In life there are some things you simply can’t unsee. They’re usually the same things that are hard to explain. “Decoration” a short film from Ben Wheele is both of these things–in good, weird, beautiful and unsettling ways.
Wheele’s graduation film from the Royal College of Art, “Decoration” is something of a molecular rococo nightmare. After a young girl hugs her hamster to death, an elegant vase that’s nestled deep inside her restages the event “using living tissue.” As the girl ages, her theatrical gut turns on her, leading to tragedy. We’ll leave the description there so as not to spoil the ending, but needless to say, this is unlike any film we’ve seen before. In Wheele’s words, it’s “a sci-fi Baroque fairy tale, literally dripping with misanthropic venom.”
Wanting to know more about the story behind this equally entrancing and horrifying plasma-and-porcelain tale, we reached out to Wheele to ask him, “Dude, what exactly is going on here?”
Co.Create: Wow… tell me what’s going on here. What does this all mean?
Ben Wheele: I’d love to have an answer to this… it’s like unpicking a fractal. I suppose I had intended to make an inside-out fairy tale–a love story about a Baroque god that inhabits the body of a little girl and falls in love with her. Maybe it’s about loving something to death…
Where did the idea come from? Was this the story you always intended to tell or did it evolve in the process?
My guiding principle was to set a story along varying scales of fractal beauty–the vastness of cosmos and the molecular scale of the human body. In this way, beauty is devoid of a moral conscience–an electron microscope can reveal how cancerous tumors are exquisitely ornate, as beautiful as nebulas, despite the tragedy they cause at the “human scale.”
I think this message was quite hard to put across in a short animation. I tried to condense it. I went through many re-drafts of the script, and it became more visceral, more of a “horror” film. I can understand why people may find the final result a bit hard to take.
Tell me about the animation–there are notably opposed visual styles, yet they’re both so striking. What role does the animation play in the storytelling?
I think the mix was intended to stir up uneasiness to be honest. I tried to evoke quite a nostalgic Disney-style of classic animation, then literally “go under the skin” of that style, to reveal a strange new visceral reality. I love how animation can reveal different layers of reality, it’s like peeling an orange.
What programs/techniques did you use to create the animation?
It was a combination of 2D hand drawn animation, cut-out animation, After Effects and 3D modelling software.
Is this what your dreams look like? A comment on your Vimeo page says this was meant to be your most sane. If so, what’s it like inside your head?!
It’s lovely inside my head… I think it is anyway; I haven’t tried any other heads! All dreams are very strange, because I think the universe is fundamentally very, very, very strange. More strange than we can imagine. It would be impossible for me to create something ‘stranger’ than the universe, since I am physically made up of it. The fact we are created from cosmic material somehow “rubs” against our evolved notions of sanity and normality.
Hat tip to It’s Nice That.