Ulay Ulay Ulay Ulay Ulay Nick Baker and Tristan Klein

A chat with Tristan Klein


Design, Illustration, Motion

Recently we got to speak with Tristan Klein to discuss what it means to be shortlisted at Tropfest and how design principles are essential in the creation of a powerful short film.

On your website you describe yourself as an illustrator, artist, designer, and animator. Do you find this multi-disciplinary skill set lends itself to a much richer aesthetic style in your animations?

Yeah, definitely. Illustration and design work so well together, using design you can control where the viewer looks through colour, scale, contrast, and repetition. Also wearing so many hats, I can really control the whole creative process and tell the story you want to tell. Nick Baker who co-directs and Writes is the other major piece of the puzzle to creating great work as he pushes me to the next level as I push his work too.

You're no stranger to Tropfest success having won in New York back in 2013 with The Unlikely Maestro, what prompted you to make this animation? Where did the inspiration come from?

We came up with the idea for The Unlikely Maestro shortly after placing 3rd in Tropfest Australia in 2013. We wanted to tell a very New York story. We had ideas about cab drivers, pidgins, a barge driver and then then a rat in carnegie hall. We also like the underdog story about someone who wants to do something impossible. Which is ironic as we were just 2 guys from Sutherland shire and didn’t think we would win Tropfest New York.

All we know from the synopsis of Postcards to Ulay is that it's a Tajmeni tale. Can you elaborate a little more or do we have to wait to see it on the big screen? How did you come up with the idea?

So the story of Postcards to Ulay is based in the time of the great space race. This is where America was sending Chimps into space and Russia were sending dogs into outer space. The First Dog to go into outer space was Laika. Apparently Laika was a stray dog that they took from the streets and shot into space. We thought this was very interesting and thought what if the dog wasn’t stray and had a master.

We visited LA towards the end of 2013 and visited a very interesting place called the Museum of Jurassic Technology. It was a museum of oddities. One of the rooms was full of oil painted portraits of the first dogs to go into outer space. This is the first time we learnt about the Laika.

We did learn about ideation in Billy Blue, and one of the most important distinctions is to be conscious of where and when you have your best ideas. For me its inspiration from studying various films, facts and events and then talking to others about it. So one night i was at a pub talking to a guy who works at NASA. I told him about the Museum of Jurassic Technology and he told me how he loved Laika and how it was a stray dog. As soon as i found that out I emailed Nick about making another short film for Tropfest and we began working on fleshing out the story.

You run your Sydney based production company, Seek and Hide Productions, with screenwriter Nick Baker.  Can you give some insight into how you collaborate on projects, what is the process you find works?

Yeah sure, so we have a very collaborative relationship. Its rarely Nick writes and I animate. Its almost always pitching ideas back and forth, discussing what message we want to get across, what will be more powerful and unique. He will send me ideas on art direction and and ill add to that. For that reason we both become more invested in the project. Its both of our visions.

Do you ever approach projects where you know you need to collaborate with a larger team and do you have people within the field you like to call on?

The bare bones is just Nick and I. We have all the skills we need to put films together. But for slightly larger projects we like to include an Editor Thibaut Koralewski, and if we need some emotional music we almost always use composer Helen Jane Long. Thibaut we met through the late Metro Screen. He has incredible skills in editing that Nick and I don’t even come close to. We also like getting someone like Thibaut to view the film with fresh eyes. Helen is an incredible composter we met through Audio Network and has a very impressive portfolio such as the Lord of the Rings Movies, Lifes too short and ABC’s Jack Irish. We are looking into animation studios to start working with for higher end animation for future projects.

Does the story evolve or change once you start animating or do you make sure the story and design is completely locked down before you get stuck into animation?

Because we are a small team and it doesn’t cost us too much other than time, the story can change a bit through out the production. There are usually about 3 - 4 rough cuts where we make a lot of changes and tweaks, sometimes removing scenes or adding new ones. If something doesn’t work or our audience doesn’t understand we feel its important to change. Working so close to a projects you usually become blind to it all so thats why its important to show a range of people before finalising everything.

How long did it take to create Postcards to Ulay? Do you spend more time in illustration or animation? Does one follow the other or do you work on both in tandem?

They can take anywhere from 6 months to 1 month. The time frame usually depends on the story. We both believe that story is by far the most important aspect. Also being original in this age is quite challenging too. So there is a lot of research, looking for inspiration and back and forth before we lock off a story. Then Nick starts creating the screenplay and I start the concept art. This usually doesn’t take too long, perhaps 1 - 2 weeks. Then I make a storyboard and start creating all the illustrations. Then animation begins. This process can take about 3 - 6 weeks. While i work on the animation, Nick starts looking for voice actors and music, recording studios and any correspondence that needs to be done.

Nick and I have been working of short films for about 4 years now, but in the last year, starting study at Billy Blue, you can really see the improvement in quality and style. I had never studied animation before,  only illustration. Billy Blue has taught me design and film principals that help us tell better stories through visuals and more concise decision making.

Did you juggle this project with commercial work or were you able to work on this film full time?

So Nick had been in Jakarta all last year and I was studying and freelancing. Most of the time we work in different countries, thats one of the great advantages living in the world today. Everyone is so connected around the world. Or Editor is in France now and composer in England. I got a good start on the animation and illustration process during a break at Uni for a couple of weeks. Then my studies fell behind a little bit and my girlfriend was neglected for about a month. Many nights of only 3 -4 hours sleep and uploading files to France and Jakarta, but is a lot of fun.

What's next? Have you already started working on your next animation or are you taking a well earned break?

We really should take a break but being creatives its quite difficult to do. We would love to creat a children’s book and are beginning to a pitch together for that.

Also we are looking to create a higher end short film, perhaps a bit longer - 10 minutes or so, and we want to tell a story about refugees. Its something we both are passionate about and there isn’t too many short films in that area. We have a treatment almost competed and I have started on some concept art. Its looking to be one of our best yet!

Primarily being an illustrator, we are looking to work with an animation studio to push our style to the next level. This will be a costly process and we are currently looking a how to raise money for the project.

It should definitely be an exciting 2016!

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