An interview with Hylas-Film

It’s always interesting to have a feedback for you – and often we are amazed to see the quality of your ideas and their execution. Recently we’ve got in touch with Phillip Halfmann of German studio Hylas-Film and get to know this collective’s work. As our communication developed, we decided to make a short interview that you can read below.
We hope you’ll find it interesting and inspiring (please do comment below) and encourage you to share your works and projects with us.
So, let’s go:

— What is Hylas-Film?
Hylas-Film is a small independent film crew of 5 people (Michael Amstad, Volker Langholz, Benjamin Lutzow, Dominik Mader and me, Philipp Halfmann) based in Berlin.

— How did it come about, that you made a music video for Bonaparte that brought you first general public attention?
— It started with us and Arish (King Khan) who had smuggled us into a backstage, where we met Tobias (Bonaparte) and his unique voice. We were immediately hooked for having him as one of the voice actors for our animated series “Circus”. So we kept in contact, and by the time he visited our studio he fell in love with the puppetry world of “Circus”. So the idea of the video for “Mañana Forever” was born.

— You mentioned “Circus”. What is it exactly?
— It’s our longterm project, which we originally founded Hylas-Film for.
“Circus” is a stop motion animated film series about a travelling circus that gets stranded in a mysterious forest.
The members of the “Circus” live together in a sort of trailer park community. Their efforts to escape this place become more and more desperate, but the forest won’t let them out of it`s snagging traps.

— Now I can see that you are German – it sounds like a Brother’s Grimm fairy tale. By the way, you had a fundraising going, is it an all independent production?
— Yes, totally. So far apart from the fundraising we have financed everything out of our pockets.
We’ve got a lot of help from friends and fellow artists we met along the way. Everybody involved is completely dedicated to the project. Some musicians like King Khan, Rummelsnuff and now Bonaparte support us as voice actors for our main characters.
Through this process many collaborations outside of “Circus” happened.

— Getting back to the “Mañana Forever”. Technically speaking, how do you get these smooth camera moves?
— We are using a self-made camera crane our friend Hans Moser helped us to build. He used to be a stop-motion cameraman in former East Germany (GDR). He is retired now. He gave us some tracks too, where the base of the crane fits on. Nothing is computerised or motion-controlled: its all handcrafted by fine adjustments you can make. The continuous backwards movement wasn’t actually achieved by moving the camera, but pushing the floor that the puppet is walking on for one millimetre each frame.

— Since the video is in one cut, what difficulties came with that?
— That was in fact very different to what we normally shoot in stop motion. In “Circus”, the longest shots are about 20 sec. Here we had monster shots of up to 2000 frames. What we did is, shooting each verse in one shot and having invisible cuts to connect them with the chorus. So, in order to time every bit with the lyrics, we had to do a lot of planning and calculating. For example, it was necessary to know when a certain object had to enter the frame in order to be on the right position in time. We felt like mathematicians. here is the link to the preview – hope you’ll like it!

— Well, you’ve done a great job. We are looking forward to see “Circus” episodes! Please keep us updated!
— Thank you – we will!

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Our trip to Prolight + Sound fair

We continue to report about our most interesting international trips. In the beginning of this year our colleagues from Russian Visual Artists team had become official and the only d3 studio in Russia. As our partners from d3 technologies visited Moscow and told us about Prolight + Sound fair in Frankfurt, we decided that we have to attend this event.

This annual exhibition is a key event in the event production industry. Prolight + Sound is the leading international trade fair for the event-technology sector and covers all products, trades and services. A broad spectrum of workshops, product presentations and discussion events are also held in addition to the comprehensive range of products and services. All big vendors demonstrated their latest equipment and solutions; meanwhile distribution companies showcased their new products in the courtyard of the venue.
The size of the exhibition is very impressive: a straight walk from the main entrance to the last pavilion without stopping took about half-an-hour while the courtyard housed about 20 full-sized concert stages.

