It’s so disturbing to see logs cannibalising each other for firewood

In director Nils Hedinger’s short film, entitled TIMBER, a group of logs trying to survive a cold winter night face a grim scenario: they need to keep their campfire lit… by using their own body parts as fuel.

The premise sounds ridiculous, and the anthropomorphic pieces of wood are adorably animated, but we assure you, the plot is anything but silly. What starts out as something inspiring, with a group of strangers working together amidst their dire situation, eventually decays into a brutal and disturbing survival of the fittest.

Think author William Golding’s 1954 novel Lord of the Flies, but with logs.

TIMBER by Nils Hedinger

We spoke with Hedinger recently to find out more about TIMBER.

What inspired you to make the film? Could you describe to us the ‘light bulb moment’ when the concept for TIMBER popped in your head?

“There was this one sketch of wooden characters sitting around a campfire in my notebook which I kept returning to. I don’t know the exact moment of the idea, but I thought it was an interesting image, because it’s simple, horrifying and funny but at the same time can serve as a metaphor for our society. So I started developing a story around that image.”

We did not expect to see what we just saw. The film was unexpectedly disturbing and surprisingly emotional. How were you able to write a story like TIMBER?

“Writing a story around the ‘main image’ of the logs sitting around the campfire was quite difficult for me. I was looking for a story which could do the image justice, but still be surprising. I think it’s quite clear that the logs will eventually burn themselves, but the questions is how.

“This and the dynamic of the different characters around the fire was the challenge. There were a lot of different beginnings and endings of the film. I didn’t quite knew how much background the story needed and how to end it appropriately.

“At first, there was this whole sequence about the logs being transported in a truck but it somehow felt distracting from the campfire sequence, which was initially and truly the story I wanted to tell. This main sequence of the story pretty much stayed the same during the whole development.”

TIMBER by Nils Hedinger

We also loved the animation. Each log had its own personality, and they expressed themselves well despite not having any dialogue. Could you take us through the creative process behind it?

“In my opinion, the log-character are some kind of archetypes: Old and protective, young and naive, strong and evil… In a short film like this, there’s not much time to explain all the characters, so having ‘stereotypes’ was quite helpful.

“Having no dialogue was not really a problem. The story is quite simple and the logs don’t need to talk to express themselves, a lot can be said with subtle eye movements or small gestures. Also the logs have giant eyes which are very practical for expressive facial expressions.”

What does the film try to tell its viewers?

“Well, the main goal for me was to make a film which is entertaining. But what I like about animated films is that they can be easily read as metaphors without being preachy. TIMBER is also how I sometimes see society. I wanted to comment on how we treat each other during times of crisis. But if it is really a crisis or if it’s worth burning one another is the question…

“In the end, I hope it’s also some kind of pleading for solidarity. And because the logs are in a classic predicament I hope to save it from easy answers and being preachy.”

What are you working on next?

“I just finished a new animated short about a tadpole. It’s a mixture between real-live backgrounds and an animated character. The film is named KUAP and is eight minutes long. I hope it will be on the festival circuit soon. Meanwhile there’s already some images up at my blog.”

You can find out more about Nils Hedinger and his work here.