Alumnus Carlos Baena and Studio X’s Sasha Korellis on the animated short film’s teamwork and success
By Cristina Schreil
A boy stands barefoot in a darkened hallway. The music screeches; howls echo around him. The camera pans up, revealing his face, knotted with fear. The house shakes and lights flicker before, suddenly, they die. Something sinister—towering, with long spidery limbs—emerges from behind.
This is the teaser for “La Noria,” an animated short horror film written and directed by Academy of Art University alumnus Carlos Baena and produced by Sasha Korellis, head of production at Studio X. Since its release last September, it’s been selected for more than 70 film festivals and taken 28 prizes. At the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, “La Noria” was part of a shorts series curated by Whoopi Goldberg. The film has also just been accepted to the Newport Beach Film Festival and, fittingly, the Transylvania International Film Festival.
“The animation style of ‘La Noria’ is actually pretty unique. We tried to do something very different from a 3-D animated film,” said Korellis. It’s all the brainchild of Baena—who has worked as an animator on such films as “Finding Nemo,” “WALL-E,” “Monsters University,” “Toy Story 3,” and “Ratatouille.”
“La Noria” is dark—literally. This visual inkiness lures the viewer in a powerful way, binding to the boy’s frantic point-of-view as he confronts a horde of creatures. “We weren’t afraid to go dark,” said Korellis. “We really took those risks of trying to push that style and cinematic quality.”
It also mirrors themes of confronting one’s darkness despite pain, said Baena. It stemmed from his own struggles.
“I found myself in, I guess you could say, a dark spot. A lot of things were going as bad as you could get,” Baena said. “Through therapy I learned that sometimes things are there for a reason and sometimes you have to go through something really hard to first, appreciate the good, second, feel stronger and third, to not be afraid.”
He channeled this, plus grief and loss, into this kid running away from monsters. The monsters are physical manifestations of internal maladies like ulcers; spikes literalize inner pain. Yet, there’s a poignant, uplifting message.
“We call it ‘dark with heart,’” Korellis said.
This “heart,” according to Baena, is essential. “Horror for the sake of horror doesn’t interest me,” he said. “But, when it’s balanced with emotions, heart, or comedy, then it makes it have a lot more depth.”
“La Noria” was a years-long passion project. “When Carlos pitched it to me back in 2011, he had shown me the original concept art,” said Korellis. “I was blown away…it was extremely ambitious.”
Baena said animated horror is unique. “I was lucky enough to have people like Sasha believe in me from the very beginning,” said Baena. “We wanted to do something different in animation. To see people react positively to that has been in some cases bigger than any award.”