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by Cressida Greening
July 31st, 2011

A man in polka-dot underwear fights against a tyrannical overlord and his 16Bit dictatorship as they battle it out in a cruel dystopian landscape; after temporary death and subsequent coin-induced resurrection man triumphs, 8Bit order is resumed, all live happily ever after. This, at least is a simplified rendering of the short film 8BITS, made by the 8BITS team (consisisting of Valere Amirault, Jean Delaunay, Sarah Laufer and Benjamin Mattern) which we screened this Saturday as part of our Kill Screen event. But don’t worry if you couldn’t make the screening as the film is also available to watch online (scroll down). We got to learn more about the ideas behind the film as we spoke to the filmmakers about how they made it and ubiquity of videogames in today’s culture.

RF: What is the concept behind the film?

8BITS Team: Outside of the obvious relationship to video games and gaming, the main overarching concept of the movie is evolution and progress. How “old” and “young” can live side by side? How mandatory is it to be up-to-date all the time? Does “old” necessarily means outdated? The video game world is a great metaphor for talking about this kind of conflict, as it’s a merciless business that demands a technologically forward, cutting-edge mentality. But seriously, in the end, the movie is pretty much all about our love for old-school stuff; just a compilation, a tribute to everything we adore.

RF: One of the most interesting things about your film visually is that while it takes the video game as its starting point, it gradually moves away from its formal constraints and evolves into something more narrative orientated. How important was the idea of the video game to creating your film?

8BITS Team: Valere came up with the idea of a gangster/mafia storyline taking place in a videogame world, something a little bit like the first Gran Theft Auto games. Then we worked on the scenario all together during about 6 months to finally come up with something that was a little darker, including more elements from the gangster/mafia side of the project. At this point, the links between the characters were much more developed during a pretty long introduction phase and the movie was much closer to 10 minutes…But because it was completely unrealistic to even try to make a 10mins short and because our school was not particularly happy about certain details of our scenario (not-PG13 compliant) we ended up cutting off the entire introduction.

RF: Did you find that using the formula of the video game allowed you to work in a certain, structured way? Did you ever feel constrained having set out to make the film in this way?

8BITS Team: No, pretty much to the contrary. Working in a videogame-based universe is really helpful when you are building a storyline. You are usually constrained by the rules that make your plot believable or at least a consistent entity. Here, we were able to play with the compilation aspect of our project in order to bring a lot of different elements, references and even random stuff into the narrative. Moreover, we were able to do so whenever we felt like it was necessary (or just fun). The challenge is to create a good balance between the consistency of your plot and the fact that it’s also just a crazy parallel universe where anything can happen.

RF: The film is visually stunning; explain a bit about the animation process.

8BITS Team: Well… thanks! The animation process was not that hard, except maybe from a technical point of view. The character design was locked pretty late during the production and Sarah, who was in charge of the setup, had to re-build it from scratch a couple of times. Also, because of the shape of our characters, it was pretty tricky to make them do certain extreme moves. Fortunately, the very stylized animation style we chose to adopt was really helpful on this side. We had a lot of fun “analyzing” (playing) different types of movements; from almost perfectly fluid animation in recent games like Assassin’s Creed to the very stepping sprite-based moves from Street Fighter II.

RF: 8 Bits is being shown as part of our Kill Screen series, a look into the impact, which video games have had and continue to have on our culture. How do you see the role of video games in this respect?

8BITS Team: That’s where the four of us are actually not on the same page… haha. Our team was not made of four hardcore gamers, and it was more like a mixture of each other’s experiences with games (and a lot of catching-up sessions). Actually, that’s a pretty good representation of the phenomenon… it’s so common and implemented in our culture that everybody can have a different level of appreciation and knowledge of it, but nobody can totally escape it, like gastronomy, cinema, music, design, etc. It’s a pretty awesome recognition for the genre.

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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.

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