INTERVIEW WITH CARLO VOGELE

Animation is a tedious medium. Whether it is stopmotion, hand drawn or computer animation, they all share a common theme – they are a pain in the ass.

Nonetheless, animation is to be respected. In the end, it’s incredibly rewarding to see what you have brought to life on screen.

Stopmotion is considered one of the most time consuming media for animation. It takes hours to capture even one frame of animation (or three seconds of time on film). For this reason, we were really excited to sit down and talk to Carlo Vogele, a talented stopmotion filmmaker. Read on to learn more about Carlo, who dares to embrace the tedious yet rewarding art of stopmotion animation, with phenomenal results.

B+L: How did you get into filmmaking or animation?

Carlo: I remember when I was 8, I made a sequence of Donald Duck drawings on transparent cells, and I’d enslaved my sister to do the inking and coloring for me. I was also a pioneer animator on my Amiga 2000 thanks to a pretty well designed Disney animation software. In school, I used to turn my notebooks into flipbooks. I got really into puppets and dolls during my student years, but puppet theatre tends to be sad and depressing, and the stagefright was killing me. Using puppets in animation gives me all the control and time I need, with cinematic storytelling and aesthetic sophistication that digital film has made so easily accessible.

B+L: How was it to transition from France, and School of Gobelins, to the US, and CalArts, and now Pixar. Was it creatively or culturally challenging for you?

Carlo: To me, CalArts is a fantastic playground for the random creativity, the positive attitude, the celebrated amateurism, the “yes this is art, because this is me expressing myself” spirit! The art students I knew from Paris tended to be very ambitious and critical of their own work and the work of others. The teachers would revel in crushing our egos with murderous reviews. Yes, art schools in France can be a lot of fun and produce great work, but there is also a long elitist tradition of nurtured asshole culture, which I had grown so accustomed to that I accepted it as part of any art school. Coming to CalArts was like entering a kingdom of creative carebears, a place where you could spend 50 grand a year doing what you liked to do, knowing that your fellow students and teachers would be supportive and compliment you, no matter what.

My time at the school was probably the best student experience I’ve ever had, mainly for the aforementioned reason that I could do my film my own way, without anyone interfering (at Gobelins, I would have to submit my project every 2 weeks to a panel of ruthless teachers who would shred it to pieces and summon me to start over… it’s a wonder the films coming out of this school are so good). But the truly wonderful part of CalArts is the mingling of so many creative people doing music, dance, film, theatre, animation… Thanks to the many shows and events by all the different departments, you end up experiencing art in its most overwhelming diversity; it might be genius, it might be amateurish, who cares, as long as it takes you out of your secluded animator’s mind and exposes you to something new and surprising every day.

B+L: Would you say you’re more of an Animator or a Filmmaker?

Carlo: Filmmaker, definitely. Funny how at Pixar, almost everybody seems to be a filmmaker at heart. Beyond the small shot you are working on, it is fascinating to witness the creation of a feature film, the changes in the storyline, the camera choices, the layout of a sequence, and then to discuss all these points with your colleagues, your leads and even with the director. In my experience it is truly a unique studio.

B+L: Why did you select stopmotion as your medium for animation when there are tons of other options out there? What is it about stopmotion that speaks to you?

Carlo: For the same reason I prefer the color red to blue, or the piano to the violin – it just happens to be what I like best. Also, being a very impatient person, I like the instant result you get from the shooting, no renders or clean up needed (ironically, stop motion requires infinite patience in its animation process…)

B+L: Can you explain to the readers what stopmotion is and what it entails?

Carlo: I shoot pictures with a still camera fixed on a tripod, and I move the character a little bit between each shot. It’s the most basic frame-by-frame technique, I do exactly what a film camera is doing when filming live actors, but instead of taking 24 pictures a second, I take one every minute or so, and of course the character doesn’t perform by itself – it needs to be animated.

B+L: You’ve recently finished a short film called Una Furtiva Lagrima. It’s a really fun and original film that’s currently in festivals. Are there any new films you’re planning or working on?

