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It’s Alchemy

Estonian Nukufilms animator Mait Laas talks about creating new worlds from scratch at the Berlinale Talent Campus panel "Pencils, Puppets and Pixels".

Mait Laas

How and why did you get involved in animation?
In Estonia I studied art, drama, and skills of choreography. I had a feeling that animation would be the best because all elements of art tied together. I think it’s a genetic speciality of Estonians, maybe we are kind of forest people who are more keen about the visual than language, maybe we are not very good speaking people that’s why we try to find the best tool to explain ourselves, and what can be better for that than animation?

Can you describe the working style at your studio?
There are thirty people, every person brings their vision to it--the matrix is always the same. The artist will make the drawing in 2D and the puppetmaker brings it into the 3D world, and through his interpretation he adds something that comes from himself, and gives the puppet a soul. There is the human touch and the animator is the actor behind the puppet. Sometimes it’s not the way we classically understand: when the puppets have two legs and hands but it could also be a chair, and you as a viewer must not see that it’s a jumping chair but that it’s a frog, and also without sound and you must believe it.

How do you choose your materials and how does varying those materials allow you to express yourself?
Aesthetics comes out of the story itself, and the materials must be flexible and fit what the character should be able to do. Depending on that we order the material from car or ship factories or the dentist. It’s really like secret work, like research. For puppetmakers it’s fascinating just to figure out new materials, it’s invention. It’s alchemy actually.

Do you think animation is a genre within film or is it a whole different ball game?
It’s a very philosophical question. If you compare documentaries and features you are shooting 24 frames per second, you are looking out at life, you try to take out of the essence of life. But in animation you have plain paper or empty space − well, you can’t say "empty space" because you start with an idea but you have to start from scratch. And if you have to build up this world frame by frame, it means that you have to build this essence, and it's one step further because you have to bring this essence into the material. In features or documentary you are following the essence of life and also the animator is doing that, but through the materials he must construct the world again, you don’t just reconstruct − there is a big difference. For viewers there is no difference, they are hungry for emotions, thoughts and inspirations − for them it is just one genre, but for animators it is a whole different thing.

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