Paul Muresan: “Making animation entails spending a lot of time just with yourself, and you need to make it through this hell”

27 October, 2020

“Cradle” (2020, 4′), the latest short film by the young animation director Paul Muresan, produced by Safe Frame, had its world premiere this fall at the Warsaw Film Festival. It’s a powerful film about domestic abuse and alcoholism, which features “Cantec de leagan”, a song performed by Maria Tanase, on the soundtrack.

I took this opportunity to talk to Paul Muresan about a lot of things, like his passion for drawing and his beginnings in animation, his sources of inspiration and his films, which are quite special and very personal, since they talk about fears and anxieties, are populated by monsters and overflow with fantasy. All in all, I discovered an honest, straightforward and unconventional artist.

Born on January 27, 1988 in Bistrita, where he attended the “Corneliu Baba” High School of Arts, Paul Muresan studied at the University of Art and Design (UAD) in Cluj-Napoca, the Graphics Department (2007-2012). In 2008-2009, he went on an Erasmus scholarship in Germany, at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design (HBK Saar) in Saarbrücken. He is currently working on his doctoral thesis on how fear of death is represented in the animated film, also at UAD.

His first short film, “Baby Nap” (2014, 5′) received the Award for Best Romanian Film at Animest and was selected at many other festivals. An animation described as a “trip into the mind’s hidden playground” and “a storm of dreams”.

In “Mom, Dad, I Have to Tell You Something” (2016, 6′), a film with a presence in the festival circuit just as solid and awarded at Animest and UCIN, Paul Muresan talks about the pressure of coming out to his parents and of being seen as a monster, since homosexuality is perceived this way in Romania. The script is based on his personal experience.

In “Something” (2018, 9′), probably his most elaborate film, the filmmaker deals with darker themes such as death, the afterlife and the fears one must face in their life.

Photo: Andrei Dascalescu

When did you realize you were good at drawing? How did it all start?

To be honest, I never thought I was talented. On the contrary, I had teachers who told me, at first more nicely and then quite bluntly, that drawing is not necessarily my strong point. They could see I was putting a lot of effort into it. I loved drawing. I did it all the time. You should imagine this small town I grew up in as a calendar forgotten in the sun next to the garbage, its colors all faded away. Excruciatingly boring. I wasn’t one of those kids you see in the movies, being sent to violin or dance classes. Not because my parents didn’t give a damn about these things, I mean they really do care about us (ie – his siblings). And I’m really surprised at how patient they’ve been about my weird stuff, because I used to draw dinosaurs on the walls. Believe me, there was nothing to do in Bistrita. And since I sucked at football and didn’t have any kind of extra activities, staying at home seemed like the best option.

Somehow I grew up in the standard situation where all the girls were playing with their dolls and all the boys were playing football. And I got along with the girls just fine. Actually, more than fine, it was way better. And that made the boys a little jealous of me. When I was playing with the boys, they were calling me “lady”, with the intention of making fun of me. That was my nickname when I was little. “Lady” here, “lady” there. When I was going on the swing, I used to keep my legs crossed so that my shadow resembled a mermaid. I imagined I was a mermaid. And they were laughing at me.

Shit was just perfect. In the ’90s Bistrita, it was as if we were all in some sort of haze. We were just scratching our heads, we couldn’t make sense of things. Nobody knew what they should do with their lives. Our parents didn’t understand the world we grew up in and their role in our upbringing, what kind of identity we would build for ourselves.

The only cool thing in that dull mush was Cartoon Network. In fact, it started with Channel 5 and ProSieben and with animes like Sailor Moon or series like Power Rangers. That’s how me and my brother learned Italian and German, but then we switched to English once Cartoon Network was on TV. Basically, it was the most colorful thing in our lives. I was watching the moon and made a promise to myself at that moment, that I would make cartoons when I grow up. Because until then, it was the coolest thing I’ve come across in my life.

A little while after that, I stumbled upon the Daft Punk music videos, which were very colorful. And it was magic to me. I was in seventh grade.

I started drawing from fifth grade and used to do it a lot, but my brother was much better. He’s really talented. He was still young and was drawing Sylvester Stallone because he liked Rambo very much. I learned a lot from him. I learned that if you darken the edges around your piece, the vignette effect, which he did purely instinctively, it draws attention to the center of the drawing. Vlad was never interested in drawing, although he was always very good at it. He’s interested in other things, like rock-climbing or making sculptures.

