Dive Into the Wonderfully Weird World of Ricardo Bonisoli & Babak Bina’s Dark Fantasy ‘The Seahorse Trainer’

Ricardo Bonisoli and Babak Bina (AKA Rooxter Films)’s latest short The Seahorse Trainer is wonderful exercise in mood and atmosphere. It tracks the exploits of a lonely old man who attempts to train seahorses into performing a seemingly impossible trick. From the soaring and fantastical score to the fascinatingly peculiar set design, Bonisoli, Bina and their team manage to pack every inch of The Seahorse Trainer’s form with character. Twelve Cabins caught up with Bonisoli and Bina to talk their background in special effects, their motivation to channel the surreal fantasy of Guillermo Del Toro and Tim Burton, and future productions currently in the works at Rooxter Films.

What inspired the idea for The Seahorse Trainer?

The original spark of the idea came from Ricardo’s love for sea creatures and mysterious characters. We were working at the same VFX studio at the time and were always interested in doing some sort of art collaboration, in the beginning we were thinking about a mockumentary of a very strange and mysterious guy teaching how to train seahorses. It was supposed to be mostly a joke, where the audience would be confused on whether it was a real person or a fictional piece. We also knew we could do a CG seahorse since we both specialised in creating digital creatures and characters. It sounded like a fun challenge to us. After some time developing the idea with our Producer Rodmon Sevilla and Co-Producer/Editor Holly Pavlik we realised that we had a great opportunity to do something a bit more cinematic and narrative so we decided to go for a short film instead.

I was definitely getting Del Toro meets Tim Burton with the strong fantastical atmosphere. What were you looking to evoke in terms of the overall mood?

We are big fans of surreal and fantasy films that take you to a different world and reality, Guillermo del Toro, Tim Burton, David Lynch and Jean-Pierre Jeunet were definitely huge inspirations for us. In terms of mood, we wanted to find a balance between something dark but somewhat dreamy and pretty at the same time. We wanted to show the loneliness, obsessiveness and traumas of our main character while drawing attention to the seahorses and how magical and important they were for him. 

Similarly, how did you approach the score? 

Babak shared the music from a great band called Parlour Trick, we really liked their style and felt it fit perfectly with our visuals and mood. We decided to approach them without knowing them and asked if we could use some of their music, we didn’t have big expectations to be honest since they were quite big musicians. Surprisingly, they were interested in the project, we teamed up with one of the band members, Dan Cantrell, who happened to be an experienced film composer aside from an amazing musician. It was a great experience to work with him, Dan composed all the music from scratch and used a variety of interesting and not very common instruments like a musical saw. He even teamed up with french singer Priscilla Cucciniello and composed a beautiful two minute song about the sea.

Who did you work with for the set design and what did you want to convey with it? Every shot feels packed with character.

Naim Sutherland, one of our cinematographers, recommended us to get some proper production designers for this project, especially since we only had one character and since the mood in our film was so important. We were lucky to work with an amazing duo of Production Designers Liz Cairns and Sophie Jarvis. From the beginning they had a really good understanding of our vision and our character. We definitely wanted to tell a bit of the backstory of the seahorse trainer through his apartment, a place that is not very well taken care of and it’s fully designed based on his hobby/obsession of training seahorses.

You mentioned your background in visual effects and the results in The Seahorse Trainer are incredible! How challenging were they to construct? 

Most of our team members in this project were visual effects people, we thought we had a good idea of the challenges of creating and animating cg creatures and doing full cg shots. But even with that knowledge we can say that we definitely underestimated the amount of VFX work, the post-production stage of our film ended up being a bit over a year, which was about three times more than what we thought, our original VFX shot count was 36, we ended with exactly 100 VFX shots. It was definitely a challenging experience but we learned so much from it! It really helped to have very committed and talented people collaborating with us, special thanks to our Animation Supervisor Alejandro Mozqueda and our VFX Supervisor Rhys Claringbul, we would have never been able to pull this together without their support.

What can we expect next from Rooxter films?

Our team, Rooxter films, is currently working on a few creative projects we are very excited about. A very surreal short film called The Itch that is already in production and a feature film called Ostrich Boy which is in the pre-production stage. We will be sharing more updates on both projects through our instagram account.

The Seahorse Trainer was programmed by the Twelve Cabins team after being sent through our submissions route on FilmFreeway. If you’d like to see your film on our pages, submit here.

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