In 1972 astronauts Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt boarded the Apollo 17 on the very last flight to the moon. The mission marked a halt to all human exploration of our closest celestial neighbour, leading many conspiracy theorists to plunge headfirst into wild speculation about what Evans and Schmitt had seen or done.
It was this little known piece of astronomical history that inspired Switzerland’s YK Animation Studio when the team was creating a film to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. In the film, we follow fictional astronaut Michaela Tereshkova on the final descent onto the moon’s surface. Everything appears to be going swell until an unexpected interloper makes itself known in Michaela’s space suit and things take a turn for the surreal.
“Tereshkova’s extremely obscure Discovery grew quick from just being a fun side project to involving the entire team at the YK Animation Studio working day and night,” YK director Fela Bellotto tells It’s Nice That. “We all caught the moon fever and soon were knee deep stuck in Tereskova’s absurd world. There are so many rumours of what might linger in the dark on the far side of the moon, that it opened up this perfect playground for Michaela’s very own lunatic adventure.”
Working to just a two-week deadline, the project felt more like a bunch of friends getting creative together, instead of the studio’s usual structured production process, explains Fela. He says, “This feeling kept us motivated and there was no such thing as a hierarchy – everybody just gave their best in what they do and this worked astonishingly well.”
Taking inspiration from the comic timing of TV show Family Guy, YK wanted to play around with building suspense, developing “unbearable long shots” to create tension. Everything was done digitally besides the starry skies, which the whole team painted together round the studio lunch table. To turnaround the film quickly, they tried to give the illusion of movement without having to animate and display it all. “Using close-ups, we could achieve all the line work we wanted and still have Michaela as the life of the party.”
Working with such a short turnaround also presented some challenges: “We pretty much started into this project head first, with no time for animation or design tests, which lead us to some unseen technical difficulties,” says Fela. The lack of planning forced the team to come up with new solutions on the spot and find compromises quickly. “The leap from rough storyboard to final look happened more or less in the dark, it all came together just few hours before we had to hand in the film,” Fela adds.
The film was first screened at Bern festival Take Me to The Moon: Die Lange Nacht des Mondes festival in Bern, Switzerland and went down a treat with the audience there. “We wanted to tell a story that not only satisfied the lunar geek but also entertains the less informed viewer,” adds Fela. “The film is our very own take on what has happened on the last mission to the moon in 1972, and why we have not been back ever since.”