For me drawing was mesmerizing. I just thought it was amazing that you could take a white piece of something like paper and create a world out of it. Bring out an emotion in another person. This idea totally fascinated me.

After that, in high school, my class teacher told me, and rightly so, that my drawings were in fact scribblings. She said I don’t actually paint, I just smear some colors on the surface. In 11th grade, I still remember, it was November, it was raining, and I painted something so awful, and when we laid out our works to look at them, she told me, “Take a look at your work. This is not a painting, it just looks like a big smudge.”

At that moment, it felt like I had only two options. One: there’s no point going on with this. I mean my class teacher really tried to get something out of me. As for myself, I tried for so many years, before high school, then during high school, and now we were approaching the last year and I needed to know what I was going to do further on. It was indeed a disaster. And no matter how hard I tried to follow the anatomical and geometrical techniques, it just didn’t come out good. My teachers were very kind, they really did their best, but I was a lost cause to them. It looked like I intentionally defied everything they said.

So then I chose the other option. I remember walking home and thinking, “What if this is my style? What if this scribbling is my style? Looks like I’m very good at it, at least.”

What high school was that?

I went to an art high school. My folks tried to convince me, “Son, don’t go to the art school, you’ll be making church paintings for the rest of your life.” But that never happened. Still, there’s this idea that if you pursue an art career, at least you don’t do any harm. They told me to get into a Math class. My poor parents wanted the best for me, my brother and my sister. But suggesting that I should study Math is like telling a worm it should fly, like that would be the best thing for it. All my notebooks were full of drawings. And I literally passed math due to cleaning up the blackboard, because my teacher felt sorry for me and said that I was at least doing something. He would call me in front of the class just to give me a passing grade.

But how do you look at all this stuff now that you’re an animator, the fact that you were in an art high school, you were unconventional, you were doing something completely different, and the teachers were telling you those things? Did it discourage you in any way?

Truth be told, I also think of myself as lucky. One could notice that there are some trends in the history of animation. These trends change depending on people and our behavior, and then they change us in turn. This is an interesting idea by the philosopher Walter Benjamin. To everyone’s surprise, animation actually started as pornography. Including zoophilia, oral sex, homoeroticism. Jokingly or not, you could hide all sorts of things in animation. And you could say it was just a cartoon.

Then another trend started to spread around, based on the Hays Code, named after its creator Will H. Hays, a Catholic politician. The Hays Code tried to censor much of what was good in animation. So with the Hays Code enforced (1930-1960), animation couldn’t portray anymore the things it did before and had cleaned up its act. It also happened to completely overlap with The Golden Age of animation because, since they were restricted to say a lot of things, the animators had to improvise and compensate in techniques.

After that comes a very interesting trend, but quite dangerous, in my opinion: the Disney era. Disney perfected its art and began to romanticize human relationships. The Disney era created in fact a Disney generation. Usually, Disney movies say that you are special, that you play the leading role in this life, the rest are just extras. It’s all about You. Love comes riding on a white horse, and if you are beautiful, you are virtuous. If you’re not beautiful, then you’re the anti-hero. But all this doesn’t help much when you grow up. Because when you grow up, other things turn up, like paying rent or getting ill. So then The Sleeping Beauty is no help at all, is it? I mean, you thought you were the Beauty, but here you are in fact the Maleficent.

After the super romanticized Disney generation stepped into the real world, another interesting trend came up in animation, and that was the loser trend. Woe betide the loser. It might sound trite or mainstream, but Pokemon was based exactly on that. It was a very creative world. You live in a small town like Bistrita, it’s the ’90s, and Pokemon runs on TV, there’s nothing better, I’m telling you.

The main character is not your go-to guy or the best one there is. Pretty much everything he did ended up in a big fail. In Pokemon, every season – I stopped after the first one, because I got the basic idea – ends with a big league, a championship. And Ash, the main character, loses every time. And I found it very cool. Don’t think it’s something like Ibsen. But the idea is quite great. I could see Ash losing all the time, but that turned to be okay in the end. I mean he had great adventures, traveled around, met people, met fantastic creatures.