Despite numerous premieres of new products for rigging and scenic equipment, above all, we were interested in various visual solutions for show setup.

As an example of an excellent technology demo we had seen, watch this video from PRG. They rented a whole pavilion and set up a huge stage, where they would take guests for a tour and explain how all equipment works and how it was commuted.

The show and the content were controlled through d3 servers. We believe that this demonstration perfectly shows the system’s capabilities.

d3 technologies had a booth, too. They just have announced an update to version R11 software upgrade, already available for d3 2U and d3 4U servers and d3 designer.
This version features: simultaneous playback of up to 12 HD videos (previously only 6), live update of all changes in a project on all machines in the network, new tools for projector calibration, and projection control from several computers simultaneously.
The last feature is especially interesting. If you don’t have enough time to configure a complex projection for some reason, then you can connect unlimited number of laptops with d3 designer into the d3 network and each operator can configure his projector. This resulted in time reduction that is directly proportional to the number of the operators. Great move! Currently, no other system in the world allows for this.

Our partners from Green Hippo have also updated their software to version 3.2. It now supports mapping configuration of imported 3D models (Russian Visual Artists used this feature in beta version for Qatar project), has embedded presets for quick access to configured layers, access to layers on other machines in the network, and features other improvements.

One of the pavilions was used for demonstration of light and laser effects’ generating devices. It was almost impossible to locate where the beams were coming from, but many booths were equipped with closed demonstration zones where you could see different ways of employing such devices.
These demonstrations were, probably, the most interesting part for us. As we are not into distribution or rental business, we would not elaborate onto technical details and specs – this info is available on the event and producers web sites.
What we needed to know is how and when to use different devices and what is to be combined in order to achieve the result.

For instance, TBF-Pyrotec from Germany introduced a great effect of a burning fountain. The operator can control the height of the fountain, its intensity and RGB lighting. It looked very unusual, though mind safety!

Nowadays laser technology offers broad range of creative possibilities, as you could see from a PRG demo video above. At the exhibition, a German company Lasertec-Showlaser has created a zone where laser effects were working not only in the vast space, but on theatrical nets and on water screen as well, which made them seem as 3D images.

Lasertec-Showlaser

Numerous lighting devices were introduced as well. But as we already mentioned, we are more interested in scenarios of their use rather than the devices themselves. Those could be seen in various demo shows. For example, two artists used two simple LED ticker bars for their performance:

Our visit to Prolight + Sound has resulted in new acquaintances and agreements with leaders from different spheres of A/V industry, which is very important to us. But that’s not all – our future projects will definitely feature solutions and technologies that will surprise and entertain. Prepare to be amazed! – as one of the cartoon characters used to say, and stay tuned for our and Russian Visual Artists’ updates!

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AV:in x Resonate 2013

From 21 March till 23 March this year Belgrade hosted one of the most interesting and prominent European events in new media arts – Resonate Festival. For 3 days Serbia’s capital was welcoming some of the best known and proactive digital artists, creative programmers, interactive designers, film-makers, musicians, VJs, performers and specialists audiovisual technologies, both local and foreign.
We were among them – a small team of 3 people from Audiovisual Academy and Dmitri Morozov (::vtol::) whose performance “An Autonomous Synthesis” AV:in presented at the festival.

Our first impression was as warm as the festival organizer’s reception: after Moscow’s snow and freezing -10, Belgrade greeted us with sunshine and “tropical” +14.
Alas, our weather luck didn’t last long: the next day’s temperature fell nearly to 0, it started to rain heavily and the gloomy sky reminded of a scene from some disaster movie. Fortunately, there were no tornados or falling meteors. Anyway, all the three days of the festival were so packed with events that we stayed at the venue around the clock with the exceptions for partying and sleep.

