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Countdown to Couch Fest #5 - Tess Martin Goes Swimming with Whales #indiefilm #2012CFF #animation

Quick, tell all of your friends...the 2012 Couch Fest Film Festival is tomorrow! I’m excited to meet and hear about the movie-loving strangers who will gather and chat about shorts all day long -- shorts they love, shorts they hate and shorts they don’t quite understand.

'The Whale Story' - Animator Stefan Gruber, Animator Webster Crowell, Director/Animator Tess Martin and actor DK PanAnimator Tess Martin’s experimental tale ‘The Whale Story’ will be representing the U.S. alongside Kumar Satkunarasa’s ‘Life and Stuff’from Europe.

In just three minutes, ‘The Whale Story’ evaluates whether a fisherman’s connection with a female humpback whale is an example of inter-species communication or a mysterious fluke.

Earlier this month, Martin told me about her hopes of opening up a wider discussion about how fascinating the ability to communicate with animals could be and how shooting birds might not be the best solution for saving a group of endangered species.

Madlab Post: What are some of the challenges that you faced while making ‘The Whale Story’ and how did you overcome them?

Tess Martin: Well, ‘The Whale Story’ was animated frame by frame on a 16x32 foot wall in a public park in Seattle. I had use of the wall and a cadre of volunteers for two days. So immediate challenges were time and sunlight. We had to move quickly, but luckily I had four experienced animators helping me, and a very patient actor, and we managed to shoot all the wide shots in those two days. 

At the end, though, it did start raining, and the paint that were re-applying to animate the whale and water movement started streaking, and we had to stop the shoot. You can still see a bit of the streaking in the film if you pay attention. I went back to the wall with the actor and filmed all the close ups the next week. You can see a time-lapse of the making of the film: WATCH HERE.

In August, authorities in Argentina launched a 100-day plan to shoot seagulls that have been attacking the whales at sea; Eenvironmentalists disagree with the plan. Do you agree with the The Authorities or The Environmentalists -- or would you try an alternative approach?

Gosh, I don't know. I'm not really an expert on this type of thing, and am not familiar with this particular situation. It sounds like there's an unusual amount of seagulls, and that this method of feeding is new to them, in which case, it makes sense to contain them to save the whales. But shooting them out of the sky sounds a little weird, and like it would cause other unintended consequences, like lots of bird carcasses.

'The Whale Story' - Animator Britta Johnson, Animator Amanda Moore, Animator Webster Crowell, Director/Animator Tess Martin and Animator Stefan Gruber.Do you have any goals for ‘The Whale Story’ with regards to reach or audience impact?

I'm hoping that as many people as possible see the film, whether in festivals, or online, and are inspired by the story. I think of it as a starting point for conversation about animal consciousness, and human-animal communication. How can we know for sure whether the whale was saying thank you? Is it possible to ever really know for sure what an animal is thinking? What about our pets, the animals we feel we know very well? How different would the world be if we could communicate effortlessly with other species?

If you could only protect one group of endangered species, which animal would it be?

I look at the animal kingdom from the perspective of a fascinated layman, and thankfully, I do not have the power to make such a decision. I have my favorite animals, of course - I've always liked cats and felines, but I also find whales and other water creatures so fascinating precisely because their environment is so different from ours. But asking which species you would save is like asking which of your children you would save - obviously, you would just try to save all of them.

The Whale Story is playing tomorrow, Saturday, November 10th at the 2012 Couch Fest Film Festival. Check the “Attend” tab on the festival’s website for showtimes.

Can YOU communicate well with your pets?

This post is a continuation of my Countdown to Couch Fest campaign -- a selection of brief, yet, randomly outrageous and sometimes insightful interviews that I conducted with many of the directors behind the films playing at this year's Couch Fest lineup and will be publishing semi-daily between the regularly scheduled Monday Movie Meme and King Dong programs until Saturday, November 10, 2012!

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Reader Comments (2)

It takes patience and dedication to pull off animation on that scale. Glad to hear that they were able to pull it off in just two days!

As for communicating with pets, it's obvious to us that our cat knows when we're sick (she won't leave our side for a moment), when it's time to go to bed (she actually "yells" at us when it past bedtime, then walks up upstairs), and reacts to us when we talk to her and show her love. Although we don't speak the same language, we easily understand each other.

November 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHermanTurnip


I hear you!~animation looks so cool and I sometimes start thinking that it's easier than live action films....until movie-making processes like "The Whale Story" come along and show how it can be just as (of not more) time consuming than working with dozens of active, functioning humans and equipment. It's unbelievable what they were able to get done in two days. Communicating with pets is one of those things that either improves or declines in time depending on the type of relationship owners have with their pets, IMHO. It's obvious who's (or is it "what?") is running the show over at your place! LOL. She sounds like a very loving, loyal and caring cat....even when she's bossy, it's probably because she wants all of you to have a good nights sleep :)

Or else, it could be that she just doesn't like it when you all mess up her sleeping routine. Ha!

November 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterNicole

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