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‘Misaligned’: The Minimalist Observations of an Uncommunicative Couple

Marta Magnuska’s hand-drawn, charcoal on paper short carefully studies the relationship between two characters sharing the same living space and the everyday routines that define the tension in their repetitive lives.

Three years in the making, Marta Magnuska’s 2D, hand-drawn charcoal on paper animated short, Misaligned, is a study of a relationship between two characters sharing the same living space. Made without dialogue or music, the film employs repetitive sequences to build tension and capture the director’s intriguing, minimalist story about two people and their everyday routine written into the greater order of the universe.

Produced by Polish animation company Animoon in a co-production with Latvian studio Atom Art with the support of the Polish Film Institute and Latvian Film Centre, Misaligned took more than three years to produce during the height of the pandemic. It has so far gathered over 200 festival awards.

Asked about the genesis of her film, Magnuska says, “After graduating from Lodz Film School, I’d been working at a Polish animation company, Animoon, as an animator and storyboard artist. They asked me if I’d like to make a short film, and I already had in mind a concept after reading a short novel, ‘Mr. Palomar,’ by Italo Calvino. It’s a story of a couple with an everyday ritual of sitting by a window and watching a gecko hunt flies. It really triggered my imagination. I had created a couple illustrations and thought of adapting it into a short film. But after creating more sketches and working with a producer, I started to think maybe I should just use the novel as inspiration and create my own story.”

For Magnuska, the short began to take shape more as an experimental film, detached from a strict narrative approach. “I wanted to experiment a bit, focus more on things like rhythm, editing, simple expressions, rather than on the story,” she says. “I had some characters, some elements of the room where everything happens. But as I worked on the film, I was thinking something was missing. More story was needed because we have characters, we want to know their relationship, why they’re interacting. And step-by-step, slowly, a micro-narrative was developing. It was a very organic process. The concept kept changing as the film began to take its final shape.”

Magnuska approaches her work first with sketches, rather than scriptwriting – she makes her notes as sketches. On Misaligned, her notes informed the film’s visual style: simple black-and-white characters feeding hand-drawn animation. “At first, I was wondering if I should keep it simple or make it more complex with more colors,” she describes. “But after a couple tries, I realized my initial concept was what I wanted to use. I don’t have a distinctive animation style and I like the challenge of exploring different techniques on every film. But my favorite style is hand-drawn. I worked with digital techniques and painted with ink on my graduation film, mixing different drawing techniques as well. For Misaligned, I was curious to use traditional charcoal on paper, drawn frame by frame, even though I knew it was quite time-consuming. But working with hand-drawn analog techniques always adds something nice to a film. There’s always a bit of dirt or smudges. It might look like a mistake in the sketches, but I can transform it into something nice in the film.”

The film was produced at Latvian animation studio Atom Art; two animators, Mārtiņš Dūmiņš and Kristīne Zvirbule, worked with Magnuska, one using digital tools, the other doing cleanup and redrawing some of Magnuska’s work. “I worked on paper and scanned the drawings,” she explains. “The two animators, they were doing the same but also using digital animation as a reference for some drawings. It was sometimes convenient to first work in digital, then do cleanup by projecting the digital drawings and redrawing in charcoal under the camera. I would check image sequences in After Effects and Premiere with my editor, Ewa Golis. If happy, great. If not, I would go back and redraw things and scan again.”

With no dialogue or music, the film relies heavily on sound design to build needed tension and help drive the emotional points of the story. Magnuska created some rough sound design for the final edit. “My rough design provided indications for me as I was building images and editing the film,” she shares. “It was also quite helpful in the last phase of creating the film when I started to work with the actual sound designer, Michał Fojcik MPSE. I have no musical talents and I would never think of myself as a sound designer. But I made my rough sound design as a sketchbook, which ended up being quite informative. Something good to work with.”

Magnuska deftly used a small amount of yellow to accentuate the characters’ eyes during key moments in the otherwise black-and-white film. “Color is not my thing,” she reveals. “I can express what I want without the color. I also like to be quite minimalistic. So, if I see that I don't need to use realistic colors to make the visuals of the film express what I want, then if the color isn't necessary, I don’t use it. In this case, there is this one strong color, yellow, that appears. I wanted to attract attention to some particular moments and elements in the film. And I like this interaction between the woman and the lizard. They have this eye connection because the eyes of the lizard are yellow and then there's this reflection in her eyes. I like this strong graphic look. And I think this simple use of color, in this case, works stronger and better than if I’d used more. It was not necessary to use more colors.”

Asked what she hopes audiences take away from watching her film, the director says, “My focus in making the film was what kinds of things did I want to say. Why did I even make this film? But after it was finished, it was extremely rewarding to get selected to festivals and receive positive feedback. My film observes the relationship between the characters. We see mostly from the woman’s perspective, where she doesn’t manage to communicate well with this man. I just wanted to share what are the frustrations and feelings of this situation.”

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.