Officially Selected Alumni Interviews

Andreas Feix: Lift-Off Filmmaker Interview

German Filmmaker Andreas Feix’s short animation “CITIPATI” tells a tale about life, death & rebirth, told from a unique, prehistoric perspective. Fresh off two Lift-Off Season Awards nominations, this heart wrenching animation will screen at Berlin Lift-Off Film Festival on Friday 9th February at 8:45pm at the Union Filmtheater as part of the Local Filmmakers Showcase. We interviewed director Andreas to hear a little more about how this film came to be, and his path as a filmmaker.

Interview by Claire Richardson

Hi Andreas. What was it that first got you interested in a career in film?

Well when I began to be interested in film, I think around the second Jurassic Park, that was when I started to understand for the first time how the process of filmmaking actually worked. Seeing the behind the scenes photos, with people interacting with giant animatronics and/or interesting sets – I thought it must be the coolest job ever! Someone like Steven Spielberg, a director on set. Not only do you have a cool environment to work with, you are also the boss!

So what then piqued your interest in animation?

Being a kid discovering what a studio looked like, what filmmaking is, directing sounded like the coolest job, as you’re the boss and have a great place to work in. But the more I grew up, I started to understand more about the filmmaking process in general.

More dinosaur movies were released and documentary series such as Walking with Dinosaurs. That when I understood how the post production process worked, or how special effects worked, creating puppets and CG animation. That seemed to be more and more the interesting route, and it picked up the next year when I saw one of the Star Wars films for the first time.

It seemed more interesting to do something like visual effects and animation, because you are one of the guys creating, in a sense, the magic of those films. If I could be the guy creating the dinosaur, instead of just looking at a screen waiting for it to come to me. That would be the more interesting approach, because it’s a little more hands on and more creative.

The sound design and score (which was nominated at our Season Awards) is fantastic. What was your working process with the sound designer and composer?

Both the sound designer and composer were students studying sound design and music. We had a meeting very early on, discussing ideas about the film. They had to get an impression by adding test music to see what it would be like. Fortunately the composer was into the same type music as me. So for example, the early cuts had music from Hans Zimmer. We had good basic idea of what kind of score the movie should have, and then played along with things.

Speaking of the sound design, I have seen a lot of movies and documentaries on dinosaurs, and sometimes you can pick up when sound designer gets a little lazy. If it’s a documentary, they use the same sound library over and over again, and you hear for the hundredth time the same pig squeal that somehow they try to make into an actual dinosaur! So pretty early on I said we need to find a way to make dinosaurs sounds original. I said we need to find new sounds or just play around with different ideas.

I was continuing updating the previews and animation, cutting everything together, and making sure I could give them a version as early as possible so they could start experimenting. Whenever I had a minute of animation done I would lock it down and send it to both of them. So in addition, the composer could work on the certain cues and the sound designer could start building up a library.

That’s really interesting that you sent it bit by bit, rather than sending them the complete film and them working from there.

It’s more about the impression, the general impression is there and the cuts are in a strong place early on. At least there’s then a good framework to work on. This is something I’ve learnt on few other student films I’ve worked on.

How long does that animation process take? For this film, for example, it must be a lengthy process?

Overall the film took about two years to complete, taking into account how long it took to develop the idea and plan everything.

The first six months were spent creating the basic concept, working on storyboards and creating initial versions. The next six months were spent developing assets, i.e. developing the main character, the dinosaur, and the background characters you see. Also creating and testing the equipment and software. Does the rendering software work? Does the animation approach work? Do I have all the details I want? I didn’t have a lot of experience with the simulation setup I used, so I thought it was great to test everything beforehand and to develop a workflow for the film later on.

That was the first year, then it was just banging out shots over the course of 12 months, in a very rapid fire section. I tried to finish the entire animation within one block, as it was important to get a cut nailed down. I think I remember I had two or three month in the end. Which if you break it down is almost like producing 20-30 animation seconds per week. Which is the same level you would expect from a television series production I guess.

You’ve mentioned dinosaur documentaries and Jurassic Park. It sounds like that has always been an area of interest. Where did the inspiration for CITIPATI first come from?

I was half way through my studies when I had the first idea for that particular type of dinosaur. I liked its appeal, and found it had a human nature. The way I saw it was how we categorise animals into different types of characters. On one hand, you have the dangerous carnivores and meat eaters, and on the other, tame and harmless plant eaters… but these types of dinosaur fall in the middle ground. I felt you couldn’t put them in one category or the other, because they could be dangerous or harmless. They looked like giant birds. I liked the character and design, and thought they were the perfect dinosaur to have a lot of character, and that an audience could empathise with quickly.

The initial approach to the idea was a lot more cartoony, a run of the mill storyline about a dinosaur trying to eat and survive, like Scrat in the Ice Age movie! He tries to steal an egg and accidents happen… the egg hatches and the dinosaur has to become a parent. Being a dinosaur nerd, it sounded good to me, but it would look like I had taken the most basic story ideas and simply refurbished it to add dinosaurs. So I put the idea to rest as I was working on other stuff. From there it slowly dawned on me that I wanted to create something more realistic. I was less of an animator, and more into the visual effects industry and if this was to be my final project while studying, I needed it to be serious and work as a marketing tool for myself.

I had a few different ideas, like wanting to show certain mechanisms in the universe at different scales, and reinterpret that. For example, taking a meteor impact that could almost be reinterpreted as insemination on a much grander scale. Then when the dinosaur came back in, I started forming images of what if the dinosaur gets to peak behind the curtains of the universe within his last moments. The idea of dying and gaining a higher perspective became more interesting, especially as we don’t know how dinosaurs/animals approach death. There’s many other sociological, cultural ideas we don’t ascribe to animals, like religion.

The journey I wanted the character to take fitted with all the visual ideas from my initial vision, and even though the visual ideas came first, I tried to keep them secondary to the character arc. I could then have the best of both worlds, with the story working on its own and the visual elements on top as an extra treat.

So talking about character development and universal ideas (such as death, religion and emotion), would you say animation is the best way to explore these human concepts through a different animal/entity?

I would say that. Animation enables you to create something out of nothing, and go as far as you want to go, in making a realistic character. You can give him a back story and a thought process, which can only be possible with the use of animation. It needs to be told visually. You can’t write it in a book and tell everyone what the ideas are/ how the dinosaur is feeling. We have to interpret that, like how we interpret our own pets’ feelings… as they can not tell us!

What’s next for you, have you got any other projects on the horizon?

I would like to get back to doing another project, when I have time. I am waiting for once CITIPATI has run it course, when everyone has seen it and then it goes public. Then it can be taken off my mind, because right now, even though I want to create something new, that film will always be on my mind at the same time. After that, I would definitely be up for working on another short film of my own. I have more than enough ideas! Other than that, I am working as a visual effects artist in the industry. It’s my way of gaining more experience on the side. I have been fortunate enough to work on the larger projects that have gone through the company, Industrial Light & Magic. I get the opportunity to see how the process for a large film works, such as Transformers or the last Star Wars movie. To be a part of that is pretty rewarding, learning from the masters how things are done. Which will benefit the next film production I would approach on my own.

Sounds great, we definitely look forward to seeing your future work!

Tickets are now on sale for Berlin Lift-Off, where “CITIPATI” will be screening.

View the programme and buy tickets here.