Giorgos Nikopoulos Illambra Interview

Another great interview with a filmmaker from Greece, Giorgos Nikopoulos. His amazing animation film ”The OX” you can watch HERE in our library. Giorgos is telling us about his perception of animation, how Greek drama, theatre, and other cultures influenced his work.

ILLAMBRA: What got you into film making, especially animation?

GN: My studies were related to animation since I graduated from the Department of Audio and Visual Arts at Ionian University. Interestingly though, what led me to animation was my second course of studies in theater. The Greek director Dimos Avdeliodis, who was my teacher in theater, has taught me that I can implement the content of scripts and actions in a form, either kinetic or verbal. This exact use of theatrical form has opened my eyes to a new world which could easily be part of the animation world. So, I could say that ancient Greek drama and Samuel Beckett’s theatrical approaches have affected my perception regarding animation, far more than sketching and comics.

ILLAMBRA: You are also an actor. How do you express yourself the most, through film making or acting?

GN: The truth is that I do not work as an actor, I make a living as an animator. However, since I started working professionally as an animator, I’ve never stopped my studies in theater. More specifically, I believe that physical and mask theater are the cornerstones of the kind of animation I personally do and want to keep on doing. Both animation and theater help me, each one in its own way, to express and primarily compose my own ideas. Thus, both are equally useful and helpful. Let’s say that acting provides me with the raw material of what I want to express, and that animation constitutes the medium of expression.

still from the making of ”The OX”, Giorgos is showing actors the moves

ILLAMBRA: Your film “The OX” features a very interesting combination of techniques: the result is a collage with unique imagery and atmosphere. Did the idea for its visual style already existed before the actual start working on set, or did it came through experiment and tryouts. What was the inspiration for it?

GN: The idea behind the aesthetic of THEOX stems from a combination of numerous elements of the Greek and other cultures. First, the use of shadows comes from the traditional Greek shadow theater, Karagiozis, which preexists with different forms in many other cultures and countries like Turkey, India, China, Japan. Moreover, while watching the film one can recognize elements from the painted decorations of ancient Greek black-figure and red-figure pottery. On the other hand, without realizing it, I’ve been deeply influenced by the atmosphere created in the films made by Lars von Trier, as well as Medea and the Antichrist, mostly with regard to the atmosphere of the environment, as well as the use of bodies as parts of the environment itself.

The truth is, that while I was designing the pictures of THEOX, after filming the performers on a green screen, I didn’t have Trier’s films in mind. It seems, though, that they were deeply engraved in my memory, so this was evident in the final result. The aesthetics of THEOX took shape, as I said, after filming. I had an aesthetic concept in mind, but due to the production budget I had limited opportunities for trial tests before starting the production. So, when the work was in my hands on the green screen I started the aesthetical tests and reached to what you saw on your screens.

ILLAMBRA: Is the atmosphere of the puppet theater connected with the concept of your plot?

GN: I must admit that I haven’t received such a specific question so far, and even though it seems to be as clear as day, I hadn’t thought of it up until now. The story of THEOX is an allegory which reflects the political and social situation many countries have been facing the last decade. Therefore, I was thinking that I wanted to render the aesthetic of the macroscopic cinematography, aiming to look at what we’re experiencing from a distance, as if observing it through a magnifying lens. That’s how the depth of filed and the blurry margin around my frame occurred. However, the use of shadows, which comes from shadow theater, is not just a reproduction of a form.

On the contrary, it has to do with how we possibly see ourselves within this situation, as internal beings. As if the personal will of here and now does not exist and we are doomed to experience what lies ahead, as if we were the characters of THEOX. The characters of THEOX are related to the archetypes of Carl Jung’s philosophical theories, who has analyzed all the archetypes recorded throughout human civilizations from the beginning of time. So, I guess it was a subconscious choice to place the entire society we’re living in, in this symbolic world, so as to seek a holistic solution to the social and political crisis devastating the entire world.

still from making of ”The OX”

ILLAMBRA: You decided to deliver the whole plot without a spoken dialogue. How hard was this decision when we are talking about the feature-length film and how did you maintain the dynamic of your dramaturgy?

GN: Since the production of THEOX was self-funded, I guess that I acted on reflex for many things. The decisions I took were instinctive and immediate and seem to have delivered the best possible. One of these choices was the no-spoken-dialogue approach and the decision to render all dialogues either through the characters’ expressions and body language or inarticulate cries that refer to pre-linguistic stage of human language development. This approach was particularly difficult, but at the same time safer, since I feel that body language can convey meanings and moods much more easily, regardless of nationalities. The creation of feature-length film in this way was an experiment and a risk. So, to maintain the flow of the story and keep it interesting I tried to reinforce the dramaturgy with additional elements like music.

