SIGGRAPH: Best of Show Winner ‘Song of a Toad’ Qualifies for Oscar Consideration

Song of a Toad Still - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of SIGGRAPH

Kariem Saleh, a graduate of Germany's Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg who now works at Berlin-based Rise Visual Effects Studios, has found himself in an unexpected position: that of a potential Oscar contender.

Saleh directed the inventive animated short Song of a Toad, which was honored as Best of Show this week at CG confab SIGGRAPH's prestigious computer animation festival. With that recognition, Song of the Toad now qualifies for Oscar consideration in the best animated short competition.

“I never expected anything like this,” Saleh told The Hollywood Reporter. “I was just glad it was finished.” The project — made in his spare time over three and a half years — started while Saleh was studying at the Filmakedemie and was a collaboration with a group of fellow students.

The film examines what happens when, as an adult, you silence your inner child. The story follows Svobodan, an unhappy man with a toad on his head who visits a psychiatrist to get help. The psychiatrist is unsuccessful in getting rid of the toad, but then Svobodan gets hypnotized and journeys back to a vision of his childhood. He sees children, each with a toad — each different — and singing with their own voices. "He realizes that he has found the value of the toad," the director explained.

The look was the result of some clever technology development. "I don’t really like the CG look of films — I try to stay in the real world as long as possible when animating," Saleh said. "We built the sets as miniatures and scanned them into the computer. And then we constructed a motion-capture device that you put on your hand in order to do glove puppetry. In real time you can see a preview version of the character," continued the director, who developed the system with fellow students Florian Greth and Amit Rojtblat.

The dialogue (German with English subtitles) was written by Saleh and Robert Martin. Collaborators included designer Jelena Walf, art director Silke Finger and producer Alexandra Stautmeister. A group of musicians that operate Berlin-based music and sound design facility Paradox Paradise created the "song."

Now working as an animator and layout artist at Rise, Saleh is prepping another short that he said may combine live action with animation.