Hungarian indie action-crime thriller Ruben Brandt, Collector is quite the eye-catcher. Director Milorad Krstić has been active as a visual artist for most of his career, which makes for an interesting vision on a feature-length animated film.

Krstić, 66, is no stranger to animation; his animated short My Baby Left Me won both the Silver Bear at the Berlin film festival and best first film at Annecy, and his cd-rom Das Anatomische Theater (co-created with his wife Radmila Roczkov) with two hours of interactive animation received the Annecy-MIFA award for best interactive project in 1999.

Ruben Brandt, Collector is something altogether different – a mostly 2d animated feature that achieves a rich, expressive look with a crew of 150 animation professionals on just a USD$4.25 million budget (made with support from the Hungarian National Film Fund).

Krstić discussed his action-packed and intellectually stimulating film with Cartoon Brew via email, while in Locarno, Switzerland for the world premiere of the film, which happened earlier today.

Director and writer Milorad Krstić.

Cartoon Brew: You’ve spent most of your career as a visual artist. What’s the main difference for you between drawing/painting, and animation?

Milorad Krstić: My drawings and my paintings are my universe. The style, theme, and approach is all mine. (Of course, after learning from my teachers: Dürer, Goya, Picasso, and others.) I draw what I want and I draw it the way I want. There is no mercy, no rules, no self-censorship, no consulting with anybody else. I am God with the pencil and I don’t need any help. When I finish a good drawing, I am already awarded.

A film is something else; it is made for the audience. In making [Ruben Brandt, Collector], I need the help of talented collaborators. I need the feedback from the very beginning. I must take care of the advices. I don’t have to accept it, but I must think of it. I’m the captain of the ship, but the journey over the sea is the united work of all the crew.

The film is almost completely hand-drawn (digitally). What, for you, is the charm of creating hand-drawn animation?

Milorad Krstić: I think hand-drawing is eternal, because people who like to draw, they like to move their hands (with pencil or digital pencil) in the direction they are inspired. They get joy from that movement, the same way a good dancer gets joy from moving their legs and all the body. Good dancers follow the music, but they follow their own rhythm as well.

“Ruben Brandt, Collector.”

Design is very important for Ruben Brandt, Collector. Did you work on the script and the design at the same time?

Milorad Krstić: For me, an animated movie stands on five legs: story, graphic world, animation, music, and sound. All those legs are of the same importance for me. I’m making a film as an audio-visual symphony.

At first I’d make a previs of 20 to 30 seconds: In After Effects I’d put together the rough sketches, the sound I need, the music I wish, the recorded voices of me or my colleagues. And then I’d see whether it works. Immediately I could notice what was wrong; the music is not appropriate, the rhythm must be faster, the first shot must be longer, the camera angle in the second shot must be from below, the close-up must be extreme – just on the eyes, et cetera.

Once I was satisfied with the previs as a basis for the further work, I’d show it to my colleagues. All of us could then be inspired to make something plus; to make better rhythm, dialogue, script, new characters… Once the previs was ok, we’d start to make the animatic.

“Ruben Brandt, Collector.”

What were the challenges in directing this animated feature film?

Milorad Krstić: There was only one challenge: Are we able to make a non-boring animated feature?

Making an animated feature film takes a lot of time compared to a painting. Ruben Brandt, Collector took six-and-a-half years, from development to completion. What made you want to dedicate years of your life to tell this story?

Milorad Krstić: I didn’t think about years. I want my day to be fulfilled with at least a good sketch or drawing.

In August of 2010 it just so happened that I made several drawings which looked to me like scenes from an animated feature film. I simply developed this idea and started to write the script, consulting with my wife Radmila.

“Ruben Brandt, Collector.”

The script is like a puzzle of famous paintings, psychology, and a kind of detective story. How did the unique idea for a story come about?

Milorad Krstić: I’m a painter and I said to myself one day: Let’s make a feature animated film about paintings. And to make it more interesting for the audience, let it be a crime story about the paintings. It could be a film about a serial robber of the famous museums of the world. And the robber is stealing the paintings not because of their value, he doesn’t want the money – he is forced to steal the painting because they haunt him, they are attacking him in his nightmares. Of course, here is the detective who tries to catch the robber. Now we have a basis for a complex story of art, psychology, and crime.

Ruben Brandt, Collector opens in its native Hungary in November. International release dates are still being planned. A U.S. distributor has not been announced at this time.

“Ruben Brandt, Collector.”

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