Interview
Shane Acker
© Shane Acker
Emru Townsend: Did you ever see, in the early '90s on Liquid Television, Æon Flux

Shane Acker: Yeah. I mean, I grew up with the stuff. And that's where I saw the Brothers Quay stuff, they did little snippets for that as well.

What's great about that stuff, is it really inspires you as an independent filmmaker. Because largely that stuff was done with little or no budget, very small crews that were making this stuff. But at the same time, they were allowing their voice to be heard through this medium. As an artist, it's always about, you make the work to be seen. Animation is one of those mediums that allows your work to travel around the world and get in front of thousands, perhaps millions of people, and they get that experience. And so I think as an artist, it's really rewarding to know that something you make has a possibility of going out and being experienced by a lot of people. Which is also a good idea for making things without dialogue, because it immediately becomes a universal art project that can go anywhere, and you can concentrate on universal themes, people from different cultures, with different languages, can also have a similar experience watching the film.

One of the other influences you mentioned was Moebius's work, Arzak. Were you also reading European comics at the time?

My art instructors were comic books. I would go and grab comic books, and I would grab unusual comic books because I was always drawn to the artwork more than the stories. My brother would collect, you know, Spider-Man and all these things because he was drawn to the stories and the characters, and I was always drawn to different, inventive techniques in illustration because I would take that and I would draw and emulate from that and learn technique from those drawings. I started reading Heavy Metal magazine really early because I think there's such a rich culture of the graphic novel that comes out of Europe and all these amazing artists with crazy imaginations like Moebius and stuff like that. Those were kind of my mentors. Also, the great thing about the Arzak collection of stories that he's done over the years is that there is no dialogue. It's all just told through the staging and through the imagery and the way he presents the story just through the drawings. And again, looking at this idea of economy, how can I do a film without dialogue? That immediately came to mind, so I started revisiting those and exploring those for different story ideas and for different techniques for delivering a story without dialogue.

So let's look at 9, then. What inspired you to create 9 in the first place? You talked yesterday about the different things that gave you inspiration for the story, but was it something where you saw these themes and it sort of just coalesced, or was it, I want to make a story, and you started casting about and looking at what you liked about the different things that you'd seen?

Well, I was in school, and so we were required to make films. I'd just finished one 2D short, and I'd learned a lot about 3D modelling and visualization when I was in architecture school and I was ready, chomping at the bit to get into 3D animation, which was an incredibly daunting thing because we didn't really have a very strong program in 3D animation at the school. But I always sort of go to complicated areas because I always like to push myself as an artist.

I knew the medium, and I started looking around at was being done with the medium, and I didn't see a whole lot of stuff out there that was really speaking my language, that really had a voice that I was interested in. And so I found a lot of interest was coming out this Eastern European stop-motion animation. Those things really spoke to me. And so the concept was, can I take this kind of sensibility and can I put it into this 3D medium, this 3D technique. Because a lot of the stuff that was coming out was cheerful colours, brightly lit, talking animals, and things like this, and I just had a knee-jerk reaction. Look at this amazing medium—I mean, what's great about 3D is how it frees up the camera, it frees up the physical limitations that you have on a stop-motion set, and allows you to really explore the cinematic space without all that kind of constraint about overhead. So I was like, okay, I want to push it into this dark, textured, metaphoric world, but I want to do it in the 3D medium, where I have so much more freedom to explore, more concrete cinematography and stuff like that. So that's kind of where my head was, and so then I started thinking along the lines of economy and the kind of story I wanted to tell. My first film was sort of slapstick comedy, [so] I wanted to do something much more dramatic that showed off my talents as a narrative director, a dramatic director. I wanted to make something that had all the elements of movies that I liked, had the suspense, had the horror film aspect, had the really exciting chase sequence, a lot of action, but also had this really human resonance and was spiritual in some sense. And so that's kind of where I started constructing the story, based on these kinds of ideas, and this theme of the pen is mightier than the sword, or sort of the underdog, the David versus Goliath, the small, the meek, can overcome this powerful machine that's pursuing him. So I kind of took those themes and a lot of imagery and ideas that I had, and kind of just started constructing the story out of that.

I think I approach filmmaking like I do with architecture. It's a very designed thing for me. It's not like I wake up one day and there's the movie that's in my head. I think about what are the things I want to say, what are the territories I want to explore, and then I begin to start constructing it based on these ideas. I think it's a different approach than some other artists have when they approach their material. I think what's great about it is that everything is always a process, and I don't get too committed to anything I do. I allow people to come and take a look at it and completely tear it apart and completely destroy it. And I'm always constantly questioning myself too, and that's great, because you know that in the end it's going to be a much better result from going through that kind of a process without being steadfast to that one idea that you just can't shake out of your head.
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