I was that particular loser. I was alone. I felt there was something special about me, but not the Disney special, the stellar hero. It was the loser special. The one no one expects anything from, and yet, at some point, something good might come from them. So I kept on going, perhaps due to this naivety that lies in me. And stubbornness. I kept insisting. It’s interesting, when no one expects anything from you, everything you do gets some attention. It gets noticed somehow. It stands out in comparison with the nothing from before. If someone expects great things from you, everything you do is not good enough, because it was supposed to be mind-blowing. If I had to sum everything up into a theory, I believe I grew up during the trend where the loser was fetishized.

Now we have another interesting trend, exemplified by One-Punch Man, where the hero is invincible, nothing destroys them, but at the same time they’re not happy. The challenge for them is to live a normal, standard, mediocre life, rather than an extraordinary one. And that’s a cool thing, because it basically says that you may be omniscient, but in the end spending time with yourself is much more important.

There are many trends in animation, and some of them are shitty. But these ones I find interesting, and they can influence us quite a bit.

Photo: Andrei Dascalescu

You’re basically saying that you were beginning to realize and accept that what you were doing was different, and maybe it wasn’t wrong, and that this was what you wanted to do further on.

What did I have to lose, after all? The cool part was that there were two of us like that in class. Liviu and me. Liviu Pop is an incredible painter. Nobody gave him a chance either. Surely, we were there, too, but we weren’t among the good ones to be introduced to the delegations. Liviu and I made a team and that helped us. We rose up when we saw that there were grounds for abstract art in high school. I mean I could do that, too. We would argue with the teachers. Back then, I said some things I’m not very proud of now.

But that’s then we started experimenting. Liviu used margarine in his paintings and left until it got stale, it was all moldy and made some beautiful colors come out of it. I realized that drawing was closer to my heart than painting. I started drawing in the dark. All sorts of monsters came out. We weren’t the best in the class, but we were the best at being something else.

At one point, we participated in the National Olympiad, and the one thing that no one in school suspected, happened: we both came in first place. Him at painting, me at drawing. Our teacher was baffled. We were happy, but don’t think that we became arrogant after that. We realized one thing: it’s not about being the best, it’s about being you. Of course, not everything you create is valid, but at least it’s done in your own way. Even if it may not be very valuable, it represents who you are. And then it’s okay. More or less.

So it goes without saying that you thought of following the same path at university, as well. How did you decide to go to Cluj and what was uni like?

Drawing is cool and I like it. But my dream was making animations. In high school I drew storyboards, and I knew that one day I would be an animator. By doing graphic design on an easel, I was preparing for the moment when I would make animations. And I knew that the university in Cluj had an Erasmus programme. I was thinking about going to a country that was great in animation studies, but the school sent me to another country. Fortunately.

You went to Germany.

I originally wanted to go to Belgium. But I was cool with Germany, too, I didn’t go with that many expectations. I mean I was sure that I was going to get something out of it. Their system is quite interesting. It’s like going to a restaurant and choosing your courses from the menu. You can actually make a salad out of whatever courses you want to attend. That was very cool. There is this stereotype that the Germans are very rigid. But as I see it, we are much more rigid. Honestly, they are really open-minded. Not all of them, obviously.

There I did a beginner course on animation, where I learned that you have to use a scanner. But I broke their scanner. I much rather draw in pencil on paper. I was never really attracted to vector or 3D animation. I really liked the idea of having a surface you could touch. Feel that someone was there before. 3D art, if you are not very skilled or master the technique, tends to be a bit plastic. So then, it doesn’t really suit me. I insisted on doing everything on paper. For my first animation, which is 3 minutes long, I’ve made 2,000 drawings.

I screwed up big time. I was with Erasmus in Germany, in my second year of college. And all I could do wrong in an animation in regards to technique, I did in this first animation. But, at least, I understood some principles.

And when I animated my first thing, it was an incredible moment. A bird cracking the earth with its beak and jumping out of it. I hadn’t animated anything before. We had this Turkish assistant in the class, he was very nice, very smart. I drew this thing, we scanned it, we put it on and we looked at it. And he asked me, “Have you animated anything before?” I told him I didn’t, but that I’ve been training for a few years now. It was obvious that I really wanted it to come out great. It’s just magic when you press play and that thing that you created suddenly moves independently of you, that’s life. That moment is incredible. You want to live it again. You want to live it for your entire life.