Carlo: “Fun” is an interesting choice of adjective to describe the tragic destiny of a fish that ends with an agonizing death in the frying pan…. but yeah, the tragic and the comic should always be closely linked, that is at least my notion of good drama. There is an amusing idea that I have been thinking about – it’s the story of a fat sausage that wants to lose weight…

B+L: For Sock’s Sake was my favorite film during the CalArts Producers Show back in 2008, because it stood out from the rest of the crowd and was truly original. How long did this stopmotion film take from beginning to end? At any point during the making of the film did you feel like giving up because it was so time consuming?

Carlo: The production of the film took me 4 months, including pre- and post-production. I literally had no life during that time, sleeping in the daytime and working through the nights… the cool thing about the school is that you are not alone in the crunch, you’re surrounded by vampires and bums crashing the computer labs with their sleeping bags. When you put so much energy in something, you can’t possibly think of giving up, it’s just not an option.

B+L: What were the hardest part of making the short film?

Carlo: Honestly, the hardest part was the food, or lack thereof. Having no car, I was depending on friends to give me a ride to Wholefoods or Subway, but past midnight it became increasingly difficult to find decent food. I was really bad at planning ahead, too, my cerebral activity being completely dedicated to filmmaking. As a result, I found myself most nights at 2 am reheating vacuum-packed burritos from the vending machine in the microwave. I also started stocking microwavable split pea soups, supposedly very nutritious, but after a few days I couldn’t stand the smell anymore.

B+L: What inspired you to make Sock’s Sake?

Carlo: It’s a story about a sock that escapes from the family clothesline to go explore the world on its own.The idea originally sprang from a clothesline mural I painted in my boyfriend’s apartment in Paris… I had a lot of fun coming up with the different characters, which were almost all purchased at the Walmart next to Calarts! All kid’s clothes, because size was definitely an issue for animation. I randomly put the family together, the pants and dress as the parents, the pairs of 2 ankle socks and 2 regular socks as the children… only later on as I presented the project to my mentor did I realize that this story was actually my story (I have 3 siblings) and I was the one who fled far away from old Europe to explore the new world in California.

B+L: You’re currently working on animated feature films on the computer while your short films are animated in stop motion. Which method do you prefer and why?

Carlo: There is no question that I prefer the tedious, dirty craft of stop motion to the slick and sterile mouse-clicking while staring at a computer screen. Even though, computers are reliable tools (most of the time),  I am actually more relaxed while animating with the undo button at my fingertips. On the other hand, the shooting of a stop motion scene is prone to a million unpredictable catastrophes, and the stress of things getting out of control tends to drive me completely mental. I sometimes perspire so intensely that I have to strip off most of my clothes….if your foot hits the camera tripod by mistake, you’re f***ed. If your elbow hits the set, you’re f***ed. Or the light inexplicably changes, or the character’s arm decides to detach, or a set piece collapses under the heat of the spots…

B+L: Do you have a favorite filmmaker or artist?

Carlo: Hmmm… animation wise, I dig Bill Plympton, Joanna Quinn and Adam Elliott, he’s the guy who did the amazing feature Mary and Max. Film wise I’m a big fan of the Coen brothers, the french filmmaker Jacques Audiard, and anything twisted coming from Scandinavia (e.g. Let the right one in).

B+L: You were actually one of the first B+L customers, thank you for that. Now what’s in your closet?

Carlo: Since I came out of it, I haven’t really updated my closet much… The stuff I like most are probably ESPRIT shirts and some GAP pants. But I don’t want to encourage people to buy franchised clothes, it’s a complete rip off, I’d rather buy them second hand…

B+L: Do you have any piece of advice for our readers interested in filmmaking and animation?

Carlo: Yes! Don’t dedicate your animation work to boring walkcycle tests, ugly AnimationMentor characters and inextricable Maya clusterf***s. Grab a pen or a camera and do some gorilla animation, film or draw anything that inspires you, make it move and experience the magic of animation in your own way!

For any inquiries you can contact Carlo at: [email protected]

Below are Carlo Vogele short films: