Tuesday, December 9, 2014

From the Things You Should Really Know About Dept.: Leviathan Ages

This year when I attended the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland I had the opportunity to watch many excellent films, but none of them stood out as much as a barely three and a half minute piece called Leviathan Ages. The brainchild of Jon Yeo, The film creates a world where the post-industrial and the timeless collide. Ancient entities rise at the beckoning of their emperor, and all involved fulfill their roles at the end of an era. A spoken word piece is the only narrative throughout the film, and further solidifies the tone of the film that is both apocalyptic and regenerative all at once.

I had the opportunity to ask Jon some questions about Leviathan Ages, and he was kind enough to indulge me.

Some of the elements of Leviathan Ages seem Asian and Mesoamerican in nature. Were there any particular mythologies that inspired you?

Jon: It’s partly an open love letter to Shadow of the Colossus, possibly my all time favourite PlayStation game.  But I do have an interest in the visuals of religious sculpture from throughout human history, ancient to modern. I’m not religious at all, but I find the imagery from all religions pretty fascinating. Maybe it’s from my graphic design roots, the idea that you can distill a huge concept into an image or an  object in such a powerful way. That’s what interest me about idols, statues and carvings. I enjoy the design of mythological concepts, it’s character design. But I love the design of fictional mythologies too, in sci-fi / fantasy films and games.

 I’m also particularly taken with remnants from ancient lost civilisations, especially decrepit heads and faces. They look like they are sat motionless watching wave after wave of human tide wash in and out in front of them, for hundreds of years. I think we would see ourselves differently from their point of view.

What do you see as the relationship between the beings in Leviathan Ages and the modern age?

Jon: They are meant as allegorical. We see the central character resurrect nine of his predecessors, they bring the destruction of his era. At the end he has become one of them, like a repeating cycle. It’s a basic reflection on how we make the same mistakes over and over again. Often this is because we lack the observational perspective of deep time, we are not here for long.

Can you talk a little about what inspired the poem read during the film?

Jon: The idea behind this was to create a thread across the whole film that could mimic a hymn, prayer, song or mantra. Also it could be something which fed the viewer just enough stimulus to interpret meanings in their own way, to give the right tones and moods without being too explicit or obvious.

 How much experience did you have with film making and CG going into making Leviathan Ages?
Jon:I work mainly in commercials, and I’ve been doing that for years. It involves shooting live action and lots of VFX. Indie film making is something I do very occasionally when I can fit it in. I dearly wish I could do more, I’ve got loads of ideas which will never escape my brain.

 What was the most challenging part of making the film?

Jon: Making the film was the hardest part of making the film. I had the initial basic idea in 2010. I started designing and sketching it out in 2011. We finished the film in 2013. Everything was against the odds.

I saw Leviathan Ages at the H.P. Lovecraft film festival this year and was absolutely enthralled by it. How has its reception been overall?
Jon: You are one of the few!

 The most common reaction is “It looks nice but there’s no story”. Which I think is a shame, but I understand why most people find it hard to grasp. I think with film people expect three acts, a protagonist, an antagonist and a mcguffin.

 I enjoy regular traditional dramatic narrative, but I’m just not interested in exploring that in my own personal work. I enjoy the interpretation you can indulge in with other media. With a song, a painting or a poem the author need not be obvious. They can be oblique and abstract. They often allow you to be carried away on a mood and a tone, and it’s as much about what you bring to it yourself. I’m interested in how a short can operate in the same way. It means I’m marginal, but I’m OK with that.

The full film and information about it can be found at the official website. Jon's other work can be seen at his personal website.