Editorial note: The following article was written as part of the Animationsinstitut's anniversary publication "20 Years 20 Projects". This commemorative publication celebrating the Institute's 20th anniversary featured 20 iconic projects from the Animationsinstitut's eventful and moving history. The article below was written by Filmakademie alumna Andrea Block about the project WRAPPED.
Andrea Block works as a producer and director. She is CEO & co-founder of Luxx Film and Luxx Studios in Stuttgart, where she produces and develops visual effects-driven and animated feature films, and provides VFX and animation services. With a mathematics and science degree from West College of Saratoga in California and a B.A. in architecture from the University of Stuttgart, Andrea began studying at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, where she graduated in 2003.
Among many other productions, she has been involved in creating films such as ROMMEL, WHITE HOUSE DOWN, GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE, MANOU and TAFITI.
Andrea is a member of the German Film Academy, VES and AMCRS, and is the Vice President of the Filmakademie’s Caligary Foundation.
Roman Kälin (top right) set up shop in Zurich, Switzerland, after graduating from the Filmakademie. Starting out as a one-man show, he now leads one of Switzerland’s biggest animation and visual effects studios, the PULK collective. He creates and directs commercials and short films for clients and audiences around the world. His work has gained international recognition and won numerous awards, including an Emmy nomination.
Falko Paeper (lower left) started freelancing as a compositor for studios such as Psyop LA and Parasol Island after graduating from the Filmakademie’s Animationsinstitut in 2014. He was then hired by Polynoid’s animation studio Woodblock in 2016, where he has worked as a VFX and CG supervisor ever since. During his time at Woodblock, he has had the opportunity to work with international clients such as Apple, Nike, Adidas, Playmobil, and many more.
Florian Wittmann (lower right) initially worked freelance for various companies in the first few years after graduating from the Filmakademie, before joining the amazing team at Woodblock in 2016, where he has focused mainly on shading & lighting as well as pipeline development. After some fun and challenging projects, he moved to the Munich area and worked as CG supervisor at BigHugFX, a small but ambitious VFX studio. While there, Florian was given the opportunity to work on some great feature film projects with a skilled and passionate team. In 2021, he joined Studio Isar Animation.
WRAPPED (2014) is a VFX-driven short film by Roman Kälin, Falko Paeper, and Florian Wittmann that was originally released in 2014 and screened at over 100 festivals, picking up many well-deserved awards around the world. The short explores the effects of growth and decay over time, and focuses on the transition of nature and human-built structures as opposing poles. The team did an excellent job in combining the fully CG-generated world with time-lapse photography and the animated character using camera focus as a means of art and visual effects as a convincing story element.
WRAPPED is not only a visually beautiful and a smart, intricate story, it also shows the unique and inspiring environment of the Animationsinstitut at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. The Animationsinstitut is regionally rooted in Ludwigsburg to train students locally, yet is connected to the international network of research and industry professionals, who meet at FMX in Stuttgart each year. FMX is a showcase of the best examples of VFX and animation work. The Filmakademie organizes FMX to connect professionals through specialist presentations combined with content-driven new realms, and helps to bridge the gap between being a student and becoming an artist in the industry.
In 2011, the three leads of WRAPPED were studying at the Animationsinstitut when the teaser A.MAIZE was produced for FMX. The students made corn explode into giant popcorn, the iconographic cinema munchy, and submerged Stuttgart, the metropole of animation and VFX, in a sea of popcorn. Fresh ideas embodied as humungous grains of maize invaded the center of Stuttgart, where they sparked and rattled their peers to amaze the audience just like FMX does. It was the team of WRAPPED that created this great example of a smart and entertaining VFX story. This early work shows what young talent can achieve and demonstrates their development over the course of their studies at the Animationsinstitut when compared to their graduation short.
The Animationsinstitut is famous for its great animation and VFX shorts because it is a safe place where tiny, sprouting ideas can flourish and evolve, where future talent is nourished and supported in a way that allows them to learn and develop into great artists and directors like the makers of WRAPPED.
WRAPPED starts inside the body system of a rat with a revealing, cinematic camera move as if using a high-tech endoscopic camera for minimally invasive medical operations. As the point of view leaves the mouth following the rat’s last breath, we discover where the rodent lived before it died: the streets of New York City, with all its hectic human hustle and non-stop traffic jams. The perspective travels from micro- to macro-cosmos by flying out of the rat’s mouth, the physical orifice for inhaling air, drinking water, and taking in food in order to survive. The mouth becomes a gateway between the interior and exterior worlds, between the individual and surrounding society. Skillfully directed time-lapse shots combined with the animated, nicely groomed rat, and individual props covered by greenery set in stunning lighting situations show the film-makers’ mastery of visual effects as well as their respect for the basics of life and death.
