It is not often that animation uses elements of horror to tell a moral story. For director Paul O’Flanagan, Memento Moriwas a way to bridge his interests in the macabre with a graphic novel art style and combine them into one animated short film. Inspired by graphic novelists like Patric Reynolds, O’Flanagan managed to use a similar art style to highlight the Gothic Victorian setting with a muted palette reminiscent of the era.
IN Memento Mori, a self-serving post mortem photographer is confronted with his past when the body of a young woman arrives for a portrait. To give the viewer a better impression of the main character Huxley, with a voice from Mark Gatiss, the film is told by the character as he writes a letter to a potential newcomer. As he documents his work process in a scientific and clinical way, his reality changes as his guilt weighs on him.
DEADLINE: What was the inspiration behind it Memento Mori?
PAUL O’FLANAGAN: A few years ago I read an article about post-mortem photography and thought it was dark and creepy, but it’s from a 21st century point of view. And so over the years, scenarios and situations and ideas just kept popping into my head around the idea of post-mortem photography. So I decided to tell a story not from a 21st century point of view, but from the time when post-mortem photography was where it was common and normal. It was like a dark curiosity about the strange and macabre, so I wanted to tell it from that point of view.
DEADLINE: How did you come up with the graphic style?
O’FLANAGAN: We wanted to use animation in a way that could give the show a stylistic identity instead of just stock graphics. And at the time, I was particularly influenced by a cartoonist named Patric Reynolds. He made some books called Joe Golem, he was working on something Hell’s kid. And then that’s what I was thinking: ‘Let’s make a card, but make it look like a graphic novel.’
DEADLINE: Can you talk about the color choices?
O’FLANAGAN: I saw it as black and white and the first conversation I have with Piotr [Bzdura, art director] he asked, “so color, what do we do with the color?” and I said, “no color in it. It’s black.” But we decided, “let’s explore colors, but let’s use it meaningfully”. So if we’re going to use it, let’s use it. We had a really subdued palette to get over that kind of gas-lit Victorian feel. And then we connected it with the themes. The main theme of the film is guilt. He receives a deceased young woman for photography, and on her she carries a note, which he quickly looks over and then ignores. But then in his subconscious mind, the note continues to play on his mind. That tone is orange, and every time there’s a little scare or something in the movie, it’s his subconscious that plays the note. And that scare is always warned by the color orange. So finally, when he addresses the guilt that he holds, he has a clearer perspective on the world, and that was when we introduced the opposite color of the color wheel to orange, which is blue. So we wanted those kinds of moments to be pretty potent and completely clear.
DEADLINE: There was a great juxtaposition of the cold, clinical tone he uses in his narrative, and the actual situation where he is scared. How did you come up with that concept?
O’FLANAGAN: I have always wanted someone who gets challenged and their ideals were challenged all the time. So he says one thing to himself that it’s all fine. It all goes according to plan in the voiceover, but visually it does not go well. He is not calm, he is very nervous. When we challenge our characters’ beliefs, I would like to be able to see the kind of juxtaposition on the screen that plays the sound and the visual at the same time.
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