But after my first animation, I wanted to quit. I said I’m good without it for the rest of my life. I worked on it all semester. There was a lot of time I had to spend with myself. You can’t do it another way. You need to stay a lot in the studio, just drawing and scanning. The first animation was a depressing and painful experience. I was just by myself. I went on thinking about all kinds of shit. I had to go through some kind of hell. Spend time just with myself. Far from enjoying other stuff, like going to the movies, smoking, getting high. It was very hard, but I’m glad I did it, because I believe that if we don’t go through this hell of spending a lot of time with ourselves, life gets tough eventually.

I’m not a very patient person, but I’ve learned that for animation you have to go through that hell. At some point, it becomes a torment you have to choose, being with yourself. People ask me why I don’t work on the pad, since I wouldn’t have to spend so much time on a project. But that’s what it’s about. About being with yourself. Not about finishing faster. I met some cool animators who say they like animation, but they hate to make it. That’s the nasty thing, being with yourself. So you may have to ask yourself some questions. What the hell is so bad you can’t be with yourself for a few hours? Time with yourself and patience become a form of therapy.

After four months in Germany, you returned to Cluj, where you studied for another two years.

All my life I had dreamed of making animation and finally I made it, and it was probably the most depressing experience of my life. It was awful. I imagined something completely different. I was so disappointed. It’s not romantic at all. I have been animating for 14 years, and I can say I only had three moments that have been romantic. Otherwise, zero romance.

How did you manage to mobilize again, to regain the desire to continue making animation?

The Turkish assistant was in fact the assistant of a Hungarian professor, Tamás Waliczky. Tamás was a very interesting character. He was making some weird animations. It was 3D. I’m not a fan. But he did it in a way that made you ask yourself some questions. He was playing with the shapes in such a way that your eyes would stick to the screen. I liked him. He was very chill. He wasn’t that kind of crazy artist. He knew German perfectly, but refused to speak it. He spoke only English. That was quite annoying for the other professors. It was his calmness and the fact that he was great on the technical part that captivated you. What was so cool about that school — it was in Saarbrücken, near France — and the reason I respect it so much, was that it rented the local cinema to show the animations made by beginners. It was called the beginners’ evening. I had never met so much respect for some lousy works. The first animations are as such. Many really didn’t put a lot of effort into them. You could see they just wanted to be done with it quicker, so they could and smoke some spliffs.

So we went to the cinema, but I don’t know how I managed to make a 3-minute animation of 40 GB, when the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy fits on a CD. I screwed it up really bad, but somehow I managed to send it for the beginners’ animation night. We all went there. The Germans were making so much fun of me. But I was used to that, from my football experience when I was little. The screening started. The whole room was dying laughing. It was a funny evening. People would go to this event only to have a good laugh. Then my animation started playing. At first, the beak comes out of the ground, then the bird. The room turned silent. The animation was running on the screen. The soundtrack was made by some bones knocking into one another. It sounded like some kind of mantra. And the film ended. But everybody was still quiet.

I have a problem with seeing my films on screen. I really like to see how people react, but it feels like I’m gonna have a heart attack. The entire sensation is so strong. Not even if I were naked on stage, it wouldn’t make for such a big shock. Even now, I still feel something from that moment. I told myself that if I died, at least I would die in a movie theater, while watching my film on the screen. I was just the idea that everyone sees and judges you. Absolutely terrible. Pure panic.

But in the end, people started clapping. Bursts of applause all around the room. And I was in shock. Then I went out in the hall, and those who made fun of me, who called me “the crazy Romanian guy”, told me I made such a cool animation. Now, don’t think it was some kind of Hayao Miyazaki. It was simply a successful, interesting experiment, after all. Especially if it were to compare it to the rest.

Tamás was there too, and I told him that I don’t understand what was with the applause just before, that I was shocked and that I got a high dose of energy, after consuming a lot of energy. And he said that every film has a conscience, and that this conscience is made of the time you spend making the film. It was a very important moment for me. I realized that you don’t just release a product and then move on with your life. It’s not just the sticky trail a snail leaves behind. You created something that actually says something. With Cradle, which is my latest work, I even made some people cry. Maybe what you made isn’t necessarily bullshit. It has a life and some things happen in it. I realized that all the energy I had put into the film, suddenly started to be worth it. And that I’d like to live this thing again.

