The Creative Spark: Michael Langan, Experimental Filmmaker
Illustration by John Hersey

The Creative Spark: Michael Langan, Experimental Filmmaker

with Michael Langan

Video: Michael Langan, Experimental Filmmaker

Male 1: What got me excited films to begin with, As an experimental film maker, I'm I've been working with short films for many years.

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Watch the Online Video Course The Creative Spark: Michael Langan, Experimental Filmmaker
15m 51s Appropriate for all Nov 08, 2013

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Michael Langan makes short films that blend animation and live action, inspired by motion picture pioneers like Eadweard Muybridge and Norman McLaren, but they're nothing like you've ever seen. It's his uncompromising vision that has companies like Pepsi and Samsung soliciting him for commercials—giving him creative control that other directors can only dream about. Langan's newest passion, screenwriting for feature-length films, lets him bring the things he loves about experimental shorts to a wider audience. In this Creative Spark, we profile Michael as he looks back on the evolution of his style, and reflects on his future in film.

Watch the bonus feature for a full-length version of Choros, Langan's 2011 collaboration with dancer Terah Maher.

Michael Langan

Michael Langan, Experimental Filmmaker

Male 1: What got me excited films to begin with, was that it's such a great way to deliver unexpected ideas. As an experimental film maker, I'm interested in pushing the boundaries technically. Whether that's compositing multiples of people, or echoing a person or an object. If it either spoke to you in some way or evoked some thoughts that you didn't have yesterday, that's a success. I've been working with short films for many years.

They've each gone on to nice lives on the film festival circuit, and they adapt very well to potential commercial work too. The background that I had, was, was seeing these crazy experimental animations, that our instructors had shown us at RISD. The Rhode Island School of Design is pretty arts-oriented. So, I had this mindset going into making doxology that a film could be anything. I actually had to come to terms with my direction as an independent film maker. First when I discovered that I was really bad at traditional animation, and I have this voice that doesn't necessarily even fit in with that stuff.

I started playing with using the camera and doing stop motion animation like pixelation I call it with people. Figuring out these other ways I could cheat animation. My teachers luckily really embraced that and encouraged me to embrace it to write a whole bunch of crazy stuff, and shoot a whole bunch of crazy stuff, and we'll just see what happens, you know, just have fun. Masking became a huge boon for me in combining elements and I was like, oh, gosh, if I can cut myself out then I can make 30 copies of myself.

There are obvious similarities between all the films that I've worked on, but I'm not interested in sticking to one thing, and the ideas kind of naturally lead in new directions. One of the techniques that I really like playing with is called replacement animation. When you take a whole bunch of disparate objects that have some kind of similarity, and then line them up so that they stay in relatively the same place, and then you play them in rapid sequence. So like in Dahlia, we're seeing flowers doing that or parking meters doing that, sidewalk cracks doing that, plus we're moving through space with the sidewalk cracks, which is fun.

When it kind of went to the next level is when I started playing with that in a heliotropes a little bit. Moving from birds to bodies to planes. Male 2: While southern birds are sloshing from the Equator down to the South Pole. For their spring. We humans have made with all our fires and all our fuels the longitudinal version. Male 1: And then taking that to the next level with famous art. There's that expression that there's nothing new under the sun.

And it pretty much applies to everything. Especially when you're working with a technique that has evolving over time. When I get to work on a film, I try to be pretty conscious of whether or not someone's actually going to watch this thing. Sometimes, it's something crazy that draws people in, and gets them hooked to it. It's either gotta be funny or it needs to be like really innovative, or the subtleties that we're getting into have to be just luscious. And, if it's going to be slow, it's gotta be oh, it's gotta be delicious slow. With Choros, it actually was a year, a full year of shooting.

That whole time we were experimenting with choreography, figuring out the exact number of frames that these copies should be spaced apart. And in the end, there's not that many shots in the film. But, each of those shots is so, carefully considered. Tara and I, my collaborator, who is a dancer and an animation professor besides, went over and over the choreography. And we were aligning it to the music. We're very mindful of the fact that this technique, chrono photography, has a lot of history, and it started in the 1870s.

Eadweard Muybridge was shooting his famous galloping horse. And Etienne Jules Marie, one of his contemporaries, was taking that same technology, and shooting people in a dark room. 100 years later, Norman McLaren takes that technique and he puts it into motion. 40 years after that, Tara and I, I don't know if we belong on the same page as these guys, but we're, we're trying to use the technology that we have to bring that to a next level. If you just glance at the film on a computer, it may not draw you in. But if you sit down and you stick on the headphones, the rhythm and the pacing can kind of take you on a journey that you wouldn't normally see every day.

It's kind of cool to trace the roots of what we're creating to the innovations 100 plus years ago. We're using the same ingredients to create something representative of today. But also our voices as film makers. Everything in your life influences the stuff that you're making as an artist. Like the music that you're listening to at the time. We see all the stuff on the internet, we're internalizing all this and it's coming out through us. So, for the past six months or so I've been writing this screen play. Over hauling the first draft, getting the second draft done and kind of like pulling teeth to start working in that medium.

But, then I got into it. I realized that there's the expectation that short film makers are just working toward making a feature. But I could be comfortable working forever as a short film maker. I love short films. Sadly, it doesn't reach as many people as feature films do, the feature world has promises that I don't even fully understand yet. Honestly, my favorite part of making a movie is the conceptualization part. You brain just feels so good when it's churning out these ideas and making these connections.

This film is not just for art junkies. I hope that I can bring the things that I love about crazy experimental short films to a broader audience. The first films that I got excited about were really unexpected different things. There's a big gap between that and traditional feature films and I'm really want to bridge that gap. I'm excited about this new direction and I really love writing. The whole thing is there in your head, and it's just a matter of getting it out there so that other people can see it too.

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