One small vestige of hope gained from the aftermath of the global pandemic has to be the forced slow down of our lives. During those periods of lockdowns, we were no longer able to pack our days with the rush of innumerable commitments in an effort to live every second of life to the full, be that at work or home. Whilst there’s little doubt that the pendulum will inevitably swing back to its previous position, perhaps the enforced pause will make us more aware of the damaging ways we burn the candle at both ends and the benefits of slowing down. These are the considerations at the heart of Berlin-based director Kai Stänicke’s animated short Pace which explores our modern relationship with time and today’s constant feeling of not having enough of it. A shift from his usual live action work we asked Stänicke to discuss the journey of on the job learning he underwent over the course of four years to complete his cautionary tale.
What was the inspiration for Pace’s race against time concept?
The core idea behind Pace was to do a story about time and how it’s the motor of our existence. I was fascinated with something I experienced myself but wasn’t alone with: I felt so rushed. I was feeling like there was hardly enough time. When I waited in line at the supermarket, I was getting anxious. And I was getting annoyed when the other lines went faster and mine was the slowest. I felt like I wasted time and I was trying to do things simultaneously: Writing emails whilst going to a meeting, talking on the phone while cooking, trying to combine tasks to be faster and more efficient. The very first idea for the film was a man living on a clock and the hand of the clock gives the rhythm for his life. I was inspired by German animation shorts from the 80s and 90s, which told abstract stories about society and social phenomenons, especially Balance by Wolfgang & Christoph Lauenstein and Quest by Thomas Stellmach.
The production of Pace was discovering, learning and mastering a completely new technique of filmmaking for me.
How did you find the animation process given that you typically work in live action?
Not being an animator myself it was a lot of learning and surrounding myself with professionals to get this story told. I’ve only made one animated short before, which was a stop motion puppet animation, which is a completely different work process to the digital animation used in Pace. Apart from that I’ve only worked in live action filmmaking so the production of Pace was discovering, learning and mastering a completely new technique of filmmaking for me. For me, as a director, it’s always about the story first. I see myself as a storyteller and when I have a story in my mind, I look for the right way to tell it.
How did you further shape your initial idea into a fully formed story?
My research helped me shape the story. The reasons for the feeling of not having enough time, or always feeling rushed, basically come down to two things:
- Competition: Comparing yourself to others, feeling they are faster and more efficient and wanting to be better than them. Wanting to be the first and the best.
- Technical progress: It allows us to be faster and more efficient in ways not known before. Also technology and machines are now faster than humans, which sets us up for an impossible task: competing with machines and technology.
Both of these aspects found their way into the story. The reason why our protagonist loses his balance with time is because he feels competition from the two men that suddenly appear and he wants to be faster than them. And at the end, he gets to see what actually lies underneath his whole world: the technical heart of the clock, that keeps everything running.
To what extent did your choice of animation processes/tools influence the film’s overall style?
I wanted to go for an old school 2D animation style for the film which, for various reasons, was a bit harder to pull off. Firstly we had the army scenes, where we had a lot of characters moving at the same time in the same place. Then we had the particles for each character, meaning the characters dissolve and lose particles all the time even in the army scenes. And finally, we had the scenes in the machine heart of the clock at the end of the film. That’s why we settled on a mix of 2D and 3D animation. Getting there was a bit of learning by doing and inching closer to the style I wanted by trying different approaches.
I see myself as a storyteller and when I have a story in my mind, I look for the right way to tell it.
In the end the workflow for a shot could go through 3 to 4 different programs, depending on the shot, which meant a lot of rendering (which in turn meant a lot of waiting). An army shot for example could mean the following workflow: The characters were animated as a vector animation in a 2D animation program, then we went over to After Effects for the particles dissolving effect, then we combined characters, backgrounds and other elements in a 3D animation program, and then we went back to After Effects once more to put another layer of animated texture over the whole frame that made it look rougher and less slick.
It was just our animator Roman Wuckert and me working on this, so you can imagine how long it took. The only actual hand-drawn animation in the film is the hair and the scarf of the women moving in the wind, for which I had two very talented extra animators: Jessica Boldt and Markus Kempken.
The scenes with the woman provide brief respites from the relentless grind of Pace. Could you tell us more about what you wanted her character to symbolise?
I wanted to set the woman, and the environment she is in, apart from the rest of the world. She’s a free spirit, not affected by the pressure the rest of the inhabitants, men or women, feel. The environment she is in is a contrast to the dry and somewhat hostile rest of the world. It’s beautiful and flourishing. It’s a place of happiness. The rest of the world is bleak and defined by pressure. The woman is a promise that a different, better world is possible. A world without constant pressure. That promise in some way is the last straw he clings to, when he reaches for her scarf, while the whole world falls apart. It’s the last he has left of her and the promise of a life together.
Although dialogue-free this is a film that very much uses sound and music as powerful narrative tools, who did you work with on those elements?
After the animation and editing (which I did with my editing partner in crime Susanne Ocklitz) was completed we went over to work on sound and music. I was lucky to have an amazing team on that front as well: The sound designer Nils Vogel-Bartling and composer Phillip Feneberg did some great work in creating the soundscape for the film. There was no dialogue in the film, but we still wanted the characters to be lively, so we recorded actors breathing on the film, like dubbing just with breathing sounds. It did wonders for the feeling of the characters.
I’m writing the script for my first feature film right now. It’s a live action drama. After spending nearly 4 years getting Pace done I need to take a break from animation for a while.