NOMINEE SPOTLIGHT: “Negative Space” Directors Talk Packing For Oscar – Animation Scoop

NOMINEE SPOTLIGHT: “Negative Space” Directors Talk Packing For Oscar

In an outstanding year for animated shorts, Negative Space has emerged as one of the best. Both an Oscar and Annie nominee, the film tells the story of a son’s special relationship with his father, developed through a unique passion. Baltimore-based co-directors Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter

Jackson Murphy: Congratulations on the Oscar Nomination! How does it feel?

Ru Kuwahata: Oh, thank you so much. It’s been overwhelming and we’re so excited, and we feel so lucky to have had such an amazing team that really poured passion and love into our project.

JM: Where were you when you got the news?

Max Porter: We had just woken up. It was 8:22(am). I was drinking some coffee, and Ru was drinking some tea, and we were just watching the YouTube livestream.

JM: The concept for “Negative Space” starts-out very clever and then it builds and builds so elegantly and dramatically right to the end. Could you feel as you were working on this that there were parts of this story that really hit home?

MP: First of all, thank you so much. Really we owe a lot to the original poem by Ron Koertge. “Negative Space” is based on a 150-word prose poem with the same title by Ron Koertge. And for us, the poem sort of built in the same way you described. It started with this cute connection and there’s almost like a depth that reveals itself. And really what made us want to do this project was we felt our own personal connection to the material. I think because it’s a father and son relationship – because it’s a parent and child relationship – it is a universal theme, and we were able to each bring our own definite personal connection to the realization of the project.

JM: And was it challenging because you’re only working with 150 words as your source material?

RK: No, actually it was perfect. Because it was so simple, we were able to explore visually, add subtext, and really put our own story on top of that. So I feel like it was a perfect way to start with something simple, and then we could go much deeper and further out, but still try to respect the original poem.

JM: The stop-motion animation is fantastic. How big are these characters and sets?

MP: The smallest character is about six inches tall or so, and the largest character is about nine to nine and a half inches. The sets are definitely… our largest one – the exterior city scenes (Brooklyn or Baltimore) – it looks a lot larger than it actually is. The sets are maybe two to two and a half meters.

JM: Speaking of Baltimore, you’re based in Baltimore with “Tiny Inventions”. Tell me about that.

RK: We’re based in Baltimore, and we go by Tiny Inventions as, like, a directors’ duo name. But the production for “Negative Space” was done with Ikki Films and Manuel Cam in France. So we had this really amazing and fun journey in France for nine months making this film. And we had this whole French team.

JM: There are a number of cool, visual, technical moments in the film. One of them is the wave of all the suitcase items rushing towards the boy character. How exactly did you create that sequence?

MP: So that sequence was animated by our lead animator, Sylvan. And it was a big shot for us. We had to really invest a lot of time and energy into it because it was such an important sequence. But on a technical level, it’s actually quite simple. You have all of the small pieces of clothing that Ru had constructed. Inside them, we rigged them with small wire and we added a layer of plasticine inside the clothing so that we could actually animate the wrinkles. That was how the detailed animation was done.

The entire wave was propped-over a large piece of cinefoil, which is almost like this heavy duty tin foil, so we were able to get that… wave-like structure for the overall moment.

JM: And how is the choice of music important in setting the tone for the film?

MP: We weren’t sure if we were going to actually have music when we started the project. We thought that there was an intimacy to the narration, and we didn’t want the music to really tell the audience how to feel. But clearly we needed something to take the character and take the audience from their present day scene into the past. And music was just a really nice device and a really nice way of getting into the character’s headspace. So we tried to make the music as minimal as possible. It’s really just a few keys and they’re… reverberating to create almost a soundbed underneath all the other sound effects.

JM: “Negative Space” is about organization, especially when it comes to luggage. So would you consider yourselves to be neat, tidy and organized people.

RK: That’s a funny question. Yes, absolutely. I think people who do animation, or even furthermore stop-motion animation, tend to be pretty… obsessive compulsive about small things. I feel like we did have to plan quite a lot, and we had a really crazy, amazing excel sheet so we could communicate and we had planned everything in CG, so we knew exactly which table to use for which set and which room to set. So it was really organized, and I think in general that’s how we go our day by day.

JM: And what is the one thing that you have to pack in your suitcase when you’re going on a trip.

RK: That’s a hard question. For me, it’s my night guard, because I tend to bite when I’m sleeping. It’s totally unconscious. I had broken two of my teeth… so if I don’t have my night guard I’m usually a little bit nervous going to sleep. So that’s something I can’t forget.

JM: Alright. Max, what about you?

MP: This is something, Ru, that you had introduced me to. I don’t know the technical name for it. But there are these charcoal pills.

RK: Oh, yes.

MP: They’re just these magical pills that if you have an upset stomach, they just cure you. What are those called, Ru?

RK: It’s called Seirogan. It’s a Japanese herbal medicine. It’s black and round. It almost looks like a booger. But you take four of them and it just heals everything so quickly – and especially when you go to different locations or different countries, it’s very helpful.

JM: Everybody around the country will get the chance to “Negative Space” in select theaters this Friday, Feb. 9th, as part of the Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films presentation. How do you feel about everyone seeing your short?

RK: It’s definitely really cool because short films, or short animation films, don’t really have a wider reach to general audience. It tends to be for film festivals or online. So the fact that it goes to theaters all over the country – and people who don’t usually watch animation get to watch it, it’s amazing. And I’m so excited… we get to share what we worked on for the past few years.

JM: And who would you most like to meet when you go to the Academy Awards?

MP: I think our answer is probably going to be the same, right?

RK: I think so. Max, do you want to answer this then?

MP: Yeah. We both really hope we get the chance to meet Agnes Varda. She’s the filmmaker of “Vagabond” and “Cleo 5 to 7”, and she’s up for her first Oscar nomination [for the documentary feature Faces Places].

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy

Jackson Murphy is a movie critic and entertainment columnist. He is the creator of the website Lights-Camera-Jackson.com, and has made numerous appearances on television and radio.
Jackson Murphy
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