CBTV Student Fest: ‘A Hedgehog’s Visit’ by Kariem Saleh

We continue the 2014 Cartoon Brew Student Animation Festival with A Hedgehog’s Visit made by Kariem Saleh at Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg’s Institute of Animation in Germany.

The film busts out of the conventional aesthetic patterns set for computer animated student films, and shows that there are many directions yet to be explored. It stood out to us particularly for its original and distinctive visual universe, which extends from its uniquely textured setting to its sophisticated cinematography. Saleh used an arsenal of digital tools to achieve this vision: the backgrounds were created in foam and then digitized through a photogrammetry process, and a virtual “dolly crane” was created to immerse viewers in the world of the film. The filmmaker shows his process in this making-of video:

The foreboding visual atmosphere is set against the story of a short-tempered but well-meaning hedgehog attempting to express his love for “the other.” The character designs are as distinctive as the setting: the hedgehog may not have a mouth, but he expresses a complex range of emotion through subtle movements of the eye and the way he breathes. The film packs an unexpected emotional punch by avoiding the traditional Hollywood ending.

Continue reading for comments from the filmmaker Kariem Saleh:

kariemsaleh

THE IDEA

In the summer of 2012 I was in the middle of a crisis concerning my choice of personal filmmaking and storytelling against working freelance as an animator and visual effects artist. After an 18-month sabbatical I approached our mentor Andreas Hykade in a state of anxiety and disorientation. I asked him about the possibility of producing a short animated film over the remaining two months of the third school year, in order to find out if there was a way for me to connect to the animation medium again. I promised that it wouldn’t be more than a very short cut-out animation with the most basic storyline. He agreed under the condition that the film wouldn’t turn into a borderless undertaking that extends forever. Eventually the project turned out to take me 12 months to complete as it evolved into a fully 3D animated short of five-and-a-half minutes length.

TOOLBOX AND PROCESS

When the end of my original two month production period came closer, I was still struggling with a storyboard that was too complex and not reduced enough. And I hadn’t even started to visualize the slightest bit of it. I came accross my fellow student Vincent Langer who was somehow busy digitizing dead animals at his desk, with the help of photogrammetry software. I dropped the approach of cut-out animation and skipped the process of refining the animatic to a satisfying point. Instead I just started with the fun part of carving the landscape out of dense foam and then painting and digitizing it with software like 123D Catch or Agisoft Photoscan.

The resulting 3D models of the miniature sets came out fully textured and ready to use. I arranged them into a virtual enviroment and started setting up a compositing workflow in Nuke to define a dramatic and nostalgic analog film look. Inside of 3ds Max I built a camera rig that reflected the mechanical setup of a dolly crane. This was used to animate the dollie’s individual axes with independet shakes and offsets, so that the camera moves would have a more natural feel to them. The characters were also built, animated and rendered in 3ds Max.

By the end of the semester, I didn’t have the film done, but could at least show three shots that defined the style and tone of the project. As the production time got extended I was joined by Heiko Schulze as a producer and two other students from the animation department, Silke Finger and Florian Greth. They developed methods to literally relight and often repaint parts of the photogrammetry backgrounds in Nuke, which produced great source material but had its technical glitches and restraints too.

CHALLENGES

At this point in time, after not producing any personal work for almost two years, my greatest fear was to move forward and fail. I decided that the only way to get over it was to actually face it and make a film somehow. And every time I would have a setback, I would keep going and try again. This basically evolved into the theme for the film itself in the end.

But the intuitive approach on finding the story, style, and technique was actually the hardest thing to tackle. This particular way of working doesn’t come naturally with CG animation. It calls for constant reorganization and economic problem solving. Still, for some projects this might be the only right way to go.

INSPIRATIONS

Throughout the making of the short I was rarely looking at animated films. I tried to redefine what animation could be for myself.

Therefore I wanted to find a way to marry two worlds in my head. On the one side, the innocent and simplified world of old American cartoons from the 1930s and ’40s, and on the other side the powerful and strong imagery that live-action films by Alfred Hitchcock or Paul Thomas Anderson portray.

While working with Maik Oehme on the music and Ana Monte on the sound design, we looked at a lot of dream sequences, like the ones Andrei Tarkovsky presents in films like The Mirror and Stalker. This archaic reality seamed like a good thing to challenge the little hedgehog with.

WHERE YOU SEE YOURSELF IN FIVE YEARS

After making A Hedgehog’s Visit, I feel more certain about the animation medium again. I am working on my animated diploma film right now, which will be finished in spring of 2015. After finishing film school I will continue to work as a freelance animator and VFX artist. But I hope that there will also be ways for me to make more films as a director. The fusion of technology and art in the animation medium inspires me a lot. Therefore I am very interested in all kinds of mixed genre and media approaches, like incorporating live-action or documentary film with animation. I love seeking new ways of portraying characters and stories. Working in small groups of inspired technical and artistic people is what I enjoy the most and what I want to continue doing.

FOLLOW THE FILMMAKER

Filmmaker website: KariemSaleh.de
School website: Institute of Animation, Visual Effects and Digital Postproduction at the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg


  • GW

    The hedgehog looks more like a shark with its plain grey skin and pointy snout.