Cartoon Brew’s Student Animation Festival is proud to present Grandma (Oma) by Karolien Raeymaekers. Produced at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (KASK) in Ghent, Belgium, Grandma explores the relationship between a girl and her deathly ill grandmother.
The film avoids the simplistic emotional cliches that often accompany films about death, instead using a powerful visual metaphor to show the main character’s fear and confusion over an event that she can’t fully process. Raeymaker expertly controls the tempo of the film through her directorial and design choices, alternating between the tranquil beauty of the countryside and the disturbed excitement of the mind.
Continue reading for comments from the filmmaker Karolien Raeymaekers:
A couple of years ago I lost my grandmother to cancer. We were very close, but because of my studies I didn’t see her often. I knew she was sick, but only heard she was dying when it was too late. When I arrived at the hospital, she was already in a deep coma. I was told that I still had the chance to say goodbye to her, that she would still hear me, but I just couldn’t. What laid there in front of me wasn’t my grandmother anymore. For me, it was a horrible sight. After this I was very confused. I started to have disturbing nightmares about her dying over and over again. In these dreams there were all kinds of surreal locations, like the backstage of a theater, an underwater world, and a field full of flowers. I figured these dreams and places would be a nice starting point for a short, while avoiding being too autobiographical, which was something I didn’t want at that point.
TOOLBOX AND PROCESS
I used a Cintiq and Toon Boom Animate Pro for the animation, because I liked the vector aspect of it. This gave me more freedom in the compositing to get the look I was searching for. Using black shapes made it possible to animate relatively quick, but it was mainly a graphical decision. It created a bond between these two characters. All the backgrounds were done with traditional media such like acrylics and crayons, and then later edited in Photoshop. With the help of some friends, I also used some 3D for perspective reference.
CHALLENGES AND LESSONS LEARNED
It was very challenging to tell a story that was so personal. Like I said before, I originally didn’t want to make something that was too autobiographical. But as I was slowly figuring out the story step by step, I realized that the final draft was actually the essence of what happened with me. I even think I couldn’t have answered the first question so clearly if I hadn’t gone trough this whole process. It really helped me to structure my thoughts and made me accept the situation about her death.
I was afraid that such a story would become very sappy and cliche, and that depicting my grandmother as a monster would do injustice to somebody that I missed so damn much. But my friends and teachers really encouraged me to explore this struggle further, and I’m glad they did. Still, I kept having the fear that the story would be too general or easy for more experienced viewers, and too difficult for everyone else. It was about finding the right balance between original and understandable. My teachers and especially my boyfriend (also an animator) helped me a lot with that. When after the first screening one of my schoolmates said she hadn’t felt like that since Bambi, I was really honored, haha!
In pure terms of moviemaking, I learned how difficult it is being a director, and managing all these different tasks at the same time. Some filmmakers say their movies grow organically, but that wasn’t the case for me. I struggled a lot with putting the different pieces at the right place. This was especially difficult when working on things I was less familiar with. Like for example communicating about the music with my composer. We had some real discussions there, but I think that’s necessary for a good result.
Other than mentioned before: I love nature. Now that does sound sappy and cliche, doesn’t it? But it is something that my grandmother and I really shared together. It’s a reoccurring thing in all of my movies, nature and animals. If it wasn’t for animation, I would have stalked Sir David Attenburough for a job at BBC Nature!
WHERE YOU SEE YOURSELF IN FIVE YEARS
After making a movie on my own, I’d really like to work together with other people on interesting projects. This could be shorts, features, or anything in between. I really enjoy drawing, so as long as I can continue doing this, I’ll be happy. Animation-wise, there’s a lot of good stuff happening in Belgium and Europe right now, so I really look forward to that!
FOLLOW THE FILMMAKER
Filmmaker website: KarolienRaeymaekers.com
Cartoon Brew’s Student Animation Festival is made possible by the generous support of our Presenting Sponsor JibJab, a company that has shown consistent commitment to supporting young and emerging talent. We’d also like to extend a thank you to our grand prize award sponsor, Microsoft.