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Award-winning animation is a brilliant mix of horror and charm

You may remember a while back we did a story on Mute, a short animation that tells the tale of a world populated by a group of people without a mouth until a gory accident changes their lives forever.

The unusual mix of horror and charm attracted our attention, so we spoke to Dutch filmmakers Job Roggeveen, Joris Oprins and Marieke Blaauw of Job, Joris & Marieke to find out more about how it was made.

What’s important to your animation style?

Job Roggeveen: Focus on the story you want to tell and don't get lost in technical details. You should always make sure your work is up to your own quality standards, but don't get too lost in the details.

Always remember that if a story is told well, even if it's not technically executed well, it'll still be interesting to watch. And a story badly told, even if executed brilliantly, will not hold your attention.

Mute animation

"Focus on the story you want to tell and don't get lost in technical details," says Roggeveen

What has influenced your work?

Joris Oprins: We started our animation career as stop-motion animators, so we were used to making every keyframe. We never lost this way of working when we started to animate in CG. We try to use as few 'tweens' as possible.

When you look at our animation timeline you can see small clusters of keyframes divided by long holds. So we always put the action in a short timespan, making it snappy, and use the long holds to give it comic timing.

What was the biggest aid to production?

Marieke Blaauw: Subpoly displacement maps were a big help on this project. A big challenge was finding a way to create the mouths (or rather, the cuts). We didn't want to rig each mouth separately (for instance with pose morphs), so we decided to use subpoly displacement maps.

That worked out really well. We were able to give each character a different mouth and make the blood drip like we wanted it to. This is particularly evident on the shot with the mouth made by a chainsaw: it was pretty easy to do with displacement maps.

Mute animation

Subpoly displacement maps really helped the team on this project

How important is the soundtrack?

JR: Never underestimate the power of music. We make our own music so we are able to compose while animating. We can test if the music works even if the animation isn't finished yet. The music sets the tone of the movie; for instance, we initially composed a piece of music that had a lot of suspense. But this gave the film a dark atmosphere and it lost all of its humour. Music can make or break a film.

What inspired the development of Mute?

MB: Dutch author Harry Mulisch once complained that writing a line can take minutes, but reading the same line takes only seconds. Being quite a famous author, this same line was read thousands of time, so those few seconds became hours - and this made his effort worthwhile.

We think about our work the same way: the time it took us to make the film should be in balance with the amount of hours it is watched. So that’s why promoting our work is very important.

Look for different angles: not just to film fans but also to other filmmakers, or maybe you have an interesting story about the music, or about the software you used, or maybe your film is about a specific subject. We once got a lot of views via a hiking website because we made a short film about camping.

Mute animation

Mute is a brilliant mix of charm and horror

This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 179.