A Filmmaker’s Decades-Long Quest To Finish Stop-Motion Steampunk Movie
A 27-year-old German man has spent nearly a decade filming just 18 minutes of a dystopian stop-motion animated movie — and he still has years to go before it is finished.
Valentin Felder devotes all his free time to moving — ever so slightly — the tiny characters and machines he creates, and recording individual frames of the movie a fraction of a second at a time. The result looks like independent motion
The time-consuming technique of stop-motion animation is a challenge. So far, the Leipzig resident who started the film while he was still in high school, has created two-thirds of the movie, titled “An Unwound Clockwork.”
With 18 minutes in the can, Valentin is aware that the next 12 minutes of the film will require several more years of his time.
“I need up to three hours for one second of the movie,” Felder said. “Sometimes I can manage two seconds, depending on how complex the scene is.”
The movie tells the story of a steampunk “Victorian-like” civilization in which humans are at the peak of their existence and robots are responsible for the physical part of society’s functioning. According to Felder, it is a story about ambition and greed, awareness and ignorance, feeling and function, and the consequences of one’s own actions.
Behind the scenes
Felder invests hours creating backdrops, decorations and the small figures that are the main characters. He takes pictures before moving them, then takes another photo after moving them just slightly, creating the illusion of movement on playback.
“A friend and I started doing it when we were still in high school because we were interested in film and technology,” Felder said.
However, Felder eventually continued on his own and plans to start his own filmmaking business.
He also started a crowdfunding campaign to help get his venture off the ground.
“Through the film and the trailer, other production companies became aware of me and my characters, which I make out of glass, plaster, Styrofoam or metal,” he said.
From live action to stop motion
Felder said he originally wanted to make live-action movies, but he was concerned about the quality of the acting when he only had his friends to rely on. He said that he did not really set out to make a steampunk film, it was just the genre that worked best with the story.
He chose stop motion instead of computer-generated images because he really likes the “tactile” aspect of stop motion and he did not want something that looked too “clean.” He said that he loves working with stop motion because, while computer animation seems to be using “one trick to solve all the problems,” the stop-motion approach to filmmaking forces him to tap into his hidden creativity.”
Felder said he drew inspiration from numerous popular stop-motion films, including Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride” (2005), and Terry Gilliam’s dystopian science-fiction film “Brazil” (1985), and in Japanese cartoons, such as the widely acclaimed “Akira” manga (1988), which is rich in painstakingly crafted, lengthy scenes, most notably when a huge explosion devastates Neo-Tokyo.
He said that part of the fun is when the audience tries to guess how the creators did something in the film.
Half the fun, he said, is using various items from the “real world,” such as old clock mechanisms in the film, and using smoke or steam in his stop-motion effects.
He said that he only uses computers for compositing — superimposing images on top of each other.
Picking up steam
After Felder’s partner left the project, he spent about two years working on it alone, which he said slowed down the process.
But now things are picking up.
His girlfriend, Laura Rohrbeck, helps with the costumes, and Felder has put together a small team that works on anything from music to set design, post-production and sound effects. “It’s really becoming a new team,” he said.
Felder hopes to land a deal with a popular video-on-demand service, which would allow him to finish the film, as some of the more expensive scenes have yet to be shot. In the meantime, he continues to try to raise money for the project.
The movie is about a dystopian world on the brink of collapse, which is split into two castes. The first group is made up of humans and the second group is made up of their robot slaves.
“The humans are the leaders of the world; they are very proud of their inventions and they feel like gods because they built the entire world and are in total control of everything, but they are basically only bureaucrats, doing paperwork and organizing stuff,” Felder said. “The hard work of gathering materials and serving the humans is done by robots.
“The humans are heartless and cold. The robots, on the other hand, are really diverse beings, a mix of machines and animals, with a humorous touch.”
When he and his partner started making the film years ago, Felder said, “like many young people, we were angry … and we wanted to create something into which we could pour all our frustration. So we took all this frustration and compressed it into a story.
“We really wanted to explore the idea of heartless, machinelike humans and the robots who are on the other side, and are really emotional and thinking beings. And this contrast is fun to play around with.”
Now, almost 10 years on, he said, “In hindsight, there are some small things that I would change about the film, but overall, I stand by it.”
(Edited by Kristen Butler and Judith Isacoff)