Award Winner Interview: Jonatan Schwenk

Jonatan Schwenk's animation SOG won the European Animation Award at Encounters 2017. Encounters' Isabella Coombes caught up with him to find out more about his process and his plans for the future.

First off, congratulations on your 2017 Encounters Festival win! How does it feel?

Jonatan SchwenkThank you! Of course it feels great to get such an appreciation like the “EUROPEAN ANIMATION AWARD”. It’s still a bit unreal – probably because I unfortunately couldn’t be around to receive the award.

What inspired the theme of Sog?

It was not my intention to make a film about the refugee topic in the beginning. When I began to write the script I had fighting neighbours in mind, which were arguing because of noise and nightly disturbance. The idea grew with the help of co-author Merlin Flügel, whom I have been working with for a long time now. The fish became non-native beings in a world where they got stuck unintentionally and where they hardly could survive without someone’s help. While I was working on the film the refugee topic became more and more present in Europe and I realised this would be the main interpretation.

This was your graduation film and it has scooped awards the world over – what does it feel like to know that your animation resonates so strongly with so many different people?

Of course I am relieved that people are interested in what I worked on for such a long time. I was of course hoping to get accepted at the big festivals – but I never imagined the film would win some of them.

The making of the film was very technical for long periods of time. So now after all I am really happy to see that the script with it’s themes is working, and that the technique is not that important anymore. Of course I got taught so, but now I finally got it by myself that story is more important than visuals. And as people are seriously discussing the film, I know now that it is actually possible to reach someone with my stories, which is a great motivation for future projects.

The message that you’re trying to get across in Sog is a poignant one, what made you choose this?

Sog film

The story of Sog is quite cheerless, especially the ending. I guess the way the cave dwellers treat the fish is quite close to what it would be like in a real situation. Most of them are very passive, they don’t do anything to change the situation or to help the fish. I think that’s a very natural thing unfortunately, and most of us would probably react in a very passive way on incidents like this (including me). But when one of them starts to throw stones at the fish, they join in the violent behaviour. They don’t think for themselves, they just follow the one who is the most active.

The only one who does show empathy, who really understands the fish’s needs, is acting too much on his own. He has better ideas than the others but he fails to verbalise them, he is inherently too calm.

Of course this depressing treatment is intentionally a little overdrawn.

Sog uses a mixture of animation techniques – can you tell us about each of them?

I love to combine different animation techniques in hybrid formats.

We built a physical set of around 12 square meters from wood and plaster. Then we shot the whole film without characters. The only movement in the pictures at that point was created by special effects like fog, rain and even fire – we tried to make as many analogue effects as possible. And the camera was moving, sometimes hand-held, to create a natural feeling and to emphasise depth.

Sog The fish were real puppets with latex skins and armatures inside. Some were shot directly in the plaster landscapes (when they were supposed to touch the ground), but most of them in front of a bluescreen, slightly moved and photographed frame by frame.

The black cave dwellers were made in 3D. The fact that they are only black silhouettes made things a lot easier for me, as I was not used to 3D animation when I started to work on this film. The most challenging shots were the ones when the digital characters would have to carry around the stop-motion fish. I worked with 3D dummy fish in these cases and used them as an overlay image in the software Dragonframe to shoot the puppet versions. Also some shots were done entirely in 3D, and I was lucky enough to have a small team here in Kassel realising them.

The black water was another layer, it was hand-drawn in TVPaint, with the help of Florian Maubach and Marc Rühl, both great animators who helped me a lot to cope with all that.

Then there was a lot of compositing to do of course. We really wanted to merge the different layers together in a smooth way.

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

The only thing I can say so far is that I am not trying to do something similar. I don’t want to copy myself and I will most likely choose a very different technique for the next project. I also have to find a way to work a bit faster, as my next film has to be my final graduation project. Would be great to maybe be around in Bristol with my next one!

You can watch the trailer for Jonatan Schwenk’s Sog below. For more on the film, visit www.jonatan-schwenk.comFacebook or follow Jonatan on Instagram.