Award Winner Interview: Nikita Diakur

Ugly won the Animated Encounters Grand Prix award for filmmakers Nikita Diakur and Redbear Easterman. Encounters' Isabella Coombes caught up with director Nikita to find out more about this bold and compelling animation.

making_of_chief_nikita_feuerwache_2k_02Congratulations on your 2017 Encounters Festival win! How does it feel?

Incredible. I was extremely excited when Ugly was accepted to Encounters and never anticipated having a shot at the Grand Prix, especially if you consider the quality of the overall programme.

Did you ever set out to change audience perception of what is generally perceived as being ‘ugly’?

It is one of the main questions behind the story and animation in Ugly. It is a question of definition and can vary depending on circumstances. Computer generated animation is constantly being rediscovered. Plus, animation software becomes increasingly accessible, so that more animators can start “playing” and experimenting. This results in more diversity, new ways to approach animation and changes our perception of what is ugly or beautiful.

Tell us about the process behind the whole project and how long it took to make?

The film took about 4 years to make. Including pre-production, probably one year longer. We didn’t work full-time, as there was not enough budget to support ourselves. Financing is always difficult for short films. We had some funding from the FFA (German Film Funding) and ran a Kickstarter campaign, but it was still far from enough. On the other hand, we were completely independent and the crowdfunding has put Ugly on the map. Suddenly, it was not just our friends and family who knew about the project.

Ugly’s aesthetic is wonderfully original, could you explain your animation techniques for us?

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Animation in Ugly is a combination of puppeteering and dynamic computer simulation. Our characters are ragdolls, which means that they are built from interconnected dynamic body parts. To enable the characters to move and interact with the environment, the body parts are fixed to animated controllers via simulated strings. The process is a bit like working with real actors: you provide directions and it is up to the characters to interpret these. Animating like this creates physically accurate, but often unexpected or even broken movement. The challenge was to apply and control the errors so that they work for the story.

Ugly’s narrative challenges superficiality – what inspired you to tell this story? (We heard at the awards that you often try and see the beauty in ‘ugly’ things.)

It is important to challenge conventions and preconceptions. A lot from what happens around us is far from ideal and we got used to it. I wanted to address that. I think you should never put things into boxes and have respect for each other, no matter the looks or any other difference. Even though it is common sense, it gets forgotten far too often.

What’s next for you Nikita, any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

We are working on an Ugly follow-up, which will be a short clip about the Ugly kids. Long-term, I would like to focus more on interactive animation and see how it can be taken 1-2 steps further.

You can watch the trailer for ‘Ugly’ below. You can find out more about the film at ugly-film.com or Facebook