A few years ago, German animator Till Nowak released his animated short "Delivery". It was immediately met with a lot of acclaim, and Till toured the world with his film, winning a ton of awards at filmfestivals in all corners of the world. And you have to be impressed when you see the work he has done on the film, especially considering he did everything himself. The insanely talented animator took some time off from his busy schedule to answer a few questions for me, in which he tells about making Delivery, travelling the globe and what's up next.
Let's start at the beginning
Q: When did you become interested in animation? Did you watch animated movies as a kid and thought to yourself: I can do better than that when I get older! Or was it more that you were interested in computers and wanted to use them in a creative way?
A: I never watched a lot of animations and didn't read comics (except some Disney-stuff as a child, but that doesn't count). I have to admit that I don't have a particular passion for animation, my passion is for filmmaking in general. Maybe that's why the mood, the use of camera, light, materials, etc. in "Delivery" is not very cartoon-like. The films that inspired and impressed me were live action films, but they often were films with fantastic or extreme stories, which means they often contained a lot of special effects. I am fascinated by the magic of building film worlds and composing precise images to bring an idea or a feeling directly into the brains or hearts of the audience. I used animation techniques because it gave me the ability to produce things that I wouldn't have been able to produce as a live action film - in terms of money and time - it makes me extremely flexible.
Q: Which people inspired you to start making your own movies? Does your inspiration come from other computer animators, or from other moviemakers?
A: Maybe it was a mixture of my passion for cinema, computer games and digital creativity. When I was 5 years old my father gave me a 8mm camera to make stop motion films and a video camera which I used for many small experiments. Years later I discovered the films of Jacques Tati and Charles Chaplin. Later it was David Fincher (Fight Club, The Game), Jean-Pierre-Jeunet (Amélie, City of lost children), Bob Zemeckis (Contact, Forest Gump), of course the big legends like George Lucas and Ridley Scott and others. Also artists like Dali, Magritte, H.R. Giger and David La Chapelle inspired me among others.
It is the fascination about creating a perfect thrilling flow of emotions within the rules of a unique and believable world. The audience has to completely dive into this world during the performance and forget to doubt its existence. During the last 10 years I tried out almost every field of digital creativity, like design, music, programming, photography, and in the end filmmaking brings it all together, which makes it for me personally the most exciting level of creating art. You could say the same about computer games. I was fanatic about playing computer games when I was younger, but to produce computer games is too technical for me, so I create films and images.
Q: I understand that Delivery was more or less a graduation film. How did your teachers and fellow students respond to your film? I can imagine that the teachers were at the very least impressed!
A: Besides running my own studio I was studying "media design" and "Delivery" was my graduation film, even if I produced it entirely in my own facilities. The University of Applied Sciences in Mainz, Germany, where I studied, is not a classical film school, it is more a design school. I received very good marks for it and I am happy to hear that the film is screened sometimes as an example for younger students.
Q: I read in one of the interviews that you wrote ten different short stories at the beginning of production, before you came up with the one that you used for Delivery. What was wrong with those other stories? Were they too ambitious, or did the concept not speak to you as much as the concept of Delivery?
A: It's easy to create fascinating, unique worlds and to start telling exciting and thrilling stories, but it's very hard to find an appropiate ending for them, maybe because I am not really a trained storywriter. For me storywriting is always about the ending - to find a way that a story ends even stronger than you expect. I think most of these stories were only half stories, because I didn't find an ending that overtopped the beginning. And on the other hand there are technical difficulties: Because even if doing animation makes me very flexible it also restricts me in a lot of aspects: I avoid using speech, hairs, liquids, complex character interactions, etc. It's difficult to find a good story under these limitations. Of course you could ask "Why don't you search for more people and bigger budgets to get rid of these limits?" Because the simplicity and directness to produce a film directly from my brain onto celluloid was what counted most for me as an artist and I am sure that this intuitive workflow was also a reason for the success of "Delivery". Of course I know that I will have to leave the One-Man-Filmmaking to realize more ambitous projects.
Q: And how did you come up with the story behind Delivery?
A: I searched for a story that contained some elements like the city, the vehicles, the tower, the old guy, etc. and at the same time conained a twist of dimensions. I had been searching for the right story for months and then it took only a few minutes to deveop it and write it down.
Q: Delivery is an amazing piece of work, especially considering the fact that you made this all by yourself. I saw an image of you where many Till Nowak's were all working hard at the same time. I can imagine that you must have felt at times that you needed more than one 'you', because of all the work associated with making a computer animated short. But how did you achieve making the movie all by yourself? Did you just not sleep for the period you made the movie, or did you indeed find a way to clone yourself?
A: It took me 6 months to produce "Delivery", I worked a lot during this time, but not more than a usual employee. First of all I worked without any sketches (because I can't draw) and began designing the scenes directly in the 3D software. This means that my first drafts were also my final 3D models for the production. Only in a few cases - for example with the design of the box - I made more than one draft. On the other hand I had a precise image in my head about the result that I wanted and I developed technical workflows that make it possible to produce extremely fast, you can read more about this in some other interviews on http://www.delivery.framebox.de
Q: What, for you, is the most enjoyable part of making a short movie like Delivery? Is it the coming up with ideas, designing the characters, polishing up the movie at the end, editing it all together, or something else?
