Short of the Week

Interview with Jossie Malis (Bendito Machine)

Interview / June 29, 2012

Many filmmakers look at short films as their teenage years—happy to get past them and on to something bigger. Jossie Malis is one of the few who understood the power he’d created with his minimalist animated short Bendito Machine and has spent the past 6 years building a franchise around it. Now he’s just released Bendito Machine 4 (Fuel the Machine) and is campaigning for his audience’s support on the future of the franchise.

How did you come into the world of animation?

I’ve been working in animation and films since an early age. It’s the usual story of a boy with the home video camera who wanted to make movies. I think this can be applied to everyone out there who is doing creative stuff. The difference is that everyone did it as a child, but some of us never stopped.

What was the first film you made as a child?

The first real animation I remember to made, was a woman morphing into a witch, a creepy, precarious and very short animation in 2D.  I was eleven or twelve.

I first studied communications in Chile, then I moved to New York where I took a workshop in filmmaking. After some years living in the US, I moved to Barcelona for a Stop-Motion Degree.

Before making Bendito I was experimenting with different techniques like stop-motion or pixilation and making some little fiction films as well. Over the last 12 years, I’ve dedicated most of my time towards animation, but now I’ve started working again with humans in front of the camera. I like to tell stories whether it is with the help of animation or real image. I feel very comfortable on both paths.

One thing that drew me into Bendito Machine from the very first episode was the simple strong graphic aesthetic. Throughout the series you’ve maintained the spirit of that aesthetic and yet have taken it to new levels with greater detail and depth. How do define the aesthetic world that you’ve built? What are the rules you never break? And how has it evolved?

One day my mother told me: “Your animations are exactly in the same style as your drawings when you were a little boy”. At that moment, I realized that I had been doing the same thing for a very long time. For me, everything is about cleanliness. I also work as a graphic designer and illustrator, and for me, it’s important to simplify the ideas to the maximum. I feel that each time I embark on a new episode, the designs are more elaborate but at the same time simpler to understand and visualize. Working in two dimensions and just one color forces me to see everything as a silhouette, and in the end, all the little details that you add into the design makes the final result much more powerful and primitive.

I’m always breaking my own rules. But regarding my process, I never stop watching, taking notes, pictures or collecting images of everything around me, especially of mechanisms, machines and buildings that catch my attention. We’re surrounded by them!

What’s your process like? What tools do you use? And where do you have the most fun?

I begin working on the general idea of an episode with a main issue (oil, TV, drinks, faith, etc.). After that, I create a shortlist of concepts that I like to mix together without necessarily having a direct connection between them. When I feel that I get the correct concept, I make some initial drafts for machinery, locations and some rough storyboards as well. Then, I move everything from the paper to the computer as vector images in Flash, but also have a huge library of original material accumulated during the years that I recycle. When the artwork is ready, I start to animate. I’m a not a fast animator. I like to take my time and polish all the details.

Definitely, the part I enjoy most is the sound mixing. After working for so long with the animation, I have practically memorized each of the sequences without any sound, but the sounds are already in my head. So, at the end when I’m able to find the right sound effect or create it directly, is the time when everything becomes real for the first time—the 50/50 is complete. In the last episode, I ended up with more than 35 sound tracks.

Many filmmakers create one film and then move on to other ideas. It’s been 6 years, what’s kept you interested in the Bendito world? Are there other places you’re interested in taking it?

I’m always shifting from one project to another, personal or commissioned. It has been 6 years since the first Bendito Machine episode. At that time, the first episode was intended to be a short film—it was never imagined as a series. But once I finished, I couldn’t let go of the feeling that I’d miss telling the larger story about the Bendito universe. After the reaction from festivals and the public over the internet, I realized that there was something deeper in this story that deserved to be told . And it’s very therapeutic for me to tell stories about the absurdities and contradictions within us as a species.

I’m not too keen on the film industry in general, so trying to push the project that way was something I discarded a long time ago. On the other hand, I am very stubborn, and when I have an idea in my head, I need to finish it. I have to go all the way down. Otherwise, the frustration of something unfinished never leaves me. That’s one of my key principles.

But of course, I have other interests too. A month ago, I just finished a fiction short film about a society with communication problems and subtitle files made with some friends in Madrid. Now I’m working on a couple scripts for different fiction projects as well related to space, machines and the rain forest in Perú. Also, I’m collaborating on a very interesting app for the iPhone.

After Episode 6, what happens to Bendito? Do you ever see all the episodes coming together into something larger?

I’m not really sure. I like the stories as independent pieces, so I’m not sure if it makes sense to mix them all together as a feature. In any case, it might be a complete new story from the beginning, but I’m not sure if people would be able to spend more than an hour watching a silent movie with black silhouettes.

However there is another course. I’m working on the very first blueprint for a Bendito Machine video game. I’m imagining something very original—not a regular arcade game where you need to kill bad guys and make points. It would be something with a rich narrative, where you have to take care of surviving while building and discovering machines, and well… you might be able to kill some bad guys, but only those who deserve it.

Do you think there’s opportunity in combining the storytelling from films and the interactivity of games (kind of like the game Windosill by VectorPark)? 

I didn’t know that game, but I just looked at it and it’s really amazing! I am totally convinced that there are endless possibilities for combining games with intelligent storytelling. Limbo is a game that left me deeply impressed not only because it’s so similar in style to the artwork of Bendito Machine, but because the storytelling and interactivity of that game is a real masterpiece. Another game that falls into the same category and also played recently is Journey, from Thatgamecompany—simply wonderful, like all the games from that studio. Independent studios are changing the rules of storytelling in games. I’m totally convinced that there are plenty of opportunities for combining the storytelling of a show like Bendito Machine with the interactivity of games. I get excited just thinking about it.

One of the big challenges with a web series is that each episode takes so long to produce (especially animation!). Some have suggested more funding, others say crowdsourcing the work (a la Everything is a Remix). What do you think should be done?

In my case, I’m feeling very comfortable working with a very reduced team. I have the control and confidence to do what I want. But definitely one of the main problems is that production time takes much longer, not least because the same industry has spoiled us with the immediacy of things. I think crowdfunding is one of the most revolutionary effects of the digital era we’re in. Money is always the main issue for creators, but most of us don’t want to get rich. We just want to make dreams a reality, and that’s something out of the mind of any person who calls himself an intermediary.

Alongside the series you’ve also created a lot of merchandise (posters, t-shirts). What drove that decision? Is merchandise something you think more filmmakers should explore for their own films?

Well, for me it is much more than merchandising. It’s an experience. In my case, I cannot expect to make any money from showing my series. It’s out of my mind, because they are for free on the Internet, and I want them to be watched for free. It’s something I want to share, because it’s important to me to do it in that way. I create something, and then I let it go.

In the case of Bendito Machine, the series is full of artwork that people like, so the prints or t-shirts are something that people enjoy because we love images. We’re a visual species. Obviously, if you have a web series, short film or whatever about a drama in the XVII century, it would be much more difficult to create a piece of anything to share with your audience, so you must create an experience more than a T-shirt. We are in the intangible arena where you create something that sticks in your memory, but you cannot touch, eat or smell it. So the best way to stay close to your audience is to create nice reminders to place around you. Most of these rewards were created exclusively for our Kickstarter supporters, but we also expect to open a Bendito store in the near future.

Support Bendito Machine on Kickstarter

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Andrew makes no attempt to hide his love for the magic art of animation. He appreciates compelling visuals but never forgets that in this modern age, a strong story always reigns supreme. You can see his work at andrewsallen.com or his latest film The Thomas Beale Cipher.