After that, even though I was very motivated to keep doing things, the romance was gone. But something much more realistic has emerged. The idea that you are fully aware of the fact that you are going to sacrifice something, a part of your life, some resources, some films, some drinking nights, and that this thing is going to come out, which may or may not be good. There is no guarantee. But, at least, it tells you something.

For example, Something, my film about death, no one understands it. Nobody has anything to say about it, so they don’t. When I went to festivals with it, people kind of avoided me, it seemed they were embarrassed to come to me after the screening and tell me it was shit. But that film is about how I felt at the time, when I got in touch more with the concept of being afraid of dying. That really I am just terrified of death.

Your films are very personal, they talk about anxiety, fear, terror. But what’s your starting point when you set about to make an animation? An image? An idea from a story?

I liked what a guy said about BDSM and rough sex using accessories. He was a BDSM trainer and sometimes he got the question: “I want to flog my partner, but suddenly I become very aware of what’s to happen and don’t want to do it anymore. And it’s a bit weird to start insulting a person, especially if I’m not mad at them. How do I get that anger? Where do I get that violent energy from?” And he said you shouldn’t get angry, that it’s not sexual this way. You don’t have to force it out of you. The energy you should be looking for is like when you’re in the shower with the boys, and you twist the towel and you slap some guy’s ass. That’s another kind of energy, a playful one.

I believe that some films come from this exact area, slapping some ass playfully with the towel. We always have a dose of mean energy inside us. It’s there. I learned over time that you should be virtuous and kind, and all the movies I’ve watched have shown that you have to be positive and that it’s always sunny outside, like in margarine commercials. When we actually know that there are some deep shadows hidden inside. Sexually speaking, it’s nice that all this can come out sometimes. You’re allowed to be a little selfish. We have the resources to be dark, but we keep denying them, because we prefer to think of us as moral people. But it’s not like that. We keep lying to ourselves.

That’s one thing that motivates me. And whatever I do, I notice that my films come out as dark, even though I’m not necessarily very dark. I believe that we are oversaturated with positivity and all that is virtuous, and at the same time we bury an essential part of us, our shadow. Freud and Jung talk about our shadow. If we ignore it, this part will come out in the worst moments, and not in a nice way. In the subway, when you’re waiting in line. Even to the person you love, you will say some things that you didn’t mean to say, because that shadow keeps us under pressure and, when it will come out, it will happen in front of someone you care about. But if we accept that we are selfish, jealous, that child inside us will no longer be so outraged that no one listens to it. On the contrary, it has an area where it can manifest, in sexuality, in a film, in a conversation, in a black humor area. There are some areas that can release some of that pressure. It’s the area where my films came out from: Baby Nap, Mom, Dad …, Cradle.

There are certain things hidden in us. Everyone has that basement where all kinds of nasty things are buried in. I don’t think we should go the extra mile to invent some interesting subjects, because something stupid may come out. I can see that in myself: the harder I try, the worse it turns out. I’m not saying it’s terrible that I tried. Okay, it’s terrible if we’re talking about a $ 50 million production, because you’re wondering how many people could have lived on that money. When it comes to short films, I have no problem messing it up. The film industry takes cinematic failures as the death of the artist. But it’s not really like that. It’s like reciting sentences. One sentence was trivial, one sentence was exceptional. But most of them are trivial. We still expect to find the artist who, whatever they do, must be brilliant.

There are many things in you. But how do you decide what is worth developing into a film?

You don’t really know. It’s interesting; sometimes, the more certain you are about something, the bigger the shit. Other times, you do one thing and it turns up being great. After all, it’s a conversation.

With Baby Nap, I wanted to make an animation where I wouldn’t censor myself. So I came out publicly, and didn’t give a fuck about what people would say. I couldn’t deny it anymore. Until then, there was this idea that it’s cool to keep it a secret. Dude, it’s not cool to have secrets. You force me to lie. You hold hands on the street with your girlfriend, you do something as natural as possible, but you force me to hide. And that secret forces me to censor other behaviors. And then I’m surrounded by a censorship fence and I can no longer manifest myself. I can’t have a moment of tenderness with my boyfriend, a caring gesture, because, God forbid, people think he’s gonna fuck me in the ass. You can’t live like this. You really can’t live like that. I see that people who are afraid to come out, because their parents must not find out, have some behavior issues that are not easy for them. They look over their shoulder all the time. Well, I deny that existence.

