Netflix The House (Official Trailer), directed by Emma de Swaef & Marc James Roels, Niki Lindroth von Bahr and Paloma Baeza from Nexus Studios on Vimeo.
The House is Netflix’s latest offering in a notable line of original films. A full length, stop motion film, it is being called an eccentric, dark comedy about a house and the three surreal tales of the individuals who have made it their home across three different eras. An anthology in three parts, the film was produced by Nexus Studios and directed sequentially by Emma de Swaef and Marc Roels, Niki Lindroth von Bahr and Paloma Baeza.
While each director uses the techniques of stop motion with total expertise here, their aesthetics, visual approaches, and narrative styles are all originally imaginative in their own ways. Each story is a standalone, while simultaneously tying together the larger themes around what it is to own and inhabit your own home, as follows:
Story 1, directed by Marc James Roels and Emma de Swaef is set in the 1800s, and tells the tale of an impoverished Raymond as he meets a mysterious benefactor who promises to restore both him and his family to their former status. Instead, out of the creepy, surreal imagery that pops up in the constantly evolving design of the house, the story becomes an instructive tale about those who endlessly search for more, rather than being happy with what they have.
Story 2, by Niki Lindroth von Bahr and set in the present day, features a harassed property developer who tries to make a quick sale from a renovation. However, some unexpected guests have other plans, which leads to a more personal transformation. This is definitely the most skillfully weird stories all three, whether or not it is your kind of weird however, will depend on your tolerance for creepy crawlies.
Story 3 is directed by Paloma Baeza. Set in the near future, in which the house survives a hugely changed landscape, we meet Rosa, a young landlady determined to stay in her beloved crumbling house and restore it to its former glory. But Rosa’s unrealistic vision has blinded her to the inevitable change that is coming and to what matters most. This story certainly features the most beautifully rendered landscapes of the film, taking place in a post global flood world, with homes now appearing as tiny islands in an ever-encroaching environment.
Director, Paloma Baeza, explained to us how the triptych film came to be: “Nexus Studios brought us together to brain-storm possible themes and areas of interest that we had in common. From those discussions, we eventually agreed on the concept of a house being the centrepiece for our 3 separate stories. We then worked individually on our stories, but shared much of the same crew.”
What the teams came up with is a striking film filled with feats of lighting, texture, and complete and impressive detail. Shot in masks and with strict protocols during the pandemic, each story was filmed in a staggered schedule at Mackinnon and Saunders in Manchester. “They also made our puppets,” said Baeza. “My puppets are fur-covered, ball and socket armatures. My sets were built at Clockwork Frog, where they painted the house so beautifully to look distressed and old. They also used 3D printing for some prop elements which would then be painted to look like metal or wood.”
Director Emma de Swaef spoke to a similar, but completely identical process for the first story. “Our style involves covering every single character, object & prop with fabric & wool (except for the eyes). Clockwork Frog built all of the sets out of wood first and covered them in fabrics sourced by Art Director Alexandra Walker. At Mackinnon and Saunders, the puppets’ heads were sculpted and molded in resin, then covered in wool and their hands are wires covered in wool.”
In speaking with the directors, it sounds like creating the realistic natural elements within the piece proved the most challenging, as is often the case on animated productions of this level. “My biggest challenge in production was the amount of water and mist required by the story – which meant shooting a lot of green screen,” Baeza said. “The communication between me, the camera department, production design, and the visual effects team had to be very clear and constant. It was a leap of faith, but the postproduction elements have worked beautifully alongside the in-camera elements. I certainly learned a huge amount.”
For De Swaef’s story, it was the fire we so often see casting it’s warm, kinetic light as the story unfolds. “Our main challenge was the huge role of fire in our story,” she told us. “Natural elements are always tough in stop-motion, and we are very passionate about shooting everything on set, doing as many effects as possible at the same time as the character animation.
“This is partly because light plays a big role in our film and fire is a source of light, so we wanted the characters to be lit by and interact in a believable way with the light. We like playing with the limitations that being purist about stop-motion entail, and the different look and solutions it leads us to. DOP, Malcolm Hadley, and Animation Director, Tobias Fouracre, worked together on the flames- the lighting of them and their motion could not be approached too separately. The flames were underlit and supplemented with preprogrammed flickering balls that enhanced the reflections that were cast on the character’s faces. The animators replaced the woolen flame tufts frame by frame on set.”
The House premiered globally on Netflix on Jan 14th, 2022 to warm reviews, being called by critics, “alluring,” “surreal,” and “a stop-motion visual delight.” At 97% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this writing, viewers are advised that, “Whether you’re a fan of stop-motion animation or just looking for something deeply, alluringly weird, The House will feel like home.”