Welcome to the latest Animator Spotlight! This is a series where we like to talk with animators and learn about their backstory and how they got into their craft. Today, we are talking with animator Bára Anna Stejskalová about her new SXSW-selected short Love is Just a Dream Away.
Rachel: Let’s start out learning more about you and how you ended up becoming an animator?
Bára : Well, it was kind of a straightforward journey because ever since I saw Space Jam when I was a kid in the 90s. I had this major crush on the characters; around seven I decided I wanted to be an animator, and of course after high school I was thinking like this might not be the best paid job in the world, then maybe I should try to be more real and get into something like an actual work rather than be an animator, but then I changed my mind and realized that it will be a shame to waste my talent.
R: And you grew up in the Czech Republic, is that correct?
B: That’s correct, I live in Prague. I did not used to when I was a kid, but my parents moved to Prague, to the main – to the capital of the Czech Republic when I was a kid.
R: What did you do once you decided that’s what you wanted to do? Were there art schools you could go to? What was your next step?
B: I always wanted to go to the Film Academy of Prague, but they did not accept me for the first time. There’s one more in Czech, but I was not so interested in it, but I found one I really liked in the UK, in Bournemouth, so I went to study animation there. Then after a year I got accepted at FAMU at the Prague Academy, so I went back.
R: Was Love Is Just a Death Away your first short?
B: No, it’s not the first one. The first one is called The Fisherman. It was stop motion as well; it’s pretty old, but we got nominated for the shortlist to BAFTA. So that was nice …And, then, I have done one more live action which did not do as well, but, gave me one more reason to come back to stop motion.
R: How did you end up with stop motion as your medium?
B: I think puppets or stop motion in general is so magical. It’s something you can actually touch an unmovable inanimate object. Then you work your magic, and it comes to life on the screen. They have been with us like our entire civilization I would say, so yeah, I feel a little bit like a magician, and I am enjoying this feeling.
R: I agree it’s so charming; I love stop motion! Was your work on this hampered at all because of COVID? Did you have to do any of it at home or was it all finished before then?
B: No, actually, we were really lucky because we finished just in time before the lockdown.
R: Let’s talk about the short, Love Is Just a Death Away: how did you come up with the whole idea for the short, this sort of junkyard dystopian world?
B: I always try to make something soulful with my movie. At first I was going through some darker stages of my life. And basically, the landfill was sort of a metaphor for my soul and the dark… Originally in the first draft of the script there were two worms, Bob and Steve, and they were fighting over who was gonna to be leading the dead body. But then I met my now ex-boyfriend; I sort of fell in love and I hit through in the script because I’m mostly writing from my own personal experience or I just take inspiration in my daily life. So that’s how it really became a love story about one trapped soul getting freed by finding a soulmate.
R: How did you design the backgrounds and create this whole world?
B: I actually didn’t spend so much time designing it; it just came straight through my head. A couple of years ago, I bought this poster from IKEA, and it’s a drawn image of decaying rubbish, and there is flowers on it and various fruits, and it imprinted to my head. I also I had a chance to work with my amazing animator and co-worker, Natalia Peterkovaa, and I told her my idea, and she was able to make it happen, just how I imagined it.
R: You said that you were partly inspired by your own love stories in your life, would you consider yourself a romantic?
B: Oh yeah totally.
R: How did you create the effect of the harvester in the animation?
B: It’s all one really big puppet. About 1 meter by 1 meter. We were really lucky because we had just bought a 3D printer for this project, so we were able to print all the little technical stuff, and it saves us a lot of time
R: How did you work the music into the… How did that all come together?
B: The music was also a painstaking process. First, I was hoping a band called Mono and My Bloody Valentine would let us use their songs, but that did not happen. So we hired a music composer. Then we end up hiring one more music composer who understood me. We ended up making all the music last moment, but still it was amazing, and both guys did the great jobs. I just need to learn how to communicate music a little bit better to my composers.
R: How did you create the character designs ’cause you don’t want them to be gross?
B: I was doing a lot of research when it comes to worms because I knew that there are parasites like this, and some of them are actually really cute. I made the eyes bigger to make him look cuter for the audience, and I took inspiration from real life parasites and this sort of salamander called Axolotl.
R: So you draw it and then how do you make the puppet?
B: In Czech, we have our mesh makers. We usually have the guy who was making our meshes for us and then for the worm; it was really a long process because it was the first time when I was working with the silicone, and there were a lot of mistakes and a lot of trying and failing and trying again. It took us about a month to get him right. And then for the dog, it was easier because it’s just like you put some stuffing on the our mesh and put on the fur, and then I was brushing pigments into his fur and cutting him. So that was easier, but the silicone was a hard part to learn.
R: What do you hope people take away from the short?
B: I hope they will take out some creepy vibes and some love is everywhere, vibes. It should be an uplifting movie even though I would like people to be more disgusted then horrified too.
R: When you found out you got into SXSW you must have been pretty excited?
B: We were excited, and at the same time, doubly sad we can’t be there in person. I always wanted to go and now… But the festival has handled it online really nicely.
R: Yeah. I’ve been enjoying the festival so far for the most part, and it’s good to see that we can still push forward and celebrate art despite the limitations, and hopefully next year we can be back in our regular festival.
R: Well, congratulations on the short, this was so much fun to get to talk with you. And we look forward to seeing what you do next.
Edited by Kajsa Rain Forden