“Cabbit”, Exclusive Interview with John Kassab
“Cabbit” is a short animation film by the artist, Soogie. It has been in production for over 3 years and is now being co-produced and sound designed by John Kassab (Kickstarter campaign). We spoke to John about his sound design work on ‘Cabbit’ and why he decided to sit in the producer’s chair.
What attracted you to Cabbit?
I am a huge fan of visual art and animation so, predictably i watch a lot of animation on Vimeo and often go to art galleries. Unfortunately, this sort of saturation had began to create a numbness in the way i looked at art. When i saw a trailer for ‘Cabbit’ on Vimeo, it made me completely still and my throat dried at just how beautiful it was. Its just so honest. Everything down to the clunky editing and animation flicker. Its just so raw – which is quite punk with all this clean cold dehumanised refinement thats going on in animation at the moment. i loved the handmade-ness of Soogie’s work. Its simplicity is brutal and the complexity of the cross hatching is mesmerising. I was instantly inspired.
I understand this is your first experience as a producer. Is this something you want to do instead of sound?
No, not at all – first and foremost i am a sound designer. However when i was starting to get to know Soogie early in our collaboration, I learned that he had not really considered a festival plan and was struggling to make ends meet working on a mini-mac from his home in montana. Furthermore, he is largely housebound due to illness and did not have a network or means with which to complete his film properly or get it out there. As I work with producers everyday, i see how they go about things and i have always been interested in how they operate. Similarly, so much of what i do as a sound supervisor involves this kind of organisational tasks and dealings with other businesses and facilities. So i have become well versed in this kind of stuff anyway. Plus i have dear friends in virtually every department of filmmaking which makes it easier when seeking guidance and favours.
On a more personal note, I took on this role because i felt so strongly that Soogie had created a true thing of beauty that i really wanted to be apart of. So i decided to offer all of my efforts to give this film the exposure i feel it deserves.
What is your brief for the sound and how have you undertaken the sound design?
‘Cabbit’ has a very nostalgic feel to it. Not only in the way that it looks but also in the way it recounts its story. it plays like memories and so we wanted it to sound like memories too.
Seeing that the film was going to be grounded in wall-to-wall music, i felt the sound should be impressionistic and minimal – as in, i wanted to hint at the sound things made without being overly detailed and clear about it. I felt that reverbs could be used effectively to creating this effect.
So I decided to bus the tracks into three separate AVID TL Space reverbs that were tuned differently:
1. Recent Memory – this is a light reverb i added to foley which i wanted to feel most present.
2. Fading Memory – this was a heavier/wetter reverb with a longer tail. This was used for the fore-and middle ground sounds such as vehicles, war and industry. I started to think of these as “impression sounds” or “sounds the future would rather forget”.
3. Distant Memory – this is the wettest and longest reverb used. This one was used on the back ground sounds and as reinforcement to the fading memory cues if i felt a sound was somewhere between fading and distant, if you know what i mean.
You mentioned “wall-to-wall” music being used in the film. Did this become an issue for the sound?
We were all very much in love with the music which we felt complimented Soogie’s style perfectly. It is grounded in an earthly guitar riff but has electronic elements which dances above it with some degree of abandon. Sadly the hard drive that the music session was kept on was stolen from the composer, GreenGender (who is based in San Francisco). So all that was left of the session was the exported stereo track from his album. It would have definitely been great to have access to the stems for mixing but when engaging in guerilla filmmaking, we learn to take all limitations in our stride and own them as decisions.
The wall-to-wall really works on this project because of its mediative qualities. However, we really didn’t want the film to read like a music video. So i started to add some transient low frequency sound effects and Adrian Medhurst’s foley in the midrange. I kept the high frequencies free for the music to have as much space as it needed.
However, after many listens i started to play with a narrow Q point on a parametric EQ. i’ve always enjoyed the sound an EQ makes when you sweep up and down music through its various frequencies. i always find interesting sounds hidden in there. For example, high up in the range there is a screaming frequency which i found complemented the screaming in the film perfectly. i also made a filter sweep from high to mid to compliment the image of the comet falling through the air from the heavens. Automating the EQ of the music in this way seemed to have bridged the barrier between sound design and music – music had become the site of sound effects manipulation and this automation also allowed me to free up frequencies monetarily for sounds to poke through before being engulfed with the music. This was particularly useful for giving a voice to high frequency sounds as birds in the background which would have otherwise cluttered the track.
My hope is that by bleeding the experience of music into sound, and vice-versa, this cohesion would enhance the mediative quality of the film without causing any distraction from the images.
I see you have set up a kickstarter campaign to raise funds. Can you tell us a bit about this?
Thanks, Miguel. Yes, we have set up a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for finishing expenses such as a 5.1 mix, website, dvd duplication, mastering, festival applications, etc. We are hoping to raise $5,000 but we kept the goal at $1,500 because of Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing policy. Even $5000 will keep us at a shoe-string budget but i think it is doable if we stay a little bit punk about it and its for a good cuase.
For pledges upward of $30, there is lots of artwork (original and prints) up for grabs. But any donation would be warmly welcomed, great or small. Thanks for your suport.
Project at Kickstarter