An Interview with Max Epstein, founder of Wild Kids Animation Studio, and his students Nitay & Aharon

translated by: Dina Yakerson

Meir: Hello Max and Nitay.

Meir: Max, please introduce yourself.

Max: Max Epstein, a Jerusalem-based artist, one of the founders of Wild Kids Animation Studio, founded a decade ago.

Nitay: I have been a student at the studio for the past seven years. I am 17 years old now.

Meir: I would like to ask about the studio’s educational approach – where did it come from? What is its history?

Max: We didn’t invent the idea of using animation as an educational tool. Yuri and Lena Kransky – an artistic duo from Jerusalem – developed this method forty years ago. The method states something very simple: animation as an artistic language includes several tools:

Word – behind each movie lies a script.

Image – each script becomes a story on the screen. The image itself includes lines and color – an important detail that is related to the children’s age: the image begins with a line, and at some point becomes a color-stain. Their combination leads to a more mature understanding of the medium.

Movement – a live image can tell a full story, and the movement includes technology, from cellular phones to professional cameras. Through this process we learn the basics of photography.

The film is always related to an experience – the need to convey a personal experience. It has to do with a sound: a film always has a soundtrack, and a child who has a musical ear or a connection to music, is always welcome to express it in his film. In short, animation has all the ingredients of the art world and the components of the cultural world, from drawing to performance. If you take this language as a tool that enables a child to develop his skills, any talented child can find himself in this activity. In this respect, animation is highly universal. I would like to add that for me, animation is a typical tool of our time; it reflects the pace of information flow, the flood of images everywhere, from the internet to the schools. While engaging with it, we discovered that this is the ultimate language of the 21st century, and it is highly recommended that children speak this language.

Meir: I’ve been working with Wild Kids Studio for a while. One of the things that characterize the studio is the lack of hierarchy between teacher and student. It is a space of artists working together, there are artists who are ten years old and ones who are 45 years old. Some have more or less experience, but everyone works in a shared space. I would like to hear about this shared space.

Nitay: I would define the studio as more of a commune. I feel that when I come here, I come home to my family, to people I can work with, and who I can always learn from, not just from the teachers but also from other students.

Max: It’s great to hear that. Nitay, you know that you are free to say anything, criticism is also welcome.

Nitay: So maybe you should quit smoking.

Max: Not that J. Meir, it’s important to state that I am very passionate about this project for many years, and I don’t take it for granted. Even the coolest projects can become less interesting after a few years or irrelevant, and here it doesn’t happen. The process keeps renewing itself, each child and each teacher brings their experience with them, a new perception and outlook. It is a community of people who decided to throw on the table everything they have. Some of us have more, some of us have less, but the ‘less’ of one child can sometimes outshine the one that has ‘more’. In fact, we keep exchanging knowledge and experience. I can say with full responsibility that throughout the past six years I developed a series of artistic projects that I can define as total-installations. Each one of them, in terms of the way I thought about them – the process and the idea – are a result of Wild Kids Animation Studio, a result of animating a still object that tells a story. I transformed these stories into total spaces and for this I am grateful to the children, because it happened not only due to our conversations, but also in many cases, through criticism. One of the kids can tell us: “this doesn’t work, it doesn’t say anything”. And it’s a sign that I need to check if I’m really going in the right direction.

It’s true that on the one hand, there is no teacher-student hierarchy, but it is rather a collaborative space. There is, however, mutual respect. A child at the studio cannot approach you rudely, or any other child, unless it’s an inside joke. Not because it is forbidden, but because it is unnecessary.

Meir: I want to ask Nitay a question. You are with the studio for almost eight years, and I want to know how it affected the course of your life.

.Nitay: I thought about this question before. I think that coming to the studio and undergoing the processes I went through helped me understand who I am, what I want.

Meir: It is very interesting, and Max might agree: most artists use art as a tool for self-understanding, and most art is in one way or another a preoccupation with oneself.

Max: I definitely agree with that, although I try to distance myself from this specific definition. If I am preoccupied with myself, the important question is what my role is in my own environment. I think the studio engages with this question with the older guys, and I want to add that I am very proud of them – they will never hear this from me during a lesson. 😊

Meir: A true Russian education.

Max: I think that this is the question that our older students are very engaged with: who they are and how they can influence, not only themselves, but what surrounds them. They take a very active stand in regards to what goes-on, they care; there isn’t a child at the studio that doesn’t care, on one level or another, about what is happening around him. I think it is a very important part of our work.

Meir: Do older Wild Kids go back and teach at the studio?

Max: Wild Kids graduates often assist in different workshops. Each group, for example the group Nitay is currently in, consists of older kids who are 16-17 years old, and new students, age 12-13. I don’t know how we would manage without our older guys, who are accompanying and assisting us. It is a never-ending process.

