Interview with Max Hattler

Max Hattler tells about the inspiration for his two Animate OPEN films, 1923 aka Heaven and 1925 aka Hell.


You made the films 1923 aka Heaven and 1925 aka Hell with student animators and CG artists at The Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark - how did that come about?

The Animation Workshop is an animation school in Denmark. In 2009, they ran a ‘film jam’, where the first and second-year BA students stopped all regular coursework and teamed up in groups to make short film projects together during just one week, with some very interesting results. So in 2010, they decided to do it again, but this time, the idea was to get outside directors in under which the students would work: Alexey Alekseev, Amy Winfrey, Jaime Caliri, Priit Tender, Tod Polson and myself.

And you made them in five days?

We only had five days, so we had to finish everything within that time frame. Not an easy task, but the students were amazing and worked incredibly hard, and luckily it was winter and it got dark very early, so no one noticed when we worked through the night... The Animation Workshop train their students extremely well in all technical aspects, and they are used to working as part of a team, so everyone hit the ground running.

The films are based on paintings by the French ‘outsider’ artist Augustin Lesage - what is it about his work that intrigued you?

The Animation Workshop had set ‘The Outsider’ as an overall theme for all the directors. I decided to look at outsider art for inspiration, as a way of making something that fit the brief, while remaining open and experimental and image-based rather than narrative-driven. When researching, I came across Augustin Lesage and I immediately fell for his obsession with symmetry and repetition, combined with his spiritualist understanding of art.

Lesage, a coal miner who picked up painting after an inner voice told him to do so, claimed never to have painted except under the explicit guidance of spirits, among them Leonardo da Vinci and Apollonius of Tyana. I liked the idea of transposing his vision of the spiritual world into a contemporary moving image context – updated through the lens of pop-cultural and art-historic references – using sound, image and movement to try and heighten the sense of the spiritual, while adhering to his parameters of symmetry.

The idea of a loop made sense in terms of extending Lesage’s patterned repetition into the dimension of time, but also as a ‘moving painting’, as well as in portraying the endless cycle – eternity – implicit in ‘the spiritual’.

You incorporate - and transform - Lesage’s images - what’s your approach to ‘appropriation’, especially in the digital age?

Nothing exists in a vacuum, everything is interconnected. Often influences are opaquely sampled, semi-consciously referenced. Sometimes it’s nice to draw direct lines. Review, remix, reappraise. What’s important is that some sort of transformation takes place, that something is changed, added. Or, as Jean-Luc Godard famously remarked, “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.”