Today, we continue our series profiling the animators of Sundance with an interview with Mitch Mcglocklin, animator and director of the new short Forever.
How did you get interested in animation? Was it something always a part of your life or a more recent dream?
Animation came later in my creative journey. I was always interested in film and wanted to be a filmmaker, but I always saw myself directing live action. As I developed my style, I continually grew into a more digital toolset. I preferred to work alone and would task myself with creating digital sets and composite in actors (usually myself as an actor too). This led to me getting familiar with animation techniques. The more I explored and experimented, the more I leaned into the realm of animation. I would say now my practice is predominately animation, but I mix a lot of mediums and techniques together and never completely left live action. Over the past three years, I have focused on animation while completing my MFA in animation and digital arts at the USC film school.
Your short Forever was created using LiDAR. Can you tell us what that is and how you came to use it for the short?
I knew the film was always going to be made with point clouds, so early on I experimented with a variety of ways to create and present environments. I started off using photogrammetry to produce very dense point clouds, but it was never exactly the aesthetic I was going for. I wanted something more ethereal. Photogrammetry is a great technique I am very familiar with, but it was too close to reality for Forever. I then explored using a stereo camera to shoot scenes and pull point clouds from the footage using Nuke. I wasn’t getting the fidelity I needed and around that time a friend of mine, Jordan Halsey, showed me a LiDAR unit made by Ouster that integrated nicely into TouchDesigner, a great real-time software.
There was no way I could afford the LiDAR hardware on my microbudget. I contacted Ouster thinking it would be a long-shot, hoping for them to lend me one of their units. They were very receptive to my request as it was the first time someone approached them about using their hardware to make a film. They graciously lent me the unit for a few months to test out and capture scenes for the film. There was a bit of a learning curve, but I managed to create a mobile setup to allow me to capture in the wild without much obstruction.
After capturing the point clouds, I would bring them into Houdini to process and animate them. I am a huge fan of Houdini because it gives me access to data that wouldn’t be possible in other 3D software. I was also able to create proprietary tools that streamlined the whole process, which was critical because LiDAR generates tons of data. Once everything was processed and organized, I could start animating cameras to really develop the scenes. I chose to keep the camera very floaty and perpetually in motion to give that omniscient, surveillance tone.
Was it hard to make a short that is so personal or was that cathartic?
It was rather difficult. I struggled for a long time throughout the process but had a lot of encouragement from mentors and peers. I kept the film really close to my chest until it was nearly complete. All artists are very protective and personal about their work, but this was a new level for me. I always put some version of myself into my work, as I think authenticity is what people connect to in art. Forever started off as a VR experience that was inspired but what happened to me with an insurance company. As I was fleshing out the piece and pitching it around, everyone really resonated with the inspiration more than the proposed VR experience. After a lot of back and forth on my end, I realized I needed to make a film about my personal experience more than I needed to make an interactive VR piece. I tried for a long time to keep myself relatively removed from the story, but ultimately I knew I had to just pour it all into the film. I don’t regret it. It is very rewarding when I am contacted by someone that really resonated with the film; that makes it all worth it.
Was that a real phone call in the short from the insurance agent?
It was not. That was a recreation of a real call. I enlisted my friend Jeanette Bonds to voice it. We recorded it several times, and on the last take she offered to really ham it up and overdo the voice just for fun. When I listened back to the calls, that was the take that I loved the most and had to put it in the film. Her performance always gets remarks; she did a great job.
How did you come up with the music for the short?
I worked with my friend and longtime collaborator Nakul Tiruviluamala. I had a piece of music I used as temp that I really loved, and we went from there. What Nakul made was similar to the temp music, but it really grew with the monologue. It is always great to have music that ends up being better than the temp piece I fell in love with. We spent a lot of time perfecting the fuzz that covers the whole track; that was really important to me. Although the film is very digital both visually and in theme, it has a very analog warmth in that fuzz that offsets it.
We collaborated remotely which turned out to be better in my opinion. We could work around each other’s schedule and fit in sessions whenever we could. We would just pick up where we left off and went from there. The whole process was relatively quick looking back on it.
What made you pick the orange and black color palette?
It was originally going to be a very digital green color, just shades of that. I was watching a lot of short animations at the time, and many of the films had these bold, three-color palettes. After trying several combinations, I landed on the orange/red/purple over black. It just felt right.
Will you be using the LiDAR to make more shorts?
I would love to, but for now I want to test out some new techniques. To me, that is the most exciting aspect of filmmaking, experimentation. There are a lot of techniques I was exploring years ago that never really made it on screen that I would like to revisit. For a year, I was really into making miniature paper models of sets and compositing actors into them. I think I might attempt that again. I’m also very interested in glitch art currently. There is just so much to explore!
Thanks to Mitch for talking with us about his film. You can find out more about him and his artwork on his website.
Edited by: Kelly Conley