Meir: Nitay, how do you view the process you went through from being an unexperienced pupil to someone who is now a part of the team?

Nitay: There’s something about that. When I look back I find it hard to see how things exactly evolved. I remember my last year and everything that had happened.

Meir: can you share a bit?

Nitay: I started in Vasyl’s young group and after that I moved between groups. I think I now take on more responsibility. When someone new arrives I help him blend in. There was one kid who lacked self-respect and we took it upon ourselves to help him, and I think we did.

Meir: Did you succeed on account of the art or the space?

Nitay: Both.

Max: I want to add a few words. We didn’t teach Nitay or the others that help us how to teach one class or another. Even when during our workshops they ask us what to do, I say something general. There are no instructions. I trust them, 100 percent. Sometimes they know how to teach the class in a much better way. In that sense, it is a very communal project. They have full independence, but also full responsibility.

Meir: Is there an advantage when older Wild Kids transmit content to younger students, as opposed to an older tutor with a greater age difference?

Max: I can let you in on a little secret. Many times when a group is renewed and new teenagers arrive, there are minor barriers that we have to overcome in order to achieve a personal experience. When we decide on a course of action – by “we” I mean my partner and I, because we work in pairs – the dialogue is an inseparable part of our perception. We want different voices and differences of opinion. When we talk about a course of action with a new group, we pay attention to a particular child who has his or her own questions or experiences, and that is why we put him in a team with older children, because they sometimes have a shorter and more accurate way to reach the new boy or girl. Afterwards, we join the process.
Meir: You choose one of the older kids to open the way to places that are harder for you to reach because of your authority? Because of your age?

Nitay: We are here to break authority. 😊

Meir: I want to ask Nitay and Aharon, another student of the studio who joined us now, about your creative processes.

Max: Aharon Engel, soon turning 17, is with the studio since he was nine years old. His first film was the first film that the studio won an award for.

Nitay: All the movies that are made here are results of accumulated ideas. The film that I’m working on now began with a parabola. It has nothing to do with it now, but this is what started the process. With time I added details that were connected to me at that moment. The parabola was the inspiration for monsters I created, and afterwards I added a dark Gothic city.

Meir: Are you saying that it is a sequence of ideas that spontaneously connect?

Nitay: Yes.

Meir: One of the studio’s principles is that everything is connected to everything.

Nitay: But then comes the choice.

Max: Of course, I want to point out that Nitay’s film is very deep. It talks about a society of blind people, and questions whether they should receive their eyesight back or not. There is an attempt to give them their eyesight back, but it fails because this society prefers to stay blind.

Meir: Aharon, would you like to say something about your creation?

ֿAharon: I can say about my movie “The Golem” that it began with thoughts about what can be done in case of an atomic attack, and weather is it possible to move buildings so that they wouldn’t be destroyed. From there, it turned into animation, with which I could actually animate the buildings, so each building is a different character.

Max: This is how architects talk about their favorite architecture – they talk about a building as if it was a character or a live creature.

Max: I know it might not be the right time, but Aharon, I want to ask you a question about the film “The Exiled”. While working on that film I asked myself if the character of the red riding-hood in based on your mother.

Aharon: I think it happened spontaneously.

Max: Just so you know, it is present there, and it is very interesting. Maybe you can say a few words about the project you are working on now? This project also begins in a monumental way, like “The Exiled” that took about two years to make. I have to add that it is a great honor to work with you two, because I see your passion and your strength, and it is inspiring. Aharon, after his big projects, his last film feels like a haiku poem. Maybe you can elaborate?

Aharon: The film takes place far in space. It is about a planet at war – a spaceship arrives and tries to conquer the planet.

Max: I think the end of the film is its most significant part, the solution Aharon gives.

Meir: What is the solution?

Max: Do you want to tell? You don’t have to.

Aharon: I think it’s better not to tell.

Meir: When is the movie going to be ready?

Aharon: Maximum within a year.

Meir: Do you see yourselves engage with animation in the future?

Nitay: I’m thinking of applying to Bezalel.

Max: Oh, poor thing J.

Nitay: I’m thinking of joining the studio team in the future.

Aharon: I intend to make regular films and maybe incorporate animation. Perhaps I will become a film director.

Meir: Max, how do you see the future and the development of Wild Kids Animation Studio?

Max: Within five years it will be the best school of art and animation, in the same level of influence as the Bauhaus. And with all of this success, it will still keep its small communal family model, where everyone knows everyone. We are on our way to become a school, so that more people and institutions can be exposed to our practice. The beauty in our outlook is that there is no point in time where we can stop and say: there is a certain method. At each moment we can stop and say – maybe we can change this? It is thrilling, and never boring.