Combining the rounded, comical visuals of Aardman and Wes Anderson with the emotional density of Charlie Kaufman, Ryan Oligmueller’s graduate short Creature Comfort is a rich stop motion treat. The story follows a lonely creature, who spends their time wandering through the woods looking for clues about who they may have been in a past life with each secret they uncover sparking a vision of a human who is facing tough mental struggles. Don’t be blindsided by the intricately crafted cute visuals, Oligmueller’s work highlights how animation can be a powerful tool in conveying the melancholy of the human condition. With the short recently arriving online, DN caught up with Oligmueller to go over the time-intensive journey of making it, the collaborators he brought on board to create the distinctive character models, and the overwhelming feeling of seeing those first few frames come to life.
I read that Creature Comfort began its life as your undergraduate thesis, what drew you to take on an animated film and how daunting of a task was that?
Creature Comfort was my undergraduate thesis project at the University of Colorado Boulder. I had one year to create this film; the first semester being pre-production and my final semester being production and post-production. The initial thought was of course, where do I even start? It was a stressful process, especially in the short amount of time I had. Though, I kept reminiscing on all of my favourite films; Negative Space, Anomalisa, and Fantastic Mr. Fox…animation! I knew for my final project I wanted to go all-in and make an animated film.
And the story of a creature reflecting on their past life, what motivated that?
At the time of developing the film, I was dealing with some mental health issues and death in my family. I needed an escape. The story in Creature Comfort was really born from my attempt to make sense of the world, to provide a therapeutic experience for myself, and to further my journey into the world of animation.
What went on during that first semester of pre-production?
The film started with the creation of the creature and human characters, and from there, the story evolved naturally. My main goal was to highlight the effects mental health can have on a human being, but most importantly, that no matter the day, good or bad, we can all succumb to the dangers our psyche puts us in. With lots of rewrites, colleague notes, and doubt, I finished the script. I tried to find the perfect partner to help bring this vision to life. On Instagram, I came across the brilliant work of Aiden Whittam, a stop motion animator in the United Kingdom. His work caught my eye because it felt so authentic and unique, unlike anything I had ever seen. I reached out to him and luckily, he wanted to be a part of the project!
No matter the day, good or bad, we can all succumb to the dangers our psyche puts us in.
Pre-Production mostly consisted of work on the animatic. Aiden and I, along with Adèle Pinchot, spent a lot of time changing, enhancing, and figuring out how we could make this the best film possible; while also trying to work with my university’s deadline which made everything a bit hectic. Once we felt the film was the best it could possibly be, in animatic form, we moved on to the best part… bringing these characters to life.
Alongside Aiden, who else did you collaborate with and what did they bring to the fold?
Aiden Whittam, along with the help of Adèle Pinchot, Ruby Black, and Anna Taylor, helped create this world visually with their incredible crafting and sculpting talent. Aiden and the entire team were true pros in bringing my vision to life. Everything in the film, from the characters to the shoelaces on the human’s shoes were handcrafted by these amazing artists. This process took about three months to complete.
And the second semester, production and post, how long was that? And, given how notoriously time-consuming animation is to make, how challenging was it to get everything completed in time?
Production on the film lasted for around five months. It was a gruelling process of problems, solutions, headaches, and excitement. It was so gratifying to see the still frames of the animatic come to life. The first time I saw the creature move, I was quite emotional. He felt a lot like me in that way; scared of the world, hurt from the past, but hopeful of what’s next.
It was a gruelling process of problems, solutions, headaches, and excitement.
Once production concluded Coupe Studios, an amazing audio production company in Boulder, Colorado, put the final touches on the film. This was really the first film where I focused heavily on sound design and the impact it can have on the visual language of the film.
With Creature Comfort finished, what kind of reactions have you had to the film?
Creature Comfort was a semi-finalist at the 2022 Student Academy Awards, a Grand Jury Prize Nominee at the Nashville Film Festival, and an official selection at the 2023 American Documentary and Animation Film Festival and the New Filmmakers Los Angeles. Now, the film is out on Vimeo, where I hope those who watch are impacted the way I was while making it.
Had you worked in stop motion prior to Creature Comfort? If not, what surprised you about the medium?
This was my first time venturing into the world of stop motion. I have always loved Rankin/Bass and Wallace and Gromit, both being huge inspirations as to why I wanted to start telling stories. I was surprised by how connected I would become with the characters within stop motion. I have worked with 2D characters, but these stop motion characters that you can physically hold really left an impact on me. The textures and overall physicality of the environment also showed me how creative you can be within animation. The possibilities are endless.
It was so gratifying to see the still frames of the animatic come to life.
Guillermo Del Toro famously said at the last Academy Awards that “Animation is Cinema” and that the medium should be seen as being as rich as live action. What are your thoughts on the state of animation at the moment?
I was happy when I saw Guillermo Del Toro stand up for animation… he’s 100% correct. Animation is Cinema! At the moment, I am a little scared looking at the state of animation in the industry. For example, seeing so many animated films transition to live action is quite concerning. At some point, we need to let animated films live on their own because they are beautiful pieces of cinema that don’t need to be anything other.
Are you working on anything new at the moment?
I just wrapped up a script for the feature version of Creature Comfort, prepping to release a short documentary titled By A Thread, which follows a woman who becomes her mother’s caretaker, and finally, currently in production on an animated short that also deals with the topic of mental health.