A Conversation With Marc Riedinger: Composer and Animated Filmmaker
April 13, 2009 10:47 pm
Marc Riedinger makes his living as a documentary film editor for a company in Munich, Germany. But on his own time, he's a composer of modern electronic music with several albums and collections of royalty-free music to his credit. As an outgrowth of his music, he has begun to experiment with machinima and animation, and has just released his first music video/animation titled “Keep”, using Poser, Vue, Google Sketch-Up and After Effects as his main creation tools. I think the result is excellent and shows that Marc has a lot of talent as a director, as well as a composer.
For the last week, I've had the pleasure of learning more about Marc through a series of emails that are not quite an interview; more like an exchange of ideas. We sent links to each other which led to films and videos we thought were interesting and pertained to the ideas in our email conversation. We talked about fantasy vs realism, world building, the software program Vue, abstraction in art and some personal history (among a lot of other topics).
I thought it would be interesting, since Marc's work is so creative, to present something other than the standard “Interview” format. So, I've culled through our email conversations, along with the various links we shared, and came up with a paired down version with most of what I consider to be the high points. The idea being that you can either read our conversation and follow the links we posted to each other, or just read the conversation and try the links later.
Marc has been a member of Renderosity.com for almost a year now. His gallery has a nice teaser of “Keep” along with snaps from the film as it developed. You can also check out his music collections both at his Renderosity.com store and at Marc's personal website.
OK, Marc, here's the links I'd like you to look at:
These three films are forms of real-time filmmaking (machinima). Did your desire to create animated film come from other machinima films or from music? Meaning, did you see cinema in your music or are you just trying to create what you see in your head?
It's been a long-time goal to make an animated 3d video - mainly because cg gives me the possibility to shoot stuff I can't afford otherwise and because of this I'm not that much influenced by other 3D artists, but more by real-life or stop-motion-videos. I've always loved the look and feel of cut-scenes in computer games. I don't know why they have a stronger impact on me than complete feature films in 3d.
The real thing started about a year ago with writing my last record. When it was finished, I wanted to create a platform to present it. I did a lot of music before but I only gave it to friends when it was a non-commercial project. This time I wanted some kind of showroom to get more response by other people and so I started the website project. I got responses that motivated me to go further and the end result of this is "Keep".
You asked me if my desire to create animated films comes from music or cinema. I would say it's both. The story for "Keep" was in the lyrics I wrote quite clearly, so I only had to follow this guide-line and let my subconscious do the rest ;-) The most interesting thing for me in making the film was how straight forward you can tell a story and at the same time support the music, and/or how abstract you can get with your storytelling without losing the story for the sake of the music's impact. It's a thin line between short film and music-video. I didn't know that before.
Have fun with my 3 links (btw, in your links, you picked out one of my favorite bands "Nine Inch Nails". I appreciate it.):
CG is an easier way to make 3D animated films, plus you save a ton of money. You mention stop-mo as an influence. Quay Brothers? Who are some of the filmmakers you admire there?
Yeah, definitely interesting that the music video allows for more abstraction, at least it's more acceptable in a music video than standard animation. The music seems to be the anchor while the visuals are more like a poetic response to the story/lyrics. Did you storyboard anything while making the film?
Ah, I thought I heard/saw the NIN influence in your music/aesthetic. Mine, too. The vid you saw, "Only", is by a good friend of mine who loves NIN music deeply. He's also one of the most talented machinima filmmakers around (Phil Rice). If you get the itch, explore his site as "Only" is just one of dozens of films he's done. Just finished the "Jeremy" vid (great great great). Have always found that song haunting, but the vid makes it even better. Nice link. Here's a quick response.
To be honest, I absolutely dislike Poser and its interface. It's probably the most un-organic and un-handy tool I've come across. I started this whole cg stuff with stumbling across a web-presentation of Vue5, downloaded their trial, playing around, bought esprit and so forth. And I really love this software and its uncomplicated and easy to learn approach.
I learned film and video editing for 3 years and had some education in 3d with 3dmax and a bit of CINEMA 4D and although I always loved the idea of creating a world from scratch, I never wanted to spend so much time on learning it.
Vue seemed so easy, yet having a lot of control on what you're doing. The only thing missing was a way to create/animate characters, which led me to Poser...
