For his graduation project at Braunschweig University of Art in northern Germany, Axel Brötje created “Kiss Of The Scorpion”, a stunning 11 minute animated short about a cute—and rather devilish—little girl and her pet on a b-movie inspired train ride.
The piece is exquisitely crafted, brimming with references to classic films, charming character design and beautiful painterly environments. I love the reduced color palette and the genearlly minimalist approach.
Make sure to also check all of the pre-production docs on the project page, good stuff!
I had a chance to catch up with Axel and ask him a few questions about the piece:
What inspired you to make the film? How did the story come about?
During my studies, I was mostly interested in animation and illustration. That’s what I wanted to do in my final piece. At the beginning I was looking for short stories which could be adapted to animation.
Then I decided to write a story myself because of two reasons: I wanted it to be without speech, everything should develop from the characters actions. This way I could spend the most time on animation and also skip writing dialogs. Having my own story I could also cut or rewrite scenes in a pinch if I was going to have complications finishing the project.
It is difficult to describe inspirations, because it is usually a big mishmash of things. I often make small notes when I see thinks I like. In this case, it was maybe a mixture between 50s paperbacks, Bela Lugosi horror films (especially the title screens), the Shining Twins, Heidi and her Grandfather, Murder on the Orient Express and some slapstick comedies.
The film has a very minimalist look, i.e. the reduced color palette, simple characters and environments, it feels almost like animated retro posters. Who / What inspiration helped you define this particular artistic look for the film?
You are right about those retro posters. I wanted it to look like an animated b-movie. I tried to create this atmosphere through the choice of colors, filters and grain but also for example through the font in the slightly overtoned title screen.
The reduced characters were also an economical decision. I tried to skip most UV texturing, as it can be very time consuming. Having studied graphic design, I was also looking for a more unique stylized visualization.
What was your process for this project?
To be honest, I had already started the character design and animation of the first scenes when the story was not completely finished. When I was about halfway through with the work on the film, I still didn’t know what the ending would be like. The character design helped a lot to finish the story, though. I realized it was better to just start creating different characters than to brood over story ideas.
What tools were used in production?
I designed all of the characters in Illustrator first. As a reference for creating the 3d-models I had to do a side view for each character as well. The whole film was done in Maya. For the interiors I looked up antique furniture on ebay and for the steam locomotive mechanisms I watched some youtube videos from old railroad engines.
Finally I spent a lot of time on cutting and color correcting in After Effects. But it was fun experimenting how the final look of the film would be like.
Did you come across any difficulties during production?
The thing I was most afraid of was that I probably couldn’t finish the project in 6 months on my own. So I made a schedule when I would have to be finished with every phase of the production. As is often the case with making plans, at the end you have difficulties keeping up with them. There were some days when I would just spend a lot of time working something out which wasn’t that necessary when you look at the entire film. But I tried at least to sit eight hours a day on the project.
What are your plans for the film, and for yourself?
I’m sending the film to different festivals. For now I was happy it was selected to be screened at the Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film.
I sure hope after my studies I can continue working in this area of animation and illustration, which I’ve always liked very much.
Good luck, Axel!