There's no stopping this dedicated young film-maker

Hendrikus De Vaan spends most of his time in a cave-like, 4.5-metre by 3m studio on an isolated Ratapiko farm just outside Inglewood.

When he is not there, De Vaan is in front of a computer, meticulously piecing together the shots that will eventually evolve into a stop-motion short film.

While he admits the long periods spent alone in darkness could drive him crazy, it is a risk the 23-year-old is willing to take as he strives for perfection.

This miniature character is part of Hendrikus De Vaan's stop-motion short film.
This miniature character is part of Hendrikus De Vaan's stop-motion short film.

It has taken De Vaan more than two weeks to complete 40 seconds of his animation film Disappear, a milestone he was thrilled he had reached when the Taranaki Daily News visited last week.

"It's great to finally have something tangible to show for it all.

"I've been working on the project since late last year and I've just finished my first shot now.

"It's going to be a four-minute short film, so it could be pretty brutal, I think."

The 23-year-old New Zealand Film Academy graduate moved home to focus on the project last year, and hopes to have it finished before April.

Stop-motion is an animation technique used to make a physically manipulated object appear to move on its own and has been used to create blockbusters such as 2009's ParaNorman.

In a typically collaborative industry, the former Inglewood High School student has chosen to fly solo on the entire venture.

From developing a studio to building a miniature set, filming and putting the animation together, De Vaan has had to tap into a range of skills.

The self-confessed perfectionist has come to realise that perfectionism is more debilitating than empowering when it comes to animation.

"I always have higher expectations of myself than perhaps I should. It's never going to be as good as those $400 million Hollywood feature films and I have to accept that I can't quite work to that level.

"Sometimes, it's better to move on to the next thing and just learn from it, as opposed to getting too hung up on getting every little detail perfect."

De Vaan is shooting between five and 10 seconds of animation a day at 12 frames per second.

About 488 frames were shot for the 40 seconds he has completed.

"To try to create a performance at 12 frames per second one frame by one frame, you're spending about five to six minutes per frame on average.

"To try to bring out some sort of characterisation or emotion, operating like that is extremely difficult."

He says Disappear has a film noir feeling. It centres on the life of a single male.

"The film is sort of a metaphor for the character breaking out of his corporate-social paradigm and being what he feels he would like to be, and sort of escaping."

All the movements are created by De Vaan shifting the character and set by hand, which he says is sometimes not as smooth as other animation forms, but he feels it is a lot more real.

He hopes the short film will make it on to the international festival circuit and be accepted into the likes of Cannes or Sundance film festivals.

"It's a 'shoot for the moon and land among the stars theory.

"In saying that, I'd be happy to just get into any festival and get my film out there."

On a typical day, De Vaan works from 3pm to 3am.

He says the cinematography aspect and the idea of creating life out of raw materials is what appeals to him most about the whole project.

"I don't dislike the animation part, but it's certainly the most difficult thing I've ever done."

Attention to detail is critical throughout the process, right down to the light voltage, the colour of his clothes and humidity, which could alter the set's dimensions.

"It's trying to keep that production value up as much as I can without spending a lot of money and maybe having a team of 100 and $400m behind me.

"You do what you can and hope for the best."

Taranaki Daily News