In the case of 'Keep', I simply used g2simon and modified his face in the faceroom to make him look older, and used some morphs to make him chubby. The girl is a modification of v4. For I dislike Poser's tools and interface I tried to focus on the animation of the camera in Vue (where I did all the setting, lighting and rendering) to blur a bit the line between character and camera animation and to make them look more smoothly than the pure animated characters actually are. I also used animated lights to strengthen that effect. Not only to hide my weaker character-animation skills, but I watched a lot of music videos as a research, and what I discovered in nearly every one is that the camera's always moving and that most of the time there is something going on with the lights or in the background. So you always see movement in 3 dimensions: the action taking place in front of the camera, the movement of the camera itself and some rhythmic elements like flickering lights or pulsating backgrounds or post-effects etc.
As you know, my everyday job is to edit films - mostly documentaries for tv and they are never storyboarded but come to life through responding to tons of material and trying - pretty much like a sculptor - to give it a shape. So the basic thing is to throw away stuff. I knew that this approach wouldn't work for 3d, because I'm not patient enough to build and render tons of shots just to throw them away. So I did some very rudimentary storyboarding for verse1 and chorus1. In fact, I threw half of the shots away because I recognized in the first editing process that I simply did too many shots, which led to a high cut-frequency. Way too high to follow the story and too fast for the song. So I worked on the rest without any storyboarding.
You asked me which stop-mo films or directors I like, and there are basically two: Tim Burton and his 'Nightmare Before Christmas,' and the guy - sorry forgot his name - who directed the Tool video I sent you (Note from Ricky: It was Adam Jones, the Tool guitar player). I really really love this stuff. All these distorted perspectives, harsh contrasts, edgy movements and a great blend between film and theater worlds... and - especially on Tool videos - their enigmatic quality. The videos seem like puzzles not meant to be solved, but tense enough to dive into them. It's almost hypnotic and this is - in my p.o.v. - what every good film/video/music/artwork should be.
To name a few different visual influences: Rene Magritte, HR Giger, german film expressionism (Murnau, Fritz Lang), Orson Welles, the Qatsi-Trilogy, Marilyn Manson videos, David Lynch.
Musically: Phil Glass, NIN, Peter Gabriel.
They all have the same thing in common: they stretch and distort reality (object, time and space) and/or use real things in new ways to distort their meaning, offering reflection spaces. You see, 'abstraction' seems to run the motor here. At least, this is what comes to my mind while I'm writing this.
@Bukowski/Nine Inch Nails
This is an experimental clip I worked on as a composer/sound designer, and refers to the Nine Inch Nails influence. The director Agnieska Kruczek is a very talented animator and she has a wonderful clip called 'Wojna' you can check out here.
Btw, I loved that Bukowski poem. I also really liked 'The Ship' for its cinematic quality.
Marc, the Tool video was very well done. I've always been a big fan of Tool and to see their music combined with creepy stop motion is fascinating. I think stop motion is a perfect means of expressing their music style and ideas. This video reminded me a bit of the Brothers Quay, American twins who have been making stop motion films (and two live action ones) for over three decades. Their film, "Street of Crocodiles" is a seminal stop motion film that has influenced many artists, including the folks who made this Tool vid. Check out some scenes from Crocodiles. Wonderful set of DVD's released last year cover their entire career.
From "Street of Crocodiles" by Quay Bros
I know what you mean about Poser. I've found it difficult to work with, although it produces wonderful results and has a huge community behind it.
@ fast cutting/ abstraction
Fascinating comments about researching music videos and finding that fast cutting with lots of camera movement is the main aesthetic. I can see how you worked it in Keep. The Fantomas video seemed to have a much slower pace though. I wonder if the fast cutting is really more of an accepted style, but not necessarily right for every story/subject. Abstraction is my interest as well. I wonder if realism has become the defacto form since television does it so well with all of the realistic melodramas that are such a success (bores the hell out of me though).
I think that modernism (Klee, Munch, Pollack, etc.,) was about the same kind of thing; not a reflection of what is real, but how we imagine reality. Internal states of feeling/thinking and not trying to paint/record exactly what you see in front of you. Besides, don't we always add our imagination to even the most realistic works of art? Rembrandt's faces look realistic, but compared to every day faces they are fantastically strange and poetic.
For me, imagination is more important than re-creation.
An artist I've been following for the last several years is M Dot Strange. He began a regular video blog on youtube about making his own stop motion film, "We are the Strange" several years ago. He submitted it to Sundance and it was accepted, but he had to bust his ass to get it done. Finally, at a Sundance midnight screening, half the audience walked out (but the other half loved it). He realized that he real audience is on the internet, so he's working on a new film shot mostly in Cinema 4D and is touring around the world talking about how to create your own indie animations.
