Interview with Filmmaker Sonarpilot (IMPERIUM)

IMPERIUM was the winner of BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN at the January 2021 Dance & Music Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

You know, originally, I am an electronic musician. I have been making music for many years under the name “Sonarpilot” and I am running a record label with a very good friend and seasoned producer, London-based Jonny Miller.

After many years of making club-oriented music I was looking for ways to break out of the routine of releasing EPs and albums. The industry had changed a lot. The sheer amount of new releases had become overwhelming. There is still a lot of wonderful new music, but in general I feel that the majority of the electronic music has become a commodity.

So, I decided to do two things: I wanted to add a strong visual component to my work and to create something that echoed the concept albums that I loved when I was a teenager.

Together with an old friend of mine, Roger Mäder, a Swiss film producer, we began looking for visuals that might be interesting. That’s when we ran into fractals – the technology that gave us the tools to create these strange worlds that you see in “Imperium”.

We dove into this amazing universe and pretty soon it was clear that we would find way more material than we needed for one soundtrack and movie. So, we created a series of six movies and released them on a monthly basis, starting in the spring of 2020. We called the whole collection “The Mirage Project”. It’s online, if you feel like checking out the other movies.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

Each of the six movies, “Imperium” included, took about three months of total production time.

Here’s how the process works: First, we take a joint decision which fractals we want to work with to create a Mirage. After that Roger gets to work. He is responsible for all the raw visuals, he decides how the camera should move, he renders all images on a farm of laptops and does the initial animations.

This is a very laborious process. The whole Mirage Project took well over 30’000 hours of rendering time, about a month for the raw materials per film. Once Roger is done, he sends me the animations. I never know what to expect. Visually these clips are already pretty amazing. But they are not yet telling a story, they are not taking you on a journey into a world.

So, my job is to create that trip, that story. At the beginning I have a rough idea where this journey might go. But it takes a lot of editing and hundreds of hours of work with the raw material until the Mirage emerges. In parallel I write the soundtrack, which adds a whole new dimension to the experience. I go back and forth between the film and the movie until there is an optimal fit.

Roger and Jonny get to see a first draft after about a month. Their input is extremely valuable for me because at that stage I have been with a new Mirage for such a long time that it is hard for me to see the whole picture. We do several rounds until the story – and the movie – is final

After that I do the finishing touches, add credits, titles etc., the music goes to the mastering and voilà – there’s the final Mirage.

And then we start again.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Two words? That’s tough… how about “Subatomic Saga”? Sounds a bit corny… but fun: I can see a 1960’s sci-fi movie poster in garish colors and a screaming woman…

If I can choose just two separate words it might be “epic” and “enigmatic”.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

There are two things, and I guess they are fairly normal in any type of creative process: At the beginning you never know where the journey will take you. And sometimes you have doubts if you will be able to create something truly original, something that you can be proud of.

And the second thing is to keep your focus and not cut any corners. You know, it is just such an insane amount of work! Sometimes you just can’t see the forest for the trees.
I am a slow producer; I work for weeks on a piece of music. Now, if you combine that with the sheer amount of work it takes to create one of these movies it can be a bit of a challenge.

But don’t get me wrong – this was one of the best creative experiences I had in a long time. It was absolutely fascinating and very rewarding.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Honestly, the video brought tears of joy to my eyes. It was such a beautiful surprise – a real heartwarming gift!

We are extremely thankful for all the feedback we have received while we released the six movies of The Mirage Project. There has been a lot of activity on all the social media platforms and through our own website.

But the feedback video we received from was absolutely special! It was so lovely to see how people took time to review the video and share their thoughts with us. This is really unique and a huge inspiration for all of us. We are very thankful.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

The Mirage Project is about our place in the Universe. Above us there is that immense cosmos with billions of galaxies, trillions of stars, planets and, most likely, forms of life. And below us there is another enigmatic realm, a world full of strange particles that behave according to laws that are utterly strange to us.

This world is right here, right around us, below the surface of everything we touch and see. But we can never access it. Imperium is an imagined journey into this space, the endless microcosm.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Not sure… probably either “La Dolce vita” or “Blade Runner”…

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

It’s a great platform, really unique! It is so efficient to have one platform to access all these festivals around the world. The challenge is to pick and choose the right festivals. There many amazing events, but in some cases it is not clear if they really find the right audience for the films that are being submitted.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Oh, that’s really difficult… It must be a Beatles song. My parents bought their records and I started to listen to them as a kid. They kept me company as a teenager, especially the later albums, and I actually still have those original vinyls.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

Well, we just released the album with the Mirage soundtrack. The next project that we are actually working on is a series of remixes, based on the material of the album, “Mirage remixed”. The tracks offer such a variety of material, we believe some of our friends would have great fun to do remixes.

And finally, we have decided to do a second season of The Mirage Project! The first six episodes created such positive feedback and we still have so many aspects of the fractal universe that we haven’t explored that it will be really interesting to continue this project.

Actually, we have just started to select new fractals. Roger has produced a first batch of animations and the initial tests look really amazing. I am working on new music. So, things are picking up speed and if all goes well, we should be able to release the first new Mirages later this year.

We look very much forward to our second season of The Mirage Project – and hope to participate in future editions of the Experimental Film Festival!

Twitter @sonarpilotaudio


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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