New Film Uses Awesome Marionette Animation to Tell the Story of an Ugly Cat

Recently funded by Kickstarter, Ugly uses puppetry and dynamic simulations for its effect.

The cat’s name is Ugly and man, it is ugly. One eye protrudes from a limp, brown-grey head; its tongue long and dangling. Its legs are crooked, some lying parallel to the floor after jotting out from the knee. And this cat is about to be a movie star using a style of animation you’ve probably never seen before.

Ugly is the lead in a new, Kickstarter-backed animation produced and directed by Russian-born Nikita Diakur titled, fittingly, Ugly. Diakur and his team of 16 recently reached their fundraising goals for the project, raising €829 above their goal of €10,000 — about $12,000 in U.S. dollars. The team, based in Mainz, Germany, hopes to have the film ready by September 2016.

Diakur comes from what he describes to Inverse as traditional 2D and 3D animation. But for Ugly he is attempting something much more compelling — a combination of puppeteering and dynamic simulations. What this essentially means is treating the elements of the film — people, trees, etc. — like marionettes, but inside a computer. The computer comes up with accurate physical calculations, but unlike a live marionette performance, the movements are much less exact. There are no in-between poses; every animation has to work linearly.

Nikita Diakur

“A computer-generated dynamic simulation is often prone to unexpected results, broken animation, or glitches,” Diakur tells Inverse. “It can be very nerve-wracking to achieve a certain movement [with this type of animation], but you also can end up with results that you wouldn’t have thought to come up with. That randomness is often difficult to deal with but is also liberating and fun.”

The team behind the film was inspired by an anonymous short story they found online. At first, Diakur found the story to be funny but tacky. But after considering it further, he found himself very moved.

Nikita Diakur/Giphy

In their film, Ugly is living in a neighborhood just as ugly as he is — a desolate place with scattered buildings, and two sharp mountains on the horizon. The people around him are ugly and evil, bent on treating him like trash. The only person who doesn’t care that he is a seemingly despicable creature is a Native American chief named Redbear Easterman. And the sunsets — breathtaking blood-orange purple dreamscapes that fill the shot, are a rare moment of beauty.

Nikita Diakur/Giphy

Diakur says that the film incorporates a metaphysical storyline that fits with the animation his team is producing.

“Everything is imperfect and it is up to us to find the beautiful parts in it,” Diakur says. “The mapping of the textures is all wrong, the models are badly proportioned, but when they are lit by the sunset, they’re beautiful. But if you look at the sunset closely, it is very low on resolution. The film is probably about ambiguity; it is about being ugly and beautiful at the same time.”

It is still undecided whether, once completed, the film will be put online directly or do the festival rounds first. The film’s Kickstarter backers will be able to have access to it first. If you really want to have an early look at the film, your best bet will be attending its premiere in Mainz. From the look of its early footage, it’ll be worth it.