From opening night's Panic Attack! to Sunday's Last Dance on the Main--not to mention classics at noon (for free!) on Saturday--this year's Fest has some of the most interesting animated films we've ever screened. Film Fest associate and writer Nathan Judd talked with Eileen O'Meara about what it takes to bring a panic attack(!) to the screen. (Panic Attack! plays @ 8:10 after Harold Lloyd's Hot Water on Wednesday, opening night.)
How did the idea for “Panic Attack!” come about?
I’ve been working on hand-drawn animation about perceptions of reality, subjective states, and existential issues for a while now.
I wanted Panic Attack! to be all one shot--one single sequence of transforming drawings—in order to show the fluidity between different mental states. Sometimes what you are imagining can seem just as real as objective reality.
I hoped that making it all one shot would reflect how easily we go back and forth between perceiving the world that’s in front of us, and the reality that’s only in our minds. For the content—I must have been trying to think of a new project and was overwhelmed by the repetitive thoughts!
What measures did you take-–whether as the director, the artist, or both— to give the viewer the experience of having a panic attack?
Sometimes when I’d be stuck in traffic and the voices would start up, I’d grab a pen and write down all the crazy things they were saying. (Of course, keeping my eyes on the road at all times.)
After I’d finished the drawings and was refining the timings and sound, I’d listen to the movie and try to compare it to my memory of the panic attacks. At first, I tried to make the voiceover exactly mimic the voices in my head. But the words went by too quickly, and you couldn’t really understand anything. So I had to stretch things out a bit.
When the voices really happen, it seems like they are talking all at once and overlapping. But when I tried to reflect that in the soundtrack, it just came across as a crazy, unintelligible jumble! So I had to slow it down and stretch it out so that you could actually tell what they were saying.
I also played around with stereo effects. It struck me that sometimes certain comments were coming from the left side of my head, and others were coming from the right—and they would ping back and forth in a rhythmic fashion. So I tried to compare the developing soundtrack to what I remembered my brain doing.
I added the heartbeat sound throughout most of the movie– starting out slow and quiet at the beginning, then getting louder and faster, because it struck me that the rhythm of the persistent thoughts was associated with the rhythm of my pounding heart beat!
Audio and other considerations aside, approximately how much time did it take to complete the animated portion of this fascinating three-minute film?
It took me years to make! I would start working on it, then when I got a paying job, I’d box up the drawings and put them in the closet.
When I had time to work on it, I’d pull out the boxes, and find scrawled notes I’d left myself “more blue here,” “clunky trans, fix eyeballs,” “dog too fast,” “heart lift Manson streaky paint”.
It almost seemed like starting over every time I pulled the box out of the closet.
I had originally planned to shoot on 35mm film. However, when I was finally done with the drawings and ready to shoot, I couldn’t find any 35mm animation cranes! Everyone had gone digital, and the old animation camera houses had closed down. So it took a while to figure out how to put the movie together digitally instead of on film.
You have said elsewhere that you initially planned to make live-action films, but found animated films to be more interesting. What was it about animation that first drew you to it?
I suppose there were several things that contributed to my decision to pursue animation.
I enjoy drawing, it calms me down and helps me focus.
I like to draw the transitions and transformations between things, and for some reason, the idea of one thing turning in to another just amuses me to no end!
The themes I was interested in seemed better expressed in the medium of animation.
When I was in grad school at USC, the animation department emphasized following your vision and figuring out how to best express it. Although I did learn a lot from the more commercial live-action side of the school, I was drawn more to the artistic spirit of the animation department.
In your opinion, what power does animation have over other film genres to tell stories?
I suppose for me, animation is the best medium for exploring the fluidity of the mind as it shifts between perceiving objective and subjective realities, since live-action photographic imagery is more tied to “real” space and time.