Nightmares do come true

Carlos Baena’s horror short “La Noria” has been turning heads.

Interview by Ko Ricker

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“La Noria,” a beautifully animated 3D horror short that debuted on the festival circuit last year, is the brainchild of Carlos Baena, proud alum of the legendary Pixar Animation Studios.

Over the course of a decade, Baena lent his animation skills to some of the studio’s most iconic features—Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and Toy Story 3 count among his many significant credits. Several years ago, however, Baena left his dream job to pursue another major dream of his: starting his own independent production company, Nightwheel Pictures.

In order to produce Nightwheel’s inaugural project “La Noria,” Baena and producer Sasha Korellis turned to crowdfunding for support. With the help of an impressive pitch video, Baena and Korellis were able to raise about 63,000 USD—125% of their original request—on Indiegogo, and Baena invested a further 200,000 USD of his own to fund the project. As of the turn of the new year, the short had already been selected for 40 festivals and received 25 awards, including Best Animated Short at both Mexico’s Pixelatl and Hollywood’s horror festival Screamfest.

For the unique visual style of “La Noria,” Baena says he was influenced by a mixed bag of artists, including the dystopian surrealist works of Polish artist Zdzisław Beksiński, the Romantic paintings of Spanish painter and printmaker Francisco Goya, and the fantastical character designs of Japanese illustrator Nirasawa Yasushi. To find out more about the short, peep its charmingly creepy teaser here, and check out our interview with Baena below for more insight into his artistic process.

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What audience did you have in mind when you were developing the short?
I was targeting an adult audience for this short, although I think younger teenager audiences can watch it as well. When I was very young, I used to watch films like Alien or The Exorcist.

Do you remember any of the nightmares you had as a child?
I don’t. But I did have some fear [of] haunted houses growing up—probably due to watching films like The Changeling. Eventually these fears became fascinations and interests.

What entices you about the horror genre?
I’ve always enjoyed the unknown. Life is full of mysteries. And these unknowns sometimes scare me and other times excite me. I certainly have filmmakers I’ve looked up to such as Kubrick, Victor Erice, Guillermo del Toro, Peter Medak and Paul Berry.

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What do you think makes the difference between an excellent horror movie, and one that’s just okay?
I love horror films that make me think and challenge me. Psychological films that use horror as a way to dig in the unexplained. Films that make me uncomfortable, that embrace mystery and don’t have every single structure [or] story element tied up and explained (even when the filmmaker does). [I] also really like suspense in horror, versus jump scares.

In your opinion, what piece of art best evokes the feeling of a dreamscape?
I personally find David Lynch’s film work a great example of dreamscapes. I love to get lost in it, even when I sometimes barely comprehend what goes on in some of his films. I enjoy them equally as pieces of music. I also really like an early 1900s [painting] by Edvard Munch called “The Sun” (which we included in the film in the background in some of the shots).

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What is the most valuable thing you learned working at Pixar? What made you decide to branch off into the independent scene?
At Pixar I learned to not settle for something that I feel [is] “just ok.” To try and do everything I can in whatever I’m involved with. I got a chance to work with some of the best artists in the world as well as having the great chance to learn from incredible directors that I worked under. So that made me want to push my work, to explore the art form of animation and what stories I want to tell as an artist.

The Indiegogo page to fund “La Noria” mentions that you have experienced a “dark and difficult emotional situation” in the past. Can you tell me about how that led to the creation of “La Noria”? Was it a therapeutic process at all?
It certainly was. While the film is not autobiographical, it has several elements of things and moments I experienced throughout my life. Moments where you don’t know what the outcome may be, but it pushes you to figure it out anyways.

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