This unusual, funny and often slightly unsettling animation was the result of a collaboration between the Barcelona-based illustrator and animator Genís Rigol and the illustrator Maite Caballero. It was made during an artist residency organised by the Irudika illustration fair, which takes place every year in Vitoria, Euskadi (otherwise known as the Basque Country).
“Every year one animator and one illustrator are selected by the jury to spend six weeks (two in Angouleme, two in Bilbao and two in Vitoria) working on the image of next year’s festival,” explains Genís. “Maite was selected as illustrator and I was selected as animator.” The duo hadn’t met previously, but decided “from the beginning that we wanted to use that time to try new things. They gave us total freedom, which we appreciated, even though at times we really didn’t know what we were doing.”
The short animation was made from scanned drawings on paper and its subject matter pokes fun at the illustration industry – or, perhaps more specifically, at how that industry makes emerging creatives feel. “First of all, we wrote a list of silly ideas, a bit inspired by our own experiences of trying to make a living from drawing,” says Genís. “I think both of us are a bit insecure and somehow we wanted to make fun of that insecurity.”
The script they settled on follows a young illustrator trying to make a living from his art, but who eventually ends up being humiliated and in penury. It’s pretty dark stuff. It’s also full of surreal, almost hallucinatory moments. The circumstances of the script’s creation might have had something to do with that. “We had barely slept over the previous couple of days and this probably affected our brains a bit,” admits Genís. But that trippy aesthetic is also down to an artistic decision the two collaborators made: “We tried to include as much presence of both of us in every single shot; for example, the characters morphing into each one of our styles.” And it’s true – nothing is stable in the film and often the characters shape-shift and transform before our eyes in speedy transitions.
The nightmarish quality of the film is also enhanced by the sound design, which Genís worked on with Pau Anglada. Speaking about their collaboration on this, the animator says that they were both clear that they didn’t want to do “normal voices”, but instead something a bit darker and more otherworldly. “So we used a lot of synths and spent many hours at his apartment, recording voices and any kind of sounds,” says Genís. “We didn’t want to be very literal with the sounds and wanted them to be part of a dark ambient soundtrack.” The effect is definitely powerful and unsettling – which was precisely the point. “It was my first time working on sound and it was really fun and interesting, even though most of the time I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Continuing this theme of extreme experimentation, Genís and Maite also played around with different materials to create unique visual effects. “Materials like wax colour crayons, spray paint or ink, we used these a lot during this process,” says Genís. “We would draw and paint on paper, scan it and edit everything on Photoshop by layers.”
Why did they decide to draw on paper as a starting point? “I draw on paper as much as I can,” says Genís. “Computers are great but sometimes they are too good for me. I’m thinking about options like the ‘undo’ and ‘zoom’ tools. It may be just me, but sometimes I get too focused on a single small thing, on how good a line or a face looks, and I forget about what is generally important for the design.” He feels the same about the “undo” button: “It kind of erases the mistakes, but mistakes are useful to me in drawing; they let me see things I couldn’t see before.”
One example Genís cites can be seen in the final film. “This is exactly what happened with the smoke – Maite was drawing this with a graphite stick. Our scanner wasn’t working, so we went to a shop to scan it. They used an old scanner, which ended up creating a beautiful effect when combined on different layers and tones.”
Residencies should be about allowing artists to experiment, improvise and push their creative boundaries. Clearly, this one was exactly that and the result is a short film that is at once bafflingly bizarre and oddly affecting.