‘Ostrich Told Me The World Is Fake’ director Lachlan Pendragon on pushing boundaries of stop-motion for a “hilarious meta” animated short

When Lachlan Pendragon was planning a research project for his doctoral program at Griffith Film School, he had no idea his “ridiculously meta” take on stop-motion would end up with an Oscar nomination. His stop-motion animated short, An ostrich told me the world is fake and I think I believe it, follows Neil (Pendragon), an office worker who spirals after an ostrich that he’s in in a stop-motion animation. Pendragon came to the brief with a research vision, which aimed to push the boundaries of stop-motion animation by showing elements of the world. While keeping the audience aware of the “filmmaking” behind the camera, he made sure not to sacrifice the story of a character discovering the terrifying nature of their world.

Deadline: Where did the idea for your animated short come from?

Lachlan Pendragon: It’s ridiculously meta and very self-referential. It deconstructs the processes of stop-motion filmmaking. So, that idea comes from a research perspective. I made it as a Doctorate of Visual Arts research project. So, I was looking for stop-motion filmmaking and how I could use what I find appealing about stop-motion and what exactly I find interesting about stop-motion. I never really thought about it before. And I use a lot of new technology like 3D printing and motion control systems and stuff that make stop-motion look any way you can, with enough practice. You can 3D print anything you want. And so, you start asking yourself the questions, ‘How polished is too polished for stop-motion.’ For me, stop-motion is about those tactile qualities and imperfections. I went too far with it and made it very meta so that you were always aware that you were looking at something that was handmade and handcrafted.

But I wanted to make sure you could still connect with the characters and still be entertained. So that’s part of it. I have a story about an office worker who is in this job he doesn’t like and is kind of stuck. And then using the realization that he’s in a stop-motion world as a way to shake it up and have a lot of fun with it. It sounds awful when you think about a stop-motion character whose faces can fall off and some of their peers are just torsos because the animator didn’t have time to make them.

DEADLINE: Did you work with stop-motion before this film?

Pendragon: I started in high school, but then I was sure I was going to go down the live action filmmaking route. I thought I’d go to film school and do those. At the time, I made a stop-motion clay animation and thought it was another way you could make a film, and I didn’t think much of it until I got out of high school and went to film school. I had a backup, which was studying animation. It took about a year until I got back into stop-motion and I found that it connected more than anything else. I think it’s because stop-motion is this cross between live action and animation. You are still using the camera and lights and it is solving similar problems.

Although stop-motion is not a very effective or practical method of animation. It’s a bit old. I was practicing stop-motion and thinking, ‘Is it time to jump into something CG or hand-drawn, or do I just keep investing in the hope that it pays off? Because it’s one of those things where you have to keep practicing and I realized that if I went down an academic path I could keep doing that, so I went back and studied a doctorate in visual arts which meant I had to come to film from a research perspective. . Everything I was doing had to be justified because it had to be research, so the film I made was not through that lens I would never have reached. It made me think about it differently and meant that any project I wanted to do and it could be stop-motion. And so it was a three-year process, and I guess animating it took about 10 months. When you’re doing stop-motion every day, you don’t think you’re getting better at it. But when I completed something big after a year or two and compared it to my previous work, I could see that I was improving and it felt really good.

DEADLINE: How did the character Neil come about? Did you always plan to voice the main character?

Pendragon: No, I didn’t. I voiced the main character in a previous short film and, if you animate it as well and you hear it over and over again, you just get sick of your own voice. So, I wanted to get someone else, but it was created during covid and lockdown, so it was difficult to find people and I can work through internet. Other voice actors were on the internet, but I wanted to be in the room for the hero. The easiest way was if I was a voice actor.

Deadline: Was the camera always planned to monitor and show movement in the background?

Pendragon: It was in a draft of the script, so it was considered going back, but it was written in a way where I didn’t quite know what it was going to look like or how much I wanted to show around it. The wonderful thing about research is that it doesn’t have to be a successful film, because it is research. You can learn from it, you can write a paper and we are all good. So that really takes the pressure off. You are trying things and you are trying to innovate. So, I shot the monitor further back, so I had room around it, and then I cropped to the design mount because I was so concerned that it would be too distracting or the audience wouldn’t get it. If you are not an animator, is it interesting? And it turns out people find it interesting.

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