It's odd, but I love work like this every bit as much as Pixar films. It's something about originality that really pulls me into a world and makes me want to walk around in it.
PS. Oh, how long did "Keep" take to put together? How much post production did you do?
Thank you so much for sending me the link to "Street of Crocodiles" and, please, simply forget about the Tool video. It is nothing compared to the awesome world these Quay Brothers created. And more important than that, it simply seems to be copied from them. I just ordered the dvd collection of the Quay films and can't wait to suck them in my brain. Thanx again. Opened up a new universe in my mind.
Watching the trailers for 'We Are the Strange' reminded me of maybe the key-story to everything in this genre: Alice in Wonderland. The dark world behind the mirror and with this, underneath our own second face. I've never been into fantasy and not too much into horror, but always into stories/films/art that deal with humans ambivalence and the world of dreams as a subconscious expression.
Last year I spent some days in Vienna with a friend and we visited the Siegmund Freud museum there. I knew he was a big influence for every imaginable art form in the 20's and following of the last century. The museum was his own apartment with his library and workrooms. I bought some books there mainly dealing with the psychological aspect of art and recognized that the main motivation to make films - especially the very first ones - was to create a fascinating, unreal world, or at least a so highly compressed version of reality that it seemed unreal. Starting with the "le voyage dans la lune" by george melies 1902, and continuing with a lot of attempts to recreate dreams in surrealistic short-films in the 20's.
Freud not only collected such films, but used them to analyze the 'dream-world' and the behaviour of the human-self in his/her self-created mind-universe. It's really been a thrill and it shows that you are very right when you said in your last mail, that imagination is more important than re-creation. Thank you for that. I absolutely agree with it.
When I work on documentaries and/or work with journalists on tv-reports the thing we always discuss is objectivity. Most film theoretics and professors define a documentary film as the most objective view on a certain issue or story as possible. So a very pure documentary - at least in theory - shouldn't have any cuts within scenes, because they always manipulate the view on it. They shorten or lengthen what's happening, or e.g., showing you close-ups which lead the audience's opinion on something. The camera should always be a wide-shot and on eye-level.
Everyone knows that this is not tv-reality and that it would be extremely boring to watch an unedited film in only one wide-shot. But, there were some attempts to create the ultimate objectivity and everybody failed. It simply is not possible to leave your own view on things out. Even how the cameraman frames and how light or dark he creates a scene is an interpretation of reality. So I do again agree with you when you said we always add our imagination to even the most realistic works of art.
@Keep - timeframe, post
I started some test-scenes in January. Mostly working on the hand-held dvcam camera animation. I didn't work every day on it, but all in all it took me until March to complete it. So, I'd say 3 months of very inconsistent working.
I didn't do too much post-production. I used scanlines, grain and grid-work on the dv-shots and did some color-correction on the whole thing. In some cases I pushed the lights with a gentle glow.
I'm glad you're fascinated by the Fantomas video. When I began researching, I simply searched for "music videos" on youtube and clicked on every link that seemed interesting. And one of them was the Fantomas video.
Oh btw, do you know the work of Enki Bilal? Not the best story-teller in the world, but a visionary artist.
@ Alice & Freud
You are so right about Alice. It is really a touchstone work of art for so many creative people. I've always been fascinated (and frightened of) the world on the other side of the mirror. I grew up reading books and read science fiction early. I'd look up at the stars and imagine flying out among the galaxies. I'm sure Dr. Freud would have some pointed comments about those fantasies!
I envy your trip to Vienna to see Freud's office. I can only look at pictures in books. While there has been a backlash on Freud here in the states (we are very stupid when it comes to sex here in the U.S., at least the general public is), but after reading Peter Gay's wonderful biography of Freud and studying him closely (and his arch enemy, Jung), I've come away with a healthy respect for the subconscious and value it highly in my acting work (and in animation). I've got a great love of psychology books as well. Ernest Becker's Denial of Death and R.D. Laing's Politics of Experience are two of my favorites.
I was very impressed with that hand-held style you talked about in answering my post production question. Can you tell me more about how you accomplished it? Even though you might not think your post work was alot, "Keep" has a rich, hand-made look to it. The scanlines, glow, etc., really take the look (and style) away from the generic Poser model look. Were you just reacting to the visuals you had, or was most of these effects planned? I suspect you added them improvisationally...?
And how much does your professional work carry over into your personal work on film at home? Do you use some of your equipment at work?