This year, Audiovisual Academy became a proud Silver partner of the event. As a result of this, we were able not only to record lectures and presentations which were presented simultaneously in different halls of Dom Omladine, but also could conveniently set up a little AV:in station, where we could communicate with our friends, lecturers, artists, visitors and journalists… and there were lots of them at the event! We and Dmitri were giving one interview after another – to WIRED magazine, an Italian TV channel, a popular local newspaper… We were happy to find out that in most of the cases we didn’t have to introduce ourselves: many people would just pop in to shake our hands and thank us for our work.
It was a great feeling and fantastic feedback – now it’s official: we don’t just broadcast into the void. It’s good to know that you watch us, read us, support us, propose new topics for lessons and share your opinions with us. Thank you very much for all your kind words!
That’s enough for the starters – let’s dive into the event itself.

Day one.
‘Chaos rulez!’ – were our first words when we went up to the second floor of Dom Omladine, where the main festival activities were taking place. It was a scene more suitable for a pedestrian crossing in Tokyo’s Shibuya, but not a sight for peaceful and calm Belgrade. Crowds – and we mean crowds – were standing on tiptoes, listening to lecturers, filming the activities, taking pictures on cameras and phones: 16 workshops simultaneously taking place in the same space – it’s not a joke!

By moving from one group to another, we’ve learned how to create digital kaleidoscopes (Digital Kaleidoscope – Richard Difford, Anne-Laure Guiot), tried to make an iPhone game (Intro to building iPhone games with openFrameworks – Zach Gage), realized that bamboo can be used not just for planting in the backyard, but as an interactive visual instrument too (Sensing touch: introduction to capacitive and electrical field sensing – Ivan Poupyrev, Jonas Loh) and finally we stopped worrying and loved the drones (How I learnt to stop worrying and love the drones – Memo Akten).

And of course, we’ve met a great number of friends and new people!

Meanwhile, the main hall held the festival opening with a welcoming speech by no other as a Serbian minister of culture amongst others and featured the screening program of the festival participants.
At Club, one could watch a series of presentations on data-art, use of Unity engine for non-gaming purposes and a talk by Julia Laub, one of the authors of “Generative Design” on creating this wonderful book. Amazing, what a student diploma project can turn into!

After a short break, we crossed our fingers – it was time for our presentation. One of the most interesting Russian media artists and Audiovisual Academy long-time collaborator, Dmitri Morozov aka ::vtol:: came on stage. He spoke about “An Autonomous Synthesis”, a unique concept which sees synthesis as generation of sounds responsible for new ideas, and autonomy as a modern form of asceticism that in this context stands for energetic and personal ascesis, creativity at any place without need for spectators and in direct connection with the location.

In Dmitri’s opinion, the practical idea of ‘autonomy’ is creation and development of energy-independent DIY-art objects. The underlying concept of this are idea of ‘autonomous systems’ – in our case, sound, interactive, and energy systems powered by solar power.

Using his own works as examples, ::vtol:: spoke about the principles of building autonomous audiovisual instruments and art objects powered by the energy of the Sun and explained how to control them. One of his first experiments in this field was ‘Heliosynth’ – a sound synthesizer which transforms energy of light into sound.

Despite the fact that solar energy can be accumulated for use in nighttime, Heliosynth was not equipped with any batteries on purpose in order to create the ‘here-and-now’ effect. The instrument was first presented at Equilibrium festival workshop in Abrau-Durso as a part of Audiovisual Academy educational program.

These ideas were later developed in Dmitri’s works. At the end of 2012, he constructed a complete setup for a musical performance, which he took to the Judean Desert. While being alone and isolated in the desert for few days, he recorded a musical album and documented this experimental performance on video. Its extended version for indoor areas was later demonstrated at CyberFest in Saint Petersburg. Watch the excerpts from those:

The presentation was warmly perceived: Dmitri spoke in front of the packed audience and was awarded with loud and well-deserved applause.

In the evening the main hall featured performances by Valens and Pantha du Prince. Later we moved on to a local club called KGB (of course!) where we stayed till 4 am, talking with friends and meeting new people.