Baby Nap appeared from my desire of not censoring myself. I had all kinds of fucked up dreams, I couldn’t sleep. So why not portray them in a film, see what it looks like? People’s reaction was quite interesting. I was approached by several festivals that wanted to show the film. And things started to work out. You’re seen differently after you receive some festival validation. I even got some award, it happened in a garage in America. People went crazy after that. The local press was like “This young talent, the pride of Bistrita”. I had won the Award for the Best Experimental Film, which was practically saying, “We didn’t get it, but we liked it.” That’s why I’m very skeptical about festivals.

Truth is, me and the festival world, not the best relationship. With my first films I went to all the festivals, but I noticed a very interesting thing. I don’t think festivals are very much about the film itself, the way I see it. I think film festivals are more about making film, rather than the film itself.

And I went to a festival the first time, because I realized that if no one knows about you, everything you do is pretty much useless. You can make great films or not, commercial or not, but the point is, if no one heard about you, there’s no chance in hell you’re gonna make it. At Baby Nap, in which I talked about myself, my dreams, a couple of friends told me that I should get some help, go to a therapist, and that suicide is not the way to go. But I didn’t talk about suicide in that film. Then I realized that after you get some awards, people start taking you seriously. I don’t particularly want to be taken seriously, but I would also like to have some money for making films. A pact with the Devil, it’s what it is.

After that award, people started looking me out for collaborations, until I would become too famous and too arrogant to accept any project that was offered (laughs). I didn’t have a problem with that, because that’s how I kept working. Since then I’ve been a freelancer, because I realized that I do better when I work alone.

After Baby Nap you did Mother, Father, I Have to Tell You Something, where you directly address the issue of your homosexuality and your fear of coming out to your parents.

The only people left to find out were mom and dad. I thought, “Okay, everyone else knows, so it’s time for them to find out, too.” Somehow I made this animation precisely for them, to see how hard it was for me. That pressure of telling them, “You created a monster. This is him. Now is that so bad?” I discovered all sorts of interesting things. Now my mother is very good friends with my boyfriend: “How’s Cristi?”, she asks all the time. I call him “Bursuc” (ie – Romanian for “badger”). Cristi loves to cook and he does cook very well. He stocks up for winter like the end of the world is coming. Too bad there’s no one to survive us, since we can’t have children. But we are ready for the apocalypse. All the women here in Salicea (ie – where Paul Muresan lives) are crazy about him.

But how do you develop the original idea? Do you start writing first or do you actually start drawing? The first two films are less narrative, more fragmented, than the last two.

One of my shortcomings, as a director, is that I don’t know how to make my story clearer. I mean it’s clear in my head, only that the result is seen as interesting and nice, but people don’t really understand it. That’s my problem, storytelling. I can’t make myself understood. That’s what I’m trying to focus on these years. In Cradle I actually tried to make the story easy to understand. Baby Nap went off-road, far into the bushes. In Mom, Dad … I got some stuff right. Luckily, I offered some  explanations at the end. If you have a beginning and an end somewhat clear, you can put anything you want in the middle. It’s like a sandwich. Let’s say you can just choose the bread for the sandwich.

With Something, as a director, I’m pretty sure I messed up. But as a human being, I am convinced that I did the best thing possible. I don’t think it’s a disaster, but narrative-wise no one gets it. Nobody wants to watch it a second time. But I realized, with this film, that it has to exist in order to see what it’s like when it doesn’t work out the way you wanted. There are some things there, but it has its faults.

It’s not enough for you to be talented so all that you make comes out amazing. Sometimes there’s a good chance it won’t work out, even if you tried very hard. And the harder you try, the bigger the chance to come out wrong. That got me thinking.

After that, I decided that for my next film I shouldn’t try to put everything in it. But rather make a much simpler drawing, only in graphite. Not to have a million frames per second. The fine movement in animation is very pleasing to the eye, but maybe sometimes it’s not really necessary.

That’s when I started experimenting a bit. Thank God for getting collaborations. This is the area where I experiment. I try like a new technique or something in that area, so I don’t have to experiment on my own films. Sounds like a guinea pig. But I’m so interested in that experiment that I try very hard to get it right. It’s not like I don’t care about their product, whatever it is. When I want to try something new, I get very curious and learn new things. So, technically I experiment on other projects, but conceptually I experiment on my films.

