The work on the short film Linden Tar started in February 2014. The first half a year Olga Grechanova, Svetlana Makarova and Alexander Zhukov were making the puppets and shooting the scenes in the kitchen on weekends. Once the authors felt the need for financial support, they decided to turn to prospective audience. The Kickstarter campaign gathered $20 000. In the course of shooting the animators shared creative researches and single fragments on the film’s page on Vk.com. In December 2018 the long-awaited film appeared on the internet.
What is going to happen if we drill mom’s breakfast tray, take apart dad’s hairdryer and steal fluffy cat bedding?.. That’s correct! A great spinning platform for puppet animation shooting!
Svetlana Makarova (director of photography, gaffer)
-We were shooting all together and I didn’t get tired at all.
Olga Grechanova (animation director, puppet animator)
-Our film is finally finished and it’s high time to tell you about the making of it.
The shooting of the film turned out to be very challenging for the crew. It was our first experience, and for me personally it also was the first film. That was the reason why it was so important.
Sveta In comparison to documentaries, that I made, when you have to force yourself to think quickly, this is a whole other story. This is an entire universe that you create with your own hands. You feel a bit like a God, that makes the sun shine above it.
Olga The period of shooting was preceded by a great amount of work: at first I wrote the script, then made the storyboard according to it, after that we turned it into animatic. Almost entire film was created this way, except for the animation itself and with a few phases for each frame. This way we created the draft of the film, later on we just replaced the draft frames by final.
Naturally, we never faced any unpleasant surprises working in such a way. We were fully aware of what we had been doing and what was going to come of it at the end. It is hard to estimate the amount of time the work on film was in progress. A great job was done during the search for visual solution. We were working weekends, and in general it took approximately two years.
The shooting period itself took seven months, and after that there was month and a half of postproduction, when I removed all the supporting pins that had helped me to animate, and color correction was carried out. Ultimately, all that work took a month and a half.
Sometimes the question arose: why did it take seven months to shoot five minutes of footage? The thing is that the film is shot frame by frame and a single shot that lasts, let’s say, seven seconds, or five seconds, or even three or two seconds can be shot the whole day or two, depending on the degree of complexity of the shooting. The reason for this is that firstly the set is built, then the light is set which can take us from four to twelve hours, the animation is made in the period of three to ten hours. The whole process of filming consists of such pieces and takes a long time.
One of the most important things about the movie Is the space the action takes place in. In our case it was the space of the abandoned puppet theater that was half destroyed and was on somewhat final stage of its existence, and so were its inhabitants. One of our most important tasks was to create the space in which the viewer would’ve liked to live, even for a little while, or come back there. In order to achieve the feeling of desolateness, devastation, the impression of being taken over by the flora we used real moss, lichen and a great many of other plants that I picked and dried myself. Sometimes I got the feeling that all the inhabitants of that moss would come to me from the kitchen in the night but naturally, that didn’t happen.
The installation of one prop usually took around three days, there were five of them in the film. We always start with the search for the general scenery, set the camera and simply envision the space: where the windows are going to be, if there is going to be a floor, a hole in it, what is going to be behind the windows, how many walls are needed. Of course, our main aim is to achieve the depth of frame, when it’s done we contemplate all the details, for example, what material the walls are going to be made of and with what ornament, what items are going to be in the frame, how many small puppets are going to be extras.
After the elaboration of all the details it’s time to think about the setting of light to the props. That was something that we always did together in the sense that Sveta set the lighting itself and I looked at the screen, and, as I hope, sometimes gave some useful ideas.
Sveta My first degree is in animation, but already during the studying process I realized that the process with the excessive attention to tiny details was too painstaking for me. Lately I’ve been shooting documentaries and there was the time when I felt the need of immersing myself into the world of fantasy. It is a whole different story. I realized that I wanted to do animation as a camerawoman. When we are dealing with puppet animation, we have a lot of time to achieve the desirable result. Of course you get rushed, but only to a certain degree.
For example, we shot the scene with the shelf, but did it not in the usual way, when the guys made the props and then I set the lighting. We both couldn’t get the idea of how the prop would look with blue lighting, so both jobs were done simultaneously. I was already starting to set the lighting and Olya was still perfecting the prop. She was trying to find out, what color of checked pattern on the floor would look the best in blue lighting. It took us circa three days and turned out to be the longest lighting setting.
Sometimes we shot closeups, cut-in scenes and that gave the chance to shoot two frames at once. Sometimes I set the lighting and Olya animated at the same time, but only when we were sure that it was going to be a short movement.
