It must have taken the concentration of a chess master and the patience of a monk to produce this. A stop-motion, live-action, computer-graphic hybrid that's too damn entertaining to not love. If there was ever a heartless critic out there who disagreed, he might say that bookmarks can't surf switch-stance, or that they shouldn't do cutbacks in the barrel, but he'd be splitting frames. He'd also likely be a member of our Forums.
Much Better Now, produced by a design firm from Portugal called Salon Alpin, tells the tale of a bookmark freed from its closed-book captivity that finds an ocean's worth of adventure on its pages. It's a gem of a clip: a captivating little piece of wave-riding fiction. To give credit where it’s due, we asked the creative minds behind Much Better Now about the inspiration behind their page-surfing odyssey.
Do you guys surf?
Well, yes we do surf. Though it's that kind of surfing where you spend hours in the water looking amazed at the pros, rather than being the cool rider yourself. For us, it started with snowboarding in the powdery snow of the central Alps, which lead us to the Atlantic shores of western Europe.
What was your inspiration behind Much Better Now?
Most things start with simple visual discoveries. Once while on the beach in Portugal, Philipp's sketchbook got caught by the wind, turning the pages like the waves of the ocean. We where fascinated by the effect, and immediately wanted to reproduce it in stop-motion. We pictured small paper surfers sitting in the lineup, and thought about creating a loop-able clip where surfers ride and duck dive the waves. Back in Austria, Philipp came up with the idea about connecting the paper-surfers with its environment in a deeper sense, and the bookmark was born. This raised the question about how the bookmark would feel being stuck in the book for so long, and then the rest was a ride. Someone once said, "When you ride a wave you don’t think about what you do. You just let the board and the wave do their thing." It was similar with the creation of Much Better Now. Once you we had the impulse, we just let our creativity and the tools do their thing.
Did you study and research surfing to make it realistic?
Apart of watching the pros in the water, we studied plenty of surfing footage. Besides SURFER Magazine, we had Portugal’s Surfer’s Soup to work with. We were inspired by The Surfer's Journal, some online clips, surf films like The Endless Summer and 180 South, and footage from friends. After our research we experimented with different characters, and it was a challenge to breakdown complex surf moves to the character’s simple and reduced anatomy. We enjoyed every wave with the little dude.
What feedback have you received? Any from surfers?
The overall feedback has been very great, it's been very touching how many people we've inspired or at least put a little smile on their face. Surfers especially seem to enjoy the moments of pure joy and freedom our little character is having while surfing. A surfer friend of ours told us that, like the short film, after a good surf life is much better. We were very lucky to have Jack McCoy join us at a screening at Surf At Lisbon. Without going into detail, his feedback on the film blew us away. His films inspire us and suddenly, we had something in return.
How long did the project take? What kind of technology, what kind of crew?
Since this was a no-budget project, we worked mostly just on our free time and on weekends. It took us more or less a year-and-a-half to complete it. The core-team was just the two of us, Simon and Philipp. But we had great support from all our friends around us. Especially music and sound designer Silvio Canazei, gaffer Thomas Welz, and the animator Kris Staber.
This must have taken some Zen-like patience. Can you teach us your ways?
Stop-motion is a very time-intensive discipline, that's for sure. We were well aware of that when starting our project, so we always took it as a mixture of a journey and meditation. We tried always to focus on the moment, on each small step, one of those hundreds of frames, without being tempted to be feel impatient to see the final result. We got to learn a lot during that time, so the general excitement level was high throughout the whole process.
What role does surfing play in the theme of this story?
If you consider surfing rather an art or ritual than a sport, then you might understand it as a dialog with the ocean. A dialog about freedom, dynamics, self-expression, adventure, and finally balance and harmony. It seemed to us to a perfect metaphor for what we intended to express.