Iranian animator Mojtaba Mousavi has been making stop-motion films for nearly seven years. Over this time he managed to found his own filmmaking studio and run some animation courses. His latest work “Mr. Deer” has won about ten prizes at the international animation festivals, including the Best Animation Film at the Iranian Film Festival in the USA and the UK. We talked to Mojtaba Mousavi about how he creates puppets for his movies, what inspired him in St. Petersburg subway and why working on scripts in Russia is more fortunate.
How did you get to what you are doing now? Did you study to become an Animation Artist?
I studied Human Rights in the university while working in the studio that specialized in visual effects in cinema and advertisements. I was interested in all aspects of animation film production: from the creation of the script to the technology of making puppets. So, I watched the courses of Stan Winston School and had a lot of practice. I was planning on getting my master’s degree in SCAD (USA). As a result, I got interested in Stop-Motion. Now, I create animation films and puppets for TV series in my own studio, “Red Deer”.
Tell me about your latest creation, Cheetah. This puppet has quite an unusual mechanism.
It most certainly differs from my other works. The figure was made of silicone. It has a big ball-jointed head, certain surfaces on its muzzle are magnetic: it allows to change the mimic of the mouth, the position of pupils, and eyebrows.
The style of the characters from “Mr. Deer” makes a striking contrast with the jolly Cheetah. Where did the idea come from? What was your inspiration?
The cheetah was made in a simplified fun style for the cartoon series for kids called “Frendies’ Park”. While “Mr. Deer” targets adult viewers. My first trip to Russia inspired the creation of Cheetah. In the year 2013, I applied for participation in the festival, “The letter to the Human”, but the St. Petersburg’s subway amazed me immensely. So every day, I rode the subway instead of attending the festival. During each ride, I observed unusual details and the passengers. The gloomy setting, chill, the noise of trains, moody people, the atmosphere were all captivating! On my return home, an accident happened in the Iranian subway. All of this became the core of the film’s script.
How many people worked on this film? Do you have your permanent creative team?
I gave a lot of classes on design and animation in my country. For the work on “Mr. Deer”, I selected ten best students – they became my team.
Tell me about the technical peculiarities of the stop-motion puppets. How did you make the characters in your film?
We made models for each of the characters and molded them. Then we filled the forms with silicone. There was a ball-jointed skull inside each head. It is possible to control the mimics of each character through the small holes in the skin made of silicone. A similar puppet mechanism was used in Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride”. There are a lot of various techniques for the creation of heads in stop-motion animation.
First of all, the character has to express different emotions with its face, the articulation should be in sync with the speech. It is common to make the fragments of the face removable for this reason. The smoother the change of facial expression, the more the details required. Cheetah, for instance, has removable details of the nose and mouth, there are seven of them.
Were any subsidies or grants allocated for the creation of “Mr. Deer”? What are your thoughts in regards to the financial support of animators in Iran?
We got a grant from the government. It wasn’t big but it covered all the expenses of production. You can sell the quality films to television studios to broadcast them on television, including foreign. The TV channel, Arte France, bought our “Mr. Deer”.
A lot of people in Russia watched your film in the group called “Short Films | Animation” in the social network Vk.com. Why did it come as such an unpleasant surprise to you?
I had no idea that my film was available over the web! For two reasons, we didn’t put it on the internet with free access. First of all, the film was still participating in the festivals. Secondly, we sold the rights to it to Arte France TV and under the contract, we had no right to put it on the internet. By all means, I am glad that the fans of animated short films saw my work, but every film needs some private time before release: the time when it can be watched only during festivals. The losses could be more significant, was the film full-length, because it could be fully dependent on the box office. It’s no joke! The copyright infringement influences the overall quality of the film industry. If the work isn’t paid, the result gets uglier and more primitive.
What animated films and animation studios do you consider landmark today and are there any Russian representatives among them?
At the moment, the animation studio “Laika” (“Coraline”, “ParaNorman”) is my favorite. Within a time frame of just eleven years, they managed to grow into the most powerful and famous stop-motion studio in the world. The second place in my personal charts takes the English animation studio “Aardman” (“Wallace and Gromit”). I didn’t know much about Russian animation till my last trip. I really liked the animated film, “Linden Tar”, that you had shown to me. It is truly a good work. In Moscow, I visited the studio, “Sojuzmultfilm”, and the studios “Melnitsa” and “Ricky” in Saint Petersburg. The history of Russian animation is amazingly rich. I am not speaking only about puppet animation, but also about sand (powder) and cut-out animation. The cartoonist, Alexander Petrov, is famous all over the world. There are a lot of his admirers in Iran.
You have mentioned the people in Russia being cold and the atmosphere is gloomy. But still, you came back. Why?
I write the scripts by myself, and the unusual setting contributes to creativity. Russians are tough, complicated people, they differ greatly from the Iranians. It isn’t repulsive to me. For me, as an artist, it is interesting to observe all the differences in culture and society.
What can you advise our readers, the beginners and the professionals in the field of animation?
To look around very attentively, to be immersed in stories, and to devour the quality works. Not to shut everything out, stay open to the world. To be inspired by nature, history, and culture of your amazing country.