Warning: do not watch the above video if you’re sensitive, hungover or a bit stressed. The work of Russian-born, Mainz-based filmmaker Nikita Diakur might just break you. As part of a hotshot team of animators, Nikita has created Ugly, a film project inspired by stories mined from the internet, each filled with bizarre characters, high-octane urban environments and terrifyingly unpredictable physics.
The first film, also called Ugly, was inspired be a story unearthed on inspirational-quotes.com about an ugly cat that is being abused because of his looks. Inspired by the story’s message of “be nice to one another, whatever their background” but put off because of its saccharine delivery, Nikita decided to remake the tale in a world that was as ugly as possible. Reader, he succeeded.
“We tried to design the characters as if they were created by someone who doesn’t know how to design,” says Nikita. “In a way we were trying to surprise ourselves with the result – like when you are drawing with your weak hand or like kids when they are drawing things. That is why everything is slightly off and out of proportion.”
Nikita and his team (including animators Redbear Easterman, Gerhard Funk, Nicolas Trotignon and Phil Maron and many others) also wanted to animate everything using a dynamic computer simulation. “It looked fun, when other people were using dynamics on YouTube, so we decided it would be a timesaver. We were wrong.”
Animated in Maxon’s Cinema 4D, Nikita’s characters are basically digital puppets with interconnected body parts that hang on dynamic strings and are attached to animated controls. When simulating, the animator gives up control by outsourcing several tasks to the computer. The computer the executes these tasks based on calculations and outputs a linear simulation, often with totally unhinged results. “Surprisingly, the Maxon developers embraced our unconventional misuse of their software and supported the project wherever they could.”
Whereas in traditional computer animation you can control almost everything, with simulations, you can never be sure what the computer will come up with. “It is like creating an artificial distance between you and the software,” explains Nikita. “You give up control for randomness, which you can contain only to a certain degree. On the positive side, the animation results feel very unbiased. The method is a bit like real-life film making, where actors bring a personal side to the film. The director then tries to bring all this individuality together.”
The gang’s latest film, Fest, is a tribute to YouTube culture, especially the protagonists in fail compilations (basically You’ve Been Framed for millennials). Just like these unfortunate thrill-seekers, Fest’s characters deal with unexpected results and extreme situations: freedom and spontaneity are common elements and are picked up within the animation style, explains Nikita.
“The technique is a combination of puppeteering and dynamic computer simulation and varies between physically accurate and broken”, says Nikita. Like the fail heroes on Youtube, the animator is never fully in control. “Animating like this feels closer to real-life filmmaking: the simulation results are unpredictable and personal. Accordingly, the focus shifts from outcome to process. The animator is left with the challenge to find the right balance between control and chaos.”