On Saturday, the Oxford Film Festival will host a total of nine animated short films, one of which is “Two Balloons,” a whimsical stop-motion journey through the skies.
These animated short films are part of the Film Festival’s “Fest Forward” block, which is intended to “look forward to the potential future of filmmaking in both theme and practice.”
“Two Balloons” tells the story of two travelers who must overcome extreme distances, dizzying heights and deadly storms to reunite their love. This plot may sound pretty normal until realizing these two lovers are actually lemurs, and they are piloting giant airships against a beautiful dreamscape sky.
“I’d describe it as a daydream,” said Mark Smith, director, producer and writer of “Two Balloons.”
The production process of “Two Balloons” raged on for four years, taking Smith and his team of more than 60 people away from their original plan of a live action project to a wholly animated one. One of the longest scenes to shoot was an intense storm sequence that took three months to complete.
“It was one of those life experiences where I just didn’t know what I was getting into. I felt that a lot of live action would fit seamlessly into stop-motion, and some of them did, but, for the most part, I learned very quickly that stop-motion is its own language,” Smith said.
For Smith and his team, “Two Balloons” was a daunting debut into stop-motion, but they were not alone in their struggle. They had the help of experienced stop-motion animators to help their daydream come true, one of whom was Teresa Drilling, an award-winning animator who is known for her work on “Coraline” and “Anomalisa.”
“(Drilling) had never met me before, and I had never had any experience in stop-motion before, so she gave me a list of tasks that needed to be accomplished,” Smith said. “There was definitely an ambiance of speaking with a very experienced person.”
Now that the four years of tumultuous filming are over, “Two Balloons” has entered the film festival circuit, visiting Oxford Film Fest as well as many other prestigious festivals, including FlickerFest in Sydney and Clermont-Ferrand Short film festival in Clermont-Ferrand, France.
“What’s nice about film festivals is that they are a way to get your work seen, and it is the people in your community who are passionate about film that are validating the work, because they are choosing to screen it,” Smith said. “There’s no favorites or politics. There are submissions, and the work is seen by people who are not judging it by who made it or where it came from. … In short, it gives films momentum.”
“Two Balloons” animator Vanessa Pridgen will represent the short at Oxford Film Fest, and said of the many challenges associated with producing stop-motion, the problem of “breathing sets” sticks out.
“Stop-motion is a form of time-lapse photography, so it comes with a lot of similar problems that you get with time-lapse,” Pridgen said. “You get light flicker. You get ‘breathing sets’, which is set movement that happens when the temperature changes throughout the duration of shooting. The wood and materials change shape. You get dust settle. … You have to leave absolutely everything alone except for the thing that’s supposed to be moving.”
Pridgen will be involved in a Q&A panel following the Fest Forward segment on Saturday to represent “Two Balloons” and answer any questions that the audience has regarding the film and how it was made. For Pridgen, Smith and the rest of the team behind “Two Balloons,” film festival reception is a wonderful opportunity.
“I think it would be neat for people to come out with a renewed appreciation for stop-motion,” Pridgen said. “Sometimes, it’s the format people turn to because it’s ‘cool,’ but when it’s approached as an artform and given an incredible amount of care, ‘Two Balloons’ is an example of what you can do with stop-motion.”
Those wishing to learn more about “Two Balloons” in person can attend the Fest Forward segment of the Oxford Film Fest at 10:15 a.m. Saturday at Malco screen two. More information can be found at oxfordfilmfest.com.