John Kahrs (‘Age of Sail’) on creating a virtual reality experience for Animated Short Oscar finalist [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

John Kahrs is very frank about how he wants to try taking animation in new directions, declaring, “My thing about animation these days, especially now in the 21st century, is that it doesn’t have to look any one way.” He explains, in our exclusive chat (watch the video above), that computer animation has been chasing after a photo real look for such a long time, that he wanted to try and take it in a new direction for his newest short, “Age of Sail.”

He drew from the likes of Bernie Fuchs and several illustrators from the 1950’s and 60’s to achieve, what he calls, “a moving illustration.” Another reason he sought to use a different style of animation came from the fact that the short was being designed as an experience for virtual reality. He adds, “All that stuff has to run in real time, it has to be this complete world that’s very much like a video game; it can’t hiccup and doesn’t have time to render. It is trying to bridge the gap between CG and illustration and 2-D and I try my best to make it all feel like it belongs together.”

“Age of Sail” has just been named one of the 10 finalists eligible for Best Animated Short Film at the upcoming 2019 Academy Awards. The 12-minute piece was designed as a VR experience that premiered through Google Spotlight Stories. The short centers on an old captain (voiced by Golden Globe winner Ian McShane) on his last remaining vessel. He sees a young woman fall overboard from a passing ship, brings her on board and then reluctantly agrees to help her get to another nearby ship. It can be viewed through the Spotlight Stories app for the full VR experience or for regular viewing on YouTube.

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The story is one that Kahrs has had in his head for quite a while. “It’s like fragments,” he says of the different parts of the narrative. He had one fragment that was about a girl falling overboard and getting picked up. Another surrounded the captain, whose career had fallen apart, become a drunk and was on his last vessel. He says, “I felt like at a certain point, ‘I need to use all these old fragments and put them somewhere, put them to good use because I need to move on from them.'”

This isn’t Kahrs first time on the Oscars circuit. Back in 2012, he won the Animated Short category with his Disney produced short, “Paperman.” As great as he felt it was to win an Oscar, Kahrs has a lot of fondness for how it felt just being a nominee. “I do tell people a lot that to be nominated and the way the Academy handles everything from that moment forward… they treat you like a king from the nomination forward. They’re just so welcoming and there’s all these cool events that they do. You just feel like you’re treated like you have this great value to them as a filmmaker. You’re in this kind of community just for a temporary, short time of other creative people that are feeling like they’re in the zeitgeist and I like that.” Kahrs further explains that most of the weird stuff about winning has to with the fact that it occurs during a live television broadcast and it was very much felt by his wife, who found herself next to a seat-filler for about 40 minutes after he won.

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