One of the things that first attracted me to animation was the economy and deceptive simplicity of the best films. As a Film Studies student, I’d grown accustomed to weighty concepts being handed out methodically – and sometimes painfully (Antonioni, Akerman) – over a period of 90-120 minutes. So when I first stumbled upon some short animation works that crammed a wealth of ideas and emotions into five-to-six minutes, it was, well, mind-blowing. It’s not a knock on feature films. I liken it to music. The Who, for example, made a couple of ambitious concept albums (Tommy, Quadrophenia) that could also just as easily be summed up in a couple of brilliant Pete Townshend songs, Misunderstood and The Real Me. Sometimes just a song is enough.
Which brings me to German animator Andreas Hykade [hykade.de]. I tend to liken his work to that of a musician partially because we’ve talked and shared music a fair bit over the years. He’s like an old bluesman of animation, creating these seemingly simple narratives rife with pain and experience.
Early on in his career Hykade veered towards the concept-album approach with two large scale – and exceptional – films (We Lived in Grass, Ring of Fire) that delved into masculinity, sexuality, mortality, family and violence. After Ring of Fire he stepped back and produced smaller-scale films (The Runt, Love and Theft, music videos and a clever children’s TV series, Tom) that were just as effective conceptually as his longer films.
Ironically, Nuggets originally started, Hykade tells me, “as a big epic thing”, but a health scare put that project on hold. Forced to stay in a hospital after undergoing surgery to determine whether he had cancer or not, an anxious, frustrated Hykade called him his studio (Film Bilder) and asked them to bring over some paper and a lightbox. He spent the next ten days creating the drawings for Nuggets. After he was discharged from the hospital and given a clean bill of health he returned to the studio and – with a small team of six people – completed the film.
Using just a single line, a Kiwi bird, an egg and a disarming, ‘cartoony’ visual style, Nuggets produces a powerful and straightforward depiction of the genesis and evolution of addiction. The film’s vagueness (is the egg heroin? booze?) is also its strength. The egg could be a metaphor for anything in life: eating, smoking, coffee-drinking or your smartphone. Indeed, Hykade’s illustration of addiction is so clear and concise that children and teenagers would benefit from watching it.
Given the circumstances of its creation, Nuggets can also be read as a metaphor for life. Pleasantly and trouble-free it may start out, but as we carry on we often stumble into more unpleasantness and problems.