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Award-winning Animator Stefan Nadelman Reimagines Surf Film for O'Neill

A psychedelic repertoire made specially for O’Neill’s UNREASONABLE film festival.

Celebrating creativity, and the intersection of surf, art and film, longstanding California sports brand O’Neill kick started the UNREASONABLE film festival last month. The festival tapped six filmmakers to rethink the surf genre and its parameters. While the artists each hold accolades for shooting award-winning commercials, music videos, and short films, the category of surf was a territory they had never before explored. For the project, O’Neill provided funding and handed over full creative control, and in turn the filmmakers went with their instincts to present unique surf films synonymous with their own aesthetics.

One of the notable participants was Stefan Nadelman, an American filmmaker and animator whose most recent achievements includes his work on the Sundance-premiered Kurt Cobain film Montage of Heck. For his UNREASONABLE submission, Nadelman reworked a surf clip he filmed with techniques honed in his tenure as an animator. Toying with repetition by predicting wave patterns, Nadelman presented WAVEFORM, an abstract, lo-fi repertoire that takes viewers into a psychedelic state of abstrucity. In this segment, Nadelman unveils the challenges he came across creating the short, while also sharing his predictions on how technology will change the way action sports will be viewed.

For the UNREASONABLE Film Festival, O’Neill chose its six filmmakers based on their ability to push the envelope and explore new territories. Do you feel your work goes beyond the norm, and why?

Since I work primarily in animation, my goal is to apply this skill set to O’Neill’s live action footage. From what I’ve seen, most surf videos are not animated, and since I’m integrating animation in such an overt way, it will by nature be different than most other surf films.

What is your relationship to the surfing world and its film culture?

Besides surfing with friends as a teenager in NJ, I have no connection to the surfing world or its film culture.

After you were approached for this project, how did you begin the initial creative process?

The initial creative process began with figuring out a good excuse to apply animation to surf footage. So I did some research and went down the internet rabbit hole. When I came out, I decided on an overall concept that would dictate how I would treat the footage once I received it.

Can you explain the concept of your film and how it reimagines the modern surf film?

The overall theme of my film is basically the transfer of wave energy, and how waves (not just ocean waves) are everywhere. That said, I set out to extrapolate wave patterns within the surf footage. Seeing the use of repetition and time-offsetting of the footage allows surfing to be experienced in an entirely new way.

Because you typically work with still images, what challenges did you face with this project?

Since I usually work with high resolution still images, the main challenge was to work around the limitations regarding the fixed dimensions of the live action footage. In other words, if I’m working with a wide shot, I can’t push into the image or it will break up, so I have to basically adhere to the framing of the original shot. But after some experimentation, I figured out some interesting cheats to get around this.

How do you see the action sports film industry changing over the next 5-10 years?

I don’t feel qualified to make any predictions regarding the action sports film industry, as I haven’t spent enough time poring over the available media that’s out there. But if I were to make a guess, I’d say that the methods of filming action sports will get more interesting. What I have noticed is the widespread use of the GoPro and quadcopters/drones to capture surfing like it’s never been seen before. It’s opened up a completely new vista and once people start mastering these new tools, the imagery will be way more compelling.

If given the opportunity, what action sport would you like to explore next, and why?

If given the opportunity to explore another action sport, I’d probably choose snowboarding because it’s one of my favorite things to do since I learned it about 20 years ago. Additionally, I’ve been watching a lot of wingsuit videos, and the footage I’ve seen blows my mind. Mom, if you’re reading this, no, I don’t have a desire to fly in a wingsuit, I’m just fascinated by it.

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