Interview with Réka Bucsi

Réka Bucsi is a Hungarian independent animation filmmaker with an organic and intuitive approach to the craft. Her films start from particular details and develop into free-flowing and surreal observations on the irrationality of the world. A regular at major festivals, her work has been screened at Sundance, Berlin and SXSW, among others.

In May, during her month-long residency at Q21, she will be working a small exhibition at the ASIFAkeil in MuseumsQuartier together with British animation filmmaker Peter Millard, which will be opened on May 30 and run all throughout June. And last, but not least Réka curated an animation programme for the young audience at VIS 2016

VIS: How did you start drawing?

Réka Bucsi: I guess I was drawing from when I was a kid. I was drawing a lot of comics so I was interested in how a story can be evoked through drawing but I never knew that I would want to do animation or anything like that. I came across the animation department at the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest during my last year in high-school. And that's when I discovered that you can actually learn or study animation because I had never thought about how it works. So then I applied but they didn't take me. So I applied again and the second time they did.

VIS: And how was the experience of going to University?

RB: It was really really important, because I was there three years for my Bachelor's and another two for my Master's. I met a lot of people in school and through a lot of workshops abroad. They really have many connections with other schools, so we had the opportunity to travel to festivals and other universities to see what other people are doing in the rest of Europe in terms of animation.

VIS: Do you have any animators, cartoonists or cartoons that you look up to or revisit again and again?

RB: It's really a hard question cause I'm sure I'm influenced by so many different people, from live action filmmakers, to painters and illustrators... but I remember from when I was little I really loved "Pink Panther". That was my favorite thing. I also grew up on Disney and I was watching a lot of Spielberg. I actually had a period in my life where I was watching "Jaws" and "E.T." everyday, I was kind of insane. So I guess everything that takes a lot of effort in doing was always inspiring and still is. These people who are madly into doing cinema, even though it takes so much work, so much time. I think I'm also attracted to animation because it's so time and energy consuming, but a really beautiful thing to do.

VIS: It seems like animation is like a control freak's paradise because everything is created by the artists from scratch. But when looking at your short films, they seem very free in their associations and imagery. How do you balance this control-freakishness of the medium and your more free-flowing approach?

RB: That's the hard part, I think, to keep it looking like it's very free and fresh even after you've worked on it maybe for a whole year. In the beginning, when you don't start animating yet, you're still kind of free and you don't have to follow very strict rules. You can go back. I try to keep the freedom of changing things as much as I can. So I don't work with a huge team, I try to keep it looser, with people who understand what the project is about and how it works. Of course there is not so much freedom, because you can't really re-edit extensively. It's not like live-action where you can shoot a lot of footage and then select what you want. Here you have to really know what you want from the start. If you work with the right people and you have a concrete vision, then you can keep it as fresh as it was in the beginning when you only had your sketch book and the freshness of that.

VIS: You've mentioned in a previous interview that you're constantly drawing and then sift through your sketchbook and pick what to keep. What makes you fall in love with the ones that you do choose?

RB: I think it's very intuitive at that point. Maybe a certain character or environment, for some reason is speaking to me more than the other ones. Or I feel more comfortable in working with that character than with another one. You can feel if something is forced or if it's natural.

VIS: You said that it's important for you to work with people that understand you. How is it that you can integrate their perspectives into the work you do together?

RB: Actually, I have never tried to collaborate this way. I always do the whole conceptual part alone. With "Love", for example, I had people around me when I was doing the actual production, but not before that. Before the actual animation part, I was alone. But I have collaborated with others for smaller projects. For example, just a few months ago I made a small festival opener together with a Hungarian friend of mine. She is very talented and nice and we had the same idea of what we wanted to do but it was just one minute. I don't know much about collaborations in terms of very creative decisions.

VIS: I noticed that you like to play with the way in which we create meaning of the images we see on-screen, that you enjoy playing with the viewer's expectations. Where is that playfulness coming from?

RB: It's very important for me to be able to laugh about my own jokes when I'm alone in the room. To be like really attracted by the characters or attracted by the idea so that I really want it to start moving and become alive. Otherwise I can feel that is not going to work for the audience either. If you take it too seriously and yourself too seriously then you will get stuck in the process after a while, and you won't have fun doing it. You can't make something for a year, if you don't have fun with it.

VIS: Speaking of fun, let's speak about the residency project you're working on together with Peter Millard.

RB: It's really great fun, like a game, or like opening a present. We set up some rules more than a week ago and now we are in the process of drawing. For me it's also very nice to animate on paper again because last time I was doing that, it was back in school when I learned basic animation. Also, I've never done this kind of straight-forward style. I've always worked with key frames, so it's really good to try this technique that Peter is always working with. For me that's an extra fun factor. Also swapping images so that I'm animating on his drawings and he is on mine. It's like we are dancing slow motion and I don't know where he's going, where he's stepping. It's very fun, it's good.

VIS: How is it working with someone whose style is so different from yours? Especially in this context where he gives you his own animation which you can't tweak, but have to work around, and you never know what it's going to be.

RB: That's right, I can't erase or re-do anything because his animation is already on it as mine is already on his frames. If you make a mistake you have to deal with it. Or sometimes I can slowly see where his animation is going but then sometimes it just disappears and I have to deal with the fact that it changed. I really find it very freeing because I'm probably more into precise planning. It is also really good for me right now specifically after such a long process of making my previous film, "Love". which was more than a year and a really precisely planned film. And this one, with Peter, is very "go for it". It's a really fun experiment.

VIS: What is one belief that has kept you going?

RB: I think that it's very important to observe yourself and understand what your skills are. Don't do something just because you think it's cool since maybe your skill set is not the best for that. I mean, don't make a film about a serious topic if you are not actually really connected to it, just because you believe it's important to talk about it. I think it's really important to be involved and also have a view on yourself and so don't take yourself too seriously but just kind of observe your skill set. That's very important.

VIS: And one belief that has kept you back?

RB: Of course I had all the insecurities throughout University. People will always question what you are doing and that makes you less confident, especially in the beginning. Sometimes there were teachers telling me like "You can also do illustration if you can't do animation"...I can't think of something specific, but I remember trying to still enjoy animation even though I was scared about whether or not I would find what I really like and what I am really good at. And I'm still looking for it. I feel like I'm constantly learning from other people and from what I do.

VIS: Who could want as an animated cartoon buddy?

RB: Oh, wow, that's a tough question. I would love to be in one of the Miyazaki films, for sure. Be part of that kind of story. If it's possible to ride the Catbus, I'm in!

Interview by Diana Mereoiu, Laura Hörzelberger