As well as being a long time Social, James Stewart is the founder of Geneva Film Co, a company who have been responsible for driving innovation forward within the film industry, particularly in the 3D space. We caught up with James to talk about his latest stop-motion animated short Foxed! which will be redeveloped as a feature film with an accompanying VR experience for Oculus Rift.
Where did the idea for Foxed! come from?
I always wanted to make a film like Coraline and as my directing work evolved from live action to visual effects, 3D, motion capture and other new tech, I felt I had the chops to take on something like stop-motion 3D. In so many ways it was going back to basics and shooting frame by frame with a DSLR even though it was 3D and on a motion control unit. From a story point of view, I wanted to tell a story about human darkness and how we find the courage to face it.
The film has a really dark feeling to it, what was the inspiration for this route?
Everyone had a certain level of darkness in his or her lives – fear, trauma, insecurity…whatever. By creating a world controlled by “foxes”, I created an allegory for the way each one of us deals with something that has scared us or somehow changed that way we live our lives. Some of us have real trauma in our lives or in our past. Others have minor issues. Either way the “foxes” in our life need to be stared down and confronted in order to move forward. In the short film, Emily has the strength to rise up and run but her story as with human challenge never ends. It isn’t really a story about a girl being kidnapped by foxes…
What have been the biggest challenges during the project?
Our biggest challenge was creating animated word that would have an organic feeling. In this era of CG animation, going back to stop-motion seemed like a step back in time – until you realize that you are creating a beautiful art form that cannot be naturally created in CG. We use real sets, scale models and character so the process resembled live-action more than working in a computer environment. The animators acted out the character movements and we shot frame by frame. Time consuming – yes – but well worth it. Surprisingly the hardest shot was the one that looks hand-held. This would be easy in live-action, difficult frame by frame.
What have you learnt throughout this project?
I learned that even though most of the team works in advertising day-to-day, interesting creative could come out of a blank canvas that has no client. Giving advertising creative the chance to make art is powerful and rewarding for all involved. In this time when production tools are easier to find, telling creatives to make a short film really gets them motivated.
What do you think the future of 3D film looks like?
I made this film as a teaser for a larger feature film that I have written. It too will be in 3D. I believe in the power of 3D as an immersive platform that keeps growing every year. The ad world has been slow to adopt 3D but VR and movies continue to push the format forward. Films like Life of Pi, Gravity showed that immersive storytelling in 3D is alive and well. This year we will see Ridley Scott’s The Martian and Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk pushing the limits of cinema… and there are three new Star Wars films and three more Avatars coming in the next few years, so the 3D format is not going anywhere.
What impact do you think VR is going to have on the film industry?
I think VR is the next platform for storytelling. Like web, then mobile, VR will change screen content and give viewers an active part in experiencing stories. The next evolution of storytelling from commercials to web films to visual design and animation will be non-linear and 360 experiences. The VR display format will change many times in the next decade, but HMD or “head mounted display” is the future of content deliver for sure. We just need to find a way to experience great stories and live our lives at the same time.
What are the most interesting things happening in Toronto right now?
Toronto has grown into the capital of content. There has always been strong film aka movie industry here but all platforms are now growing as fast. We see web films, 360, VR, drone, documentaries, music, poetry, technology as well as regular dramas being produced by everyone. Toronto is like a time-lapses film of creativity.
What’s the best piece of advice that you have ever been given?
Never stop learning
What else have you seen recently that has made you think F**k that’s good?
Graham Fink drawing with his eyes. It made me think of the Julian Schnabel’s Butterfly and the Diving Bell. If you can blink a novel, and now draw with your eyes, our imagination will never be physically contained.