"I wanted to create an emotional reaction without using dialogue"
Warren Flanagan has worked on several blockbusters as a concept artist & illustrator, including The Revenant, Star Trek: Beyond, Man of Steel and Godzilla.
In between working on some of Hollywood's biggest sets, Warren made his directorial debut. Set in the future, "Metta Via" tells the story of a young woman who wakes up in a mysterious 'temple like' room and must figure out what her purpose is there. This in turn leads to her memories being unlocked and the true purpose of the temple, the strange sentient machines that surround her, and ultimately her final destination.
This short film recently won Best Picture award at the New York Film Awards, receiving a particularly high rating from the jury ("Metta Via is fantastic beyond belief!" - lead judge Kelly Karavites).
We asked Warren to join us for an interview, and met an inspiring artist who lets his audience interpret the story by using pure visual storytelling and no (human) dialogue.
Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up?
I am originally from Ireland. I grew up in a town called Bray in County Wicklow, which is south of Dublin.
I currently live in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada where i work as a concept artist and storyboard artist in the film industry.
Did you always know you want to be a filmmaker? What made you decide to go into film?
I always had a creative streak growing up. My mother was very artistic and so i think it rubbed off and i was encouraged in that direction. I loved to draw and like a lot of our generation ‘Star Wars’ was inevitably a major factor in moving me toward the fantastic and the spectacle of film. It got the imagination going.
I read a lot of comics as well, mostly UK comics like 2000AD that were very inspiring for a budding artist. It was ultimately ‘Blade Runner’ though that gave me a wake up call in regards to wanting to be a filmmaker in some capacity one day, and i think i was 18 when i first saw ‘Goodfellas’ and it blew me away..it really cemented my love for filmmaking as a craft.
I initially pursued a career in animation, studying classical animation at the Dun Laoghaire College of Art and Design and worked in Dublin at various animation studios after graduating.
I moved to Canada in 1997 and eventually worked my way into the film industry as a storyboard and concept artist on such films as I,Robot, Man of Steel, The Revenant and Godzilla.
Who is your biggest influence? What inspires you?
There are so many influences in film, design and the art/ comic book world It’s hard to name just one!
What inspires me though is new fresh ideas or points of view a great story or a striking image or concept that gets the mind going!
As we understand, this is your first film as a director. What made you want to tell this story?
The initial idea for the film evolved through a conversation between my brother Paul (producer, co-writer and visual effects supervisor on the film) and myself. From there I started to formulate the visuals, and just couldn’t let it go.. We were compelled to make it, whatever it took.
METTA VIA is a very powerful and unique futuristic piece, that was done completely independently. Tell us about the work process on this film.
The creation of the film was quite a long process. The shoot itself added up to three days, but the post and visual effects work took a huge amount of time because we had to create all the resources ourselves completely independently.
This included cg asset building, animation, motion capture, editing, rendering and compositing.
We gradually hired different artists to help us with all of these tasks. Ultimately though we had a very small crew in relation to the amount of work and shots we had to complete.
Tell us a little bit about the lead actress Stacey Armstrong.
Stacey is the glue that holds the film together…It was important to find someone who was very physically expressive and emotive without having to speak any dialogue. Her eyes just pull you in and that was very important to make the film work. Actually, this is the first acting role she’s done! she’s wonderful.
What was your favorite part in the process of making METTA VIA?
The best part of making Metta Via was literally knowing we were creating something from scratch, an idea from the ground up and realizing that vision. One of the first pieces of concept art i did for the short pretty much stayed in tact all the way through to the final image in the film. So it was important to stay focused and persevere through a lot of difficult challenging periods on the film to see it through to the end.
What i saw in my head literally ended up as the final film and that took a lot of work.
Metta Via - Trailer
What were some of the challenges you faced in the process?
The biggest challenge by far was the rendering. We had a very high shot count for a ten minute short..around 120-130 shots so figuring out how to render all of those (some with high frame ranges) was particularly difficult and at one point impossible. Luckily Paul had connected with Todd Prives at Zync Render which offers cloud rendering services and this saved us. It was a light at the end of the tunnel, because at one point we weren’t sure we were going to render ‘in house’ with so little render resources.
We were also fortunate to partner with Chaos Group, who really had our backs and gave us unlimited Vray support, as well as Solid Angle, SideFx and a lot of other companies that were integral to getting the film finished.
What would you like your viewers to take from it?
The film is very esoteric and existential and doesn’t have any (human) dialogue per sec. That was intentional, I wanted to create a film that was purely visual storytelling and still gave the viewer an emotional reaction. At the end of the day that’s the ultimate goal..the emotional reaction. Does it make you think etc? It’s definitely a piece that is left up to the viewers interpretation, and it’s great hearing viewers vastly different reactions to the material.
Can you give a word of advice to aspiring filmmakers around the world?
My Advice is if you really believe in making a film, or anything for that matter just do it. Stay the course, it can be a lot of hard work and time, but if it is something that’s calling you..do it. Metta Via took us several years to complete!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I recently completed work as a concept artist on Godzilla: King of the Monsters and am currently on ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ for Netflix.
If you could work with anyone in the world, who would that person be?
Any one of the great producers and screenwriters working today!
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