The woman and the man are in a room, a gecko sits in a terrarium, several flies are circling a lamp. Gradually we find more and more dependencies and analogies between their activities and observed elements as the rhythm of their universes accelerates. The microcosms shown seem to interact rhythmically and belong to some cosmic order.
Koniunkcja (English title: Misaligned)
Director, Author, and Design: Marta Magnuska
Producers: Grzegorz Wacławek and Piotr Szczepanowicz (Animoon, Poland)
Co-producer: Sabine Andersone (Atom Art, Latvia)
Supervising producer: Zofia Jaroszuk
Line producer: Karolina Barciszewska
Animation: Marta Magnuska, Mārtiņš Dūmiņš and Kristīne Zvirbule
Editing: Ewa Golis, Marta Magnuska
Sound: Michal Fojcik MPSE
Co-production: Atom Art
Co-financed Production & Promotion: A Polish Film Institute
Running time: 6:55 min
Koniunkcja is an animated short film where we observe a couple’s inner relationship told in a profound visual universe (You can watch the whole film from the link above). The film was directed by Marta Magnuska who is recognized as one of rising stars in the global animation industry after creating her film Foreign Body (2016) while studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź (Poland).
Koniunkcja impressively depicts the story by using effective visual metaphors and rhythmic sound effects, and changing the pacing of the story to synchronize the audience to the film.
The film has been making its global journey around about 40 international film festivals so far, along with winning the Grand Prize “Golden Dove” for animated films at DOK Leipzig 2022 (International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film) in Germany and being nominated in the Locarno Film Festival 2022, London International Animation Festival 2023, and Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film 2023.
We interviewed Marta Magnuska, the director, and Grzegorz Wacławek, a producer, on Koniunkcja.
Interview with Marta Magnuska
Hideki Nagaishi (HN): I would like to hear about your aim in developing this film. What did you most want to portray or deliver to the audience through the film?
Marta Magnuska: While I was creating the concept of Koniunkcja and developing the early stages, I mostly focused on my approach and feelings towards the topic. I asked myself why I want to make this film and why the topic is important to me. Instead of focusing on how the film would be received by the viewers, I wanted to say something personal and I had to be satisfied with the result. Of course, in the end, it’s an extremely rewarding feeling knowing that the film is well-received by the audience, and it’s very exciting for me to discover the audience’s reactions to the film.
I find it curious how the viewers are able to reflect on themselves and their own experiences through the film, and often their impressions go beyond what I originally anticipated while creating the film. Most people saw aspects of their current or previous relationships in the film, as Koniunkcja touches on issues that many people can relate to, such as loneliness in a relationship, the impact of routine in a couple, and falling out of love.
HN: Where did the initial idea of the story come from?
Marta Magnuska: The film’s concept is loosely based on a short story called The Gecko’s Belly by Italo Calvino that I stumbled upon several years ago. The story follows a couple who have a daily routine of sitting by the window and observing a gecko hunting for flies. The image of the gecko eating the flies triggers a series of existential thoughts in their minds. When I first read this story, I was struck by the vivid description of the protagonist’s stream of consciousness, in which he imagines himself as a fly being devoured by the gecko. This image immediately came to life in my mind, and I drew a few illustrations.
However, the final script of Koniunkcja is not an adaptation of Calvino’s work in any way. The initial idea underwent numerous revisions, and the final film focuses on the relationship between a man and a woman. The gecko remains in the story as a catalyst for events, a magical element, an observer, and a silent ally of the woman, who is attempting to reconnect with her partner.
HN: In addition to the previous question, why did you decide to make a film based on that idea and what part of the initial idea sparked your creativity on how to visually tell the story?
Marta Magnuska: I enjoyed the minimalistic setting and the idea of describing the relationship between two people through everything that happens around them, without them speaking nor confronting each other. I played with the idea of the elements surrounding the protagonist being an extension of their dynamics, which visualize how they fail to communicate. It’s as if these micro-universes were connected and part of some bigger universe or greater mechanism.
After reading Italo Calvino’s short story, I already had a lot of images in mind. In the case of Koniunkcja, the visual ideas appeared first, which helped me create the story.
HN: What did you take care in the most and what was the most difficult part when you were developing the story of the film?
Marta Magnuska: While creating Koniunkcja, I found working on the animatic to be the most challenging part. At the beginning of the project, I wanted to experiment with the film format and use the language of cinema such as editing and pacing, instead of simply telling the story.
I spent several weeks working on the animatic and trying out different approaches. The concept of Koniunkcja changed multiple times during this process. My goal was to find a connection between the story and the visuals so that it would allow me to portray the relationship between the characters within a minimalistic form of visual expression.
HN: I would like to hear about the creation of the visuals. What did you take care in the most when you designed the visuals for the film, such as the character designs of the couple, the gecko, and the other things that appeared in the film?
Marta Magnuska: As I developed the visual concept for Koniunkcja, I explored the most effective visuals and look that would best suit the story. I think about which elements are essential for conveying the message.
The minimalist visuals in Koniunkcja are designed to direct the viewer’s attention towards the dynamics between the protagonists. Therefore, I decided to avoid complex scenography and only include a few details to indicate that the situation is happening inside a flat.