The eye follows tender sprouts forcing their way through cracks of concrete and joining forces as roots in an even stronger network of plants that wraps NYC in a soft green cover.Andrea Block, alumna Filmakademie
In the beginning, the sound is minimalistic: a rat deflates in the process of decay. After two minutes of time lapse showing the slow decay and takeover by nature, nature wins and the mood changes thanks to hopeful and dynamic music with soft sounds. The lighting becomes sunnier and more friendly, directing our focus towards the silent beauty of blossoms, the calm and quiet foliage, and the unfolding of fern coils in detail. As a special tribute to NYC, the rooftop water tanks are completely covered with branches of climbing plants.
This shot was only possible due to the personal connections of the director Roman Kaelin. While the lead crew made the extra effort and travelled to the site for 4K photography mounted on sliders, their selection of sites in New York is the source of special artistic flavour in this short. For the midpoint they picked a scenic panorama view of nature showing NYC in a peaceful and quiet atmosphere with fading sound. Suddenly, explosions of pollen and seeds break their way into the calm, sun-drenched scenery at Brooklyn Bridge. Supported by strong firework sounds, the season of fertility starts to reproduce even more nature and blossoms. It feels as if this new freedom of random, unlimited growth is destroying the structures built by humans, blasting away the chains that have suppressed nature over decades.
Keeping in mind that unlimited natural growth also brings with it the danger of suffocation, the emphasis is still on biodiversity and on nature reclaiming territory as a long overdue revenge. Humans have exploited nature and used limited resources such as water and fossil fuels for far too long. So the audience feels remorseful and nods in appreciation of nature’s restoration. The camera withdraws into a bird’s eye perspective, travelling through clouds and the stratosphere, receding into outer space as we see nature spill over the boundaries of the city, the state, and the whole of North America. Ending with a short glimpse of a time shift, it closes with a detail of the Earth as a deteriorating crumble in a micro-universe, back at a sewer grid on the streets of New York. The rat from the beginning of the film sniffs and takes a bite – the audience already knows that this an unfortunate choice – and swallows the rotten crumble. The beginning comes to an end, starting a new beginning.
WRAPPED makes our heads spin, it turns the point of view around and raises an alarming question: can we humans ever evolve and change this ongoing cycle of destruction? Sadly, until we do, it appears the rat, as the ambassador of nature’s balance, will suffer infinite reincarnation.
In art, decay is the basis of new areas of exploration. New movements will grow from and blossom on the debris of former masterpieces. This imagery reminds us of blockbusters set in a dystrophic New York City such as I AM LEGEND and PLANET OF THE APES. The never-ending cycle of life—animals eating and being eaten, life and death, new-born to corpse—takes on a new dimension in this VFX short. The eye follows tender sprouts forcing their way through cracks of concrete and joining forces as roots in an even stronger network of plants that wraps NYC in a soft green cover.
Produced at the Animationsinstitut, the animated short WRAPPED was officially selected by many festivals around the world and deservedly won numerous prestigious prizes. The VES Award 2015 for Best Student Project in VFX proves that the techniques used for the simulated growth on CG structures, including the realistically animated rat in the time lapse sequence and all the implemented decay and destruction, were already breath-taking and well-developed. The tools were skillfully implemented to reveal and support a universal story and present a metaphysical message wrapped in a «rose» bud. For 20 years, we have seen many of these highly talented buds of visual effects artists explode like fireworks at the Animationsinstitut, spreading their creative ideas and technical power abundantly all over the VFX and animation world.
Over the last 20 years, the heads of the Animationsinstitut have demonstrated a reliable instinct in their selection of future talent, guiding them with care and knowledge to become the best version of themselves for an excellent start in the industry.
The head of the Animationsinstitut needs a good balance between emerging world conflicts, challenging new research, and inspiring story content. In this unique environment of friendly teams and experimental spirit, upcoming talent is nicely 'wrapped' and encouraged to grow with highly professional input and human support from leading professionals in the art of VFX and animation.
I congratulate the team that created WRAPPED for their fantastic achievement and I applaud them for their contribution to the marvelous treasure trove created by the Animationsinstitut over the years. May the Animationsinstitut remain a green island for fresh creative output in future decades, and may it evolve to the next level with inspirational coaches and professional teachers. Congratulations to all Animationsinstitut staff and leaders for the way they continuously support their students so that they, in turn, can become part of the universal industry cycle. Their artistic roots form a network that enhances films and nourishes smart content, which are made more vivid and subversive through the art of animation and visual effects.