Louis Morton Passer Passer Interview

Share Button

Louis Morton Passer Passer animationSound is one of the essential elements of filmmaking, although it may be less obvious than cinema’s visuals. This is partly because of the overriding effect human vision has over hearing, as depicted by the McGurk effect. But filmmakers recognize sound’s importance. For French New Wave director Robert Bresson, film sound should be strictly diegetic. In his book “Notes On Cinematography,” he said, “No music as accompaniment, support or reinforcement. No music at all. Except, of course, the music played by visible instruments.”

For Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, music is the closest art to cinema and “the greatest pleasure one can indulge in.” Haneke nevertheless usually also prefers diegetic music in his films, for example Funny Games.

Sound is also the basis for Chris Marker’s La Jetee, which was composed almost entirely of still shots, and the sound editing created the film’s pace and rhythm. Other experimental filmmakers such as Hollis Frampton in Nostalgia and Carrots and Peas, and Paul Sharits in Word Movie explore the complex relationship between sound and images. The music-themed documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, which won this year’s Oscars, is also largely based on sound editing and mixing.

Loius Morton’s Passer Passer Interview

Animation filmmaker Louis Morton used sound as the basis for his animated short Passer Passer, which screened at Sundance 2014 along with Drew Christie’s Allergy to Originality. filmslie.com was lucky enough to get the chance for an interview with Morton who gives valuable technical and theoretical insight into how he made the movie, which he describes as “a city symphony [that] celebrates the hidden world of background noise. Field recordings from the streets of Los Angeles and Tokyo create a living rhythmic world.” Morton did Passer Passer in his DADA class at University of South California’s graduate animation program. Before enrolling at USC, Morton had no formal film training or experience, but a background in industrial and graphic design.

The Sound Editing and Design of Passer Passer

I recorded all the sounds by walking around L.A. with a little Zoom H2 handheld recorder in my pocket. I started organizing the sounds into different sections, thinking of ideas for different soundscapes and audio environments.

When I started working with Katie [Katie Galey, the film’s sound designer], some of the sections were pretty well laid out, but some were not developed at all. […] It was a very organic and exciting process working with Katie. […She] is an amazing musician and she took the rough sections I had and totally transformed them into these strange rhythmic movements. Especially in the second half of the film, the café noises, the train station, and the flopping buildings scenes were one hundred percent Katie’s creation. In these sections, my animation choices were directly influenced by the sound design work.

Katie did an initial sound mix for headphones and home stereos. Alex Weiss [the film’s sound mixer] did a mix session to translate the audio to LtRt and Dolby 5.1 mixes for theaters. Bethany Sparks [the film’s sound coordinator] is the awesome sound coordinator for the animation program at USC.

At least three people other than the director worked on Passer Passer’s sound, which corroborates Drew Christie’s claim that animation is time- and effort-consuming, although that is probably true for any film, as filmmaker Jake Harris also had a substantial film crew for his experimental short Three Poems. Not to mention Disney’s short Get a Horse!, which took 18 months and about 125 artists to complete.

The Animation Software of Passer Passer

[…] I animated in Flash and did cleanup and shading work in Photoshop with compositing in After Effects. I used Adobe Audition to do a rough audio layout and Katie Gately used Ableton Live to do the sound design work and initial mix. I handled most of the animation, but I had some assistance from the talented Josh Weisbrod who animated some background characters for some scenes. […] My classmates Simo Liu and Jake Zhang helped with some clean-up and shading work. I had great mentorship from the faculty at USC.

How Passer Passer Came About

The initial spark came from a podcast on 99% Invisible. A musician described a project in which he went around Washington D.C. recording and collecting escalator sounds. This got me thinking about what could be done if more sounds in a city were recorded, collected and organized. I wanted to create an animated world based on these sounds that are in the background everywhere in a city.

 Louis Morton Passer Passer animation Sundance 2014How long it took

I spent about 3 months recording audio, sketching and brainstorming ideas. Production time was about 9 months with a small break in the middle.  I worked on the film almost full time, in addition to teaching assistant duties and other graduate student tasks at USC.

The Budget for Passer Passer

The budget was around $2,000, but that was just money I used to pay others for assistance. My last year’s tuition and living expenses at USC were funded by the Annenberg Fellowship, a wonderful program available to students at the USC Cinema School. Adobe is an official sponsor of the John C. Hench DADA program at USC.

The Influences for Passer Passer

Structurally, I was influenced by the City Symphony films of the early 1920s, which I learned about in a documentary film class at USC. Especially Rain and Man With a Movie Camera. In Rain, Joris Ivens documented rainstorms in Amsterdam for 2 years and then edited the footage into a cohesive 10-minute film. There are people but no characters and no narrative, but it’s totally engrossing. I also watched a lot of Norman McLaren and Jules Engel films. Stylistically I was influenced by some of the more experimental works by the UPA animation studio.

Louis Morton’s Film Influences

I finally watched Enter The Void the other night and I thought it was amazing. I also finally saw Melancholia recently and was equally blown away. I fell asleep briefly during both films because I was watching them alone very late at night on Netflix, but I think the state of sleepiness only helped in the experience of these particular films!

My favorite animated film that I’ve seen in the past week is A Country Doctor by Koji Yamamura.

A Country Doctor is a visually striking animated interpretation of a Franz Kafka short story.

Both Enter the Void by Gaspar Noé and Melancholia by Lars von Trier are also very visual films that use computer-generated effects. Gaspar Noé has said that every scene in Enter the Void has some kind of CG effect. Louis Morton admits to his predilection for visual effects.

I especially love seeing how visual effects are being used in more experimental films. Maybe that’s why I liked Enter the Void so much. The film broke so many rules of reality and put the viewer in a total disembodied state. If I ever had the resources to create a live action film like that I totally would, but until then I’ll continue drawing. […]

I’ve never really made a live action film and don’t have any immediate plans to. I love drawing and being in complete control of creating a world and the rules of that world. But with the continuous advancements in visual effects, live action directors are becoming more and more in control of their worlds now too, so the lines between animation and live action keep getting more blurry.

I’m currently freelancing in the commercial world, which is exciting and always different. Eventually I’d like to transition to a directorial position. I also want to continue to make short films and have a second one in the works, but it’s always tough balancing professional and personal work. My next film is a narrative kids story and is being funded in part by the Sloan Science grant. I have an idea in mind for the film after that which will be much more experimental, and also an animation installation idea in the pipeline.

The Audience for Animation and Short Films

I think there is a growing appreciation for short films now especially since sites like Short of the Week (and your own!) are doing such an excellent job of curating and promoting amazing shorts. The general population’s appreciation for animation seems to be growing too, animated features frequently top the box office when released. Still, I wish there was more support for adult feature animation and independent shorts in the U.S.