Regarding the characters, I intentionally avoided adding any characteristic details except for the woman’s large glasses. I wanted the glasses to resemble gecko eyes to signify the silent connection between the two characters.
I chose to create the film using the traditional animation technique of drawing on paper. I enjoy drawing, and hand-drawn animation is the technique I feel most comfortable working with. With each new project, I strive to learn and experience something new, and I want to experiment with different animation techniques. That’s why I decided to use charcoal drawings on paper, frame-by-frame, for Koniunkcja.
Although it’s a time-consuming technique, I believe it adds a lot of expression to the drawings due to the various imperfections, mistakes, and dirt that appear while working, often resulting in unexpected outcomes. I enjoy playing with textures – organic, hand-drawn lines with different expressions that serve to depict the dynamics and tension between the protagonists in a non-narrative way.
HN: In terms of your direction of all the movement and layout of each scene, what did you take care in the most? Is there anywhere you would like viewers to pay special attention to?
Marta Magnuska: Throughout the process of storyboarding and layout, I wanted to stick to the minimalistic look and the strong graphic expression. This minimalistic way of depicting scenography allowed me to bend the rules and play with perspective distortions.
HN: What was your intention behind having the viewer unable to see the expression in the woman’s eyes through the glasses?
Marta Magnuska: In order to convey the dynamics between the characters in Koniunkcja, I intentionally avoided giving them any strong characteristics. Instead, I focused on their interactions and actions, rather than their “acting”. I included visible eyes in some of the first designs, but I found that they made the characters look a bit cartoony. Therefore, I decided to only show the reflection in the woman’s eye to indicate what she is seeing, or to indicate her emotions in other shots.
HN: Which parts are you particularly satisfied with in the finished product? What are the highlights of the film, or what do you want the audience to pay special attention to?
Marta Magnuska: After finishing Koniunkcja, there are always shots I would like to redo or some elements I would do differently today, but in general I’m quite happy with the final result. I’m especially fond of how the visual aspects turned out, and I’m thinking about future analogue animation projects.
Interview with Grzegorz Wacławek
HN: You have been producing several multi-award-winning animated short films. I’m curious about your process in finding short film projects that have high potential. Where and how did you come across the idea for this film project?
Grzegorz Wacławek: In the Animoon production company, we specialize in creating animated films using various animation techniques. Our approach to selecting short film projects is based on several key criteria. First and foremost, we make these selections very consciously because we invest our time and resources into them. Our primary goal is not financial profit, but rather the opportunity to bring to life projects that represent pure artistry and have the potential for broad festival distribution. Our productions have garnered over 200 awards worldwide, which speaks to the accuracy of our choices.
A crucial criterion that guides our decisions is the artistic potential of the project and its potential for worldwide exposure. We assess whether a project possesses that “something special” that captivates audiences and festival juries alike. Our aim is to support films with the potential to become outstanding works, both in terms of artistic and narrative excellence.
Furthermore, the creator and director of the film play an immensely important role in our selection process. We seek individuals who are sensitive to art, whose prior achievements and approach to filmmaking earn our trust. Creative collaboration is pivotal for us, and we actively strive to influence the project’s development, providing our perspective as producers. However, if we find that the creator is not open to such creative discussions and collaboration, we typically do not engage in such productions.
Additionally, many of the short films produced by Animoon are co-produced with Piotr Szczepanowicz, who, like myself, is also a creator. Piotr possesses a remarkable sense for outstanding projects and has a gift for discovering the potential of creators through inspiring conversations. His contribution to projects is invaluable, and his ability to unveil the creative potential of others is almost magical.
Within the Animoon team, we also have other producers with exceptional sensitivity, each with years of experience in the field of animated filmmaking. Their opinions and advice are highly valuable to me, and we always consult with them when making project choices. Often, I may have personal preferences for certain projects, but after collective assessment by the Animoon team, we may opt not to proceed with their production.
Regarding the Koniunkcja project, we have known and valued Marta Magnuska as our long-time collaborator for many years. We had inquired with her several times if she had any new projects in mind that she would like to realize with Animoon. After years of anticipation, Marta proposed a project that was fresh, innovative, and fully aligned with her creative vision. Without hesitation, we decided to support the production of this project, believing in its potential and uniqueness.
HN: Why did you decide to produce this film? And what part of the film project attracted you the most?
Grzegorz Wacławek: My collaboration with Marta Magnuska goes back many years. Both Piotrek and I, as producers, had the opportunity to work with Marta at Animoon on various projects and elsewhere. We’ve known Marta’s talent since her student days. She is not only incredibly gifted but also highly disciplined and professional in her work. I’ve always wanted to work with Marta on her own film because over the years, I’ve witnessed her growth as a creator. We would occasionally inquire if she had any projects she’d like to pursue with Animoon. When she proposed Koniunkcja we immediately agreed.
What I find most appealing about Marta’s film is the rhythmic synergy between the charcoal animated visuals and the deep, beautiful sound. Marta has managed to create a magnificent symphony of creatively harmonious elements. I also greatly appreciate the style of animation produced by Marta and the Atom Art team. It’s a beautifully crafted animation that exudes grace and exceptional craftsmanship.