In Cradle I do think there’s a bit of a story, I mean it does talk about something. Still, you’re watching a couple of characters. I think it goes well with music. In the end, you’re left with some feeling. It was a lot of work, half a year. There were between 8,000 and 9,000 drawings.

In the end, when I saw that people understood it more or less, I could sleep in peace. That’s something that works for me. Don’t say everything you have to say. Just a part of it, keep it simple. I mean, that part is gonna get quite complicated, because a million ideas will come to your mind. And you’re tempted to include them. But then you would have to remove them. So, better to keep it simple.

To what extent do you think you have already developed a style?

I think you’re working on your style all your life. Mitrix (ie – Mihai Mitrica, director of Animest and animation film producer) wants us to make a feature film together. But I’ve just cut the umbilical cord. I was just born into this world. I’m still a child in the film world. Yes, I had one or two short films that were praised, and that’s cool. There might have been some luck in it, as well. But that doesn’t mean you have to go make the Space Odyssey. I feel there’s still a lot to learn, that I need to grow up some more. “It’s never the perfect time”, he tells me. And he’s right. But it’s hard to move to feature films after only three or four short films. In animation, that’s a five- to six-year commitment. You need to gather a team. Then, not many are keen about making animation on paper. Nobody, except maybe for two romantic high schoolers. Other than that, tablets all the way, because it’s more practical. So there’s no point in getting our hopes up and making our feature film debut. Not the case. For what? Just to get some state funding? You’ll end up hating your life.

All your films are populated by monsters and overflow with fantasy. It probably comes from what you said earlier: your inner search and the appeal to the dark side. But did these animations help you, partially or totally, to overcome your fears, your anxieties?

I don’t think you can ever get over them. But you can observe and learn how you react to them. I still have a certain panic, in certain situations, with people at home. But it doesn’t take me by surprise anymore. We go back through the stories we choose to tell. There are people who don’t want to go there anymore. And rightly so, because it’s a very painful area. And you probably have better things to do. Unfortunately, those areas hide clues about us. My films help me go back to these areas in order to look at them differently. You need to connect to your inner suffering, which shouldn’t be seen as drama. You can look at it with humor. When it comes to pain and suffering, we kinda make a good crowd.

In general, it’s nice to have a creative activity. On the one hand, it consumes: food, movies, conversations, sex. But, on the other hand, in order to consume you need to pay for that moment. There is a void inside. And it fills up when you create. When you create, you put some elements together. And you build a thing. You cook for someone. You make a surprise for someone. You organize an event. Then something fills up inside. When people hear of creation, they expect greatness. But it can be anything, really. It could be a meringue. The fact that you washed the dishes and thought about it. Our existence in the world must be balanced somehow.

But here we have a problem. In our world, creativity is put under a lot of pressure. Not only do you create, but you have to create an incredible thing that no one has seen before. But if you have created something mediocre, as is often the case, you get punished for it. Automatically, the child in you who is eager to create is very disappointed. So they don’t want to do anything anymore. We need to encourage this creativity a bit. At school, in high school, in college, you are encouraged as an artist to get to Pollock’s level. If you don’t sell like him, you’re a loser. You have to go work somewhere else. Oops, sorry for that.

Instead of focusing on how great you could become as an artist, you could focus on your mediocrity as an artist. I think that’s the real struggle, rather than trying to be the best in the universe. It’s easier to want to be the best in the world, and there are almost eight billion people, than to look at yourself and actually accept your mediocrity. Even if you do something extraordinary at some point, after a few generations it gets outdated anyway and is long forgotten. I sacrifice my life to impress some people I’m never going to meet. And you don’t understand why life passes by you like that. Why you feel so bad. It doesn’t feel that cool after all, huh? When you win the Oscar, I think you have that hype for the moment, but then you hear of all those suicides that no one can explain.

If you could accept your mediocrity, the fact that you are perhaps a nobody and that you may not change the universe considerably, which is very likely, that huge burden, that you will disappoint eight billion people, disappears. Then, you’re left only with yourself, and that’s it. It was you all the way anyway. If you succeed, you will attract either envy or pity. Envy, because someone else is going to say that they could do it just as well. And pity, because your next project probably won’t be as good. At some point you mess it up anyway, whoever you are.

Journalist and film critic. Curator for some film festivals in Romania. At "Films in Frame" publishes interviews with both young and established filmmakers.