Every story needs a common thread and Alex Berweck seems to have taken this very seriously. In his diploma film FUSSEL, the eponymous, cuddly monster Fussel literally begins his journey by following a thread. On his way, he meets all kinds of other friendly monsters who have their own expectations of what awaits them at the end. Curious? Then watch FUSSEL now!
It should be obvious that the production of FUSSEL was not quite as straightforward as the plot of the film itself. In the following article, Alex talks about his personal experiences, content-related decisions, and technical approaches he experienced and coordinated as director of FUSSEL. Enjoy!
Creating FUSSEL was a fantastic experience for me. It was the first film I wrote and directed by myself. Even though that created a lot of pressure, it was great to pour all my ideas into the project and see how others helped shape my vision.
While it originally only started with the mysterious red thread, I realized early on that it had to be about friendship and the people we meet in our lives. Friends who join us on our journey but then head off and pursue their own goals in life. I made close friends during my time in school, my studies, and work. While I might not see all of them often because they live abroad or are busy with their own lives now, it is still great when our paths cross again, even if it’s just for a short amount of time.
Before coming to Filmakademie, I had worked as a 2D/3D Artist, so, my background was a mixture of concept art/illustration and 3D generalist. I wanted to incorporate these fields into the look of the film and create a style that uses advanced 3D elements while keeping a general 2D aesthetic. In addition, I wanted it to be colorful, happy, and diverse.
I took inspiration from concept artists like Goro Fujita and Marco Bucci, but also from short films like FISCHKOPP and MEET BUCK. Further, I found inspiration in other media I love like comic books and video games. These, for example, inspired the speech bubbles and the side-scrolling camera movement.
To get a more organic and concept-art-like look, I wanted to have brushstrokes on the 3D models. Fortunately, during the search of a solution for our style demands, we came across Quill, which opened the door for us in terms of realizing this project with a small team. Quill is a virtual reality painting and animation software; you can paint in a 3D space. Our first tests with Quill were great. Not only was it a lot of fun creating things in a virtual environment, but we were also very fast. It combined both things I wanted to do in this production: painting and 3D We decided to take the risk and create all our characters and environments in Quill.
There were several things we needed to be mindful of during character creation. FUSSEL’s target audience are kids, so, while the characters are monsters, they always were meant to look and be friendly. Everyone is welcome in this group and it doesn't matter how you look. We created monsters in a lot of different shapes and sizes. We knew that the characters would walk and stand close to each other all the time and that’s why we put extra attention to keeping all faces, or in Marianne’s case her feet, visible in the group formation. Every character needed to be unique but also work in combination with the others.
The uniqueness of each character and their part in the group is not only shown visually but is also part of the music and sound design. Working on these things with Jonas Schwall and Nicolas Kaiser was fantastic. They understood the project right away and were a big part of creating the feeling and emotions of the film. Every character is represented by their unique instrument. When someone joins the group, their instrument joins the music as well. The bigger the group, the richer the music gets. When they part ways, we also lose their part of the melody.
After coming up with ideas for the different worlds, we created concept art and designs. We blocked the rough environment in Maya to see how far the characters would travel, brought the blocking into Quill as a reference, and painted the backgrounds there.
Additional tools created by the technical directors helped to smoothly get all Quill creations into Maya. I also wanted to have movement in the environment to make the world feel alive. Plants waving, leaves falling or water flowing; everything directly animated in Quill.
FUSSEL was created with twice the framerate you would usually use. With the constant horizontal camera movement, we noticed stuttering in objects close to the camera. Increasing the frame rate helped the film to have a smoother feel and remove the stuttering.
Working on a project with six characters and fourteen different environments was a daunting task but necessary to establish the feeling of this journey and the bonds among the characters. I think a big part of realizing this project in a short time frame was the good communication with producer Nina Schwarz and technical lead Tim Lehr. We constantly reevaluated the scope and practicality of the project and readjusted accordingly.
Creating FUSSEL was a great journey in itself and I am thankful for everyone who joined in and put something of themselves into the project. Thank you!