We interview Till Nowak on the making of his extreme amusement rides documentary "The Centrifuge Brain Project" and his experience of directing and filming, as well as producing the 3D animation for the short.
After you finished the CG rides for “The Experience of Fliehkraft” exhibition, what prompted you to push the idea further and create a film integrating these rides?
I love art and I love film. Art is about creation, freedom, the imagination and a lack of purpose, while film is storytelling, character and the illusion of an alternate reality. For this project I started with the artistic work, with no specific goal, no purpose, just an idea. Once I had the realistic video clips of the amusement rides I wanted to create an even stronger clash between realism and absurdity.
The art world and film world are very different and usually there is not much intersection between the two of them. The film world exists at film festivals, in the cinema, the internet and TV and the art world exists in galleries, museums, art fairs, auctions and collections. Usually my projects are either focusing on the artistic or the cinematic aspect, but this project really lives in both of these worlds. This means, that besides the extended content of the project, it was also an experiment for me to create an absolute art-film-hybrid.
How did you end up choosing a fake documentary approach?
I never was a fan of heavy stylization, I always loved a realistic approach. So if you choose the most realistic style for a fictional film you automatically get close to a mockumentary. It was never my intention to make people really believe that this was real, I just wanted the audience to feel as if they were eye witnesses, to enhance the impact of the idea. Films like “District 9” or “Children of Men” were a big inspiration for me. And since 15 years I worked for many real TV documentaries, which probably had an influence on me as well.
You went to great lengths to build a convincing façade for the film. Which were for you the most important elements to accomplish this?
I think the most important aspect is the believability of the character. Leslie Barany was perfect for the role, because he turned out to be a very good liar. We had two days of filming, one day in the laboratory and one day at the amusement park. At first he used the exact words that I had written for him, which didn’t sound natural. But after a few takes I asked him to ignore the text and tell me about the ideas that he remembers from the text as if he would lie to me, try to convince me as his interview partner. That was the breakthrough moment – when he stopped acting and started lying.
I think Leslie’s great performance is the reason why a shocking percentage of people actually believe that it is a true documentary. I was very surprised, because to me and to other media professionals it’s an obvious fake, but many “normal” people in the audience think it is true. This reflects another important aspect of the film: How much we trust in images and media. And of course the quality of the visual effects is another critical aspect for the believability.
How did you approach the process of writing the dialogue for Dr. Laslowicz?
I had the direction for the monologue in my head for a while, but I actually just wrote it two days before the shooting. I wrote it down in almost one continuous flow, in a few hours. Usually I am not so quick and easy in writing, but in this case it felt as if the humor and philosophy that I was carrying in my head since years just had to be released. There were no other people involved in writing it, but Leslie took my ideas and extended them with his own humor and style. So you could say that the final text is my writing in Leslie’s words.
I knew I wanted a seemingly serious, but crazy scientist, but the actual character of Dr. Laslowicz was defined a lot by Leslie himself, because his presence and charisma is really what makes it. I had some rough references and inspirations for the setting, like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uef17zOCDb8 or the absurd bureaucracy in “District 9” in general.
I had no technical reference for the short film. I created the manipulated amusement rides and the techy talk just out of my own scientific humor. They are a mix of real physics, absurdity and deliberate contradictions. The goal was to create the biggest possible mistake, but still make it sound serious and convincing.
For “The Experience of Fliehkraft”, which is an art project related to the film, I created technical construction plans for the amusement rides, which I printed on paper. I took all kinds of existing construction plans and mixed them with the actual 3D geometry of my visual effects like a complex collage that has nothing to do with real engineering – in fact it’s the total opposite of real engineering.