Sandra Valenca’s interview

Sandra Valenca took time away from her new film to answer our interview questions. Thanks Sandra,

1. Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming film “The Weapon”?

Well, The Weapon is an animated “short” film (aprox. 28 min.) in a science fiction setting, inspired by Czech puppet tradition and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a story about Lydia, Lorenzo and Augustine who work at Minerva, a space station in orbit around Earth. The station is the most important part of a defense system for maintaining World Peace. Everything is quite peaceful until the day they receive new orders, and a moral dilemma approaches. The central question then becomes: are we individually responsible?

Me and a friend of mine, Markus, started out this project in September 2006. Earlier on, we had done a quite crappy short film, and it was really annoying that it came out that bad – I knew we could do better. So, we simply decided that we were going to challenge ourselves and try to animate this long, far too long, script that Markus had written. We also involved my brother, Mattias, to get some help.

This far, it has gone really well, yet no major catastrophies. Hopefully, the post-production will be finished in time to have the film released at Gothenburg International Film Festival in January 2009.

2. Is it true it has 22 minutes of lip sync that you have to animate to?

Hehe, yes, well, the dialouge soundtrack is about 22 minutes, but it also includes pauses between scenes. Although the script is 28 pages (which, if you use common American script format, is supposed to be 28 minutes film), it’s a bit hard to estimate the total length of lip sync animation, but let’s say it’s about 19-20 minutes. Jeez, I must really be such an idiot…

3. What drew you to stopmotion animation?

Even though my brother and I as kids used to make stop motion with lego puppets, and also did some feeble claymation-attempts, I would say that me making my first stop motion-film was mostly a coincidence. I’ve always been drawing, and at twenty, I studied Cartoons and Sequential Art at University. When graduation approached, I wanted to do something new, and I asked Markus, who was really into film, to write something for puppet animation. Earlier on, we had done some things together, longer graphic novels and stuff. He wrote the script for “Ivan the Meek”, which was our first stop motion shortie.

4. What are some of your strongest skills in this craft?

Clearly, the model-making. That’s what I find most entertaining, even though I am often frustrated by not having the time or money get the materials I would like. But well, you’ve got to be inventive when you’re poor. They say that’s part of the charm… Strikes me sometimes though how weird this profession must seem to others. When working today, it just hit me, like “what the hell am I doing? I am sitting, drilling holes in a stick to put smaller sticks in that stick, to be able to put small lumps of clay on it, to make it look like a tree. I must really be seriously ill.” I enjoy it very much, though.

5. What is a big weakness you have in stopmotion and how you deal with it?

Funny thing is, that none of us is really interested in animation, I think that we both kind of see it as something that you have to deal with when the writing and the sets are finished… When starting out, I bought this Aardman-book, “creating 3D-animation” from which we have learned pretty much everything we know. I also had an old copy of Preston Blair’s “Animation”, a book on classic cell-animation, which was helpful when coming to understand the movements of a specific body mass. It took quite a while before understanding that a movement isn’t at it’s best when the puppet move as much in frame one as in frame to and three and so on… Now I think that we have got quite a grip on it, though I still find it hard to create complex, fast movement. And the whole “shoot-on-two”-thingy is still a mystery.

6. How do you think films from the U.S. or other parts of the world differ from the films you would produce or watch in your country?

There aren’t that many Swedish puppet animators, most of the Swedish animation is 3D-generated, which I, because of the looks, don’t really appreciate that much. Mostly, I watch Czech puppet animation from the sixties. Actually, there isn’t really much of (interesting) Swedish animation at all, because of this subsidy system of the Swedish film industry. It’s rather complex, but let’s just say it works this way: you pitch your project to a film counselor, and if she or he likes it, you get a certain amount of money to produce your film. Of course, everybody want this money, and to get it you “have to” (it isn’t outspoken, but quite obvious) write a certain type of script to get it approved. This leads to most films ending up conforming and boring.

7. If we set up a large studio to make a film, what job title would you like to have if we hire you?

Hey, that’s a dream situation! Do you think there would actually be something called payment involved? I will take the “Scenograph and Puppet Designer” title, please.

8. What advice would you give to a person just starting out in stopmotion animation?

FIX THE CAMERA. Any unwanted movement of the camera will be outstandingly annoying when watching the film. It will probably make the audience nauseous and they will leave. Fixing the camera isn’t really that hard, I use a simple, but quite heavy, tripod, you could use pretty much anything that doesn’t move, for example putting the camera on a table – and avoid the table. Re-do rather than say “okay” to a bad take. Have patience (which is a funny advice since I really lack that myself). But ok, just force yourself to re-do it, animation isn’t fun, it’s having patience…

9. After showing your work to a group of people, what compliment would you enjoy hearing?

“You are such a brilliant puppet designer. Tim Burton? Who is that?”

10. What do you dream of right now?

I am exhausted, so I would just like to get this thing finished, and then I would just lie down and watch the entire X-Files over and over and over again. After that, I would probably start another kamikaze project…

Ok, Sandra back to filming. I will post some of your photos here too of your project

Replacement mouth parts

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