Monday, November 2, 2015

Curmudgeons & Pigeons: My Friend is Making a 3D Animated Short Film!


I met Dmitry in 2011, when we were on the same trip to Israel through URJ Kesher & Birthright Israel, which organizes free trips for Jewish young adults. Honestly, it was not a trip I really wanted to go on - but it was free, & a friend was coming with me, & I had never been abroad before, so I agreed.

I was fortunate to find myself among a group of about 40 other Jewish young adults from all backgrounds - people I'm still in touch with, people who changed me, people who influenced my perspectives on life. One of them was Dmitry, a friendly, outgoing Russian-American film student with the kind of unexpected wisdom that sticks with you. On a hotel roof on our last night in Tel Aviv, Dmitry gave me a hug & whispered to me some quiet insight about loving myself & not letting myself be my own worst enemy; I haven't forgotten it.

The trip changed all of us in so many ways. For Dmitry, it was the inspiration behind Curpigeon, a 3D animated short film. Though I've never done an interview-style post on this blog before, I thought it would be a fun way to share a little bit about his project, which is running a support campaign, & for you to learn a little bit more about what goes into the making of the kind of quirky, adorable 3D shorts we all love. Bonus? This one has a socially conscious message designed to help kids cope with life's tough moments.

I present you: An interview with Dmitry Milkin, director of the upcoming Curpigeon!

Let's start with the basics: Tell us a little more about Curpigeon.
Curpigeon is a 3D animated short with some really unique and lovable characters. The story centers around a community of park pigeons & their old men pals, who help one of their own get through a great loss. It's really a film about community support. More specifically, it focuses on a window of grief that is one of the hardest to deal with - when everyone has moved on but you.

The goal is to really show kids a way to deal with a loss without falling into resentment or isolation, & instead reaching out to their community for help. I worked very hard to make sure that it is as hilarious as it is sweet & sincere. The short is packed with goofs & gags that will register with every age viewer - & really, that is the only way the message of the film will connect to the audience. I call it "hiding the peas in the mashed potatoes."

What inspired you to do a film about old men & pigeons, of all topics?
It's one of those relationships everyone is already familiar with. Everyone has seen old men feeding pigeons in the park. The image is iconic - not Superman-iconic, but iconic in a more intimate way.

For me this story was always a socially conscious mission. I'm horrified at how often & how randomly we've seen mass violence in the last few years. I can't get used to it, & no one should be used to it - doesn't matter what your politics are. After the shootings at Sandy Hook, I felt like it was impossible to shelter children from all of this, so I wanted to tell a children's story about dealing with death. It's a difficult task to even comprehend how to do, & I wanted to do it in a way that is much more natural & sentimental.

My girlfriend is a PhD candidate in clinical psychology, which came in very handy. I consulted with her & some of her colleagues & professors to make sure I was handling this subject matter responsibly & accurately. Each of the old men were designed to remind anyone of their grandpa. I think I spent way too much time coming up with different backstories & individual characteristics for these guys, who we never hear talk - but those are also the things that make them come to life. 

Curpigeon is basically the cutest name ever. How did you come up with that?
The title is a play on my favorite word, "curmudgeon," which means a cranky old man. I was so proud of myself when I came up with it. I mean, I'm doing a story about a cranky pigeon & old men, and it fit so perfectly! I patted myself on the back for that one - as my girlfriend rolled her eyes. I just like puns. It's a writer thing.

How did your - our! - trip to Israel impact your decision to make this film?
Oh, man, so much! I don't even know where to begin. Everyone loves their Birthright trip, so it may be a cliche to gush about mine (& clearly you're a bit biased, too, since you were on it) but ours may have been the best Kesher group of all time. Greg, one of our two group leaders, never led a group again because he felt nothing could top it!

Now, four years later, you're interviewing me, & another friend from the trip, Josh, brought it to his boss at Segars Media, which is now sponsoring the film. The sheer amount of support that I still receive from our 40-strong group is just incredible - so it's no wonder I came back from the trip & wrote a story about community support. That Israel trip made me feel connected to something bigger than myself, while instilling in me a deep sense of confidence & self-worth. That's really a priceless gift. I guess this film is my attempt at saying thank you.

What goes into the making of a 3D animated short film? What's the work process, how many people does it take, etc.? Walk us through it.
It takes not knowing what you are getting yourself into, even though everyone warned me that making a 3D animated short with 12 characters near 10 minutes long was an almost impossible task as an independent filmmaker. My background was in screenwriting, so I really had no idea what technical challenges I would face.

Now, I have so much respect for all the technical artists who are the behind-the-scenes wizards in all those large magnanimous feature fi;ms. It takes an army, & I encourage everyone to really watch the end credits to some of your favorite animated films from Dreamworks & such, just to really see how many people something like this takes. Last I counted, the Curpigeon team was 150+ strong - just the team of animators was 40 people over the course of a year and a half.

The support for this film has been really amazing from the start, & I think that's because people truly connect to the film's message. If I were to really explain everything that goes into the process, I would ramble on forever, but the main thing that has been essential is knowing why you're doing it, & holding on to that when big challenges get in the way. Putting four years of your life into a 10-minute experience is difficult to do. You need to know why it's worth it -& then never stop.

What's the next step for Curpigeon?
Festivals! Right now, we're raising money through our Rocket Hub Campaign, so we can do a final polish on the film & send Curpigeon to film/animation festivals around the world (including Israel). That way we can reach a global audience and promote Curpigeon as a brand of socially conscious storytelling. Then, who knows? Maybe Curpigeon the feature!

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