This is Drained, a wordless, 10-minute film with a simple synopsis — "the story of how a man's addictions can destroy the woman he loves" — but intensely unnerving stop-motion animation using household items.
How unsettling do the effects get? There's a suit of 1,000 sentient condoms, hypodermic needle hands, and a man made of beer cans and Venom symbiote-like sludge. Imagine if Mummenschanz remade From Beyond — it's not unlike that.
io9 recently spoke with Drained director Nick Peterson and producer Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite, Blades of Glory) about this visually arresting short film, which has been winning accolades on the festival circuit. Watch Drained above, and check out our interview with Peterson and Heder below.
Why did you go with stop motion for Drained?
Nick Peterson: I went to school at CalArts and I studied stop motion, but after I graduated, I worked mainly in live action and visual effects. But whenever I get a chance, I try and do something in stop motion. Drained allowed me to combine my old love of stop motion with this new love of live action. I wanted to make something that really grabbed people.
We shot it using a technique of using stills at eight frames a second using strobe lights. That allowed us to get the stop-motion look without having to animate the actors and also allow the actors to deliver a performance. Everything is also super sharp, and the format gives it hyperrealistic detail. We made this film with very common items — still cameras and flashbulbs.
And Jon, how did you get involved in this project?
Jon Heder: Nick and I have been buddies for a while, and I've been interested in getting into the producing chair. I actually studied computer animation in college, but I love animation as a storytelling medium. We worked before together on a music video that Nick directed that involved rotoscoping. We decided to use animation to tell a different kind of story that we're not used to.
Drained definitely has some gruesome visuals — what do you hope people will walk with after watching the film?
Nick Peterson: It's an interesting story because everybody knows somebody in their life who has drained them, whether it's a brother who's always getting into trouble or a spouse who brings his or her problems home. This film doesn't end with a happy ending — but we chose not to, because it shows what happens when you do nothing. I recently directed a video for the band Five-Finger Death Punch that is an anti-suicide, anti-bullying video. That video went over well, as it showed that you can be saved. But for Drained, we played the down card. That may cost us on the popular approach, but we're showing consequences here, and that will emotionally resonate with certain viewers.
Jon, this short film is considerably different than your comedic roles. What went through your mind when collaborating for this project?
Jon Heder: Whether you're a fan of my previous material or not, I wanted to give audiences a sense of what my interests are — and those range from broad comedies to these experimental, dramatic shorts.
Nick Peterson: For a second, we thought about Jon being the guy, but then we realized that he'd be out there in nothing but a little Speedo, it would ruin it right away.
Jon Heder: [laughs] People would recognize me right away, and yeah, that's not our aim.