@ Bilal and Beyond
I love Bilal's work. I have quite a few of the graphic novels (the Nikopol trilogy is amazing) and, of course, "Immortel", a flawed, but beautiful film. I'm told there is a PC game of the film, but haven't seen anything of it yet. His style is very much what I'm aiming for in adapting Macbeth to a scifi/Gothic setting in Unreal 3.
@ Wrapping up
I have a feeling we could go on like this for several weeks, since we share a lot of the same interests and ideas, but I've got to get this mass of material organized into some kind of article. How about we finish with your next response?
What I'd like to know about is how you became interested in art? Did it come to you through a special teacher (it worked that way for me). I'm also very impressed with your musical talent, did you learn about music in school or are you mostly self taught? What kind of equipment/software do you use to create your music?
And, finally, where do you see yourself going in the future? Will you continue to work in documentary editing (have any desire to make your own documentary?) or will you be moving toward animation as a career?
What's Munich like to live in as a city? Is that where you grew up? Also, who designed your website (it's great!)?
I've ordered a copy of your album "The Room" (preview music is wonderful). Can you give me some background on how the album came together?
Finally, finally (sorry for so many questions, Marc), tell me what you think about Renderosity. Why did you join? Has it helped you in promoting your work?
Still from Marc's video "Keep"
Okay Ricky, let's wrap it up. Take a seat, it could be a long read with answering all your questions. Btw, I already thought about you working all this material into an article. I'm really looking forward to seeing what you create with all this. It's definitely far more work for you than just editing a classic Q&A thing.
@Keep, dvcam-handheld style and post
I worked on the handheld-style camera animation with alot of randomness to get it as realistic as possible. Vue has the incredible feature to implement filters into all kinds of things: materials, light behaviours and animations. So I used maybe 4-5 keyframes per shot for the camera to make sure that I have some specific moments in frame that I wanted to see in the final animation. After that I tried some filters (in other applications they often are called 'timesplines') and added some general vibration (very low frequency with a high amplitude) to the cam to get the randomness I was looking for. I used the vibration-feature for nearly every shot to get a more 'breathing' image.
The vfx-postwork was half planned and half improvised. The dv-style was planned and obvious. You need some desaturation with high contrasts and low light to get the feeling of a night-scene with lots of dark and washed out areas in your image. Then I added a grid, a timecode window and text. On top of this some grain and at last I added the scanlines. I chose this fx hierarchy to make sure that source image, text and grid are effected by the grain and the scanlines. This workflow creates a far more believable look and kind of bakes together the single components to one new image.
I knew how to do this, because I work alot with effects in my day-job, on trailers and, some years ago, on visual fx for a children's program. And since summer last year I'm doing workshops for other editors on visual fx.
Working on the levels, color and lights was far more improvisational and took me some time. I took some scenes and tried out different looks. Different levels of saturation and tinting. In the end I decided to de-saturate and to give most scenes a golden tint to separate them from the bluish dv-cam scenes and the red 'mother' scenes. The light glow I added on some scenes not only pushed the lights, but it created some softness in the hard-contrasted images without making the image greyish. In some cases I even blurred/glowed the darks to soften hard edges while preserving the contrast.
This created the more natural and hand-made look, compared to the ultra-perfect and, imo, plastic look Poser creates.
Maybe this partly answers your question on how much carries over from work. Most of the things I know about filmmaking or creating visual stuff I learned, and still learn, in my day-job with simply working on it.
@home, Munich and how it all began
There's not much to say about Munich. It's a nice, but expensive, city and I'm living there mostly for job-reasons. I grew up about a 4-hour drive away from Munich in the german southwest, known all over the world as the Black Forest. You know, the cherry-cake thing and cuckoo-clocks and all this. In a very tiny village (with a population of about 200 people). Lots of hills, of course lots of woods, not much light, not much culture or art. And it's the classic story of a boy who dreamed himself out of this small world which neither he understands nor understands him. (sorry for using cliches, but it's the truth).
Music these days was a way to communicate thoughts and emotions I couldn't express otherwise (well as it often is today), simply because I didn't really see what's going on, but feeling uncomfortable. In a world I didn't understand and disliked, I could build one of my own, with sounds.
I had a personal teacher when I started with music. I learned playing the organ from him. He was very strict, working much more on technical stuff with me than on musical works. I had no repertoire, and whenever people wanted to hear me playing something, I had to improvise. And this became my form of self-expression, improvisation. The more I improvised, the more often short phrases began to reoccur and I began to write them down and this is where I began to compose music. I never learned it from anybody, and not even my organ trainer wanted to hear what I was doing, but it simply felt right and natural. And I still compose this way, for every other method I heard or read about always felt unnatural to me.
