Ugly, the breakout short film of Russia-born Germany-based filmmaker Nikita Diakur, premiered online today.

The film, about an Indian chief who leads an ugly and mistreated cat on a path of spiritual enlightenment, is notable for Diakur’s unconventional ‘deconstructed’ approach to the cg animation. The film was made almost entirely through dynamic simulations created in Cinema 4D. Simulations are often used to create cg elements that demand mathematical accuracy like flames and waves, or to handle big crowd scenes that would be a chore to animate by keyframe, but they are rarely used as Diakur did as the primary technique to animate a film’s characters.

Watch the entire film below to see what that means:

“[I] think the most appropriate name would be ‘Interactive Animation’,” Diakur said of the process in an interview with Cartoon Brew last year. “There is an interaction between the animator and the animated objects or characters. It is like the characters really have a say in the outcome and the animator has to work with it. Similar to how a director has to work with actors on a live action film set.”

Here’s a video that explains further how the simulations worked:

As Ian Durkin at Vimeo observes in a piece about Ugly, Diakur’s use of dynamics parallels the thematic notes of the film: “Diakur’s style mimics his film’s central narrative and more broadly, everyday life: we as humans try to control our intentions and actions, but there will always be outside forces of chance that influence our choices.”

Now I usually don’t incorporate myself into a piece, but in this case, I have to make the disclosure that Ugly is the first animated short that Cartoon Brew helped to fund (other major support came from the German film fund FFA and a Kickstarter campaign). Cartoon Brew’s involvement happened quite unexpectedly: someone had shared an animated GIF from one of Diakur’s animation tests and it intrigued me so much that I set out to find out what it was all about.

That led me to the film’s website and when I saw the first clip that pops up on the site – the guy riding a bike in a parking lot – I knew I had to be involved in the film somehow. It wasn’t clear to me at the time what Diakur was doing, but I knew that I’d never seen computer animation that made me laugh so hard. At that point, Diakur had already wrapped up the Kickstarter campaign, so Cartoon Brew came onto the project near the end of completion.

A major reason I wanted to get involved is because it was clear that Diakur was pushing cg in new direction, one in which ‘accidents’ that are inherent in the cg process are embraced rather than smoothed out and made invisible to the audience. He’s working organically with digital technology, using it to craft an idea that can only be expressed through computer animation. It’s a different mindset than commercial cg, which has to fight against the software to recreate an inauthentic effect of traditional illustrative rendering and motion.

Another reason I wanted to support it is that I thought this would be a fringe experimental project that wouldn’t receive the recognition it deserved. Now, I can’t speak for Nikita, but it’s been an absolutely delightful surprise to see that I was totally wrong about that. The animation and film community have recognized Ugly’s fresh approach to computer animation and given Diakur the due he so richly deserves.

Since its festival premiere in June 2017, Ugly has won over a dozen awards, including the grand prize at two prestigious animation festivals – Ottawa and Encounters – as well as the new talent award at Fantoche and New Chitose. Additionally, Adult Swim commissioned a new piece from Diakur called Fest, which uses some of the same production techniques.

At a time when digital artists are still grappling with the potential of computer animation, Diakur’s film is an eye-opening dive into the medium’s untapped possibilities and a bold statement on where cg animation might still go.

Credits
Direction: Nikita Diakur
Music: Enrica Sciandrone, Cédric Dekowski, Felix Reifenberg
Recording, Mix, Sound Design: Nicolas Martigne, David Kamp / studiokamp
Mastering: Bernd Thurig
Animation Assistance: Gerhard Funk, Phil Maron, Nicolas Trotignon
End Titles: Bastian J. Schiffer
Assets and FX: Ozan Korkut, Chris Lühning, Mitch Martinez, Julia Merkschien, Hannes Raff
Associate Producer: Amid Amidi
Production Funding Liaison: Karsten Matern
Made with support of 206 backers at kickstart.ugly-film.com, FFA, Cartoon Brew, Maxon Computer, Insydium ltd, RebusFarm, Google Zync

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