Olga When we were making the set, we never fully thought the lighting through. For instance, we had the prop with the aqueduct and the window at the background and we envisioned the light streaming from that window, and a silhouette of a tree. The legs of the puppet sitting in the closet also had to be lit. We had the general idea of how it was going to look, but didn’t imagine it with all the nuances. So we had a lot of freedom of work.
Sveta Now, watching the first scene, I realize that it is possible that I’d shoot it in a different way. When we are dealing with puppet animation, we always learn something new in the process. For example, we shot a scene in which Tishka “entered” the frame and walked up to the lamp to turn it on. Olya animated it for approximately three days, and when I saw the result I came to the sad realization that all that time the filters in the instruments had been burning out, which changed the lighting and gave it a green hue.
It was one of the hardest scenes to animate, and Olya refused to re-shoot it. The majority of the shots in our film are frames, but there also were a few of them that included action. In the case of panning, for instance when the camera moves from the face of the monkey to its belly it is made with the help of a tripod, and the technology of it is well-proven. The panning along the shelf of the cupboard was a whole other story. Our budget didn’t allow us to use expensive special device for it and we tried to figure out how to throw it together.
Finally Sasha had an idea to use enlarger, which consisted of two rails and a kind of a handle that allowed to move the device and the lighting. Then we figured out the way to mount the camera on it and were content with the result, but when Olya started panning it appeared that because of the device being non-professional the camera twitched to and fro when tilting. There was nothing to be done about it and we found ourselves needing the professional device.
As a result, Olya moved the frames by hand, a little bit to the right and a little bit to the left. The work was extremely painstaking and took a few days, but as a result the panning was evened out. Strange as it seems, the most difficult part in puppet animation is that all the equipment is huge. When you have big lenses and have to light a tiny object, you put the nozzle, form the beam, set the frame meticulously, and then suddenly tear everything down yourself. It is horrible to realize that it will take another hour to repeat all the operations. The work with tiny details is often exhausting psychologically.
Olga The thing is that we almost didn’t have spare time, we had one day off which was great, but the rest of the time was fully devoted to filming.
The main character is a kind of the collective image of a beloved soviet toy. Ultimately it turned out to be the big puppy, but initial intention was to create a hybrid between a bear and a puppy. It is of sort of greyish brown color, with shabby fur, it doesn’t have a button for a nose. Instead, it is simply painted on the muzzle. I had similar toy in my childhood, which I inherited from someone. The nose in its original form was already torn down and painted instead.
Sasha made only one puppet, but he was extremely proud of it, all the other I made myself. They were all made at different times, because the idea of the film appeared a long time ago. The drawings were made only for the main character and the blind doll. The puppy had a drawing because the presence of it is always a good thing.
The Lamp Doll was created spontaneously and doesn’t have the drawing because the construction of it I made myself. It was one of my biggest regrets in the process of production, because we had to fix and remake it on numerous occasions, because it literally fell apart in my hands. That was disconcerting, and I finally ordered the solid construction, and that was the end of my cursing. One of the most interesting features of puppet animation is the technology of animating itself. All the movements are the succession of the discrete movements.
For example, not to let the puppet fall while standing on one leg and tilting forward we use certain supporting appliances, for instance small pins, line gauge, that gets inserted into the puppet and allows it to stand still. The floor of the layout is not just made of any visually suitable material, but of special styrofoam used in aviation, that is very dense and perfect for sticking pins into. Every puppet has the holes for the aforementioned pins in its legs. Every puppet has its own peculiar way of working with mimics. The range of it varies greatly.
For instance, the emotions of the Lamp Doll are expressed with the movements of its pupils and eyelids. If the eyelids are drooping and the pupils are down the puppet looks down, and if with the eyelids still drooping the pupils are up the impression of fatigue is created. The puppy also had moving mouth and ears. When the puppy got upset, it lowered the ears, and when it was happy -raised them. It also had the set of laid on eyelids that were attached to the head with the help of duct tape. The Lamp Doll had the eyelids made of clay, as well as the Monkey.
Sveta The artist can fully prove himself as a creator with this kind of work. You create the entire world, that comes alive right in front of your eyes.
Olga The film is very personal to me in the sense of the atmosphere, the vibe, the feelings of the characters. The story itself is rather basic which allows to concentrate on the atmosphere. Nevertheless, we put a lot of work into the acting and the expression of emotions. I envisioned the film exactly as naive in a good way as it turned out to be, in order for the viewer to become as open-hearted as a child again, even for a short while.