When I learned the film-editing, it was my first real contact with the art of imagery and the endless creative possibilities of multimedia. I had the chance to meet people doing all kinds of things (directors, cameramen, film composers, of course editors and so forth), learning from them and trying to adapt it in my personal creative work that slowly expanded from only music work, to graphical work.
By the time I moved to Munich to learn film editing, I mostly worked on electronic music. I was (and still am) fascinated by the fat and complex rhythmic structures of acts like Nine Inch Nails, Chemical Brothers, Prodigy and general remix work. I also played guitar and keyboards in a gothic electro duo, so my sound palette was kind of obvious.
Someday I got really bored of this narrow sound-world. Everything seemed to only focus on the technical aspects of music-production. Like which drum-machine you use, which synthie soundpads, how to compress the master to get that fat and professional sound...
I wanted to get away from that and set myself a goal: I wanted a full record, where every song was written and performed on a simple acoustic guitar with a garage band sound. Only guitar, bass, acoustic drums and sometimes a piano, without any effect-processing and synthie or drum machine work. I did this because I wanted to figure out if I was still able to write songs rather than arrangements. The recording turned out to be quite good. It sounded more personal, more believable, and I got much more responses by friends than with my other over-produced recordings. It's called "No Violins".
Next, I wanted to keep the writing process and the singer/songwriter feel, but combine it with more complex arrangements and use the production skills of my earlier work to create a record that sounded professional, while preserving the personal aspects. And this one's "The Room".
Last year, I tried to again preserve the singer/songwriter, but to get more conceptual and experimental in sound - returning to the electronic roots - and it turned out to be "Major and Other Minor Catastrophes", where 'Keep' is from.
Now I have the strong feeling that the circle's been closed and I'm very interested where my musical mind is taking me next time.
@musical equipment and website
I'm using a firewire audio-interface by Presonus, a midi master-keyboard by M-Audio, several guitars, an electronic bass, some percussion stuff, my mike and a laptop with samplitude plus several instruments and plugins to do all this. Nothing really fancy and everything in my apartment to be able to work as intuitively and fast as possible.
You asked me who designed my website. It's me, and thanx for liking it. It's been a lot of work, because I really had no idea how to do this. I did some planning on paper - how many pages and which linking hierarchy - and then googling the hell out of me to learn how to do it. I downloaded the free web design tool 'Kompozer' and simply did it, for none of my friends is really into web design and such.
Right now I began sketching some scenes for a second music video in a similar style like 'Keep'. It will be called 'The Gun' and you can hear the song on my myspace-page. After that I'll be writing music again. I'm starting to miss it after all this imagery stuff.
My professional future is kind of open. I have a nice and safe job here in Munich, but I'm sure I won't rest here until retirement. Since I started my website in November last year, and in becoming more active in presenting my work online - e.g. on Renderosity - I got so many responses and ideas in kind of every creative direction. I don't want to nail one thing, but try to stay open to everything interesting that crosses my path. Besides, I'm not a guy with plans. I always think and act intuitively, and it's turned out to work really well.
Renderosity was the first online address I felt comfortable with and I used it mostly for buying 3d content and watching the galleries. Since fall last year, I use it as a platform to present my own work and to sell my royalty-free music collections. And comparing to other online marketplaces, it is definitely the nicest and most uncomplicated way, not only to promote yourself, but to get in contact with other artists. A lot of honesty here. At least that's what I've experienced.
It's been a great pleasure talking to you and I hope that at some point we'll meet again in a creative process.
I deeply appreciate your open-mindedness and interest, and like to thank you for a couple of really idea-generating and nice emails.
Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.
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"To be honest, I absolutely dislike Poser and its interface. It's probably the most un-organic and un-handy tool I've come across." Amen, brother. I've had P6 and P7, and I still have not mastered any but the most basic of functions, if that. It has to be the least intuitive and most confusing of softwares I've ever dealt with. Clothing color mat poses will work in the Pose Room, but not hair color mat poses? Materials applied to hair can only be viewed after rendering? Hair can be a figure, a hair object, or a prop? No wonder stores like DAZ, Renderosity, Renderotica, et al., can thrive - there's just too steep a learning curve involved: it's just easier to buy what you need, instead of ploughing through the minutia of the manual (the index is less than helpful) to learn to do it yourself.