PNW animation spotlight: They Crawl Amongst Us! by Sihanouk Mariona

THEY CRAWL AMONGST US! from Sihanouk Mariona on Vimeo.

Part of our mission here at Haptic is to spotlight animators making independent work today. Sihanouk Mariona is an Emmy award-winning animator based in Seattle. He has just launched online a short film started during his time in New York City, and I thought it was an amazing and funny piece of work. Watch it above! Sihanouk was kind enough to answer some questions for me about it:


1. Can you talk a little about how this short came to be? Presumably you lived in NYC – when? Where did the idea come from?
From the first time I saw it, Nick Park’s Creature Comforts impacted and inspired me in how funny and clever it is. But, as much as I admire it, I did crave a little more spice in it and was energized to make my version. I lived in New York at the time, and couldn’t ask for a more colorful and diverse setting and cast of characters. Plus, the pests of NYC are as infamous as its human residents, and I wanted to capitalize on that. So, in the summer of 2004 I set out to conduct street interviews in all 5 boroughs of the city with anyone that would speak with me anonymously. I was happily surprised that the majority of people willingly did so, and it would be difficult to decide which was more fun: conducting the interviews or animating the characters.



Still from They Crawl Amongst Us!

2. The standard question that everyone hates answering: how long did it take to animate? And it seems like it was made a while back – why are we only seeing it now?
Because I produced it from my own pocket, there were many delays and sometimes months would pass when i couldn’t work on it at all. And though I did have colleagues and studios help me out tremendously (animation, fabrication, camera equipment), most of the time I was on my own. As a result, it’s a 2 1/2 year production spread out over 10 years, I finished it in 2014. The fact that cameras have evolved rapidly over the past 10 years may account for quality of the footage.


3. The short has a 1970s vibe – when were the interviews recorded? If recently, why did you make the choice to go for a 1970s vibe?
I recorded the audio interviews in 2004. But because I knew I was going to be all over the place regarding photography, different cameras, different studios, different lights, etc., I was aware that a visual continuity and consistency would be nearly impossible. So, I had to find a way to make this acceptable to the viewer. And it was serendipitous that I saw a documentary from the 70s called Wattstax that contains lots of colorful and lively interviews, and beautiful, unplanned camerawork. A lot of films of the 70s have a gritty, rules-be-damned style, which is how I wanted to represent the streets of New York. Roderick Young’s cinematography in Wattstax instantly became my standard. And then the funk music I was able to use became the crown jewel that truly gives it the 70s energy.


4. My favorite animal is the messed up pigeon on one foot – can you talk a little about that (human) character you interviewed?
That was an older lady, in her 60s i would guess. We were next to a park by an apartment complex somewhere in Brooklyn, and it seemed like she was out on a routine, perhaps lonely walk. I remember her being very spirited and talkative, but also tangential with her answers. This led me to believe her mind was somewhere else, and I sensed a deepness within her that I could not fathom. Somehow, her abrupt, terse way of talking reminded me of the way a pigeon moves; and when she talked about eating chicken I thought of busted pigeons I’ve seen with one foot gnawed off and also eating chicken. I’m always driven to ask those pigeons, hey, what happened?

Sihanouk Mariona working on his film for the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

Sihanouk Mariona working on his film for the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

5. What are you working on now?
Currently, I’m finishing up a short film I’ve made for Seattle’s Museum of Flight. Another non-fiction piece, this one depicts the original Boeing Airplane Company, circa 1926. The fabulous part of this project is that I got to work at the Museum, inside the actual Boeing factory building, on a very detailed, HO scale model of that factory, given to the Museum back in 1980 by the Model Builder’s Club. There was definitely a weird Mobius Strip feeling.   It’s been positively received so far, and the plan is to create more animated content for other exhibits in the Museum.


Thank you Sihanouk, keep up the good work!