Web Series & Comedy

Thursday, August 15, 2019

8:15 PM 9:55 PM

Your film is unique, fun, and also poignant in its subject matter; following the journey of “Phoebe the fish” and her experiences in human college. Why this story told in such an original way?

Making the main character a fish gave the story a lot more opportunities and allowed it to be more universal. We wanted to create a character so adorable and lovable that you like her the very first moment you see her. Which makes it all the more frustrating when other characters are so mean to her - simply for being who she is. Which is such a big problem in society today. We are quick to judge others for how they look rather than seeing the person they are. Also, in making her a fish she can be substituted with any minority and the story still rings somewhat true. She can be substituted with a person of color, LGBTQ+ member, or a person with a disability. No matter the substitution she is still unable to find friends because of the way she looks and acts. I think it reaches wider audiences because more groups can see themselves in her. Since she is a fish she doesn't have a label - she is a blank slate that anyone who hasn't fit in can put themselves onto and cheer for her when she sticks up for herself and loves herself for the way she is. 

There is great animation & special effects in your short, tell us about the process of creating these characters & scenes. How long have you been working within animation?

Phoebe is an animatronic puppet. I designed her from scratch and worked with a special effects team to bring her to life. She was going to be more "Muppety" at first but her head ended up being so heavy (since her eyes are bigger than pool balls) we decided on animatronic eyes and a cable for her mouth. The whole design process probably took a couple months. And her body is controlled with green screen rods that are taken out with VFX in post production.

Working with a puppet was such an amazing and challenging experience. When you put her in a scene with a live action person it is two different worlds. On one side you have to focus on emotions and blocking with your live actor. And on the other you have to figure out the physical traits of the emotion Phoebe's feeling and perform it with three puppeteers. All of which are trying to time their job together to perform one whole organic action. Even at times I had to puppeteer while directing the actor and directing the puppet depending on the complexity of her movements. Everything had to be storyboarded out for her - she's such a diva. A puppet's actions are so limited that you have to break down the movements into different pieces in different shots. It's almost as if you are making the editing choices while on set. Luckily for me I had an amazing team and our lead actor, Stephen Peck, worked incredibly well with a puppet that was also attached to three grown men all the time. We believed Phoebe was real because Stephen treated her so much like an actual person. 

I haven't been working in animation long at all. I actually learned it through a friend in the program about two years ago. I like to animate my credits as a film student because no one seems to care about them. So I thought, "Hey if it's animated, maybe they won't get bored." The visual effects for Phoebe was a whole other ballpark. I had taken VFX classes in college - but nothing prepared me for this show. I had to learn an entirely different program while at the time being in a cast for a foot injury. As I've shown the film to friends and family a common response is, "There was VFX in there?" Which I think is a compliment because you really aren't suppose to notice it or have it take away from the story. A lot of people thought she was CGI or stop motion at first which makes me laugh. But she's a physical puppet that you can hug and squeeze - which I think goes miles in helping live actors perform in these fantasy settings.  

We see you are a student filmmaker. Tell us about your plans once your graduate? 

Yes, I just graduated film school about two months ago! I have moved to North Hollywood and am pursuing directing further. I'd love to become a director's assistant and continue to learn as much as I can. I have some upcoming interviews at production companies and just finished shadowing under Catherine Hardwicke for her most recent project.  

Do you see this short being expanded into a longer film?

I don't know if I necessarily see this expanded into a feature or anything. I could definitely see it as a 10/15 minute short but our film school had a limit on running time. However I feel like there's so much more of this character we could see. This beautiful puppet is already made and ready for the next thing. I could see Phoebe in something episodic where we follow her crazy adventures. Especially with Kimmy Robertson's voice, she's just so perfect. 

Who are the filmmakers & animators who influence you most in your work?

Tim Burton and Guillermo Del Toro are some of my favorite directors and big inspirations to me. My dad is a special effects artist (who built Phoebe) so I've always loved films that had those practical fantasy elements. Because that was my reality as a kid - monsters, aliens, and zombies. I also loved claymation as a kid with films like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. I was especially drawn in when my mom showed me Peter Gabriel's music video for "Sledgehammer," back in the 80's and thought, "I want to try something like that." I don't necessarily have a favorite animation artist but have always been drawn to claymation and animation and have a deep appreciation for it.

2019Kirk Gostkowski