Matthias Hoegg: Thursday

Matthias Hoegg recently joined us to answer some questions about his short film, Thursday. It’s an everyday love story in the not so distant future, where ubiquitous e-access doesn’t necessarily guarantee a connection (and some blackbirds battling technology thrown in too).

Made as his final project at the Royal College of Art, it was recently honored with a BAFTA nomination in the Short Animation category. After a successful festival run, it’s making its full-length online debut here. Huzzah!

Our interview with Matthias after the jump.

The Story

I started out wanting to make a film about everyday life in the future. I thought that a lot of sci-fi and forecasts for the next decades tend to portrait humans as rather cold and anonymous. They always seem to be completely in tune with their super-efficient high tech environment. I wanted to portray a futuristic world and add some friction, some everyday frustration that we experience when we interact with technology today, but also moments that make our mundane lives worthwhile.

With this rather loose idea of the narrative I started doing some experiments for the film’s visual style. In retrospect I also seem to have stumbled upon a lot of the inspiration for the film in one afternoon on my summer holiday visiting my sister in Calgary, Canada. I went up onto a viewing platform in the television tower in the town center and looking through the glass floor, I was struck by the systematic, grid like arrangement of the relatively new North American city. Right after that I went to a museum of the local history and discovered traditional American quilts, which became a big influence on the style as well.

The Look

A lot of these bold graphic quilt patterns seem to suggest three-dimensional geometry. Back home in London I started experimenting with a 3 dimensional interpretation of these patterns using the grid structure that is inherent in 3D. I ended up with these modular designs of the cityscapes that became the setting for Thursday.

I also explored other kinds of patterns that seemed to evoke a sense of everyday environments, like Eduardo Paolozzi’s mosaics on the walls of Tottenham Court Road Underground Station. Paolozzi collaged various patterns and technical plans into what looks like big cross sections of our futuristic lives.

I was also interested in the corporate designs of Transport for London, patterns of tube seats and early adverts for public transport that present the underground as a brave new invention, which just blends into our everyday routines nowadays.

What was the production timeline like? How much time was spent in planning vs. animation? How fluid vs. locked was the edit?

I had all of my final year, from September 2009 to June 2010, at the RCA to work on Thursday. I spent the first three months coming up with designs and experimenting with 3D patterns before putting together an animatic. I did a lot of “test screenings” to get first responses, and probably did five different animatics before I arrived at something that I was happy to lock down. A lot of shots were changed, all the way through to the last minute.

How early on did sound factor into the project?

Sound was a big part of the project and I worked closely with Berlin-based Sound Designer Marian Mentrup, who I had met at the Leipzig Documentary and Animation Festival in 2009 when Thursday was in its early stages.

After seeing my grid-like designs for the cityscape Marian suggested that the soundscape could follow an equally regimented structure. He suggested that we edit the film to a metronome, so that all the shots fit into a sort of time-grid. We wanted to create the impression that the lives of the people in Thursday are organized in a very stubborn way, that they’re going through a strict routine. A lot of people have mentioned that we’ve created a perfect stereotype of a German-German collaboration, but I hope you can take it with a pinch of salt.

Working with this fixed timing reference made it possible to exchange blocks of sound and animation in the process. Often Marian would give me the sound effects for, say, the cleaning vehicle, the alarm clock or the traffic in the city, and I would do the animation based on this time reference.

What were your biggest challenges? Any happy accidents?

One of the biggest challenges was to convince people that the characters were going to work, although they’re pretty sterile and graphic and I think a lot of characterization came through the movement. I also spent a lot of the last few weeks of the project changing the shots at the very end until I came up with something that I was pleased with. I wanted some the narrative to tie up at the end without forcing a conclusion.

A lot of the sound effects were developed by Marian, playing around on his newly bought analog synthesizer. I was a bit skeptical about his improvisations at first, but it turned out to be a really handy way of blocking out the atmosphere for each shot in real time.

What are you personal feelings on cities?

I’d be scared not to live in a big city. If your neighbors don’t know you they’re not going to judge you for staying in your bedroom for two months to finish your graduation film.

In lieu of a celestial viewing room, where would you take someone on a date?

My most recent date with my girlfriend was a long walk through the docklands in East London, past the Thames Flood Barrier, the Tate and Lyle Sugar Factory and a big rusty Recycling Plant, all the places that are normally hidden from view. The biggest benefits was that it looked nothing like the London we see every day. Anywhere to get a bit of perspective, even if it’s not up in space…

Where I didn’t take my girlfriend was the BAFTAs, something I’ll probably be made to regret for a long time. Apparently I have a particular sort of blindness when it comes to spotting celebs, which is no help in a situation like that at all, and she would have been pretty happy to help out. I took Marian instead, which seemed fair, seeing as he made one half of the film.

Why Thursday?

I called it Thursday because I wanted a title that evokes a very mundane, familiar setting. Thursday is approaching the weekend, so you might treat yourself to a little escape from your everyday life, knowing you’ll still have to come back to it the next day. I also considered calling it “Lovebirds”. My last film was called August. The titles seemed to work for the films, although I should really try to snap out of the pattern of using time descriptions next time.

What are you up to next?

At the moment I’m directing two spring-themed sequences for Cbeebies, the Pre-School Kids’ branch of the BBC. It’s character based, 2D and quite snappy, cutesy and colorful stuff and very fun and refreshing to work on.

I’ve also been experimenting with Raster or Picket Fence Animation, the process where you merge several frames of animation into a single still image which animates by dragging a grid across it. I’d like to develop this into a sort of Animation/Graphic Novel hybrid.

I’d definitely like to make another Short Film a little further down the line, which will be a lot more open in terms of technique and will probably involve camera and object tracking and more loose, graphic imagery.

Right now my emphasis is more on commissioned work though and when I’m not directing at Beakus I’m freelancing at different places in London, from more traditional animation studios through to branding and motion graphics. I’m really happy to live in London, where it’s possible to jump between companies and keep developing your work in different contexts.

If you’re lucky enough to be in one of the following cities, Thursday (and some other great shorts) will be on the big screen at these upcoming festivals:

April 12 – 17: Filmfest Dresden, Germany
April 26 – May 1: AniFest 2011, Prague, Czech Republic, in competition
May 3 – 8: 18 Internationales Trickfilm Festival Stuttgart (ITFS), Stuttgart, Germany, in Student Film Competition
May 3 – 8: Animayo, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain
June 6 – 11: Annecy International Animation Festival, Annecy, France

Sound Design and Music by Marian Mentrup
“Thursday’s Space Waltz” written and performed by Marian Mentrup
Published by Kobrow Musikverlag
Additional Animation by Aaron Lampert
Additional Modeling by Mattias Bjurström
Foley Artist Günther Röhn
Mixed at Talking Animals Studio Berlin

Thank You:
RCA Animation 2010, Lauri Warsta, Kristian Andrews, Sylvie Bringas, Sergio Cameira, Tony Fish, Tim Webb, Deborah Levy, Jenny Bull, Steve Smith, Rotor Film Berlin, Passion Pictures, Anette Jung

© Royal College of Art and Matthias Hoegg