Christian Szczerba

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Monday, April 10, 2023

The attraction to horror is all about the feeling of dread.

Christian Szczerba first came to our attention with his music video to “Nightcall,” Essenger’s remix of the Kavinsky song. From beginning to end, this video conveys a sense of mystery. Who are the lead characters? Why does one of them resemble Ryan Gosling from a couple of his movies? As the story continues, we wonder about the relationship between the two lead characters. And why are they after the woman? These questions remain at the end of the video, but that doesn’t detract from our overall sense of satisfaction. Maybe it was just about two assassins falling in love?

This video was one of the top five winners in the TikiKiti International Film Festival.

Recently, we got an email from Christian that had a link to his latest work, a 20-minute short film. When I spoke to him for this article, he said that as much as he loves horror, he wants his films to evoke a sense of dread. With Creatures of Crepuscule, he has accomplished this.

With a series of extreme close-ups and the music changing to something akin to a 1960s soundtrack, the mystery builds while we watch a young girl riding in a car, looking at the scenery and keeping herself busy. What is odd is how the girl’s face is blurred. It turns out her mother asked Christian not to show her face. Having to oblige the mother of the lead actor, he turned this into a feature that draws the audience into the story and makes it even m ore mysterious. Again, we are asking questions — and the sense of dread builds.

Early on, there are themes of abandonment that take us on a trip to more mysterious places. It is here that I’m reminded of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes — both the book and the 1983 movie directed by Jack Clayton. Christian successfully reaches the desired sense of dread as we are transported to a strange city and a spooky carousel, a children’s attraction we know will draw us in and frighten the crap out of us. And it does just that. Our sense of wonder draws us into the scene — then Christian grabs us and drags us deeper into the maze.

Looking through Christian’s YouTube channel, it is easy to see how his style evolved. The same sense of dread permeates his earlier works. You can see his experiments that led directly to “Creatures of Crepuscule.” You can see examples of his animations and how he developed his skill with various CGI applications. When asked to elaborate on his use of these applications, he says, “Midjourney appeared only at the very end of post-production, when it was used to generate textures of buildings in a single shot (the wide shot with the city in the background and the train in front). Since it was plain, simple textures, I had to cut the buildings out and assemble them in the background, compose them into a nice shape, add haze, lighting etc., so it's fair to say this program has played a very small role. Still, I wanted to credit it because of how impressed I was with its abilities.

Behind the scenes at "Nightcall" — Essenger’s remix of the Kavinsky song.

“Most VFX shots were done with a combination of CGI in Blender and compositing in After Effects. I've modeled the important elements (like the buildings, the carousel, the dragon train, the smoking monster), but I used public domain 3D models for some of the background stuff (the cement bits on the border of the sidewalk, some street barriers, etc.).”

Christian used a lot of royalty free photographic textures for texturing his 3D models. “Fun fact: I found a nice set of four Parisian buildings side-to-side in a picture and used it a lot. When I went to Paris this summer, I actually found and recognized the place by pure chance!”

He created matte paintings for scenes where the background is still. “That's where Photoshop comes in,” he says. “It's also very useful to digitally erase stuff like cables and pipes in some shots.”

He used Topaz Gigapixel to improve the quality of some textures, and Topaz Video Enhance to improve the overall quality of the videos. “Flowframes is a very useful free software as it can interpolate between images to create a realistic slow motion,” he says. “It helped me decrease my render times by only rendering one out of two-four images when the shot was simple, and then interpolating to recreate the images between. That's because everything was rendered on my laptop. Even though it's not bad, there's still some limitations in terms of computing power. Thanks to this, most renders took only a couple of hours instead of all night.”

The availability of editing software has made the horror genre inviting to many producers. (See our interview with Max Diep, who is also working in the horror genre and using CGI to create the same type of dread-filled and mysterious atmospheres.) Christian’s short film, Creatures of Madness, is another good example of his use of CGI and how it led to Creatures of Crepuscule. As he says in the description of this video, “This is some kind of cosmic horror like HP Lovecraft, a descent into madness.”

It is this descent into madness that sums up much of Christian Szczerba’s work — this particularly human fear where we don’t know the difference between sanity and insanity.

UPDATE: Christian just notified us that he is now producing his first feature film. Congratulations Christian!

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