In 1910, Dumitru Dan established a world record, travelling the world on foot and covering 100,000 km. Few people knew about his adventures. He died alone, in anonymity, in the 80’s. But his story inspired Anton and Damian Groves. They turned the story of Dumitru into a short animation, nominated at Gopo.
We immediately realised that we need to find out more, to find an angle. We tracked down Dumitru Dan’s daughter Steliana – who was very old and frail, but with a lucid mind she told us all about her father’s travels.
They were surprised to learn that no one believed his stories, especially when his tales of travel and cultural enlightenment didn’t really fit the socialist rhetoric of the communist era. So they decided to tell the story of Dumitru Dan from his daughter's perspective. Recreating different parts of the world of 1910 in all its splendour was impossible. So they turned to animation as a solution.
In this interview, Anton and Damian talk about this short animation and how it was produced, about de beauty of short films and the production of movies in Romania.
With artistic parents, we were interested in the creative industries from a young age. I (Anton) was initially into illustration and wanted to be a comic-book artist, while Damian aspired to be an architect. My plan changed when I won a film competition based on a story I had drawn out as a comic – I realised in that moment that comics can act as blue prints for film. From that moment I knew it was what I wanted to do. I think I was about 17 years old.
Meanwhile Damian refined his design skills with an architecture degree in London, but graduated with a disdain for the rigid world of Architecture. Looking for a more creative alternative, he looked to Romania where I was already completing my first short as a young director. We teamed up, and the rest is history :P
Learning through practice
Firstly, being brothers surrounded by creativity from a young age helped us form a common aesthetic taste - most of the time we are on the same page, many times second guessing each other. Our respective universities I think gave us the work ethic and persistence needed to make a career out of the film/advertising industry.
To decode and practise the language of cinema and storytelling I think has taken us a lot of time – mostly learning through practise and experience – and of course, we are still learning, and always will be..
‘Opinci’ is based on a true story – which was actually brought to us by a good friend 6 years ago. It was the story of Dumitru Dan - a Romanian record-breaking globe trotter back in 1910 who crossed the world on foot covering 100,000 km, getting up to all manner of adventures, losing all his friends along the way and finally dying in anonymity in the 80’s. It was the perfect story of an unsung hero - someone who had achieved greatness but was never recognised for it.
We immediately realised that we need to find out more, to find an angle. We tracked down Dumitru Dan’s daughter Steliana – who was very old and frail, but with a lucid mind she told us all about her father’s travels. We were surprised to learn that no one believed his stories, especially when his tales of travel and cultural enlightenment didn’t really fit the socialist rhetoric of the communist era. With Steliana’s interview, we realised we could tell the story of Dumitru Dan from her perspective.
Like this we could pick the most important moments from his journey and tell it in short form. The next step was to choose a medium. To recreate the different parts of the world of 1910 in all its splendour was impossible. So we turned to animation as a solution.
The Biggest Challenge
There were many hard moments during the animation, as in the end we are telling two parallel stories, both with their own individual animated style. The biggest challenge was the stop motion part of the film – while we were very confident about the 3d animation (having the talented team from Framebreed and Fatfox on board), the stop motion part was a mystery as neither of us had experience in puppet animation.
After a failed test, we started to look for other solutions, and luckily our associate producer Lukas Thiele suggested the technique of pixilation (animating with people). This opened the door to many challenges, as it was an untested technique but essentially it was the breakthrough we needed, and it saved the film.
The first short
The first ‘short film’ that had an impact upon us as children was actually a music video - Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. With a complete narrative, infectious music and amazing special effects for its era, it completely blew us away.
In a limited space of time, the short film can transport you into a whole new world, and has the potential to make an impact that resonates far beyond its short running time. They often represent the author’s beginning, his/her fascinating search for style and form, and sometimes are the precursors for feature films.
I think everyone has a little reticence when thinking about short films. Just because a lot of them are often too short to have a lasting impact and being a medium populated by beginner filmmakers, there are lots of bad ones to sift through before you find the good ones. Still, I think that Romanians together with the whole world have gravitated to shorter forms since the rise of the internet, and in many cases now they are preferred.
When it comes to short film production in Romania, I think we are in a good place – of course there is always room for more funding money, better ideas etc, but so far we have still managed to reach a high level. This couldn’t have been demonstrated better than with Opinci’s co-writer Bogdan Muresanu, and his wonderful film ‘Cadou de Craciun’, that was shortlisted for the Oscar race this year.
They have been considered the ‘Oscars’ of Romania, so for us it’s a real honour to be nominated. Especially since Ion Popescu-Gopo was first and foremost an animator, I think he would be happy to know that alongside the success of the Romanian film industry’s live action films, we are slowly making our mark in animation too.