When Port Washington native Max Porter and his wife Ru Kuwahata became inspired by a 150-word poem by Ron Koertge three years ago, they decided to create a short five-minute film to bring the poem to life using handmade stop-motion puppet animation. The film, Negative Space, was nominated for an Academy Award in the animated short film category after having won 54 major awards and being played in more than 137 festivals.
“We’re very honored to be nominated,” said Porter and Kuwahata. “Our entire team poured love and passion into this project, stitch-by-stitch and frame-by-frame. We could not have created this film without them and we’re overwhelmed with gratitude. It’s been a fantastic journey and we’re excited that more people will get to watch our film.”
Porter explained that the process of creating the film and then having it nominated was not a simple one. After Koertge gave the husband and wife duo, who are both part of the faculty at Maryland Institute College of Art and own Tiny Inventions studios, full creative license to adapt the story, it took a year for pre-production work, which included story boarding, writing and obtaining funding through grants. The short five-minute film took nine months to animate and two years to produce.
“The process to be nominated for an Academy Award is different for a small studio than a bigger studio,” said Porter. “For small studios, you submit to film festivals accredited by the Academy. We won the Academy qualifying festival last summer, then got onto the short list of 10 and then the Academy voted it down to the five final nominees. It’s funny because people think we got a special message ahead of time, but we found out same way everyone else finds out—through live stream announcement.”
Negative Space follows a father-and-son relationship through the art of packing a suitcase. The short film opens up with the son unzipping a suitcase and describing the ways in which his father told him to pack most efficiently. As the son puts his suitcase in the car and drives off, the road unzips to a flashback of when the son was much younger. As the playful scene plays out, recounting how the father taught his son to pack a bag, the son is whisked away into the bag itself. Soon enough, the clothes begin to lap against his feet as though they are waves, bringing him under the sea. As the underwater scene vanishes, one watches as the son packs his father’s bag for a trip and awaits a message telling him what a “perfect” job he had done. The tone of the film turns somber as the film jumps back to the son’s original destination in the film. The son enters a funeral parlor, alone, standing over his father’s casket and utters the striking words, “look at all that wasted space.”
“We were drawn to how clear the poem communicates a relationship between a father and son and we thought it spoke very honestly about the connections parents and children have,” said Porter. “For us, we didn’t try to put a message into the project. It’s important people take away whatever they want, but what people have been doing more and more, because it’s a story about family and the connections between parent and child, people have been telling us their story. What’s been beautiful is that the film is giving people a space to talk about what’s important to them and how they connect with their own family members.”
Porter and Kuwahata have been working together for 11 years and Porter explained that because Kuwahata is his wife, they are able to truly trust one another and know one another’s strengths which allows for a natural process of collaboration.
“For us, our collaboration is part of what makes it special,” said Porter. “Every project we do is a conversation because we’re partners in work and in life, so that conversation can be that much more intimate.”
Produced by Ikki Films in France, Negative Space is nominated alongside Dear Basketball by Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant; Garden Party by Victor Caire and Gabriel Grapperon; Revolting Rhymes by Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer; and Pixar’s Lou by Dave Mullins and Dana Murray.
The 90th Academy Awards begin at 8 p.m. on Sunday, March 4. For more information about Negative Space, visit www.tinyinventions.com.