In the classic silent horror film Nosferatu, inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a mysterious stranger arrives in a German town and wreaks death and destruction. With nationalistic political climates in Europe and the US rife with anti-immigration hysteria, animator Andrea Mastrovito saw in Nosferatu a metaphor for modern times and set out to resurrect F.W. Murnau’s iconic vampire film with a contemporary twist.
The resulting hand-animated film, titled Nysferatu, is set in New York City and features more than 35,000 original drawings that emulate the original appearance and movements of the film’s villain, Count Orlock, but with all new urban backgrounds drawn three times to achieve the flickering effect of early silent cinema. Made in collaboration with More Art, the rotoscoped film will screen at a series of free events in August across New York City.
Born in Italy and based in New York City, Mastrovito understands the immigrant experience well. Long fascinated by vampires and the undead, he immediately thought of animating Nosferatu when More Art’s Micaela Martegani asked him to create a public art project that dealt with community and the realities of today’s world.
“Nosferatu was the perfect theme for More Art, because mainly it is the story of somebody who is coming from another place, another country that nobody knows, and everybody is afraid of him,” Mastrovito tells Creators. “This matched perfectly with the idea of talking about community and integration.”
When Mastrovito first read Dracula, he saw a story that highlighted the late 19th century fear that UK colonies would invade, conquer, and destroy the country. He sees a similar paranoia rising from the immigration crisis in Europe and the US, with right wing politicians stoking fears of terrorism inflicted by Syrian and other Middle Eastern refugees.
To remake Nosferatu, Mastrovito decided to animate it by hand. He felt the original was slow, as many silent films of the time were, so he chose to speed things up and make it “more alive” through rotoscoping.
Mastrovito also found a stylistic reference in Disney’s animated classic Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, which was itself inspired by the German Expressionism seen in Murnau’s work. Other sources of inspiration were the rotoscoped music videos for A-Ha’s “Take On Me” and Queen’s 1991 single “Innuendo,” as well as printmaker and animator William Kentridge, whose animated films are notable for their distinct charcoal aesthetic.
“Another reference for me was an Italian artist named Alessandro Pessoli,” says Mastrovito. “I met him many years ago, and he brought me to his studio and showed me that he was working on this crazy animation called Caligola, and that is what I wanted to do with Nysferatu, where I start from something very simple and then, by means of putting one thing over another, create really complicated things.”
At the beginning, Mastrovito commissioned more than 30 animators to work on Nysferatu, though he whittled that number down as he found artists who could best approximate his animation style. Working from his Brooklyn studio, he sent the animators images and bought them materials, including pencils and lightboxes. In January and February of this year, through a series of More Art workshops in New York City, Mastrovito and his collaborators created new title cards, which were instrumental in retelling this story, both narratively and visually. For these reasons, Mastrovito calls the resulting film a globalized artwork, which he says fit nicely with the topic of his film.
“Every character is a symbol for something else in this movie,” says Mastrovito. “The whole movie is a great quest for freedom, and all of the people in the movie are doing something against or for freedom.”
“In the end, you don’t even know who is the vampire,” he adds. “Maybe New York is the vampire.”
Click here to see more of Andrea Mastrovito’s work.