In this short film from directing trio New Media Ltd, “food poisoning” takes on a whole new meaning as a box of bad Chinese take out takes an unsuspecting customer (Maya Kazan) on a psychedelic journey to another dimension. “Night Stalker” is a beautiful and stylish short, with bright hypnotic visuals and nightmarish animated segments.
New Media Ltd, the directing collective consisting of Mike Anderson, Ryan Dickie, and Abigail Horton, recently brought their film to Austin for the South by Southwest festival as part of the “Midnight Shorts” program. We spoke to New Media about their innovative animation techniques, their visual inspiration, and how they collaborate while living on opposite coasts.
Night Stalker’s modern visual style takes inspiration from horror classics.
New Media used LED lighting to create the bright, psychedelic visuals in Night Stalker. The short is visually stimulating in a way that takes the best of modern digital aesthetics and drops them into dark, nightmarish environments. However, the inspiration for this visual style came from classic horror films. “A jumping off point was definitely Suspiria,” New Media said, also citing Black Narcissus as an influence. The stylized visuals were more than just eye candy though, as it was important to create a world that looked strange enough to accommodate the story’s trippy logic, as well as matching with the style of the animated segments.
New Media made up their own animation technique for Night Stalker.
Night Stalker sidesteps around the endless “Practical vs CGI” debate by using an animation technique developed by New Media that combines clay models and computer graphics. The team built models out of clay, then scanned them into the computer to light and animate. The result is a totally new style that combines the smoothness of CGI with the realistic puppet look of claymation. For the live action scenes, though, the team went out of their way to avoid CGI. “The takeout box, the tentacles, all that – those were practicals. The tentacle was about four feet long and was a nice little puppet that would snap around Maya, or whip around her leg.” Maya Kazan brings both her live action character and her puppet to life. “She’s so completely amazing that she was able to carry every frame of the video, even when she was just a 3D scan in claymation.”
New Media is a coast-to-coast collaboration.
Ryan and Mike have been working together for six years, but it wasn’t until the pair met Abby on the set of Blue Ruin that New Media was born. “One night after shooting, we were in a swimming pool, talking about Carl Sagan… the heavens suddenly opened, angels sang, and New Media Ltd was formed.”
Currently the collective is based both in Brooklyn and Portland, and the internet allows them to be creative together while living thousands of miles apart. “We’re on the phone constantly, and screen sharing, and Google doc-ing, and Facetiming.” New Media compared themselves to a design team or a band when describing their collaboration process, where all three of them pitch in on each aspect of the project rather than designating separate roles. In some cases, one of them will the lead, and the others will provide support. Either way, New Media Ltd is a team effort creatively. “We’re always pushing each other to go further, make the ideas tighter, and try a little harder to come up with something we’ve never seen before.”
Sound design was an important part of the process.
New Media worked with sound designers Colin Alexander and Nicholas Sadler, who brought the claymation scenes to life with foley and ambient noise. “For the animation, it was really important to get the feel of the practicality of the props. Colin did a phenomenal job of replicating the clicks and cracks of plastic and wet clay. Those guys were unbelievable.”
Night Stalker also serves as a pair of music videos for Brooklyn based rock band Fort Lean, whose music is heard throughout the short. If this doesn’t seem like a traditional music video, that was by design. “We were talking a lot about what the use of a music video is, in this deeply post-MTV, post-Napster, post-Spotify, post-lyric-video music world we’re all in. It just seems so strange that music videos are the same now, structurally, as they were in 1980.” Instead the video only teases the songs, serving as its own visual piece of art while motivating the viewer to go find more from the band.
Expect to see much more from New Media in the future.
New Media Ltd is staying busy, currently working on another music video, two short films, a VR experience, and a feature length film. “Totally busy, totally happy, and totally excited about everything,” they said about their future plans. And also to “Hit us up! We love to talk to everybody.”