6 questions with The Optimist director, John Mervin at the half-way mark.
Saturday, May 20th, 2017
1Hi John! Thanks for being a part of our festival. First, what was the initial seed that inspired you to make The Optimist? Thanks for having me as a part of the festival! It's super cool.
I am actually hesitant to say the initial spark because it will spoil the ending. So just in case anyone is reading this before watching The Optimist, stop reading and go watch it! then come back... Spoiler alert... You ready? Okay.
I initially got the idea a few years ago when I was 16. I was reading the Helen Keller short story Three Days to See. Her perspective intrigued me. And her description of visual things is what got me brainstorming this question, "How can one visually portray the perspective of a blind person?" I had never seen anything that I can recall that did that. It also seemed like a challenge that was totally out of my league, which excited me.
2The character design in this short is a mix between 8-bit graphics and origami. How did you come up with that design and why did you choose to go with that look? In the 3D graphics world, the design I went with is called Low-Poly. its a simple oragami-ish style that I think is beautiful and incredibly underrated. I was trying to finish the film before I graduated high school, so initially leaned towards this look because it was something I could do on a tight schedule without sacrificing artistic integrity. Luckily, the minimalist style lends itself to the subject matter.
As for the visual "language" of the film, I had two rules for myself:
1. The only thing you would actually see is what the main character touches. That way the only clear vision she has is what is immediate to her. Aesthetically, it looks super cool because she kind of "paints" in her environment.
2. All sound would be portrayed in vague shapes and colors. so that you get a sense of where things are at, but it's not concrete.
3What do you love about animation? What does animation do that live action can't? In term of viewing experience, I think audiences (either consciously or sub-consciously) have a "fantasy" like expectation when watching animation. we know its not real, so to a degree, we don't bother trying to fit it with reality. And because that's the case, you can tell very different stories. As well as execute those stories in a much stranger way (a way which you would never be able to pull off in live action). I also love how controlled it is compared to live action. Generally with animation, every movement and every frame has been planned with intention.
4What's the film that made you want to become a filmmaker? None of these necessarily have high critical acclaim , so sorry if these are "lame" answers. But the three movies that have impacted me the most; and showed me what movies could do are: The Lion the witch and the Wardrobe, King Kong (the Peter Jackson one), and War of the Worlds (the Steven Spielberg one). I like visual effect extravaganzas.
5How long did it take you to complete this film and what was your biggest challenge? From the time production actually started to when I exported the final movie was 8 months. Each shot of the movie took about Two days of work (with one particular shot taking a full week!) at 52 shots that's a little over 2 months for the visuals with the remaining months dedicated to editing, sound, music, etc.
6What's next? As of three moths ago I dropped out of college and decided to make my first feature! It should be done late 2018. Sorry for self-promoting, but If you're curious, I'll be documenting it on my YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_bAVQd5_q5F-Pv0Jzaa4Rg/featured
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time. The film is about the evolution of a couple's relationship, and was shot in three different countries over the course of a decade.
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