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Unraveling ‘Orange is the New Black’ with Špela Čadež

// Featured, Interviews

Slovenian director Špela Čadež has been wowing festival and online audiences with her ever-growing filmography. Alongside the success of Nighthawk, last year Špela also received international attention for her first commissioned series ident Orange is the New Black: Unraveled. With fans on tenterhooks waiting for the show’s sixth season to drop, and with Unraveled featured as part of the Commissioned Films competition strand at this year’s Annecy International Animated Film Festival, we caught up with Špela to hear about her first experience of marrying her animation bent with an established IP.

How did you get involved with this project?

The Smalls, a video creation platform based in the UK, contacted us and invited us to apply for the pitch.  The main commissioning company was based in Singapore, so we worked in very different time zones with an even tighter schedule than usual for commissioned projects, at least for puppet stop-motion projects. The commissioning company did not have much experience with stop-motion and this was my first larger commercial project, so it was a steep learning curve for all involved. It was a lot of work in very little time, however the crew was great and the final idents have gone down really well.

What was it like dealing with such well-established characters?

The recap was originally intended for the Asian market, which was the most difficult part for me. I considered using felt as it’s a wonderful material, it is natural and the cameras love it because it doesn’t shine. I wanted to create a really big contrast between warm, soft felt and the cold of the prison walls. It was challenging because we had a really strict plan to make the whole film in such a small amount of time, the puppets were finished hours or sometimes minutes before being animated! Maybe it was good that I didn’t have time to worry that the nose or ears of a certain character was too big or to small.

Image via Finta

As this was meant for the Asian market, I went with the design of Asian puppets that often have these big heads. There are so many interesting characters in Orange is the New Black and in the end we made 21 characters and 21 sets, which is insane for such a small team with so little time! We were animating on two stages at once, with three alternating animators and a few more working on costumes, puppets and sets. And for the first time in my life I had a cinematographer which was amazing, so I didn’t have to deal so much with lights or cameras. The DOP was fantastic, he used to be a photographer before working for film and I think it helped him to improvise on a small scale.

How did you pick the storylines to animate?

There are many storylines in the show, a lot of which I would probably never write in my own scripts. But it was a lot of fun to have so many female characters, and because it was so different and a challenge. They all had to look like – or at least be reminiscent of – the real people, and one of my biggest reliefs  was when I read all the comments from the fans saying they recognised each and every one of them, from the story or the characters. That was the biggest compliment.
The commissioning company wanted to have a lot of region-specific Easter eggs, so specific objects are hidden within the film, like small objects or fruits that are only from that area.

Image via Finta

Why were the guards depicted as wooden pegs?

As with the props and the cement walls, I wanted them to look different to the women. They are not prisoners, they are very violent and make it a brutal experience for the inmates, so I was looking for a material that would show this in puppet form. Later on I realised that Alex is cutting up one of them which of course is perfect as she’s simply chopping wood! It was also a time thing, but it was amazing that a wooden peg and some little bead eyes with a change in the hairstyle can still read as a specific character.

It’s screening in the commission programme at this years annecy, how do you feel about your first commercial venture getting into such an important festival?

The Commissioned Films program was always one of my favorites. The level of animated commercials is always so high. So for us it is a big honor to be selected into this program.

See Orange is the New Black – Unraveled as part of the Commissioned Films programme at this year’s Annecy festival, which takes place June 11th-16th. For more on the work of Špela Čadež visit finta.si

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