Imagine: the end of the 90s, Poland. A 20-something artist dreams of making movies. He doesn’t own a camera. He doesn’t have a crew. He can’t get any actors. But… he has a PC. Tomek Bagiński’s adventure in animation is starting.
He’s motivated and he has the gear. The only thing he needs now is an idea. So, Tomek gets in touch with Jacek Dukaj, writer, with whom he spends half a year working on a script for a short animated film. After rejecting dozens of concepts, they suddenly get enlightened: how about adapting one of Jacek’s short stories? For example The Cathedral.
The idea catches on and the work starts. It’s not as easy as one might expect, though. While producing The Cathedral by himself, he’s also working on Platige Image’s commercial projects.
“Legends say that I made The Cathedral after hours, on my home computer, and indeed, large portions of the movie were created this way.” says Tomek Baginski. “In the evenings, after finishing working on commercials or motion pictures, I sat down to sculpt The Cathedral bit by bit. This way I made it maybe to the halfway point. After more than two years of this hit-and-run kind of work I said to myself: it’s now or never. I made a deal with Jarek Sawko and Piotr Sikora, the owners of Platige, and for the next 8 months I didn’t take any commercial project. Every day I worked to finish the film, using available production capacity at Platige.”
“We made it big thanks to music videos, because at that time they were financed by the public television, which gave the post-production market a boost. However, when Tomek came to us with The Cathedral, we realized there was a potential in auteur animations. On one hand, they promote our capabilities, and on the other, they’re pose a unique chance to show our artistic side,” says Piotr Sikora, one of Platige Image’s founders.
The work on The Cathedral lasts for three years. You can read a fair amount of article about the making of the animation, but why not listen to the director himself? Here’s Tomek from the past:
To experience this tale, we went back to the start of the 21st Century. Let’s look around. The computers aren’t nearly as advanced as in 2020. People of the future would smirk nostalgically seeing the bulbous CRT monitors and 3,5” diskette drives.
“I started with 350 MHz, then 1 GHz, single core, 4 megs of RAM, 32-bit system. Any modern mobile phone easily overpowers these specs. Back then, software was also just being created. Many tools simply haven’t been designed yet, or were created during the production of the movie. Graphics accelerators were at an early stage of evolution. For animator, it was an interesting time, because every day there was something new. New tools, new gear, new software, which significantly changed the comfort and scope of work,” recalls Tomek.
The film finally gets made, and about time—just when the submissions for the summer edition of SIGGRAPH 2001 are open. It’s where The Cathedral started its festival tour.
“Festivals meant much more back then than today,” Tomek stresses out.
Much to his delight, as well as Platige’s in general, The Cathedral becomes successful and gets the first rewards. Eventually, the day comes when the biggest of distinction is announced…
“Being nominated to the Academy Award gave me a boost of energy at the start of my professional journey,” says Tomek. “It showed me that you really can try to take the world even from the ‘film-making countryside’. I’ve never made movies to express myself. I just wanted to make films and share them with the viewers, so the nomination was like jet fuel to me as it gave me more access to the audience.”
“We were the leader of 3D post-production. When Bagiński made The Cathedral and was nominated for an Academy Award, we made another huge leap,” said Jarosław Sawko, the other founder of Platige Image.
The Cathedral doesn’t get the Oscar, but the fact that it was invited to such a prestigious event gave wings to both the director and the entire studio. The creators don’t rest on their laurels, however, and quickly begin the pre-production for another auteur animation.
“I had a lot of ideas for films after The Cathedral, but I wanted to make something completely different,” Tomek Bagiński admits. “The concept for Fallen Art was tonally as different from The Cathedral as humanly possible. I wanted to make something less personal, something I would be able to do in a team. My wish was to invite other creators to cooperate on the project and practice teamwork. Which proved to be a challenge.”
The production of Fallen Art isn’t about sitting at the computer alone after hours. This time, a considerably large team gets involved. Together, the artists start developing a bold and controversial satire. And even though its tone is a far cry from The Cathedral’s pathos, there are some common elements.
“The foundations of this idea reach as far back as to my teenage years. Many years later I noticed that there’s actually something that Fallen Art and The Cathedral have in common. Both stories are based on the usage of people as a resource for something bigger. I turned full circle,” Tomek says with a smile.
Again, it’s better to hear about it from himself, so take this journey back in time with us:
“From the beginning we have been creating short animations. Not on commission, but out of our own initiative,” Jarosław Sawko says. “Many people didn’t understand why. After the success of The Cathedral, they were asking what did we gain. Contracts? Hollywood movies? Something measurable? It doesn’t work like that. It’s a slow process that we are trying to continue. These productions usually have a certain festival path, they open networking options, ensure international exposure. They aren’t huge financial successes, but they do open many doors.”
Fallen Art get Tomek Bagiński another important award: the BAFTA. The director’s career gains momentum that will eventually secure him the role of Executive Producer on the most popular show of 2019: Neflix’s The Witcher.
Just a couple of months after the premiere, Tomek’s another project for Neftlix, Into the Night, receives positive reviews. Interestingly enough, the show is inspired by the works of… Jacek Dukaj, the writer of The Cathedral.
History has come full circle. And it all started with a young man with a personal computer.
What are Tomek’s plans for the future?
“Professionally, I’d like to continue telling stories. On a larger scale and through feature-length films. For now, this is working out for me. Further down the road, I’d like to revisit The Cathedral, but tell a story that’s closer to the original short story, with a room to breathe. Also in the form of a full-length movie. But this story is very hard to tell through film; it’s very peculiar, also from the production standpoint. You can’t pigeonhole it,” says the director.
The Cathedral and Fallen Art are significant for the careers of both Tomek Bagiński and Platige Image. Now, within the Platige Originals: Long Story Shorts initiative, you can watch both animation on the studio’s Vimeo channel.