HEATWAVE (2019) from Fokion Xenos on Vimeo.

HEATWAVE is essentially an ode to the Greek Summer of my childhood and every summer since,” says director, Fokion Xenos, of his award-winning short set on the shore in Greece. “We wanted to create a film that would be as bright, colorful and vibrant as we could. ‘Unapologetically fun’ was the way I described it to my brilliant team at the National Film & Television School where the film was created.”

This is what the team achieved: a lively scene of glittering water, brightly colored swimsuits, and sweltering puppets who begin to sweat under a sun so glaring it practically melts them away. “The main material used in HEATWAVE is oven baked clay, Super Sculpey and Fimo. There are two stop frame techniques that I used. On wide shots with the crowd, we used a replacement animation technique. Once we get closer to the characters, we used a combination of rostrum camera cut out and miniature photography.”

The short features the slow build of traditional Greek music that rises with the action and culminates when the sweltering heat seems to fray everyone’s nerves until the scene is filled with conflict and breakdowns. The shining ocean and giant wave at the peak of action are done particularly well. Also impressive, is the sweat pouring off the figures. “I had worked with plasticine before,” Xenos told us, “but the oven baked clay materials opened up brand new possibilities for me. On the rostrum, I found that I could maintain a drawn, squash and stretch look for my characters while preserving their physical tactile quality and detail. Baked clay was used for the details in a cut-out fashion and the unbaked for the more flexible bits. For the replacement animation part, we made over a thousand individual models to convey this aesthetic of a stream of people. Each character was pre-animated with at least three replacement models.

“A lot of preparation and coordination made the shooting really fun. I worked very closely with my team and I never could have experimented that much without their support and contribution. My friends Thanos Katzavelos (Lead Model Maker), Brenden Freedman (Cinematographer) and Alexandros Apostolakis (2D Animator) were all part of this process. We figured out how to streamline the process and give the film its unique look in an efficient way.”

We asked Xenos about how he did what he did so successfully, but also about his challenges: “The hardest part of the process for me was to nail down this more observational way of storytelling that is featured in HEATWAVE. It was hard to communicate the physical comedy in script form and even more so when the film is relying on rhythms and receptions.

“Luckily I had an excellent team in post-production who helped me grow the idea organically into what I envisioned. I worked very closely with my editor Stella Heath Keir in order to tell the story in the most efficient way while keeping the film fun and exciting for the audience. Music (Andreas gutuen Aaser) and sound (Kevin Langhamer) were brought in the mix really early on as the audio had to work hand in hand with the visuals.”

Next up for this talented team is a kids’ animated series with Greek production company Neda film. The series is called TRAVEL BUGS and it is about two bugs using a little girl’s suitcase as their home and vehicle as travels around Europe with her family. The piece is still in development but they’ve just secured access to Annecy Mifa by winning an award at Animasyros Pitching Agora and are hoping to share their project with the world very soon.