Caught between reason and desire

Project of the Month: Sanity's Prison


Inspired by fashion designer Alexander McQueen and philosopher Immanuel Kant, Aleksej Skrypnik ventured into a dark subject for his diploma and dealt with the destructive sides of the human being. With emotions and drives that often remain hidden, but at some moments can erupt and unleash incredible energy.
Packed in abstract shapes, strong colors and framed by a powerful sound concept, Sanity's Prison shows what happens when anger, addiction and impatience come to the surface: Like a prison, the guarding mind tries to push back, keep the emotions in check, attempting to stay in control.

Read on, watch Sanity's Prison, and learn more about the idea behind the powerful short film.


Sanity's Prison


Where did the idea for Sanity’s Prison come from?

Initially I wanted to do a collection of little exercises with different FX setups. The effects should all take place in cubes and be shown in isometry. When I was collecting the first ideas, I noticed that the typical effects that an FX artist works on often have to do with destruction and violence. Collapsing structures, explosions, fires, broken glass, gunshot wounds, splattered blood, etc.
We rarely or never experience this violence and destruction with our own eyes in our everyday western life. Peacefulness, patience, diplomacy are valued. At the same time, however, we have had a strong response to it. As a movie spectacle, it is a very popular topic. Probably every one of us has boiled over, at least once in his or her life. You might be surprised, you might regret it afterwards, and it doesn't happen often. But it happens.


I found this dichotomy very exciting and wanted to capture this “destructive energy” in an abstract work of art. Combined with the initial cube idea, the idea of an abstract prison of the mind that contains destructive impulses arose. The Sanity’s Prison. That was the initial working title and stayed until the end.


Alexander McQueen's fashion show “Voss” was one of my first associations and role model. In his world of beauty, a repulsive, grotesque figure unexpectedly emerges at the end. At the same time it becomes clear that it has been there the whole time. I also wanted to make use of this kind of ambivalence.

I also wanted to deepen my topic understanding and read about the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, as well as about analytical and contemporary psychology. I found the phrase “we […] can intend what we do not desire, and desire what we do not intend” * particularly striking for the dichotomy that I wanted to explore.

* Roger Scruton, Kant: A Very Short Introduction, 2001, page 92



What is the film actually about?

It is about aspects of the human mind that a person can be aware of that are rationally repulsive, but at the same time emotionally tempting. Sides of the mind that it wants to keep banned. Sides of which it knows they can gain the upper hand if neglected or in a specific environment.

This theme runs through all of literary history. Starting with religion and philosophy, through analytical psychology, to contemporary psychology.


Examples of this would be:
Religion: Christianity with Virtues vs. Sins
Philosophy: Immanuel Kant with Categorical vs. Hypothetical Imperative
Analytical psychology: Sigmund Freud with superego vs. id
Contemporary psychology: Prefrontal cortex vs. limbic system


The three cells are an exemplary selection of such destructive sides.

Anger: The "simple" problem solution. What stands in the way is taken apart and eliminated.
Addiction: The desire for instant gratification. Delayed reward for higher total profit is ignored.
Impatience: Loss of confidence. Loss of belief that the current path leads to success or fulfillment. A mistrust that builds up and, as soon as it bursts, looks for new ways.


What is the key message?

Everyone has the potential to destroy themselves and others. It is a dormant, hidden potential. Becoming aware of the potential strengthens the ability to make truly moral decisions.


What challenges had to be overcome and what went particularly well during production?

The greatest challenge was to transfer the artistic product into a medium. The project wasn't necessarily planned as a film at the beginning. Rather, I have worked on combining various ideas such as abstraction, destruction, morality, conflict, container, recurrence, philosophy and psychology without thinking of a specific end product. I knew it was going to be an abstract animation, but I did not want to specify what exactly would come out at the start. This exploration aspect made the project particularly exciting for me. Ultimately, cubic chambers came out with a repeating cycle of animation. This cycle consisted of calm, breakout, struggle, thwarting, returning to calm and starting again. We have implemented three variants of this cycle.


At one point in the project, we faced the question of how to present these cycles. An installation or a film were the favorites. We chose the latter. Kaspar Zoth, our editor, as well as the hours in the editing consultation, were a huge help in ultimately turning the artistic idea into a film.


The collaboration with Tina Vest, my producer, went really well. Her pragmatic view and my urge for experimentation complemented each other wonderfully. She also placed a great deal of trust in me from the start. This gave me a lot of freedom, especially in the initial design phase, when the idea was still very loose and muddled.


In addition, we both tried very hard to stick to the timeframe. Although the project started a semester later than other diploma projects and despite various setbacks, we were able to deliver the project on time. The keys to success were a clear hierarchy of requirements and the willingness to leave things out if necessary.

Behind the scenes: Motion Capture

When did you discover your love for animation and how did you finally find your way to the film academy?

I discovered my love for computer graphics first. The love for animation followed later. As a child and adolescent, I spent a lot of time watching movies, animated series, and playing video games. Series like ReBoot and Beast Wars with their distinct 3D look were particularly fascinating to me. I was also amazed by the cinematics of video games like Starcraft and Warcraft. That made me want to do something artistic professionally. When I started studying architecture, I noticed that I particularly enjoy working with CAD and visualization software. After a year I switched to Virtual Design, a course that focuses on exactly that. Of all the different disciplines we did there, I liked animation and 3D visualization the most. So I created the 3D animation film CRYSTALLOtroph for my bachelor thesis. I used it to apply to Filmakademie in the hope of being accepted in order to further develop my knowledge and skills. It worked :)


What are you currently working on and how did you continue after your diploma?

After graduating, I joined the CGI company unexpected in Stuttgart. Here I do various FX setups with SideFX Houdini. The projects usually last three to six weeks and are very diverse. Lightning, fire, water, particles, realistic, abstract, everything you can imagine.

About director Aleksej Skrypnik

Aleksej Skrypnik was born in Dnepropetrowsk in 1988 and moved to Germany in 1997. After graduating from high school he studied Virtual Design at the UAS Kaiserslautern. Between 2016 and 2019, he dedicated himself to studying Animation at Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg’s Animationsinstitut.



2019 Sanity's Prison (Short film), Director, Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg
2016 CRYSTALLOtroph (Short film), Director, UAS Kaiserslautern



More about Aleksej Skrypnik on his website.


Share article