Thursday, 14 June 2012


Short films are the red-headed bastard step-children of feature-length motion pictures.  Over the years they’ve been relegated to the realm of experiment and curiosity.  All too often they’re half-hearted exercises produced by eager amateurs just  trying to get a foot in the door.  It’s obvious they’d rather be doing something else entirely.  It’s a rare feat when a short is able to convey a fully realized story, let alone display professional-quality production values.  But The Girl and the Fox, a new animated short from the talented team at Base 14, manages to do both, embracing short form storytelling with quiet confidence and gentle observation.  It’s a sublime marriage of image and idea that evokes the films of Hayao Miyazaki.   Although, director Tyler Kupferer hadn’t seen any of the Japanese master’s work when he began developing the story.

Kupferer had an all-American upbringing in Columbus, Indiana, weaned on Simpsons reruns and newspaper comic-strips.  He grew up on a lake, where his family took full advantage of their surroundings.  Hiking, fishing and sledding were central childhood activities for Kupferer.  And you can see his affinity for the outdoors in every frame of The Girl and the Fox.  In addition to telling a charming tale warmed by magic realism, the film also reflects his heartland upbringing.

Writer/Director, Tyler Kupferer

Kupferer displayed his creative side at an early age, but his life almost took another, more logical path.  “I was good enough at math and science that I almost became an engineer, but I was fortunate to work in an engineering company the summer after high school and realized I hated it.”  Instead, he decided to study computer graphics at Purdue.  After his experience at the Big 10 university he relocated to Georgia where he pursued his Masters Degree.  Kupferer eventually moved over to animation at Savannah’s College of Art and Design, a school renowned for its graduate film and television program.  “In the end Purdue gave me the technical skills and leadership to know how to make films, and SCAD gave me the actual talent to make good ones. It took a while but in the end I'm glad I stayed in school long enough to produce something I can be proud of.”

Duck Heart Teslacoil (2009)

Before he was a serious filmmaker, he drew a daily comic for his college newspaper, which was heavily influenced by the writings of Scott McCloud and work of Bill Watterson (Calvin And Hobbes).  When he made Duck Heart Teslacoil, he drew inspiration from the award-winning animator, Don Hertzfeldt.  “Obviously not aesthetic-wise, but in a sense of timing and using pregnant pauses to build suspense and comedic effect. I simply carried this over into The Girl and the Fox and applied it in a dramatic way instead of comedic, and it worked."

The original idea for The Girl and the Fox hit Kupferer in September 2009.  He spent five months working 60 hours weeks, directing a crew of about 50 dedicated artists, putting the film ahead of his studies and social life.  Employing a seamless blend of old and new animation techniques, the film was drawn by hand, which was achieved primarily using Adobe Flash, a program not actually designed for hand-drawn animation.  This decision was made based on the team's access to the software.  Flash was at their disposal in nearly every lab on campus, which allowed them to work around the clock.  All the painting was done in Flash, completely frame-by-frame and by hand, which took an enormous amount of manpower.  Any limitations encountered as a result of using Flash (bad color management, terrible line fidelity and no opacity options) were availed with Toon Boom, a program tailored specifically for animation.  Base 14’s next film, Rain Dance will be completed entirely with Toon Boom.  

The Girl and the Fox (2011)

Kupferer says the experience was simultaneously thrilling and exhausting.  He spent the majority of his time directing others and not doing any real animation or painting himself, which he found extremely difficult.  “But directing a team of real artists was probably the most fun I've ever had.  I like inspiring and motivating others and I like creating cool, artistic stuff, so this sort of project really appealed to me.”  Once the main crew had moved on to other projects, he flew solo for about two months, polishing and touching up every part of the film in an effort to create a flow between shots.  He picked it up again earlier this year, to do some re-scoring and color-correction, minor tweaks compared to the principal production.  The festival cut of the film was finished in January 2011.   

The Girl and the Fox is touring all summer long, including a stop at the Toronto Animation Arts Festival International in July.  At which point, Rain Dance should be finished and ready to jump immediately into the fall festival circuit.  After that, Kupferer has no intention of resting.  He plans on developing some new ideas and doing a lot of writing.  “Sitting on your laurels is like sitting in a lawn chair.  It's a lot more comfortable than standing, but long term, not nearly as productive as getting up and walking to somewhere with real seating."  

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