Commissioned at the start of 2020 and produced throughout lockdown, Inside Out Shorts is a series of films exploring the relationship between our inner lives and creativity, produced in collaboration with The Smalls.
Can you introduce your film?
True Sound Façade is a poetic dance and animation film in which a dancer realises their digital self feels truer than their real-world self. It stars Kino McHugh, dancing with and against a colourful animated environment born out of her movements. It’s an exploration of our multiplied, curated and fragmented identities, finding the ‘true sound’ of the self behind the projected ‘façade’.
By combining live-action and animation, the film becomes a celebration of how our inner and outer lives merge with each other playfully in the act of artistic creation.
The commission was originally part of Inside Out, a season exploring our inner lives and creativity and how art can help us better understand ourselves and empathise with others’ experience of the world. How did your film respond to these ideas?
True Sound Façade responds to the theme by taking inspiration from the Japanese notions of Honne - literally translated as ‘true sound’, one’s true desires and feelings, and ‘Tatemae’ the ‘façade’, the behaviour one displays in public society. The gap that can exist between both private and public self is here expressed as a meditation and a reconciliation. For an artist, curating and presenting is part of the process, thus blurring boundaries between our inner lives and how they shape the art we put out.
Can you explain the process behind the making of your film?
The starting point was a loose storyboard/animatic. It was based on my visual ideas but also on studying Kino’s movements. This helped me imagine how I could direct her, what kind of movement might go with a certain mood in the story.
There were themes in this film that pertained to our relationship with the Internet. I was researching the Wood Wide Web - the romantic name given to the underground network of how trees communicate with each other, exchange nutrients, with the help of fungi intertwined with their roots. The equivalent of our World Wide Web, but in nature. That aspect became less present, but that’s the reason there are so many plants in the film. The Wood Wide Web was a nice image mirroring our World Wide Web without being too literal, I also believe our digital selves and physical selves are not as separate as we think. It was a pleasing way to visually reconcile our rapport to technology.
Once we shot the footage, I painted many thumbnails to visualise the backgrounds. When I was satisfied with them, I re-made them digitally in more detail while integrating stills of Kino from the shoots to make sure they matched. Depending on Kino’s movements, I would go back and forth between 2D hand drawn animation in TVPaint, abstract animation, After Effects animation and motion tracking. I started to think of my animations as a sort of secondary choreography that could complement Kino’s movements. The music by Narae Chung and grading by Andi Chu tied everything together.
What impact did COVID-19 have on production? What was your experience creating a film in these strange conditions?
COVID-19 had a huge impact on production. Early on in the pandemic, our dancer Kino McHugh went to isolate in Japan. There was a big question mark on whether she could come back, or if we’d have to shoot remotely. I wrote this project with Kino’s particular way of moving in mind so couldn’t really envision anyone else. By an extreme stroke of luck, she was invited to a dance residency in August, which meant she could come back to the UK for a week. I call it our ‘miracle film’ because I’m still amazed we managed to make it happen with the circumstances.
Knowing that we’d be able to shoot in the same physical space completely changed my approach to writing the film. I had about two weeks to sort out everything. It’s a dance film as well as a mix of live-action and animation. We had to think ahead planning certain cuts with my DoP Bella Riza. We also had to leave room for improvisation. There was no time to plan a choreography so it was important to have good communication with Kino and explain to her the moods of the different scenes, leave her space to freestyle while giving a few scenic directions. The animatic was extremely helpful to have while on set, as the backbone for the film, when there was so much improvisation.
Thematically, the start of the film, with the dancer’s isolation, was a pretty literal translation of the current situation and what I imagined Kino’s predicament to be. In the end the film is about resilience and finding balance within despite circumstances.
There’s a certain magic to being in front of a screen, watching the same film as a collective experience.
What impact do you think COVID-19 will have on cinema in the near future – for audiences and filmmakers?
In terms of content creation, it hasn’t been so bad for the animation sector. Animation doesn’t really require a crew to be in the same physical space the way live-action does, so it has been less impacted by COVID-19.
Some of my favourite film festivals moved online which made it possible for me to attend. On the other hand, I miss the cinema as a physical space. There’s a certain magic to being in front of a screen, watching the same film as a collective experience.
Similarly, the excitement of film festivals, the million conversations and unexpected encounters with both films and people, is something I really miss. Animation is an isolated process so this supercharge of human interaction and excitement towards film usually is a great motivator. I hope we’ll find a way to safely bring back the audiences to the cinema space.