For their first animated short film, directorial duo Wouter Sel and Thijs De Cloedt didn’t decide to test the waters and ease themselves in lightly. Their debut short Ghost Eye is a no holds barred exploration of the bowels of society, a neo-noir set in a ‘surreal and grim reality with little place for hope’. It’s a darkly vivid piece sporting a standout style and screeching soundtrack, one that wears its inspirations with pride, but still manages to feel fresh and original. It’s a short that deserves discussion and Sel and Cloedt join us today to provide a little insight into their methods and motivations.
Ghost Eye is a striking piece, with a really immersive narrative, can you give us a little insight into how you came up with the story?
In between our commercial projects with Volstok, Thijs and I have been playing with pieces of stories over the years. Tiny ideas, dark humour, story twists and details that we can appreciate in films and literature, basically building a general atmosphere. When we felt everything started connecting, I would pour it into a first draft and together we’d brainstorm about what was missing, how it all would make sense without being over-structured and predictable. From the get-go, we were aiming for a film that would kick you in the teeth and leave you bewildered.
One of the things that constantly impresses me with your film (I’ve watched it a few times now) is the attention to detail you put into the characters. I mentioned in my Short of the Week article they all felt primed for spin-off shorts and are all so well realised. How much time did you put into character development and how important do you feel this was for the success of your film?
The entire film is about identity, so in a way this came quite naturally. At a certain point, we had such a bunch of material we needed to carve out what was strictly essential about the narrative, and we found out these complex and imperfect personalities are the backbone of the film.
There’s a sense of comfort in seeing characters struggle with real life shit.
We enjoy how our characters lean against each other, creating interesting dynamics and room for a bigger story outside of the film. The world keeps turning, nobody has life figured out, and there’s a sense of comfort in seeing characters struggle with real life shit. It intrigues me more to see a character adrift, trying to survive, instead of following the classical story arch and finding the treasure, or true love in the end.
The detailed narrative of Ghost Eye is equally matched by a distinct aesthetic, can you explain a little about the influences for the style and the particular look you were going for?
Our illustration styles are quite complementary and we have a love for the more dark, twisted and gritty aesthetics. Our goal was to keep the film as spontaneous as possible, also in the visual approach. That meant we treated every chapter almost as a separate film, not only to keep the audience on their toes but also to leave room for visual experimentation and an overall trashy, rock ‘n roll vibe.
He totally understands the world, what the story needed and cluttered it with an insane amount of detailed trash.
Some shots are packed with detail and millions of colors, others are heavily stylised – it’s all about generating impact and making creative decisions until the very last edit. We have to give a huge credit to Sam Vanallemeersch who tied the entire film together. His illustrations are amazing and it almost felt like a crime to digitally color his backgrounds (you can see some of his original background drawings here) and obscure them with our animation haha! He totally understands the world, what the story needed and cluttered it with an insane amount of detailed trash.
With Chris Goss lending his vocal talents to the short and with a simmering soundtrack bubbling throughout, it feels like music plays a bit part in the overall atmosphere and tone of Ghost Eye, how influential was it throughout production?
We briefed Audiotheque as soon as we managed to lock the animatic, voiced by myself and edited with some heavy hitting music by Jaye Jayle and Goat as placeholders. By then we were already in love with those temp tracks, so the bar was set really high. But Francois De Meyer and Stefan Bracke saw it as a challenge and were so invested in the project they really smashed our expectations.
To me it meant that the film was deciding. Taking over.
Through their musical connections they managed to get Chris Goss on board and the combination of all this talent really made the project more than the sum of its parts. While editing I sometimes felt uncomfortable with Chris’ endless rambling in my ear, but instead of cutting it to create some breathing space, I decided to keep it just like that. To me it meant that the film was deciding. Taking over. That we were hitting notes together that we couldn’t have thought of ourselves. To me, that’s what filmmaking is all about.
You both share a director credit on the film, can you explain a little about how you work together and what you feel the partnership brings that you wouldn’t get from working alone?
Thijs and I have worked together for over a decade, we share a lot of inspiration, but we’re also very different. We really needed to push ourselves to fit that into a story that inspired us both. Again, we were looking for that point where you create something and at a certain point, it starts leading its own life. You lead the film until the film leads you. It’s hard to explain and honestly, now when I look back it’s hard to remember how it all came together. We were connecting dots, ideas, moods and story snippets, trying to surprise each other and create a unique and dark story.
To me real beauty can be found in a pile of trash.
What are you working on next?
We don’t have any shared projects in the near future, but I [Wouter] am working on an online miniseries that celebrates the misfits, weirdos and outcasts of society. Real people, mostly invisible to the world, with ugly and intriguing stories to tell. Quick, dirty and somewhat disturbed. No good guys, bad guys or happy endings, but exploring the darker emotions like guilt, embarrassment, trying to fit in or honestly hating the beautiful boys and girls for prancing through life. To me real beauty can be found in a pile of trash, haha!
Ghost Eye is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.