The Heart-Breaking Happiness Machine

Polish director Tomek Bagiński discusses the making of his beautifully animated CG short The Kinematograph.

Polish director Tomek Bagiński’s name is familiar to those who have been paying attention to the thriving European CG animation scene over the past decade. Bagiński’s previous shorts’the Oscar-nominated The Cathedral (2004) and BAFTA-winning Fallen Art (2006)’dazzled audiences with their exquisite visual artistry and craft. This year, he is basking again in the awards season spotlight, with his new CG-animated short titled The Kinematograph competing with the latest works from the Pixar and Aardman studios in the Best Animated Short Academy Awards race.

This stylish project is based on a steam-punk graphic novella by Mateusz Skutnik, which centers on an inventor who works feverishly on a contraption that captures happiness. ‘I fell in love with the story from the very first time I read it,’ says Bagiński. ‘After making the irreverent Fallen Art and working on commercials every day, I really wanted to make a simple film about feelings.’

As the film’s CG supervisor Grzegorz Kukuś, who works with Bagiński at their top-notch vfx studio Platige Image, explains the project took a bit over a year to finish. ‘We had 10 staff people working on the short, as well as several dozens of freelance professionals. The project cost everyone many sleepless nights and lots of blood, sweat and tears. Nobody died in action, but several people earned their treatment at a sanitarium!’

According to Kukuś, the studio used 3ds Max in conjunction with Autodesk Motion Builder to produce the short. They also used Maya for clothes simulation, After Effects for composition and ZBrush and Photoshop for the textures, as well as several in-house tools and programs.

The complexity of the 12-minute short posed several key challenges for Bagiński. ‘I had a great team and good conditions but soon enough it turned out that the film had become much more complicated than we had originally planned. Choosing Kuba Jabłoński as a concept artist added an extraordinary feel and an extremely high level of quality and art to the film, but, at the same time, made the film three times more expensive than we had assumed. And finally we had to let ourselves compromise in a few respects to even finish the film. We were most plagued by the petty things. The work on the film itself showed amazing results.’

Bagiński points out that there are many talented animators in his native Poland, but the country’s domestic market for animation is very small and the only real source of income is commercial work. ‘The greatest deficiencies of the Polish market are organization and production,’ says the director. ‘There are not many people who know how to make a group of artists’who are individualists and eccentrics’work together. Another problem is the lack of a genuine animation school.’

Ironically, Bagiński says that while he always wanted to be a storyteller and a filmmaker, he discovered computer animation because he didn’t have a camera at home. ‘I started off in near-primitive conditions,’ he admits. ‘We had a computer, so I got interested in making animated films, just to be able to make films’I grew up watching films by Fincher, Mann, Cameron, Scott. They were my teachers. Many years later, when I was nominated for an Academy Award for The Cathedral, I had a chance to meet Michael Mann and talk to him. That was an amazing experience!’

Despite the odds, Bagiński and his talented team continue to strive to push the visual envelope with each new project. He is currently putting the finishing touches on The Animated History of Poland, an eight-minute stereoscopic film in which 1,000 years of Polish history are compiled in video clip form. ‘This is a job for zealots,’ he believes. ‘You have to love this job, you have to know that you want to make films, entertain people. As for specifics, if you have no chance of learning in the best schools, I would recommend, once you have some basic skills, getting any job at any studio’even if you were to work like a slave’and spend a few years learning your trade. There is nothing that teaches you more than everyday work. If, after these years of torment, you still want to go on doing this, it is a job for you!’

To learn more about the short and Bagiński’s studio, visit www.platige.com.