Shorts

Spooky Loops by Stas Santimov

Spooky Loops still animation from Ukraine

Ukrainian animation filmmaker Stas Santimov makes very short films with animated gifs and makes a lot of them. Taking into account that Ukraine has had to face (since 2022) the Russian invasion, it is understandable that many of his GIFs -collectively called 'Spooky Loops'- showcase political authoritarianism. Yet there is more content than a simple political protest here (also taking into account that some of the loops were created as early as 2021): there is a sense of imminent danger, a know-not-what threat that is usually found in children's fairytales (not Disney's versions, of course). And a critique of an altogether technologically impersonal society is here showcased, whereas nature is never a peaceful place to be. Watching 'Spooky Loops' you cannot help but notice that everyone's at war or shares a kind of collective madness -yet they seem to have fun all the same

Stas Santimov talked to Zippy Frames on the occasion of the film's online release.

ZF: What was the time process of creating 'Spooky Loops'? Did you start with the idea of making ultra-short films and gifs -and then edit them together? Alternatively, did you already have the idea of a loop collection from the start?

SS: I've always been fascinated by short, animated gifs. Many of the ideas that come to my mind do not have a classic storyline but have only specific messages or situations that they reflect. It's like poetry or short comic strips. You can turn some strip into a full-fledged comic book and a short verse into a long poem, but sometimes this format is enough. Initially, I did not plan to combine these shorts into one film. It was something of a never-ending project. A diary of emotions, fears, dreams, and reflections, which I turned into gifs and shared with my audience.

But after some time, I decided to summarize and collect a compilation film from my previous pieces. Also, I was interested in how they would be combined with sound effects since these shorts have always been silent

ZF: From 2021 to 2024, a period in which those ultra shorts were created, a lot of things changed in Ukraine, namely the Russian invasion that took place in February 2022. How did that reflect on your personal and creative life when making those films?

SS: 2021 has been highly productive. During this year, I created many gifs, some of which were not included in the 'Spooky Loops'. The reason is that the war showed what real horrors and fears looked like, and many of my shorts created before seemed too naive and peaceful. My world was turned upside down. If I had come up with some horror concepts earlier based on my imagination, then, after Russia's invasion, these concepts literally fell on me from real life.

"Metafamily" (fourth in the compilation) is the last short I started before the war and finished five months later. This is the longest time I've spent on one short. But this is only because the first months were utterly uncertain, and there was simply no time for art.  Little by little, I adapted to the new reality. The themes of my shorts have changed dramatically. Funny, spooky stories and creepy creatures were replaced by themes of social injustice, human cruelty, and z-propaganda. 

It is worth noting that in the winter of 2022, Russia launched a ton of massive attacks on Ukraine's energy sector. This is a period of multi-day blackouts and long waits in shelters. Strangely, these conditions helped me focus more and procrastinate less. You start to be more productive when you know you only have 4 hours before the power goes out again.

Watch 'Spooky Loops'

ZF: Did you reflect on Ukrainian folk tales or perhaps illustrated books when making 'Spooky Loops'? Where did you get your character design influences?

SS: Generally, I get ideas from life and situations that bother me. My art style became this way under the influence of many films, art pieces, comics, etc. But I can point out three creators who influenced me the most. First of all, this is an Estonian animation director Priit Pärn. He turned my vision upside down, affecting my art style more than anyone else. Kyiv-born director and animator Igor Kovalyov highly influenced my character design. And the third one is American animator Bill Plympton. Like many others, I initially thought animation was challenging and tedious, so I did not dare to do it. But thanks to Bill, I learned that animation can be not only 24 frames per second but 8, 6, and even 3fps. So, his films inspired me to make my first animations.

ZF: Your characters are quite rich in details and colorful; the backgrounds are also depicted very clearly and eloquently. Was this a one-man creative work of art?

SS: GIFs are somewhat similar to illustrations or paintings. One of their main advantages is that I can detail them as much as I have the patience to. In classic short films, I have to simplify minor visuals if the scene is unimportant or lasts only a few seconds.  All shorts in the "Spooky Loops" were created entirely by me. I work alone on most of my projects. I have some experience participating in freelance projects, but mostly, it's advertising or game dev. You would never guess that these are my work, too, as I am pretty flexible and separate my art style from commercial work requirements.

ZF: You point your finger at Russian authoritarianism, but also at our social media world and the concept of being indoctrinated. What would you say is the underlying theme behind 'Spooky Loops'?

SS: It just so happens that the 'Spooky Loops' series covers two periods: pre-war and war. These are mystical, occult, and supernatural stories in the first case. During the war period, fantastic, spooky shorts were replaced by real horrors that surround us today. I mixed these shorts randomly so that this contrast was less felt in the compilation. In my opinion, all these pieces are united by the theme of fear. But each short has its underlying theme. These are the issues of human cruelty, addiction, injustice, digital loneliness, societal blindness, and the propaganda of violence. I called the series "Spooky Loops" long before the war. I just liked how it sounded. But the word "Spooky" certainly doesn't capture the total awfulness of many of the stories included in the compilation.

ZF: You made more ultra-short films than you included in 'Spooky Loops'. How did you choose between the ones that made the cut and the ones that didn't?

SS: Before this film was made, all of the included shorts were independent works. When I combined them into one film, I had to consider them in the context of the overall concept. Thus, a certain minimum threshold was formed for shorts fitting within these frameworks. The dominant majority were films about human nature and social issues. Some "carefree time" shorts paired well with them. Especially mystical, supernatural, and occult stories. However, some of the shorts were unsuitable and could ruin the overall mood of the compilation. The first piece, Ethereal Sacrament, is a prime example of such works. But I made an exception for this short because I wanted the "Spooky Loops" to start with simple, not too depressive work.

Sketches for 'Spooky Loops'

ZF: You've done longer animation shorts, like the Vimeo Staff Pick, 'The Surrogate'. Do you plan to make another short like this at some point?

SS: 'The Surrogate' grew out of a couple of simple ideas that were difficult to fit into the format of one GIF. I usually have some drafts that can become the following short film rather than just another ultra-short animated loop. But for now, it is challenging to plan such large-scale projects when it's unclear what will happen to me or my family tomorrow. Near the exit from the house, there has been a packed emergency bag with documents, medications, and all the essentials for two years. I hope it will never be needed. But, of course, war is dramatically affecting my creative plans.

I could relax and start a new short film, but I fear that, for some reason beyond my control, I will not be able to finish it. So, making ultra-short films allows me not to give up animation and wait for better, more stable times for longer projects.

About Stas Santimov:

Stas Santimov was born in 1988 in Dnipro, Ukraine. Before animation, he started as a graphic designer and illustrator in advertising agencies. Stas has worked in the animation industry since 2011. He creates gifs, independent shorts, commercials, music videos, and other animated projects. Santimov's films have participated in many international film festivals and digital art exhibitions. His webpage.

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