Interview with Mitra Shahidi |”Prelude”

| December 16, 2014

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Prelude is a whimsical story of a clever little girl and her harsh grandfather. Made at Academy of Art-San Francisco as a side project, Prelude screened as part of San Francisco’s “horror, sci-fi, dark fantasy and exploitation” film festival Another Hole in the Head in the “Short Block 9″ showcase at New People Cinema. We caught up with Mitra over email to chat about her animation and what inspires her art practice.



How did you get into the field of  film and animation? What’s your background?
I have always been a huge fan of animation ever since I remember. I was born in Turkey, and so pursuing animation is difficult there because of lack of schools. I studied Architecture for a year and then moved to the USA and went full on to art school. I attended Cogswell for a year and then transferred to Academy of Art University.
grandpa image 01


This animation is so captivating and intriguing. It’s almost like a creation myth! What was the inspiration for Prelude?

My inspiration for films is almost always music. A few years before I started this film I had composed a little piece of music (the music you hear in the beginning of Prelude). The more I repeated this melody on the piano, the more I imagined a little girl in a dark little room building something, and after about a year of brainstorming with friends and rounds of iteration, the final story was born. It was a very educational and enlightening process. Most of my ideas for stories come from music.
Why did you choose to combine traditional animation with 3D modeling?
I like challenges, and wanted to have moving cameras. To be honest I just wanted to see if we can pull it off 🙂
prelude 01


What do you think makes the medium of animated film unique? What does it offer that live action doesn’t?

It is all forms of art imaginable, packed into one presentation. There is music, craftsmanship, design, storytelling, lighting, composition.. What it offers is that it can capture the directors vision in entirety. It allows creating entire universes and settings that live action would make very difficult. Creating fantastical environments and fully alive characters that the designs are non-existent in nature is just a pencil away.
For a piece like Prelude, how long does production take? How much work goes into it?
This production in particular took 4 years, because it was not our main study, it was more of a side project. On and off about 45 people, but countless hours went into it. If we were to work on it full time, and had a more condensed and focused group, this kind of production would take about 1 to 1.5 years, from conceiving the idea to finalizing it.
prelude 02


Tell us about your time at the Academy of Art-San Francisco- were there any professors that really changed your viewpoint on films/animation?

Yes, Sherrie H. Sinclair. She completely opened our eyes to recognizing quality and learning to create it. We constantly talked about appeal, storytelling and what makes a movie successful, and she really taught us to look for the heart of films.
We love your color palette and the characters are so convincing!  Are there any filmmakers or artists that you look up to?
Thank you! Oh, too many to name. Miyazaki, Disney, Brad Bird, Guillermo Del Toro, Robert Zemeckis  From my circle I look up to our teacher Nicolas Villareal, whose film Nieta made it to the top ten of Oscar nominations this year.
Prelude filmmaker Mitra

Prelude filmmaker Mitra

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten as a student of film?
Actually most of the advice that I have heard is an accumulation of books, lectures, teachers and podcasts. Here’s what I have to say to summarize everything: Never let fear take you over and bite into bigger chunks than other people tell you. If you think you can chew it, you are probably right. Always push yourself, and never allow fear to paralyze you. Just never lose your passion and stay hungry. Don’t think too much and just jump in whatever project you want to do, head first. Have fun.
 Mitra Shahidi is a San Francisco-based filmmaker and director. She is now in production on a human rights film while also working at Playstudios as an art director. 
Follow the film on Facebook and on the Website.

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Film School Shorts is made possible by a grant from Maurice Kanbar, celebrating the vitality and power of the moving image, and by the members of KQED.

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Series Producer
Lisa Landi

Associate Producer
Julia Shackelford

Peter Borg

Zaldy Serrano
Christina Zee White

Original Music
Written and Produced by

John Andrieni

Kevin Cooke
Marie K Lee

Social Media Specialist
Aldo Mora-Blanco

Sarah Hoffner

On Air Promotion
Bridget Louie

William Lowery
Abby Staeble

Director of TV Production
Sandy Schonning

Executive Producer
Scott Dwyer