‘Mad God’: 30 years of filming for a nightmare walk on the dark side of the creator of the effects of ‘Jurassic Park’
A only superficial enumeration of all the influences that ‘Mad God’ exhibits in its motley collage of animated images would take us all the space of this article, and without a doubt it would be incomplete: HR Giger, the Quay Brothers, Jan Svankmajer, Terry Gilliam, the early Shin’ya Tsukamoto films, ‘Metal Hurlant’, Screaming Mad George, the more experimental zone of MTV’s ‘Liquid Television’, Skinny Puppets and the industrial music video clips of the late last century and early this come to mind without much effort. But there is more, much more.
From the nightmares of David Cronenberg’s New Flesh to a story with classical resonances that goes back to Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy’, passing through the always inevitable Lovecraft in its metaphysical final stretch, ‘Mad God’ travels, however, a lot beyond the simple sum of its parts, and It is revealed, almost from the beginning of the festival, as one of the best pieces that will be seen this year in Sitges. And of course, as the almost guaranteed winner of the Anima’t section.
What brings together and gives coherence to this hodgepodge of references is the personality of Phil Tippett, the legendary creator of special effects that stood out in the industry since the first ‘Star Wars’, where he designed the famous holographic chess set. Influenced by Harryhausen, he specialized in animation stop motion and made the technique evolve by creating the renovator go motion which he applied, among other things, to the AT-ATs from ‘The Empire Strikes Back’.
In 1991 Spielberg proposed to him to animate the dinosaurs of ‘Jurassic Park’ with his traditional techniques. But to the director He was further convinced by Dennis Muren’s computer work, leading Tippett to exclaim his famous “I am extinct.” that Spielberg included in the script. Still, Tippett remained supervising Muren’s work, helping to create details and subtleties that would bring the saurians to life. His work earned him his second Oscar, and since then, Tippett has turned to computer animation, in films like “Starship Troopers.”
A creation that is the sum of an entire career
When he spoke to Spielberg, Tippett was already preparing ‘Mad God’, but what he saw there made him think there was no future for traditional frame-by-frame animation techniques. Twenty years later, members of his studio convinced him to resume the project, and he did so using teams of volunteers who worked weekends, releasing snippets on the internet and funding it through Kickstarter. The result is a unique animated film.
The career that has led Tippett to become an expert in many different types of animation and visual tricks comes together in a film that serves as meeting point for a multitude of techniques that are perfectly linked thanks to a coherent vision. In ‘Mad God’ there are, primarily, stop motion, but also computer animation, effects of all kinds, puppets and real actors buried under tons of tricks. Everything flows in a univocal visualization of an atrocious panorama between post-apocalyptic and infernal that sometimes functions as a museum of atrocities and sometimes as a senseless hallucination.
With a cryptic story line, ‘Mad God’ is a clear metaphor, not too optimistic, about the collapse of civilizations (from the descent into Christian hells to the plague doctors) and the personal journeys we have to undertake to survive. But at other times, it works more like a surreal spectacle, one that sister to the nightmare creatures from Lynch’s ‘Eraser Head’ and the Monolith from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ by way of the Cthulhu Mythos. In any case, ‘Mad God’ is an assault on the senses and an overwhelming tsunami of macabre imagination.
‘Mad God’, of course, is not a film for all tastes: its plunges into the gore – shot with the delicacy of a German film on VHS of the nineties – and its eschatological excesses will alienate the casual stroller. But as they say, in hell there is room for everyone. The feeling after a viewing of ‘Mad God’ is to just wake up from a vivid nightmare… in which we are looking forward to dive again. A lysergic and extreme journey that corroborates the talent of someone who is not only a historical technician, but from now on, also a unique visionary.