My collaboration with Dimitra Tripani, the composer of the music of THEOX, allowed me to ask her more than what music usually does in a film. Having the first Disney movies as a reference, where music also played the role of expression, speech and action of characters, I asked Dimitra to approach the composition this way. Not exactly the same way but the concept that music would play the role of characters’ dialogues or the emotional narration of the play. Finally, I have to confess that if I had all the above in mind, since 2011 when I first wrote the play, the development of dramaturgy would have evolved somewhat differently. In any case, it is evident that this work, given the above, was able to communicate with audiences across the world, from Peru to India.

ILLAMBRA: How challenging was acting job for your crew?

GN: The people with whom I’ve collaborated were all close coworkers, since when the film was filmed, I was living on a Greek island, Corfu. The circle of artists there isn’t small at all, so I was given the chance to work with excellent performers. The work I had them do was really demanding, both regarding their physical abilities and the trust they had to show in me. The technique I taught them constitutes an essential part of my thesis, which will be completed this year and is called Animating Human Dolls. The idea of the thesis began with bodies that animate animation characters. For the human body to render an animation character, which also looks rather unrealistic but acts within a form – like the characters of THEOX – it isn’t enough to just use its human, physical expression.

The performers must submit themselves to a form with way more excessive movement, to the variety of action and reaction time, and the different shapes the body itself takes to express each emotion. This is the reason why I say that the most essential part of our collaboration with the performers was trust. I was behind the camera, guiding the performers in real-time through important parts of the action, while they – due to the masks they were wearing which were made by artist Nikos Kokkalis – were limited within the restrains of the mask itself. That’s why I handled them as if they were human dolls, as if I were their puppeteer controlling a puppet which had allowed me and agreed to collaborate with me to express what the character of the play needed. Many were the times when I even asked the performers to hold their breaths, stay stuck in a difficult condition for some time, or accelerate and slow down their inhalation and exhalation.

ILLAMBRA: How does the story in “The Ox” rely to your other films?

GN: After the completion of THEOX I realized that this film constitutes the beginning of a trilogy under the title HUMAN. My previous films had nothing to do with the topic of THEOX, but the all scripts I had been writing – which haven’t come to life yet – included this relationship of power among people and the ability or inability of the subjected people to react to this power. So, after the completion of THEOX, I started working on an idea for a script I had written back in 2014. This second script was funded by the Greek Film Center in 2020. It is another feature-length film which will need a long time to be completed. This film, a progression of THEOX which presents the social being as incapable of reacting against power, deals with the recognition of love as a life’s force able to overcome any limitations imposed by the power and bring a fiery overturn.

Finally, the third film of the trilogy is a short film which I’ve been trying to produce for about two years. Since in the other two films we see the course of the social being through its fear towards the power coming through the fearless emotion of love, the third film deals with the universal experience of love and the erotic feeling. It is the love story between two centaurs in a common dream scenery, who are negotiating in their subconscious their stands and needs within the love they are experiencing. In other words, it is these two protagonists’ common love nightmare.

still from making of ”THE OX”

ILLAMBRA: If you were not a filmmaker, what would you be/do?

GN: I’ve been working as a musician since I was a little boy, playing folk and traditional Greek music. It is an art I was taught by my father, who is also a musician, so I could say that it’s been a part of my ever since I can remember myself. I’m sure that if I wasn’t working as an animator, I would be completely devoted to music.

ILLAMBRA: Are you working on a new project? If yes what can we expect?

GN: Apart from the two afore-mentioned scenarios/productions, I’ve been trying to do something I haven’t done before. With a small but very strong team I’ve been trying to develop the scenario of MONOLOVE, the one with the two centaurs, as a video-game scenario. We have already deposited our proposal for funding to the Ministry of Culture of Greece and while waiting for the decision we are planning and envisioning this new dramaturgical form through a video game. Quite often a good story, a dense and exciting narration of a game can trigger equally strong feelings as a film. I’d dare to say even stronger since the spectator is now a user, which means that they can relate way more powerfully to the hero/heroine. I must confess that I’m really looking forward to it, to find a new way to narrate a story I want to share with the world. I will gladly keep you posted!

Thank you for the interview!

The film of Giorgos Nikopoulos is available for streaming on Illambra – click HERE to watch.