February 11th, 2014

What's worse than a taxi driver running up the meter with "the scenic route"? How about a creepy ride with Boris, the taxi driver with an uncanny resemblance to a serial killer. This is the concept behind the animated short film "Serial Taxi" created by Paolo Cogliati for his graduate thesis at Ringling College of Art and Design. We explore the process behind the animated film noir inspired by a long taxi drive through the rural countryside of St. Petersburg.

How did you get into animation?

When I was around six years old my father came home with a VHS of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and I watched the film religiously. A few years later, I found out people actually made a living animating characters. I soon jumped into flip-books and was looking at Maya books by the age of fifteen.

How did you come up with the concept for the film?

During my university studies, I took a summer trip through Europe and found myself in Russia for a week or so. I called a taxi to take me to the airport the morning of my flight, but my driver left the main road and refused to speak a word. As I found myself in the rural countryside of St. Petersburg, I slowly started to believe I was going to be kidnapped. I realized he was simply trying to extend the fare moments before I was ready to attack him to attempt an escape!

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What was your inspiration?

I have always been a huge fan of film noire and thrillers. From a cinematic perspective, films like Dark City and The Game were always inspiring to me.  I also had the great opportunity to work on a CG film called "BATZ" in Paris of 2012. I found the difference between American animated short films and European short films very interesting---and ultimately deciding to mix the two together.

What was the most challenging aspect of this project?

I have to say the most challenging portion of the process was improving my lighting skills while lighting the film in order to achieve the colors and mood I had set out to achieve.

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How did the medium benefit or hinder the story?

Through the twenty something shorts I had in mind, "Serial Taxi" came to me a few days prior to pitching a different film. One thing I remember from my experience was the large transition of being a sleepy passenger in a taxi at 5 am, to feeling like the events that were going on around me were simply surreal. I decided that to best address this, I was going to animate the film in a more realistic manner at the beginning, and slowly transition to a more cartoony style of animation to project the flood of emotions going through the passenger.

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To make sure I properly addressed this concept, I created a chart with the various scenes in the film, to represent her increasing instability. This gave me a proper system to maintain the transformation uniform to the moment in the story.

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What did you learn during the process? 

I definitely realized the importance of planning your shots. When dealing with multiple characters and personalities, in different moments of a changing story, planning became key. I created "energy curves" for each of my characters on a piece of paper for every shot, to make sure I understood prior to animating how far to take each of them with their acting and where to restrain myself---this was to make sure I didn't over animate both characters and take away from the story.

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Having five weeks for 42 shots with 2+ characters on top of my college courses, time management was key, so I also animated most of my scenes in simple 2D shapes to figure out the timing early on, and avoiding wasting time in 3D.

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What was surprised you during the process?

I walk surprisingly well in heels. My girlfriend was a trooper and helped me pick out heels that I could try on---this was to figure out how much your body weight shifts in order to run under the rain. While I didn't animate myself running in heels, understanding the dynamics on it first hand helped me when I animated the lead character hailing a taxi under the rain!

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How has the film helped your career?

After graduating from Ringling, I worked for LAIKA on their upcoming stop-motion feature film The Boxtrolls in their CG department. When production neared an end six months later, I flew over to NYC to join the talented team at The Mill.

What’s next?

I am currently in the process of developing a new short film in my free time, as-well as continuing to pursue an advancement in my character animation abilities through performance based exercises whenever I find time!

You can find out more about Paolo on his website.