David O’Reilly Interview: Please Say Something

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The following is an interview with David O’Reilly and Motionographer regarding his short film, Please Say Something.

Where did the idea and story behind Please Say Something come from? When you are generating ideas, how do you know you’ve struck a good one and decide to persue it?

DO: I wanted to do an update (or destruction) of the cat and mouse genre of cartoons, but have a genuinely good story which people connected with. I learned a lot of hard lessons doing experimental narratives and decided it was time for a simple story. I know I have a good idea when I’ll give up everything else to work on it. When you have no budget or deadline you have to be totally in love with the idea.

The digitally raw style in all of your shorts—Please Say Something, Octocat—is very authentic. Can you tell us a little about how you develop the look of the work?

DO: I can only speak for PSS; the look came about from the idea of economy. I wanted to make something in 3d but the fastest way possible and with no decoration whatsoever. Practically it meant no texture maps, motion blur, reflections, filters and so on. I wanted to see how far you could strip it down without being cold and minimalist. This way of working was entirely influenced by Bresson’s ideas on authenticity, whereby no images should have any power or value except through their position and relation.

Timing and framing key moments between characters is a huge part in your storytelling structure. Did you always know PSS would be comprised of 23 episodes of 25 seconds each? (Why 25 seconds, by the way?)

DO: They were originally 30 seconds and had a more elaborate gap between them, but it was ultimately distracting and interrupted the flow. The reason for the format was just a personal rule. I think if you create restrictions, even abstract ones, you’re brain will work harder to overcome them and be creative.

You seem to be into tagging. Even the title cards in PSS have tags. Care to comment?

DO: Tagging is an amazing phenomenon. I suppose I was influenced by seeing talks on the semantic web idea, where everything in the world is tagged and categorized. Tags are a way of adding value to something and I used them to explain certain story elements.

The sound design in PSS is incredible. Did you have a clear idea of what you’d do with sound design as you were animating?

DO: Yes, I’m not always specific about audio but when I was writing this I was heavily into Ryoji Ikeda’s work, and I really wanted to recreate that artificial precision, it was very much in tune with what I wanted visually. Props to David for creating the voices and Bram for the Music.

In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud says (I’m paraphrasing here) that it’s easier for readers to emotionally connect with simply rendered characters. Do you find that to be true of animation, and is that why you chose to render PSS using simple geometry, shading and lighting?

DO: McCloud basically says that detail objectifies characters, while cartooning leads to viewer identification & subjectivity. My goal however was not cartooning but making designs more generic and expressionless. My central belief is that being neutral with aesthetics is more important than being appealing, which is a strong line of thought in cinema but rarely seen in animation. I didn’t want to use animal characters until I saw Jason (John Arne Sæterøy) use them in a sincere way.

Along the lines of the previous question: Although the singular forms used in PSS are simple, the entire universe of PSS is complex. You show the passage of time, weather phenomenon, altered states of consciousness—did you find yourself having to throttle back your visual vocabulary? Was it difficult, in other words, to stay within the aesthetic of the film(s)?

DO: The visual vocabulary was very strict, I literally wrote a list of rules down before I started animating, so it was easy enough to play within that.

What’s next for you? Inventing a future space religion? Cross breeding more cats and octopus?

DO: I’ve fallen in love with storytelling after years of experimentation, and I’m going to keep writing and telling bigger ones. By the way thank you to motionographer readers for supporting the original post, I was genuinely surprised you all liked it