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#ToonTalks: Matthew Wade chats his mysterious mini-masterpiece "Plena Stellarum"
Matthew Wade's 2D animated short "Plena Stellarum" recently screened at Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, after a transatlantic tour-de-force through Mexico, the UK, Spain, Germany and across the United States. The response? Nothing short of… well, stellar.
"Plena Stellarum" has no dialogue or discernible plot, instead relying on 2D animation visuals to capture —and confuse— audiences. This decided lack of direction feeds the unease bred by the film's menacing atmosphere, from its dark, retro video game aesthetic to its eerie, synthetic sound design. Wade sums it up as, "Neon ghosts dreaming in dead landscapes."
With the juxtaposition of red neon against a midnight background, it feels like an extended play of the now-iconic intro to "Stranger Things". It seems they are both homaging a similar creepiness of yesteryear, expressed as thematic throwbacks to 1980s indie and European thrillers.
Wade produced the film independently, working only with his wife and co-producer, Sara Lynch, and with sound design by childhood friend Jacob Kinch. Having learned Harmony at Vancouver Film School, he used Toon Boom software to bring his vision to life. The results speak… rather, "spook" for themselves.
We caught up with Matthew to uncover the man behind the moody masterpiece — and the brush with madness that inspired it.
What inspired Plena Stellarum — from the plot (or lack thereof) to the aesthetic?
I shot a feature film, "How the Sky Will Melt", in late 2012 on Super 8mm and had run out of funding after principal photography. It took 15 months for us to raise the additional money and get the film into post-production, and in that time I was going kind of crazy waiting. I started to work on "Plena Stellarum" in small chunks to give my creative energy something to chew on. It helped me work through my crap while kind of remaining a symbol of the anxiety I was going through at the time.
You have said that the film was about regaining a sense of control. Do you feel you achieved this?
Yes and no. Had I not needed to render something out of my madness, it would not exist. So that element of controlling something into existence was good. On the other end, it was a very organic process that took a lot of left turns and challenges for me to work through.
You were a two-man, one-woman show. What were the pros and cons of producing with such a small team?
The only obvious con is that it takes much longer to make work this way, since everyone is doing so much. But in that long time it takes to evolve something, like this film, there is a kind of atmosphere that is lent to it. The vibes of the creative and construction processes of our projects come through very strong in the feeling of the final product.
Why do you work with Toon Boom software?
I learned animation on paper and then D.I.P. in Toon Boom, so I'm very familiar with the software and all that it can do. Without blowing smoke, I just have full confidence that I can do everything I need to do, from animation to compositing, in that software alone. It makes my workflow fast and the results are always on-point.
What advice would you give young animators hoping to break into the industry and produce their own content?
It's the same answer a lot of independent filmmakers will give you: start making stuff. Nobody is going to knock on your door, hand you a bag of money and ask you to make cool stuff. You have to do it on weekends and nights, and that means sacrificing going out with friends or buying fancy new toy robots or Atari games or whatever normal people spend their money and time doing. (I wouldn't know.) Your time and energy are your biggest commodities when you are trying to make a film or write a book or do anything ambitious. Use them wisely.
*This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
We are always looking to feature work from emerging and established 2D animators through #ToonTalks! Interested in submitting? Email our editor Philip Mak at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.