When he moved from London to Hong Kong some years ago, Max Hattler found that his environment abruptly changed. Where the U.K. capital had been sparse and low-rise, his new city was dense, vertical. The towering buildings made an impression on the German experimental filmmaker, whose animated works (many of which have been featured on Cartoon Brew) often play with intricate, repetitive geometric patterns.
“Ever since moving [to] Hong Kong, I was thinking how to translate my new habitat into an appropriate moving image form,” says Hattler. Eventually, he struck on a visual analogy: Hong Kong’s high-rises reminded him of film strips, their floors and windows corresponding to frames.
Out of this concept he developed Serial Parallels, a nine-minute animated film composed of photographs of the city’s buildings. From his base in City University of Hong Kong, where he teaches at the School of Creative Media, Hattler and his team ventured out to various districts, taking hundreds of photos. The result is a hypnotic vision of a relentless urban architecture, set to a suitably mechanical soundtrack.
Cartoon Brew spoke to Hattler about his approach and the ideas behind it:
Hattler: “It’s the visual similarity of the film strips and the high-rises that I wanted to explore. Running a film through the projector creates movement. Treating a building in the same way also creates movement within the building, which is a strange thing. Solid steel and concrete take on at times almost fluid forms, malleable, flickering, shifting. And the multiplication of layers, of buildings within space, creates different speeds and directions of movement, all generated from one image, but giving the impression that the city is alive with movement.
“The visual composition is inspired by Michael Wolf’s Architecture of Density photo series, and its focus on the formal abstraction of repetitive patterns of Hong Kong housing estates. While Wolf’s oppressive and awe-inspiring images offer a fixed representation, Serial Parallels is defined by perpetual flow and transformation.”
Hattler: “These high-rises are all over Hong Kong, but mainly in Kowloon. We started out with the immediate neighborhoods surrounding City University of Hong Kong, and then ventured further — sometimes without a clear plan, at other times well prepared by researching interesting sites on Google Street View.
“We shot high-resolution photographs of the building facades using Hasselblad H4D-40, Nikon D800, and Canon EOS 5DS R cameras; Zhang Riwen and Iresa Cho did most of the photography, and I did some additional shooting here and there.”
Hattler: “The photographs were digitally adjusted for perspective distortion, and then zoomed into for the animation sequencing in Adobe After Effects. A very simple technique, but effective in creating a new kind of engagement with the city’s architecture.
“The narrative progression was very much developed in the edit. The challenge was to keep it interesting by creating a sense of flow, where things connect to each other and pull the viewer along, while conveying the overwhelming and extremely repetitive nature of Hong Kong’s urban environment. The public housing estates all follow a small and precise palette of architectural typologies. As a result, connections can be forged by substituting one building complex for another, resulting in changes of color or camera angle, while maintaining narrative flow.
“The beautiful pastel color schemes of Hong Kong’s housing estates became a defining factor in the assemblage of the animation sequences, the structuring of the film. We shot way more photos, and animated many more sequences, than what was used in the end. The final film, while nine minutes long, only features 240 photographic source images. It took eight months to complete.”
Serial Parallels is currently playing at festivals. Receptive Rhythms, an exhibition showing Serial Parallels alongside two other video works by Hattler, opened in Hong Kong this week; see its Facebook page for more information.