Toberg’s new animated film Pile explores the “acute dystopia” the world has drifted into in recent years
The film takes us on a journey through the different levels of society, revealing widespread unrest and instability.
- 7 July 2021
- Daniel Milroy Maher
“The initial idea was some kind of response to various disturbing political shifts that shaped the zeitgeist before the pandemic,” says Swedish visual artist Toberg, real name Toby Auberg, of his recent animated film Pile. Released last month, the three and a half minute short attempts to shine a light on the “acute dystopia” the world has drifted into over the last few years. Using a long panning shot – technically two separate shots stitched together – Pile traces a line through a moving map of “overlapping contrasts and sequences that loosely attempt to model human activity”. Despite the evidently sophisticated animation, Toberg says the initial plan was actually much more complex: “The original idea was to convey a certain world view through a vertical miniature civilization where people become progressively detached from reality as the world becomes more complex or abstract. I think the abstraction angle is still there, but the film changed massively through production.”
After five months spent concepting, testing, and researching the film, seven long months of actually making it resulted in a finished product that was quite different from what Toberg had envisioned. He recalls the start of this stage as being the most difficult, as he suffered “both a technical and conceptual breakdown” that he needed to reconcile with. “I couldn’t feasibly build everything in one 3D scene the way I had naively hoped I could, and the substance of the film was far too sprawling and imposing,” he explains. “I had maybe a dozen different maps of where everything should be according to different models that I was trying to merge in a very rigid way.” Following a realisation that he just needed to push on despite the setbacks, Toberg settled on a collage-based animation. Working with After Effects and with Redshift in Cinema 4D he began connecting small animated scenes together to form a journey that takes the viewer through the various levels of social and economic stratification.
Speaking on the challenges he faced, Toberg says “Working with a long panning shot like this, there were loads of workflow peculiarities that I hadn't considered beforehand – mainly that animations have to go on for a long, long time. These characters had to be doing something for upwards of 20 seconds between appearing and leaving the screen, even if no one is paying attention to them.” He says another major aspect of the process was “balancing the speed of the camera, the distance/width of the image, and making certain events/beats line up in time to be registered by the viewer.” He used simulation (fake physics) to make 3D puppets that could move and behave organically and animate themselves instead of relying on traditional keyframing for movement. In the film, these puppets can be seen interacting with their environment and performing various roles that correspond with their social status – from basic manual labour to reporting the news.
There’s a lot of information to keep track of as the camera makes its way through the vertical collage, and one of the film’s strengths lies in its amazing attention to detail. Upon closer inspection, we notice subtle messaging that helps to contextualise the film: an advert on the side of a bus encourages the public to “Vote Leave” – a reference to the recent catastrophe that was Brexit; meanwhile a digital billboard shows what appears to be mechanical udders protruding from the skinned, raw body of a cow in front of the words “Drink Dairy” – perhaps a comment on the current state of the food and drink industry. Despite the loaded messaging, Toberg insists that Pile is not meant to be a “prescriptive or imposing” film, rather it’s creating a space that can “accommodate a whole bunch of world views” and in which people have room to project their own thoughts. “I feel like there's an abundance of films that tell you what to think and these days it’s easy to tune out,” he says. “[Pile] only assumes that one must be displeased with the state of the world.”
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Toberg: Pile (Copyright © Toberg, 2021)
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.