Interview with director Stobe Harju

"This project is as interesting as it gets!"
Director Stobe Harju on Imaginarium

Renowned for his work in the Alan Wake video game and as a director of several music videos, Stobe Harju met the Nightwish guys and management during "The Islander" video shoot. The successful project eventually gave birth to a feature-length movie called Imaginarium.

How did the Imaginarium project start?
- Tuomas called me late in the summer of 2008 and was like, "Hi, Stobe, do you have time to talk about a couple of music videos? Actually, we're going to shoot a video for each song on the next album." I immediately thought that the poor guy has lost it.

- We then had a meeting where I got to hear the song titles and Tuomas' initial vision for each song. Like, "this song could have a roller coaster in it", and so forth. Fortunately our visions were very similar, so it was surprisingly easy to start forging a longer and more detailed story based on Tuomas' original ideas. During the following months, I wrote about 70 pages with pictures and everything, and it was the first version of the larger story that contained each one of Tuomas' original ideas.

- Tuomas read the story, congratulated me that it was exactly how he had envisioned it, so we continued to develop the script. After about six months I had refined the story in my mind to the point that I needed to ask Tuomas what he would think about my new idea: why should we split the story into separate music videos? Why not make a movie, because the stories fit together so good? And that's what we decided to do. I've got to admit that it has felt weird and even crazy at times, because nobody has done something like this before. But basically the vibe has been great, because this project is as interesting as it gets.

Imaginarium is really the first of its kind, but could you give some comparisons?
At gunpoint I could describe it as a cross between Moulin Rouge and Pink Floyd's The Wall, but basically the movie is something unique. Imaginarium is pure fantasy and also pretty much encompasses everything that Nightwish stand for. Personally, I think that Imaginarium is the visual representation of the things they want to portray in their music, so in other words, the idea is to make the movie look as much like Nightwish as possible. This is viable because the album and the movie have been developed together — the movie has not inspired the music or vice versa. It was not like somebody thought that the music is so visual that it would be nice to a movie out of it or anything. We started with the song titles and Tuomas' broad concept and developed it from there. The lyrics and music were inspired by the longer stories that we came up with, and the detailed script was eventually inspired by the songs. The project has progressed one step at a time.

How much can you reveal about Imaginarium and its plot at this point?
- I can obviously tell you some broad outlines. It's not going to be a linear Peter Pan -type of story, there's enough of those already. We wanted to find a fresh angle and a main character and eventually thought about an old man and the story of his life. In the movie, his current life blends with his childhood fantasies, and along the way, we might wonder what our adult life has become after our imagination was stifled. As adults, we no longer remember the time when the snow hill on our backyard was the tallest mountain in the world. The symbolism gets pretty difficult at times, but the music of Nighwish is not easy either! You can interpret Nightwish in a number of ways, and the movie is no different.

How would you describe the visuals in the movie?
- My former work has been compared to e.g. Tim Burton, but this time there's more influences like Salvador Dali in evidence, not to forget a strong Disney vibe. The end result will definitely owe more to the surrealism of Dali than to the crazy, candy-colored world of Tim Burton. There's also going to be a lot of CGI — I originally used to be an animator and love SFX in general, so that kind of stuff comes naturally to me.

- I really have to brag a bit and say that I'd like to see another Finnish movie with such ambitious costume design, set design, post-production and visuals. So in a nutshell: if we manage to realize our visions, it's going to be one helluva ride!

It's also interesting to know that the music in the film differs a bit from the album versions.
- Tuomas has really given me the right to change things, of course within certain limits and with his permission, and the score of the movie will differ a bit from the music on the album. There's also moments during dialogue where instead of Nightwish music you can hear interludes that are probably going to be composed by Petri Alanko. So to sum it up: Tuomas is obviously the executive producer of the music, and he will approve the variations in the songs heard in the movie (compared to the album versions), but there's also going to be some things written by Petri Alanko, of course heavily inspired by the spirit of Nightwish.

- There's also going to be two Nightwish songs heard on the background of the dialogue, so they're used more like a movie score. Obviously the music still carries the story during those moments, although it gives a bit more room to the dialogue.

How tight is your schedule for finishing the movie?
- The album comes out first, sometime in early 2012, but the release of the movie has not been set yet. We really don't have too much time to waste, but we won't want to rush things either, as we want to do everything just right. During the production of Alan Wake, we created 90 minutes of animation in 30 weeks. People first thought that the schedule was impossible, and I've got to admit it was taxing at times. Basically the question is whether you can still produce quality work during 18-hour workdays...

Fortunately we have a good team spirit, an excellent production company, an ingenious producer - Markus Selin
and an awesome band, so currently things look great to say the least!

Credits to: www.nightwish.com

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