If we’re being honest, it’s often the most mundane, repetitive parts of life that lend themselves to the stuff of real horror. Anyone who has had a work nightmare and woken up feeling like they never left the office can attest to this. In “Night of the Living Dread,” Ida Melum makes a compelling case for the real fright/terror of a night after night of dreadful sleep in a charmingly funny way.
“As someone who’s struggled with falling asleep and overthinking for most of my life,” Melum told us, “I wanted to depict this anxious spiral I would endure every night as a lighthearted comedy horror. The fact that so many see themselves in Ruby and relate to the story has been incredibly rewarding and is everything I could’ve hoped for.”
This New Yorker “Screening Room” short tells the story of Ruby, a young environmental scientist who lies face up in bed while listening to a man’s soothing voice as it guides her through a sleep meditation until…(don’t look!) a power outage casts a deafening silence over her bedroom and she is left with only her racing thoughts. The ensuing night of tossing and turning is well-portrayed as the lighter side of the stuff of waking nightmares.
For, although it could have been scarier, the film harnesses the warmth of stop motion with organic materials and lands well as a humorous look at the torture of insomnia—all to great effect. “I really loved the style of using fabric for the skin,” Melum said. “It gives this warm and tactile look to your puppets, without being too fluffy or distracting.
“After trying out lots of different fabrics, we actually ended up using a t-shirt from Primark funnily enough. For the hair we used needle felt, as I really wanted to be able to boil it during the shots. All the stop motion was shot using Dragonframe, and we used TVPaint to add the 2D facial features after.”
In terms of struggles, Melum pinpoints the final shot of the film as the biggest challenge. In it, all of Ruby’s most humiliating versions of her past selves finally settle and eventually crawl into bed with her—six puppets in all. “It took me and the lead animator, Rich Farris, about 11 days, to finish animating that shot.”
Out in August of ’23, the piece is already very well-received. “Luckily for us, the film has been released on The New Yorker, Short of the Week, and we just received a Staff Pick on Vimeo as well.”
For more on the making-of check out the BTS stills below: