EFEHAN ELBI ON RAINFALL, COLOUR PALETTES AND INTERACTIVE NARRATIVES
Efehan is a Toronto based animator, filmmaker and digital artist.
Interview by Rebeccah Love
Tell me about your childhood experiences with creative endeavours. What were your favourite activities?
I loved drawing as a kid.
My favourite find (thanks to preservation efforts by my mum) is a series of large papers divided into 9 squares, with drawings in each, and absolutely no connection between frames. Why did I draw these things together? What even are some of them? Whatever thread or narrative bound these carefully chosen frames is lost to me, and time.
Eventually, fan-comics and simple storytelling of my own followed. I’ve actually put some of these early works at the ends of my Genevieve graphic novels to both inform and amuse.
How did you engage with art making and art consumption as a teenager?
Movies and television were a big part of my life as a teenager, but I also was an avid reader, consuming whole book series at a time. Horror stories, science fiction, anything with true emotion. I suspect these are the root of my interest in long-form storytelling and arcs.
I loved Babylon 5 for its weaving, novel-like structure. I consumed Neon Genesis Evangelion, falling for its increasingly abstracted plot and deep melancholy. I adore Princess Mononoke and Millenium Actress, works that used animation to tell beautiful, sprawling, and evocative tales that couldn’t exist in any other way.
What have you been working on since being in school?
I am fascinated by new forms and challenges, and it has been a highly, um, interdisciplinary while. I’ve made graphic novels, novels, short films, indie features and web series with my friends Aaron Manczyk and Zak Tatham, music, and of course our award winning film with Aleksey Matviyenko a couple of years back, “Rainfall”.
In the earlier works I’m very proud of my novel Moonlines, which was a two year production and a lot of learning to discover that narrative properly, and of my music video with Jed Whedon and the Willing, “Ancestors”, which was contained a lot of detail and a kind of melancholy that I had difficulty capturing before.
Most recently we launched a colourful, poetic-storybook with my friend Melinda (“In The Reaches”), which is probably the most colourful thing I’ve ever made, and yet runs a similar theme.
A couple years ago you worked on a short film called Rainfall. What feelings were you trying to capture in this story? What were some of the challenges of bringing the project to life?
Rainfall was both a look backwards, to me, and a chance to increase my understanding of others. I wrote the story and dialogue soon after finishing OCAD and I was very interested in bringing Jessica, one of my persistent characters, to moving life. But the story itself is an amalgamation of events, ones I’ve lived, certainly times I’ve been inconsiderate to others and some where they’ve been inconsiderate to me, and imagining how events must look from the other side.
With my friends Aleksey Matviyenko, and Molly Quinn who brought her to life so beautifully, and everyone who helped, we made a labour of love that I’m super proud of, but it was … a very near miss. The film was almost lost to the ongoing tread of life. After it fell away for years, I was re-energized to animate the latter half of the film, and Aleksey and I managed to find the emotion again, and rope it all together into a completed piece. It still feels miraculous.
To this very day I’m still learning how to temper my expectations and hopes with thought and compassion for those I’ve met and those I’ve known for years, and I think Rainfall presents a first true glimpse of that for Jessica, her euphoric moment followed by her deep disappointment. I’m very pleased with that as an artifact.
What is your favourite colour palette to work with?
The past few years, I’ve made a push to work with much more vibrant colours, after a long time in pale earth tones and black and white ink. So, currently: all of them in various arrangements.
I’m particularly fond of the reds and purples of late, and stark contrasts between colours that build something more striking together.
How do you engage with social media to share your work?
I’m a little tired of social media. I’m finding that sharing to an audience I already know has been my favourite way of engaging. In turn they will often share their life and creation with me, and I love that most, and for that, social media has been wonderful. I am always happy to bring my work to new people, in new places, but the online world has felt more locked down lately, more pay-to-play.
But I tend to flop on this a fair bit, so if you asked me next month I may have an entirely different story. It is a strange balance making art and putting it in the world.
Do you think Toronto is an artist-friendly city?
I think it used to be. Due to my own mobile work-style, Toronto hasn’t kicked me out yet. But I’ve seen a lot of my friends and colleagues pushed further and further outwards, especially those needing a lot of physical space for their craft.
The city is very willing and ready to support and consume art, to support the creations ... but the spaces and costs of just … existing ... are now prohibitive. In turn, fewer artists will make and live here.
What does your workspace look like?
Ideally, a coffee shop or equally busy space, and my tablet to paint with / my laptop to code with / my laptop and tablet pen to edit or and animate with / or my laptop to write with.
My favourite is to work long stretches close to people, but focused. Alone but together.
What artists do you currently look up to?
I tend to love those I know in life and those far away in equal measure (so my apologies for the length here).
In the far-away realm, Alexandra Kern (@Zandraart)’s digital paintings have inspired me for the last year, her magical use of colour. Goro Fujita (@gorosart) has paved the way in VR painting and animation, and his work is riveting. Pascal Campion (@pascalcampionart) and his expressive, emotional illustrations really inspire me.
For those close to me, they are innumerable, my inspirations hit wider than just the artists in my life, those accomplishing their long hopes and challenging themselves. In fact, your own work and the way you interact with the creators you know personally, your interest in the underlying emotions of things, these inspires me greatly.
If anyone asks me (and they are very welcome to) I will praise my loves at length.
What non-visual art forms do you look to for inspiration?
I am enamoured by expansive, beautiful literary worlds. I’ve always been a fiction person, fantasy or science fiction or horror, often because these allow authors to craft entire universes, and to let their characters live within in them. That process is something I’m very bound to.
I tend to write in worlds, zooming in closer and closer on elements as they appear and letting them do as they will. There are often connected worlds but many facets, and the variety keeps me going when the blocks standing in the way.
Why is visual art important?
I mean, to me visual art is life. From its most pop culture to the most niche, it gives us a mirror to reflect ourselves, to learn from, to compare against and understand other viewpoints. It is our window into other worlds. To discuss and gather around and argue over. To create it, for me, is life. To consume it is, I think, the same.
What are you looking forward to?
One of my next projects is an interactive narrative, I’ve been writing it for close to a year now. And I’m actually very excited to see that start taking concrete shape. I’ve written a branching story through a whole world, and as that world deepens for me I’m so curious to see how people choose to live within it. I’m fascinated with the idea of presenting a canvas to the viewer/reader, and letting them find their way through. Its called In Cold Dark (http://incolddark.com).
Another project is connected to my love of the people near me, a multi-format publication in which I’d like to document the finished and unfinished projects and hopes of those I know and those who want to share. That one is sitting ‘under construction’ at http://done-undone.com, which I think is the most hilarious and fitting state for it to be in.