Interview With Abel Goldfarb: “Using no dialogue was a challenge but a significant one”

Abel Goldfarb’s remarkable stop-motion and CGI animation ‘Ian’ tells the inspirational story of a real-life boy called Ian who has Cerebral Palsy. This film has won the hearts of every audience at every film festival it has screened at and now, Ian is eligible to be considered for a 2019 Oscar, which is not surprising at all. We had the pleasure of talking to the highly skilled director about what led him to start directing films, why he decided to use the combination of CGI and stop-motion to tell this story, how using no dialogue in the film makes the story more significant and what he wants people to take away from this film.

Would you like to share a bit about yourself? Where are you from? What led you to directing?

I`m from Argentina. I think I fell hopelessly in love with cinema since the first movie I ever saw, “The never-ending story” when I was 4 or 5 years old. I`ve been doing my projects for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I was lucky and some of those have some recognition. I´m really grateful that I am able to do this for a living, that is not always so easy. I`ve been doing a lot of music videos and advertising, but also leaving some space to develop the more personal and artistic things that I love.

Can you give us some details about the true story that inspired you to write this short?

Sheila (Ian’s mother), came to MUNDOLOCO CGI studio and told us about the difficulties that Ian faces every day and Gastón Gorali, the co-founder of the studio, thought that it was the kind of story that could go very well with my type of sensibility.

Sheila told us that when he first attended a rehabilitation center, kids at an elementary school across the street would mock him from behind their school fence as he entered and left. Their attitude inspired her to act. But, rather than fight ignorance with violence, Sheila wrote a book,” The Gift,” which shows a typical day of a family with a child who has a disability. Every time a kid made fun of Ian, she gave them a book. She always says that it is amazing, the positive impact the book had on them.

She wanted to turn “The Gift” into a short film to reach a bigger audience, and we all agreed it was a fantastic idea. With Gastón, we noticed that while the “The Gift” described Ian’s common day and gave the readers an idea about his difficulties, for the short film, we wanted to go back to the original situation that motivated the creation of the book, it was more powerful to connect emotionally with Ian´s feelings through that journey. From there we played with the metaphorical freedom of animation to give it a more profound meaning.

What does the wind symbolize? As well as what does the characters breaking apart symbolize?

The wind is literally and metaphorically the force that pushes him away from the group, and the place where he wants to be. It is related to the attitudes that generate that feeling of rejection.

With the little pieces, the idea is that there are many small things that are making us who we are, and those things such as values, decisions, and situations link among each other and also give us the possibility to change, redefine, grow and modify ourselves, helping us to evolve or making us take a step back. Making this pattern repeat in each one of the characters, even if they look different or come from different backgrounds, works as a factor that shows that we are unified on a more essential level. The things that unite us are much more significant than what divides us. As humans, we all have the same essence.

Do you think no dialogue makes the story?

With no dialogue, it’s a challenge, but a significant one. We try to make it as universal as possible. That’s why we use no spoken language, to avoid idiomatic or cultural barriers. We also try to keep it simple, but powerful, to approach audiences of all ages, from toddlers to seniors.

What was the most difficult obstacle in making this animation?

I would say that the hardest part was finding the way to use and take advantage of the CGI-Stop Motion mix techniques. Stop Motion and CGI, are two different universes and two different labor forces. We had to find the way to enrich from both fields. There is something about the collage that I always love, but the concept of it seems to be perfect for this particular story.

We physically constructed Stop Motion sets, which allowed us to create a lot of details playing with elements from different universes, that mixed together to grow into new forms, new shapes, and new meanings: screws become benches, guitar strings, lanterns, disposables trays, hills, among many others. We subtly let part of that visible enough so you can feel it but pick it in a second view and hide enough so that it doesn’t distract you from the narrative of the story.

Then we shot the background for every single frame, with and without character references, and with and without each prop on it. So we can work later in compositing with CGI.

The CGI characters allowed us to play with things that are really hard to make in stop-motion, like the main concept of the little pieces that the characters are made of.

Finally, Juan Elías has the difficult task of unifying everything into a unique and organic aesthetic, making everything co-exists harmoniously and empowering each other, as the main theme of the film aims to.

What message do you have for kids that are having trouble in school due to health problems?

I think the most important thing that I have to say, the message wouldn’t be for them but it would actually be for the rest of society, there is nothing wrong with kids who have health problems. If the other kids continue to pick on them and exclude them, we are failing as a society on educating these kids on serious matters. The social conventions are the ones creating barriers among us, but through an open discussion, we can work to create a better environment for them.

What are the major themes of this short?

We had the possibility to make a small contribution to a bigger cause. We try to make a significant piece, that helps to open the conversation about inclusion. We aim to give the audience a glimpse to experience the point of view of someone who struggles with a different and harder situation, hoping to help the audience connect emotionally with that. Because, despite the physical differences, we all have similar emotional needs.

What was your overall goal for this film?

If just for a moment at least, we achieve the empathy, the connection that pushes the audience to understand that, we are all equal in essence. It would be a goal fulfilled. Because essentially, the things uniting us are much more significant than the ones that divide us.

Will you be working on more animated films?

I hope so, I’m developing a feature film and a TV series. It’s a wonderful tool to narrate stories, a direct line to metaphors and emotions.

Please click here for the trailer of Ian.

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