Q&A with Maxim Zhestkov
by Igor Sordokhonov, with help from Lilian Darmono, Bran Dougherty-Johnson, Lauren Indovina, Brian Gossett and Sofia Radnabazarova.
In your words, who is Maxim Zhestkov? Could you shortly summarize your background?
When I was 7 years old me and friend of mine used to sit at the table littered with papers and paint without stopping…
Usually we painted the space stations and night cities of the future. We were fans of science fiction, especially adored “Alien” by Ridley Scott.
That time I used to think that maturing would cause the ending of all the magic of these drawings and fantasy and start of a prose and boring life with it’s drab existence.
I was lucky – in my case the brightness of magic only grows.
Admission to university means I had to make a choice. That was difficult. I had no idea what to choose – architecture, industrial design or graphic…
During studying architecture, I realized that I am just crazily in love with matte painting, computer graphics and animation.
It so happened that now I can combine all these in one and furthermore I can add audio.
I am a fan of all of this and happy to deal with it every day… and even in a dream.
What were you hoping to achieve with Recursion?
Recursion is too abstract for discussion.
The project was more personal than public. During my work on this project so much has happened. So that in the end I just wanted to make it again or not to publish it at all.
There is a magic that immediately disappears when you think over the tools that you use or the meanings.
It’s like music that is perceived by somebody who has no relation to it. He has certain emotions and feelings.
And the degree of abstraction there is quite different from the perception of a person who is professionally engaged in music – he takes all the sounds with a more pragmatic side.
Why always black and white?
Black and white are the most distant from each other’s points.
The maximum contrast in emotions and in visual perception occurs in border areas.
Scream / Silence. Many / Few… visibility should be exaggerated to achieve this effect!
Situations that put restrictions are the main engine of the imagination!
Adherence to black and white images slowly transformed for me.
The color should appear already in the next draft.
Please tell us about your process – how does you sketch out your ideas? Is there a linear structure to his process, or is it more experimental?
The process always has clear edges of structure and relatively transparent middle where sudden discoveries could appear during the work process.
It is important to preserve the opportunity to surprise yourself and to prove to yourself that you’re better than you think.
I think you don’t need to prove it to someone else.
I draw a lot of hand sketches and visual scripts and I always plan projects for the year ahead. Making a queue.
I made up too many stories… and unfortunately depth of work on each project takes a long time.
How important is for you to stick to a narrative structure from start to finish? Is there room to deviate?
The original idea is important, of course. But given the level of abstraction that permeates all my previous works it’s hard to judge on the variances.
I have little variances on the sketches. I think the atmosphere is more important. Something that you feel rather than what you see in detail, in pixels.
There is something between it all.
In the words of Sergei Eisenstein after the junction of 2 frames you get their product, not their sum. The universe has 3 coordinates but there are new dimensions revealed in the perception!
The attention to detail in your work is staggering, so much so that I seem to always find another level of interest every time I look at the examples of work I have. Are you as meticulous in the rest of your life as you are in your work?
I think I am. Although it’s quite difficult to understand where’s the line between my life and my work. It seems to me I live in my projects most of the time.
What are the things that interested you the most, currently, as a director?
In fact, I’m interested in too many things but they are all intertwined with fiction.
I think that the main idea in my entire life is a live action. I would really like to take a more serious project than I do now. Although at this stage I would like to experiment a little more with abstract forms.
But all the roads lead to live action with CG composed. That’s what I really want and what I dream about.
Has you ever considered making a narrative short? Something in the sci-fi genre?
The idea of the short film is my main aim now. Abstract elements are a fabulous tool.
But I really want to deal with the plot and the story too. I have several of my own scripts now and I’m planning to make a sci-fi film.
I have already started working on it.
Most of all I would like to work with the stories because ambience and abstract visual changes are valuable for me now!
Overloaded with work, dealing with stresses, how do you handle it?
I am fond of reading books about director of photography’s art or something related.
Sound is a very serious issue for me. Sometimes I begin to experiment with audio. I am very concerned about the endless horizon of opportunities in this area!
In general, music for me is a very important part of everything. I’m a fan of IDM. Things that WARP label released in the 90’s were the best to me in a musical sense.
Although Autechre is still creating amazing things.
So what is your creative formula? What inspires and motivates you?
Probably the most important motivator is the possibility to grow into large projects in the future. Possibility to do music videos and even one day there will be a movie.
How long did this latest project take you?
RECURSION took a total of approximately 3 months, but was extended for six months beacause it was interrupted by other projects. It was very distracting.
When you work on something that is very important you should not allow external stimuli.
Third-party comments may kill confidence in the universe over which you work. It can spoil all feelings from your own experiences of the project.
While working on the project, I did not show it to anyone.
You wrote the music to Recursion by yourself, isn’t it? Why?
Yes, I did. I decided that the film could be entirely mine only if it is mine from beginning to end.
I don’t know how long I will be faithful to this idea. But I’m going to write the music myself for my next movie.
Sound is a separate dimension… so amazing to work with visual and move to the audio. You feel your organs of perception shifting in very strange ways
And what music is in your player now?
Autechre – d-sho qub.
It’s a soundtrack of my spring.
It is very important in each season to fall in love with a new track. It’s like a time marker. If you need to rewind your memories to the necessary time – you just switch on a track and you’re there.
How do you think is there a difference between your everyday life and the creative one?
If there is such a difference – it means one of them is an extra. And you need to get rid of it urgently.
How important for you is an audience? Do you usually imagine some conditional spectator in front of you when you create your work?
When I’m working on a project I do it for myself at first. Maybe it’s like therapy.
I do create the way I like. I did not show Recursion until I render the final file.
Of course it’s very interesting and surprising that so many people likes my abstract visual experiences!
Which criteria helps you judge the success of a project?
As soon as I finishing my project I did not look at it about half a year. And then i can look at it as for the first time. The project is succeeded if i have a feeling “what a pity that I did not do this work”.
The most important thing in any project is to prove to yourself that you can be better, to progress.
And only by feeling the motion vector you can live and not to feel like wasting your time.
What do you do to pay the bills?
I don’t make money. I make art.
Sometimes I do freelance but it’s not what I want to do all my life.
I would like my projects bring me money.
What are your plans for the future?
This year I am going to make a few personal films. I already have scripts and storyboards.
All that’s left is to plunge into the work…
I want to make a music video for my favorite musicians.
In general, I would like to engage in serious projects… probably to work with a team of enthusiastic people.
I was thinking to relocate someday… I think about Los Angeles. I am sure there are many interesting things… but all this is too abstract for now.