A: The first great moment is when you spend long nights modelling all the props, characters and scenery and you can`t stop working on it because you see how your thoughts become reality by your own hands. That's the time when I forget to eat or sleep just because it's so much fun. Then come the long months of animating and fine-tuning which is more work than fun, but after that you get the reward of compositing and post production which boosts the quality of the 3D renderings in a short amount of time, which always feels like magic. And of course it's fantastic when everything is almost finished and the editing and music make it a round piece.
Q: It says in your biography pdf that you were making computer music when you were younger, yet making the music is the only element of Delivery that you did not do yourself. Why did you decide on this?
A: I had a digital music studio, but I quit it around 5 years ago, because I spent all of my time on visual digital art. I had some small record releases and you can still hear some old songs if you dig deep enough in the gallery of my website. About Delivery: I could never produce a full orchestral digital score and on the other hand it was a first start for me to give away responsibility to someone who does the job better. It was a very good experience and I am very thankful to the brothers Andreas and Matthias Hornschuh for their part in "Delivery".
Q: Can you tell me a bit more about your distinctive personal style? Is it something that you have been developing throughout the years, or did you start from scratch for Delivery?
A: I see myself still as a beginner learning and developing his own style, but there are elements that you can find in most of my works: I like to work with twilight and indirect light, I care a lot about precision and tension in the twodimensional composition of the images elements. I like a dusty feeling instead of a clean cartoon look. I like monochromatic color schemes instead of many colors. And to speak about the content: Most of my works are mixing and twisting the common dimensions and relations between objects.
Q: You have won a large amount of awards. How does that feel? I can imagine that it's a great feeling, but does it also put pressure on you to come up with something at least equally great for your next project?
A: Exactly. "Delivery" was my first short film, so the international success pushes me in a role that is bigger than I feel as a filmmaker. And of course there is the problem that everybody - including me - expects something bigger than "Delivery". I don't worry about the technical quality once I begin producing, but since more than 1 year now I am searching for the right story and nothing seems to be good enough to start with. It needs time...
Q: What will your next project be? Will it be another short animated movie you will make by yourself, or something larger? I understand from the interviews I read that all the travelling to film festivals, doing interviews and so on has cost you so much time that it was hard for you to make the time to start something new? (I also understand that I am not really helping by asking you even more questions!)
A: I am planning to do another shortfilm which will be produced similar like "Delivery". Besides that I have many smaller projects going on all the time. Right now I am doing 20 short animations for two german TV Documentaries, I was involved in 6 other productions since "Delivery" and I release new 3D images every few weeks in the gallery of my website. Most of this stuff is just independent artwork that I do in my freetime, the latest is this series of four graphics: http://www.framebox.de/creations/3d/disruption. Since travelling to film festivals and commercial works give me too many reasons to delay a new production I decided to stop working and travelling for a while, starting in April 2007 - I hope this gives me enough freedom and a level head for a new shortfilm.
Q: Having made Delivery on your own, do you ever see yourself working in a team on a bigger animated movie, or do you prefer to have a hand in all aspects of making a movie?
A: I could very well imagine to work in big movie productions for example to previsualize ideas, concept art and design. But I think I am not someone who can sit in an army of 500 animators and work out a hand full of scenes for months or years, because I am impatient and always need to see fast progress. And I need a certain amount of creative influence on what I do instead of being a pure technician.
Q: What was it like to travel to the different film festivals where your movie was shown? What is it like to sit in an audience that is enjoying your movie so much? Had you expected this much success for your movie?
A: I didn't expect anything and I almost can't believe that now, 2 years after the release, I still get e-Mails every day and still film festivals invite and award "Delivery". No need to say that it was always an overwhelming feeling to feel the reactions at the festivals. It's always exciting to watch and hear the peoples reaction. In Hollywood the people were very enthusiastic like in most of the screenings, but there are also festivals where people don`t react or applaud to any of the films. In San Sebástian I had the greatest screening experience I could ever imagine - with 1200 filled seats and and the greatest audience in a giant cinema.
Q: I understand that, even though your movie is critically acclaimed and a magnificent piece of work, it's difficult to make a living with it. What is your regular day job? And would you like to see that one day the movies earn you enough to be able to fully concentrate on making movies?
A: Since 8 years I am working in my own studio "frameboX" as a freelance media designer. I have never worked as an employee in any company, not even as a trainee. The commercial jobs made me able to finance my equipment over the years and produce completely on my own. Usually it's true that you can not live from making shortfilms, and even if the awards and the professional distribution brought some money, it's by far not enough to live over the whole period that such a film needs to be produced and promoted.
Q: What can we expect from the DVD-release of Delivery? What are the extras on the DVD?
A: The DVD contains 38 Minutes of Video. There is a 10 minute documentary about the production of "Delivery" full of never-before-released material, for example from the motion capturing session, the preproduction, the raw 3D models and interview parts. You will also find my student shortfilm "Telesync", my showreel, a slideshow of artworks and some screenrecordings (videos that give you the feeling of a look over my shoulder while I am working on the scenes of "Delivery" in the raw software environment).
Interested in Till's work, and especially in Delivery? Then check out Till's website Framebox right here. If you want to buy Delivery on DVD, then head on over here to the webshop, where you can order the DVD with all the extra's.
A small look into how Delivery was made:
If you click any of the images below, you will get detailed images that show you how Till worked while making Delivery. It's an interesting insight into the movie, and it explains a little bit how computer animated movies are made, and how much work they are. (Appologies for the fact that clicking the images takes you away from the site, to a site filled with advertisements, but I'm working on a solution to be able to keep all the images on ScribbleKing right here, without any extra ads).