. He listened, and he was sensitive. At first, he played a basic melody on the keyboard with different variations, while he was watching the film over and over again, and then when we were satisfied he put it into a sound editing program. We sat and listened to the music over and over again, and I would ask him to move a tone just a tiny bit forward, and the next tone a little bit backwards, and make it a little softer here, and a bit louder there.
What new projects are you working on?
I have an idea for a project, but it is really just beginning, so I would rather not go into details. I will just say that the idea is to make short animated films about Hasidic tales while trying to represent the life and culture of Yiddish-speaking ‘Shtetls’ small towns, in the 18th century.