As the clock ticked away to the LA Film Festival (LAFF) premiere of the short film, “The Mud,” writer/director/animator Brandon Lake and cinematographer Farhad Ahmed Dehlvi worked closely with colorist Matt Wallach inside a finishing theater at EFilm where such blockbusters as The Fate of the Furious and La La Land were colored. We spoke with the filmmakers as Wallach put the final touches on the short.
“The Mud,” a highly personal clay animation project about a clay man who tries to escape his identity only to then realize its true beauty, came about in part due to Project Involve – now it in its 24th year — a mentorship and diversity program from Film Independent (the organization behind LAFF) dedicated to fostering the careers of talented filmmakers. Deluxe companies EFilm and Company 3 have been supporters on the post production side of Project Involve since 2014.
Lake is an experienced pro as a stop-motion animator but this film was a particular challenge. “Even in the world of stop motion,” he says, “everybody knows clay animation is if not the hardest, then the most annoying, kind of stop motion to do because it’s messy and you’re always getting fingerprints on the clay. But I knew I wanted to mold things and rip and tear them for this film and the best way to do that was clay.”
“The clay was one of the exciting aspects for me,” Dehlvi chimes in, explaining that more high-tech forms of animation can be frustratingly abstract. “With clay, you’re in the moment in a tactile environment with objects that actually absorb and bounce light. It gives you a way to engage with the medium and maximize the emotional story you’re trying to tell.”
The clay and camera movements were animated traditionally, a frame at a time at a very small space the filmmakers rented in Culver City. A DSLR camera mounted with cine-style lenses was used to capture each meticulously-crafted frame in stills format. “I’ve done a lot of tabletop work for commercials,” Dehlvi notes, “and the biggest challenge here was to not let that affect how I worked because primarily this was not about making things ‘pretty;’ it was about serving the emotion of the narrative.”
The duo was excited to work at EFilm’s digital cinema grading theater. “It was fantastic seeing the movie projected here,” Lake enthuses. “Seeing it on the big screen, and then observing as the color work takes shape, is tremendously gratifying.” Adds the cinematographer, “When you shoot, you’re not just seeing what’s in a monitor. You’re also imagining what it will look like at the end of the process. It’s really in this environment that I think we could see that the images are as robust and emotionally compelling as we had hoped.”
“The Mud,” Brandon notes, is something that would have taken many years to realize if it weren’t for Project Involve. “It’s not just about Film Independent and all the wonderful companies like EFilm that help,” he declares. “It’s also that Project Involve gives us a reason to create.”
“The Mud” joined other projects — all of which were finished at either EFilm or Company 3 — at the premiere screening on Thursday June, 15th. These include: “This Little Light of Mine,” from director Esteban Arango; “Suitable,” directed by Thembi Banks; “Untitled,” directed by Brittany “B.Moné” Fennell; “Great Again,” from director Christpher de las Alas; “Emergency,” directed by Carey Williams and “The Station,” from director Daniel Foerste.