When Words Are Not Enough

Project of the Month: MINDPALACE


To be superhumanly strong, being able to fly or rather invisibility? Discussions about the most desirable superpower, which we obviously all have every day, are full of potential conflicts. You almost wish you could read people's minds so that you can invalidate their arguments in advance.

The VR experience MINDPALACE by Dominik Stockhausen and Carl Krause tells of this very temptation to dive into the mind of a loved one. Feelings can only be expressed to a certain extent with words. Thus, "feeling" your own relationship from the perspective of your partner is certainly a fascination—especially for the protagonist of MINDPALACE. But whether this new perspective might also reveal unwanted truths remains to be answered within the VR experience...    

In the following interview, Carl and Dominik sum up the development of their diploma project, the vision behind it, and their time at Animationsinstitut.


FMX 2019: MINDPALACE Presentation

Interview with Directors Carl Krause and Dominik Stockhausen

Hi Carl, hi Dominik! What did you do before you started your studies at Animationsinstitut? Then, how did you get to Animationsinstitut?



Computer graphics fascinated me already as a child. I was exposed to my first 3D software (3Ds Max 4) quite early, played around with it a lot (tutorials didn't exist in that form yet), built 3D houses and was then firmly convinced for a long time that I wanted to become an architect. The first Spider-Man movie by Sam Raimi had just come out and I remember devouring a making-of about the creation of the animations. At some point, I came to the conclusion that I would much rather make films.


After finishing school, I did several internships in design and animation studios, and through colleagues, I became aware of Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. Being accepted here is not always easy because there are many applications. For me, it didn't work out with the first application. Instead, I enrolled in a computer science program, learned a lot and worked on my application film for a long time before trying again the following year. Fortunately, this time it worked out.



The fact that I ended up in animation was actually more of a coincidence. I studied Theater and Media Studies in Bayreuth. Besides my studies, my fellow students and I spent a lot of time making scenic short films. Since I was the only one who already had rudimentary experience with motion graphics, I quickly became the person in charge of "visual effects" there—but as I said, everything was still very rudimentary.


As the application deadlines for Filmakademie approached and I got wind that this was apparently "the-place-to-be" for film, I simply applied for Animation because that was the closest thing to what I was doing. Then, it kind of worked out right away.



MINDPALACE is a VR experience - what aspects of the development were particularly challenging? Especially compared to traditional game development?



In a VR experience, the perspective of the viewer and audience has to be treated much more sensitively than in movies or video games. Putting VR goggles on your head means immersing yourself in a different world, and as a viewer, you are at the mercy of this world. Due to receiving far fewer sensory impressions from the outside, you subconsciously accept the new reality quite quickly. That's why movements, tracking shots, and effects have to be used very carefully in order to not confuse or even overwhelm the viewers. We experimented for a long time until we developed a set of rules for MINDPALACE.


The MINDPALACE itself was also a technical challenge. The sequence when we dive into a character's head should feel fuzzy and like a coherent fever dream. I had done a lot of simulation testing in Houdini during that time, and at some point, we decided to just plan the entire sequence as one cohesive water simulation.


As humans, we communicate in mediae.g. speech, facial expressions, gesturesthat can never reflect our feelings 1:1. Is that where the fascination came from to try visualizing feelings as directly as possible with MINDPALACE?



That was definitely the thought experiment with which we started the project. There is someone who fails exactly at this translation from sensation to medium. The transmitted information is simply not immediate enough. So how do we overcome this distance? Easy: draw the partner into your own head.


For us as filmmakers, this is of course a great symbiosis of form and content. A tableau of emotions wraps itself around the protagonist, just as this inner world wraps itself around the viewers through the VR headset.


What is exciting, however, is how this initial (and in the end far too simple) consideration developed over the course of the project. We had to learn that this very unification of viewers and protagonist represents a hurdle that cannot be overcome so easily and, on the contrary, is even detrimental to our narration—a realization that, to a certain extent, our antagonist does not obtain. The focus was now no longer only on those feelings that our antagonist tries to communicate as directly as possible, but on the attempt to achieve immediacy itself.

Now, let's be honest: Would you take the chance to dive into another person's mind?


No, I don't think so. Diving into another person's mind would probably mean receiving ALL of their thoughts/problems/emotions unfiltered, which I imagine would be very exhausting. As a filmmaker, I'm more interested in following an artistic narrative (or developing it myself) that focuses on one theme or aspect.



I'd be happy if I could have more clarity within my own mind from time to time. 😉



The international, creative, and technical level of the students is so high that you simply can't help but make immense progress as an individual with each year.

Carl Krause, Alumnus Animationsinstitut

Try to answer in three words: How do you look back on your time at Animationsinstitut?


happy, nostalgic, learning


A few more thoughts (and a very clear declaration of love):


My time at Animationsinstitut was indescribably great and important. I still sometimes can't believe that I was lucky enough to be accepted back then. The many years I studied there had a great impact on me and helped me to develop in a direction I hadn't known before. I've always been interested in many aspects of filmmaking, but it was only through my studies that I was able to find out what I wanted to focus on later.


The studies are very intense and demanding, but everyone I met there was one hundred percent on fire. The teaching and personal support with each project is incredibly good—and yet, I would say that the real strength of Animationsinstitut lies in the students themselves. The international, creative, and technical level of the students is so high that you simply can't help but make immense progress as an individual with each year.


I’m very happy where I am today and that I can make a living from my passion. Without studying at Animationsinstitut, this would not have been possible.



The three words don't really work for me either.


Looking back, it was a very carefree time. It's almost utopian how much freedom (and resources) you had at your disposal to follow your own impulse. You just have to dare following it.


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