Ugly: the nightmare-inducing animation that just became eligible for an Oscar

5 June 2018

Directed by Russian-born filmmaker Nikita Diakur, Ugly oozes a gentle mix of crayon-fuelled chaos and drug-induced dreams.

Created in a video game interface, the 11-minute short boasts the kind of eye-searing graphics you probably won’t have seen since 2006.

After winning accolades in Ottawa, Bristol Encounters and Zagreb Animafest, the film wowed judges at the VIS Vienna Shorts, even pinning down a potential Oscar nomination by snapping up both Jury Award in Animation, and the ASIFA Austria Award for Best Film in the Animation Avantgarde.

The film convinced the jury with its “stunning formal language” and “impressive talent for storytelling” — reeling viewers in with the tale of an ugly cat surviving in a broken world.

Ugly’s unique aesthetic builds on a digital experiment: taking power away from the animator and leaving the work at the mercy of the computer.

Each character in Ugly is a digital ragdoll built from interconnected body parts. To allow the characters to move, these body parts are connected to animated controllers using simulated strings, turning them into computer-generated puppets.

“[In traditional computer animation], the animator tweaks and adjusts everything,” Diakur says. “They are in control of the outcome. [But] when simulating, the animator gives up control by outsourcing several tasks to the computer. The animator interacts with the computer and is in control only to a certain degree. Animating like this feels like real-life filmmaking. Like a real actor, the computer produces results that are unexpected, realistic, broken and personal. The focus shifts from outcome to process.”