I'm Short, Not Stupid Presents: 'Bydlo'
Bydlo is an animated nightmare, where man becomes a slave driver and ultimately drives himself into the ground. The eight-minute short, whose fitting title is the Polish word for cattle, opens with a monstrous ox forming out of the Earth. The ox is tethered to a yoke and pulls a cart that also takes shape out of the refuse. As he pulls the cart out of the dirt, he also pulls up faceless miniature men with it. With the men in the picture, the ox becomes their slave even though it is the beast that is carrying the little men forward. It’s a set for disaster, because the men push the animal to it’s limits and sacrifice each other to further their slow death march. Needless to say, things don’t end well for anybody.
With Bydlo, director Patrick Bouchard’s meticulous animation steals the show, as he breathes life into everything from water droplets forming and arid earth drying out to dozens of writhing naked bodies and one powerful beast. The short is also bolstered by the perfect music of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky. The short was inspired by the fourth movement of Modest’s Pictures at an Exhibition, which also bears the name Bydlo and is used as the short’s score.
Patrick was born in Saguenay, Quebec, in 1974. He studied at Université du Québec à Chicou-timi where he made a couple of student films. In 2002, he made The Brainwashers, a nutso, semigothic puppetry film about a musician who was falling apart. It won a bunch of awards and is amazing. All of his films are pretty dark and tormented, but they’re filled with sensitivity and love. Right now he’s working on a new animation project with Julie Roy that revolves around the combination of music and movement. As you might be able to tell, I’m all girly over Patrick’s films, so I reached out to him for a short interview about his process.
VICE: What drew you to this story?
Patrick Bouchard: It all started in 1986, in a music course I was taking in high school. The teacher played Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition to introduce us to symphonic poems. We focused especially on Bydlo, which was inspired by a Victor Hartmann drawing. It showed an ox strapped to a yoke. The teacher asked us to close our eyes and imagine the ox walking to the rhythm of the music. After that, I became interested in that piece of music, but I didn’t know I’d come up with the idea of creating images to express it 23 years later. It’s something I carried inside me for a long time without thinking it was film material. It was when I talked about it with my producer, Julie Roy, that the possibility of a project like this opened up.
What was the process of creating Bydlo?
I wanted to show real artifacts in the film, real objects that have their own stories to tell. The yoke, wheel, chains, and wood of the cart are all objects from the past that I depicted more or less in their natural states. The last part of the film is kind of in the same vein. I wanted real clay that dries naturally. The greatest challenge with that sequence was synchronizing motion and time: the amount of water in the soil so that it would crack properly, a heat source strong enough to produce the right effect, and the meter-long vertical movement of the lamp for the sun rising. We synchronized the motion-time relationship by taking a picture every 10 seconds over a period of six to eight hours. That’s the formula that makes the scene completely natural.
Were you forced to create any new techniques to complete Bydlo?
Bydlo doesn’t reinvent the stop-motion technique. It would be more accurate to say that stop motion is reinvented with each film. It’s not an exact science. The movements have to be anticipated with every shot and we have to solve problems along the way. Most of the time the solutions are specific to each shot. For example, to give the impression that the ox is rising out of the earth, several shots were animated backwards. So the shot and its splice have to be imagined in reverse. No need to tell you that’s an additional challenge, but the approach made modeling much easier.
You can check out Patrick Bouchard work and other great shorts for free at the National Film Board of Canada’s site.
Jeffrey Bowers is a tall mustached guy from Ohio who's seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as an art and film curator. He is a programmer at the Hamptons International Film Festival and screens for the Tribeca Film Festival. He also self-publishes a super fancy mixed-media art serial called PRISM index.
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