Anyone who's watched an 80s horror flick will tell you, "Don't enter the haunted house." Apparently no one told Bird or Lion, the protagonists of a new hybrid animation by Berlin director Jan Koester and animation house Talking Animals. The Pine Tree Villa is a ghost story with a Studio Ghibli-flavored twist, rendered in 2,000 frames of beautiful watercolors painted directly onto rolls of live-action film. Each brush stroke covers every detail except the characters' custom animal masks, drawing viewers into a world of spirits, irresistable magic, temptation, and the struggle for survival.
Before you can say, "Don't enter the spooky forest," Bird and Lion become ensared by a villain whose piano music disarms trespassers with uncontrollably joyous dance. Too tired to defend themselves, they're easily robbed of their animal masks and turned into obedient workers, á la Yubaaba's bathhouse in Spirited Away. "After some time I figured out that [the film] actually was about addiction. I grew up in a family where addiction was an issue and I myself have had problems with drugs," Koester tells The Creators Project. These days, thoughm his drug of choice is animating. He says The Pine Tree Villa "was too much work. But I love painting and I always felt that digital painting cannot replace the traditional."
The combination of today's animation software and a desire to get away from slick CGI films has inspired a fleet of "living painting" animators. Along with Koester, artists like Lauren Gregory, whose improvisational animated GIFs and music videos for artists like Toro y Moi are hand-painted, and animation houses like Breakthru Films, a factory-style studio making a Vincent van Gogh biography from thousands of oil paintings, are uniting the two mediums.
Koester cites a handful of filmmakers who drove him toward this style. "Hayao Miyazaki is a big one. The way he tells stories is inspiring and the worlds he creates are stunning," he says. While Miyazaki is currently working on his first 3D computer animation, he's long been a champion of hand-drawn film, and his presence is felt in the lush woods and Kodama-like light spirits in Koester's film. In terms of rhythm, framing, and other cinematic essentials, Koester draws on a heavy-hitter of live-action filmmaking, Birdman and The Revenant director Alejandro G. Inarritu. The Pine Tree Villa is stunning to look at on a purely visual level, but even more thrilling when seen as the product of so many technological and narrative advancement in the past few decades. Watch the film's trailer below.
The Pine Tree Villa is currently doing the festival circuit through Toronto, Chicago, Hamburg, and more. Stay up to date with the film and check out more of Jan Koester's work on the Talking Animals website.