Day two.
To tell you the truth, it was really hard to get up and the weather was not very comforting either. Only few shots of strong Turkish coffee and understanding that we can miss some interesting talks could get us going. After having some Šopský salad and other delicacies of local cuisine, we came right in time for the opening.
This day was also filled with screenings, panel discussions, meetings and networking. During the break between the morning and afternoon programs, we took some interviews. Some excerpts from our talks with Golan Levin

and Memo Akten are below.

All presentations were noteworthy but the most memorable was the closing one by Golan Levin “Blobs, Glyphs And Other Madeleines”, which received a standing ovation.
But the festival went on, and after a short cocktail party during which the participants could chat with each other and with organizers as well, we moved back into the Main Hall to watch a performance by a local Serbian acoustic electric band.
It was really impressive and energetic. But even those few who were still standing before could stay still no longer still after the heroes of the 90′-00’s electronic scene “Mouse on Mars” came on stage. Masters of the cynical beat from Cologne lived up to our expectations and proved for all that they are still holding their ground. A charismatic drummer/vocalist was added to MOM’s traditional duo line-up, with whom their sound gained a new dimension. A mind-blowing performance! Due to roaring requests of the spectators, the band didn’t go without playing few encores.

This could have been a wonderful closing of the night if it were not for our new friends from Belgrade who decided to guide us around local trendy clubs – a trip that definitely added some insights into Belgrade’s nightlife and cultural similarities between Russian and Serbian people, but ended up again in the early morning. Argh!

Day three
Apparently, we have already adjusted to this crazy cycle of learning-working-talking-meeting new people-partying, and actually felt fine.
The only issue we had that morning was – to decide who watches and films what and who stays at our home-away-from-home AV:in booth. It wasn’t easy, so we had to do a lucky draw.

And what would you choose: Cohen Van Balen’s lecture “The Machine Body” or an amazing presentation “Computing Reality” by our compatriot Ivan Poupyrev who these days heads Disney Research Labs in Pittsburgh, U.S.?
What we saw there totally changed our vision of the future again (sorry, Golan). It reminded us of the famous scene from The Matrix movie where Neo had to choose between the blue pill and the red one. Would we choose to live in a gloomy post-industrial future where our resources are used up and the reality is augmented with chips implanted into our nervous systems? Rather not. Would we choose to go back into our customary cozy world denying the new knowledge generously shared by Ivan? No way. Watch this man, he is a new Tesla.
But let’s get back to the festival – in the meantime, Club was hosting a panel discussion “Coding Narratives” with Evan Boehm, Aurlea Harvey, Michael Samyn under the chairmanship of our good old friend and tireless director of onedotzero festival Shane Walter.
Unfortunately, we could not squeeze in, as the entrance was jammed with people, so we could only stay and listen.

The festival was closing by a big party at Kluz club. This place used to be the flagship store of the Yugoslavian clothing brand – or so we were told. Some traces of its former grandeur still were there, such as oddly looking security (was Obama coming?), escalators, marble walls and a gigantic crystal chandelier to top it all – we haven’t seen any other like that one except for the Bolshoi Theatre. Hundreds of visitors and festival participants moved to the music by Jan Nemecek, Dinky, and Monosaccharide around this exotic space while sipping on their beers and chatting with each other.
Somehow we are sure to meet most of this great crowd at Resonate 2014 – no doubts we will come back to the welcoming city of Belgrade next year again!

We tried to embrace the impossible and visit all workshops, lectures, and discussions – and miserably failed. The program was so packed that it was simply out of question.
Nevertheless, we coped well and have filmed most of the events and lectures – which we already have started to publish on our web site!
Finally, we would like to express our sincere gratitude to the festival organizers Filip Visnjic, Eduard Prats Molner and Marija Manojlovic from Resonate and Creative Applications collectives and all event team members for their wonderful support and organizing such a fantastic event.
Kudos and see you next year!

Photography – Audiovisual Academy and Resonate (Luka Knežević-Strika/Milovan Milenković/Nemanja Knežević)

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