A Conversation With Simon Scheiber

A lighthouse keeper’s surprising discovery pulls him out of his monotonous, daily routine and takes him onto a journey into uncharted territory. Simon Scheiber recently released, The Lighthouse, a stop-motion short that took him seven years complete. After watching the film, I was compelled to ask Simon a few questions about producing the film, to which he graciously agreed.

Hi Simon! Can you tell us a bit about yourself? (Where you come from, grew up, and what inspired you to become an animator?)

I was born in Austria in 1985 and I taught myself to design, animate, and code next to visiting school. After that I worked for several design studios in Europe which subsequently lead to starting Trim Tab, here in the Netherlands, and working on commissioned and self-initiated projects like The Lighthouse.

Who are your stop motion heroes?

Undoubtedly, like for many, Aardman Animations. I was blown away watching Creature Comforts and Wallace & Gromit for the first time as a child. There are many others I enjoy immensely (Madame Tutli Putli, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Kubo and the Two Strings, etc.), but it all started with the early Aardman work.

What was the inspiration for The Lighthouse?

For quite some time, well into my teenage years, I was certain that the world map would continue on the back side. Although I never quite imagined what it would look like, that idea was there until the day I actually found out the truth. The ease with which we expand our worlds as kids inspired me to make this film.

Also, as mentioned before, Aardman – especially Wallace and Gromit. But also a lot of live action films by directors like Béla Tarr and Buster Keaton.

Can you talk about staying focused during the lengthy production schedule?

In the end it came down to chopping up the entire process into many small parts and getting excited for every little step without loosing sight on the bigger picture. Sounds easy, doesn’t it. Haha.

An artist can seriously evolve over the course of a few years, let alone seven… How faithful is the final product to the original story boards?

The majority of sequences were defined in the beginning (with storyboards and animatics) and the rest changed/evolved over the years. Especially the cosmic/dreamy sequence started getting clearer with every step towards shooting it.

Did you make any major changes during production after discovering better techniques or technology? (designs, equipment, etc)

There certainly were some advances in technology that helped the production: rapid prototyping became more and more accessible. Dragonframe and the integration with Arduino and various motion control devices made things easier. For example in the beginning, I planned on advancing the lighthouse light manually, frame by frame, before figuring out an easier way: by controlling it with Dragonframe, Arduino, and a stepper motor. Every form of automation helped staying focused on animating – and keeping sane, haha.

What was the most challenging part of The Lighthouse?

It was more an accumulation of many little things which posed a challenge; doing a team effort mostly on your own while also financing the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong: it was great way to learn many things, and I wouldn’t do it any different if I had to do it again. But I will definitely do things different next time.

Can you talk about meeting and inviting others to collaborate on The Lighthouse?

I had the great joy working together with two very talented people on the music and sound: Composer, Nicolas Martin, known for his wonderful work on films as Skhizein and D’Ombres et d’Ailes, and Sound Designer, Jan Frederik Vogt. It was fantastic to see the two adding the amount of atmosphere, texture, and richness after spending many years creating something entirely visual on your own.

Did you have an idea of what you wanted the score to sound like from the beginning, or did that evolve out of your relationship with the musicians you chose?

I had a good idea of the direction I wanted the score to go. But Nicolas ultimately took my input and just went so much further than I was able to imagine.

What is your favorite part of The Lighthouse and why?

I still very much enjoy the sequence in the early part with the closeup of the watch, cut to black, fade to the shining moon, transition to the lighthouse light and him sleeping at the table. Maybe it’s because of the major role the sound and music plays in this part.

What inspires you today and what’s next for you?

Besides writing again, I am trying to learn more about music and sound, especially in relation to film-making. I would love to get music and sound into the process a lot sooner than last time.

What advice would you give to students or young professionals looking to embark on their own ambitious and time-consuming projects?

Go for it! It is a lot of fun (well, most of the time) and hell of a learning process. Besides that, nobody else will do it and that would be a shame.