I’ll be first to admit that some of the subjects of my sexual fantasies have been a tad…unusual. But no matter how strange, unsavoury and at times barely legal, I can honestly say that all of my fictitious flames (as well as the real-life ones I should note) have had a pulse. However, there are plenty of folks who identify as objectum-sexual (OS) – a sexual orientation where individuals develop emotional, romantic and/or sexual feelings towards inanimate objects – and Tobias Rud’s animation I’ll be Your Kettle is centred around one of them. With a bold and quirky aesthetic achieved by masterfully blending video footage with 2D animation and hand-crafted cardboard sets, the nine minute film is a charming and captivating cautionary tale exploring what could happen if electrical appliances got between two lovers causing their relationship to reach, ahem, boiling point. DN is buzzing with excitement to present the online premiere of I’ll Be Your Kettle and chat to Rud about his own feelings towards kettles, finding inspiration in a sexy rock, strengthening the narrative by shifting the focus from the male to the female character and the advantages of working solo.
Heads up – the film contains some NSFW scenes.
I think it’s best we start by establishing why you picked a kettle to be the focal point of the story. Do you find kettles a bit of a turn-on?
Depends on the kettle! Haha I will admit though, that I enjoy watching and waiting for a kettle to boil, but I’d say that’s more of a mindful thing of anticipating the cup of coffee about to come. So that might be why I went with a kettle. But my own relationship to all the kettles in my life so far, have been purely platonic.
What was the inspiration behind the film?
There are a few good stories about people falling in love with inanimate objects, and I think there are many interesting aspects about that. Mainly I remember watching Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow where a character briefly falls in love with a rock. It’s just a quick anecdote and the movie doesn’t at all dive into it but I thought there was something interesting about someone falling in love with something incapable of reciprocating those feelings. So that might have been one of the things that initially sparked my interest, but several things have, and my story has since evolved and changed directions many times.
Combining 2D animation with hand-crafted, miniature cardboard sets and video footage makes for such an interesting aesthetic and I’d love to know how you arrived at this combo. Did it involve experimenting with various techniques or is this a tried and tested approach?
I didn’t test anything out beforehand, but just kind of threw myself into it, with the willingness to accept however the outcome would look. I’m not a professional set-builder for stop-motion or anything like that, and the plan was to embrace the DIY homemade vibe to it anyways. I was working full-time as an animator at home while making this film, so the decision of using cardboard and video was mostly an excuse for me to get away from the computer, and in that way create a bigger contrast between my personal work and work-work. I can justify the use of cardboard storytelling-wise, because of the physicality it brings, which is important to a story that has a lot of objects in physical spaces. Not all animation takes place in a world that has kitchen sinks but the main reason for it was honestly because I wanted to use my hands in the analogue world a bit.
I thought there was something interesting about someone falling in love with something incapable of reciprocating those feelings.
Talk me through your process. Did you work with anyone else on the film or was it just you, and were there any unforeseen challenges or surprises at any stage during the making of I’ll be Your Kettle?
Besides the sound design, everything was made by me. It was made during the pandemic, so in that way it seemed like the appropriate time to be a bit of a one-man-band. But most things I’ve done have been by myself, so I don’t really know of any other way in terms of animation. I do have a background in live-action filmmaking, and I definitely sometimes miss a sense of comradery or the bonding of getting through the struggle of making a film as a team. But the autonomy you get from making a film by yourself is part of the reason why I got into animation, so I guess you can’t have it all.
Because everything was in my own hands, I also can’t think of any sudden challenges or surprises. Everything you see on screen is pretty much a result of my own decision making. I did expect a few challenges with compositing everything though, as I didn’t fully plan out every shot and just kind of improvised when filming the cardboard at times. So I did have a bit of a laissez faire “we’ll fix it in post” attitude, but true enough most challenges were totally fixable in post!
The sound design is brilliant and the comedic timing is beat-perfect. Tell me how you achieved this.
Thank you! I always put a lot of attention on the sound right from the earliest stages of the animatic, because you can’t really tell if something is going to work or not without it. This is especially true for comedic timing, and just in general to see if the film feels right. I also try to avoid seeing the whole movie in its entirety too often while I work on it so that when I do take the time to actually sit down and see everything in its context, I can be emotionally involved and see it with as fresh eyes as possible. That way I will notice what scenes or transitions feel too rushed or too slow. I think pacing and timing is a pretty intuitive thing in that way, so it’s important to be in the right mindset when making decisions regarding that.
In terms of the sound, I also have to mention my sound designer and good friend Anders Ankerstjerne who took my initial animatic template and turned it into this fully fleshed out and super solid sound design that’s in the final movie.
Was there a specific reason why you made the female character the lead in the story, rather than the male?
Initially I did have the male character as the lead, so that’s a really good question! In an earlier version of the film, everything revolved around the guy’s relationship with the kettle, but I thought that her part was too much of a passive victim throughout. So I did a brainstorm on what actions she could do, after realising he’s into their kettle, and the idea of her trying to take the place of the object came to mind. From there on it made sense that he would shift his desires, and her struggles would intensify as she constantly tries to adapt. I think that made for a stronger and more meaningful narrative, and also made her more proactive and lovable. So she just kind of stole the picture from then on. But in a parallel universe there’s a version of this film focusing on him, and I still think a good movie could come out of that.
The autonomy you get from making a film by yourself is part of the reason why I got into animation.
What are your most and least favourite parts of the animation and why?
That’s a tough question, I definitely have moments of being very critical about my own work, so there are a few things that I would want to have done better. But I’m not going to mention every possible room for improvement to not do a terrible job selling my own film. But I think the scene of the couple dancing could have had more emotionality in the animation. It was such a technical struggle because I had this long one-shot from a wide to a close-up and then a 180 degree turn, and I needed to match the song and their dancing perfectly with that. Also doing a long slow zoom on them, while maintaining line quality was quite tricky. I’m pleased with how that worked out compositing wise, but I think so much of my focus was on making it work technically, that I feel like the animation itself could have been slightly more detailed and alive.
One of my favourite parts animation-wise might be the scene right after it, when she takes off her helmet. It’s one of the more subtle actions, but I like how she does that and the shot in general. Also the very last shot I put a little extra attention to her animation, and I think that shows.
There is an important message at the heart of the film, about the dangers of compromise and self-sacrifice, which feels deeply personal. Have you yourself ever been in a toxic relationship similar to the one in the short?
Luckily nothing that bad no! But in general the feeling of trying to be what you think others want you to be is something I relate to. Not only in terms of romantic relationships, but I think in other social situations as well. Truly being yourself isn’t always that easy, and it seems so far like others can relate to that as well.
As I mentioned earlier, the idea initially started with a focus on him, and I actually think relationship-wise, my fears are more often about being the one falling out of love. So the decision to make her the lead was a decision to go for the stronger narrative, and in that way it might have been a slight step away from the most personal version of the film. But there’s definitely a core of the film relating how tricky, chaotic or complex relationships can sometimes be, that comes from a personal place. I hope that shows, even if certain decisions made on the way were more storytelling driven.
What are you working on next?
Right now I’m working on a new short film. I was lucky to just win a grant and an artist residency from this film, so the plan is to have my new project being a little less lonely and a little less homemade. We’ll see if that works out for the better or not! It’s still at the very early stages, but I’m excited to see where it will take me.