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Stop-motion has always fascinated me. No matter how many films I see employing this technique, it never loses its magical power over me and I constantly find myself impressed and surprised by what talented filmmakers manage to create in this tangible medium. Recent CalArts graduate Luca Cioci joins us to discuss why stop-motion was the perfect form for his short film MEDIUM RARE and explains how he created his film in the hope that his audience will reflect on their life choices.

Reading your synopsis, I had no real idea what to expect from your film, can you tell us where the inspiration for the premise came from?

Observation and personal experience are probably the main shapers of the film. There is no particular spark that informed the film directly, but my experience after moving to the US is definitely predominant. I was struck by how life felt more exciting, but at the same time, more regulated and less dynamic than in Europe. Conformities and compromises in the everyday life stood out to me, as well as repetitiveness and the general need for greater personal space.

I was captivated by how much results of architecture and design, human comfort and products of consumerism define behavior and communication quality.

While developing the film I was really interested in both anatomical and social aspects of occupied space, negative space and body movement. I started to think very simplistically about the use of the body and the reasons behind conventional actions, I then focused on how similar gestures exist in a variety of scenarios, with different objectives. By linking the few axis in which we “travel” the most with interactive elements, such as objects or artificial space itself, I was captivated by how much the results of architecture and design, human comfort, and products of consumerism define behavior and communication quality. A main reference for my thinking process was the work of Jacques Tati, a great observer.

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My reading of the film revolved around domestic routines, was there a particular message you hoped your audience left the film with?

I didn’t think about conveying a specific message. My intent was to expose the viewer to a contained, more or less relatable scenario such as a domestic environment, and juxtapose parts of an incompatible dialogue based on the object’s function, flattening and substituting to the individuals’ personalities. The incessant motion of these objects, perpetually executing the only task they were perceived to perform, is a direct comment on the contradictory and often destructive life of routine. Other components, some more personal than others, are intended to be interpreted from multiple angles.

I hope viewers will reflect on choices of living, relationships, stuff owned and space available.

One of the most discussed aspects was the presence of the fish, which is the only apparent living being in the film. I see its presence in the film both as just another decorative element, whose aesthetic value prevails over its function or as a symbolic revolving point of life that expands the confined fishbowl to a greater globe. Is the fish dead or alive? Overall I hope viewers will reflect on choices of living, relationships, stuff owned and space available.

Why the absence of characters throughout the film?

I decided not to have characters in the film in order to make the viewer question human occupancy directly through its visual absence and indirectly through “functioning” objects. I am more interested in actions rather than subjects performing the actions.

Though I love how thought-provoking the narrative is here, I’m also totally smitten by the aesthetic, why did you decide to work in stop-motion?

I chose stop-motion because it shares the issues the film deals with, such as design relative to function, essential in the production process. When working in stop-motion you deal with limited physical space occupied by you, your set and hero elements, lights, stands, lenses, camera moves, etc. All very tangible aspects typical of stop-motion production, not so present in 2D or 3D digital worlds where, above other conveniences, you can change object properties such as shape, weight, texture or existence itself with a few click n’ drags.

Human touch is the essential tool for this medium and it controls time and space in a scaled down world.

Additionally, the absence of traditional characters and the consequent feeling of possessed objects directly illustrates the process of shooting stop-motion. The animator usually moves out of frame after having incrementally moved the object to capture a still image of it, creating the illusion of motion. Human touch is the essential tool for this medium and it controls time and space in a scaled down world embracing its limitations, introducing unique surreal elements.

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Can you provide us with some insight into your production – how long did the separate (pre-production, production, post) stages take? Where there any specific difficulties you encountered making MEDIUM RARE?

I made this film during my last year at CalArts. For most of the first semester I was working on a previous project. I started writing down ideas and sketching for design and storyboard at the end of the first semester, which made the rest of the year very intense. I didn’t follow a schedule, but worked a lot and got things done. Fabrication took most of the initial time (approx 2 months) and kept going in between shots, paying particular attention to consistency and rendering in texture and lighting.

At that time CalArts had just purchased a 3D printer and I helped with set-up and testing and was then employed as an operator in a lab that also offers large format printing, vinyl and laser cutting services. Access to this equipment promoted new design choices and the mix of handmade with machine precision present in real life. Despite the convenience and control offered by new technologies, I most enjoyed looking around for stuff that assumes a different role once introduced in a scaled environment.

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At CalArts, stages can be reserved for 2 week periods due to the number of student projects going on. I was able to get a total of 4 weeks of shooting time in 2 different stages. I spent some time making sure I had the right lenses to then program camera moves. Cinematography, even more than design, has been my focal point on this and future projects. The goal is often to shoot everything in camera with little/no dependency on post, which helps to stay away from ambiguous choices and usually saves time.

As shots were completed, I would meet with Sound Designer Kayle Khanmohamed and foley the actions, while developing the background ambience. On most shots, I animated before recording, so that I could clean rigs out, while Kayle worked with the raw footage to create the final 5.1 sound mix.

We agreed to introduce texture, a subtle shift in temperature across the film and fix some clipping issues in the reds.

Colorist Ben Neufeld had a determinant impact on the final look of the film. We agreed to introduce texture, a subtle shift in temperature across the film and fix some clipping issues in the reds. I was hesitant about what he delivered in the first place due to my attachment to the original footage. By going back and forth, I finally realized my mistakes and how much his personal input elevated the film. Definitely a growing experience for me.

The whole production took just below 5 months.

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You made the film whilst studying at CalArts and are now freelancing in LA, any new projects coming up we should keep an eye on and do you plan to return to short film in the future?

Since I graduated I have been part of different animated and live action projects. I am most excited about a couple of animated short films I helped shoot that are coming out soon. Right now I work in camera and motion control while developing small personal projects, mostly based on practical effects. I am writing and will hopefully start developing a new short soon.

Where can our readers go to follow your work?

You can follow my work on Vimeo and Instagram.

Directors Notes is honoured to present the premiere of MEDIUM RARE on our pages today. If you would like to join the filmmakers sporting a fetching DN Premiere Laurel, submit your film now.

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