I heard the song "Monk" for the first time at a DakhaBrakha’s concert two years ago. They played it right after the "Carpathian rap", for which I made a music video earlier. So “Monk” sounded for me as a continuation of the familiar world, where I have not been for a long time. Immediately after the show, I proposed to the group to make a new project. Alas, they already had plans and arrangements for this track. So I reacted with understanding and quit.
Sometime later, already after the album was released, I listened to the track again and the concept began to build in my head persistently and intrusively. When a critical mass of ideas and visual solutions came together, I decided to make a project, just to see how it would turn out. But I decided not to tell anyone about it until I finish the project to the end and do not show it to the band. Only Kasia, my wife, who supported me in every way and was the only spectator, knew about the project.
The most difficult thing for me was to keep the project secret from everyone. As it turned out, all the previous films I showed friends at all stages of production. I shared ideas and collected reactions and feedback. While making the "Monk" I did not have an emotional exchange with other people. I think it was good for the “Monk”. It was a kind of fasting that allowed me to concentrate on work and take a different look at the process.
I set myself the next DakhaBrakha concert in my city as a deadline and I had about three months for everything. This is my fastest and most productive work compared to previous projects. I was driven by the desire to see how this or that visual part connects with music and how they work together.
I knew that if I didn't make the “Monk” in three months, I would never do it ever again. Therefore, I decided to spend more time on optimization in order to work quickly afterward.
I retooled my studio. It was located in our living room, so my commute to the workplace was extremely short. That time I had two desktops instead of one. It was an analog desk and a digital one. At the analog desk, I made sketches, transferred the drafts to the clean copies on the lightbox, drew, painted and then scanned. At the digital desk, I cut scanned images into layers, edited them, animated and collected montage to the music. The ability to jump from one desk to another was a change of activity and a kind of rest. As soon as I was starting to get bored with one task, I switched.
I hung the whole wall of the studio with drawings, concepts, and frames from the storyboard. Therefore, I quickly found the fragment I needed and could estimate the work that already done and still to be done. It also allowed me to be inside the project physically, which let me dive deeper into the story and mood. I was surrounded by drawings from all sides. Only we had to take them off and hide each time we had guests to keep the project a secret and to avoid undesirable questions.
I have great respect for the paper, so it was necessary to work with computer animation delicately and discreetly, so as not to over digitized. I specifically used the simplest and the cheapest paper for printers instead of watercolor paper. Just as I did in the "Carpathian Rap." It gives an interesting effect on the finished animation. Water warps and deforms thin paper, so it is loose on the scanner glass. As a result, areas in the out-of-focus and shadow appear in the digital image. I like the unpredictability of this effect, it adds an interesting texture.
Before proceeding to the sketches, I listened to the track many times in different places and different circumstances and put labels at key points. The song has a strong drama with amplitude differences, this is an excellent basis for work. It is interesting that the folk song, taken as a basis, was fun and comic. DakhaBrakha made it serious and anxious. I love it when something can be so organically put upside down. I wanted to enhance this effect, add drama and mysticism. I did not follow the original plot of the song to build a literal story. In my interpretation, I just wanted to turn it over and take the storyline aside. The main theme for me was the perception of right and wrong, as well as the boundary between them. To reveal the metamorphosis of morality.
I wanted to tell a simple story in several cycles. The first entry shows fragments taken out of context. The monk drinks and roams, he comes to the widow, the girl jumps from the bridge into the river. It is difficult to link the story, but it is easy to make hasty conclusions. On the second run, the binding details and causes become known. We learn why and how the girl jumped into the river, what was between her and the monk, and why the monk came to the widow. On the third run, the full picture is already being collected and the story turns to consequences. When deeds reach the point of no return, the story has a continuation that closes the loop.
I would not want the viewer to identify himself with any of the characters, it is important here to view from all perspectives. Take a look from the side as god would have looked. So it is more difficult to judge who is right and who's to blame.
The monk's eyes are always hidden, so his emotions are transmitted through his actions, movements and visual allegories. Working on the concept of a monk's character, I made him dry, angular, and prickly, in contrast with the second monk, who appears at the very end of the story. That guy is all soft, fresh and plump, his eyes are clearly visible and emphasized with glasses.
I liked to think over transitions between scenes. For instance, when a monk falls head to a hat, and then in the next frame jumps on a horse. Or the scene where he turns gray when he sees a wet wreath from the river.
I used flowers and girls' wreath as a reminder of what happened. They accompany the monk through the whole story. The wreath is present as a bookmark in the prayer book. It floats across the screen closing the next cycle of the story. When I replaced the snow in the opening scene with flowers the meaning of the scene has changed. The same flowers as on a wreath grow on the girl's grave.
I eagerly waited for the moment to work on a part where rage and revenge of the monk materialize into a monster. I came up with making the monster consist of the parts, so shaking with each step something falling off of it. I decided to make local people solid dark figures at those moments when they go to the dark side and thus find unity, merge into one synchronous mob, which behaves differently than one individual.
This year, I regularly began to run for long distances. It helped me a lot in my work. If I came to a dead end and I did not have a solution, I put the work aside and went for a run. Answers appeared while running, when the heart strenuously pumps blood to the brain, nothing distracts you. I think very well in such moments. When I returned home, I went into the shower and sat down at work.
Lately, I am interested in the analysis of the staged camera work. I reviewed a lot of YouTube videos on the subject. I wanted to consolidate all this new knowledge and observations in practice. Therefore, I am more attentive when using the camera in the “Monk”. For example, the camera is calm and almost static until the first drunk glass, but after it starts to swing and stagger, until finally flipped upside down. In this way I wanted to enhance the feeling of a hero’s transition from one emotional state to another.
While working on the project, I was constantly afraid that everything might disappear at once, because I simply did not have time to do backups. If something happened to my computer, and it sometimes gives reason to worry, everything would be lost.
When the film was ready, there were still a few days before the DakhaBrakha’s concert. So I bought clay for modeling, it was interesting for me to translate characters from flat graphics into three-dimensional shapes. I created a figure of a monk and a demon, and then painted them with acrylic. It was so great to twist the character in my hands and look at it from all sides. Now I want to do this at the beginning of the next projects in order to keep the main characters in front of my eyes and see them in tangible and tactile shape.
My wife and I went out to take some pictures of a monk on the street. On the way home we decided to take a picture of the monk against the background of Manhattan. I put the monk figure on a stone on the edge of the ledge. Once we took a shot, sudden wind knocked figure and it smashed on the rocks.
One of the posters of the film is made so that it has no top or bottom. It can be hung either way. The tavern and the church are on diametrically opposite sides, like on a playing card.
This is a story not only about a monk, but about any person on whose role is imposed an overestimated moral expectation. Any ideas raised to the absolute always lead to disappointment. In this project I tried to get away from a particular denomination, because such events can occur anywhere, in any canonical environment. People themselves are the source of evil and injustice, and the church is only a platform for realizing these problems.
This is a delicate topic, which is precisely why it should be raised and viewed from different perspectives.
I took up the church as a subject, as it is familiar to me, but at the same time, it is not close to me. I can relate to it impartially. I knew what material I work with because I ate a lot of communion bread as a child. I have a lot of questions since that time. I attended the Sunday school, almost every Sunday my family was at the church service, and I had to fast, confess, and take communion. I was surrounded by many fanatical people and saw where it led them. I have seen the destructive power of ideas raised to an absolute, and how different the behavior of one person from the behavior of the crowd. Therefore, I am ready that someone will see my work purely black and white, and someone will notice shades of gray.
- Amen -