When the Moon was Gibbous

Even before seeing a frame of Erika Grace Strada's student short, the title brings some very specific imagery to mind. It suggests alien landscapes, strange creatures, and a healthy dose of cosmic horror—and it delivers most of that. The jaunty soundtrack dispels any sense of dread, but with a different score, the film's opening could easily set the stage for some true cosmic horror.

A strange, long-legged creature walks across a vast, barren landscape as the sun sits just below the horizon.

Gibbous really just means convex, referring to anything between a half- and full moon, but it's one of those words that instantly sounds alien. H.P. Lovecraft used it in his story Dagon, about a World War I soldier who escapes captivity on a German ship, only to wash up on a monstrous island. "It is at night, especially when the moon is gibbous and waning, that I see the thing," he writes, before the narrator explains that, having recorded his experience, he's now free to take his own life. The phonetic similarity to "gibbering" seems to imply madness, and the word's origins as meaning bulging or humped adds to the feeling of something monstrous and misshapen.

All of which is to say that, even before seeing a frame of Erika Grace Strada's student short (and GIRAF17 selection) When the Moon was Gibbous, the title brings some very specific imagery to mind. It suggests alien landscapes, strange creatures, and probably a healthy dose of cosmic horror—and it delivers most of that. The jaunty soundtrack sounds like Jean-Jacques Perrey at his most playful, instantly dispelling any sense of dread, but with a different score, the film's opening could easily set the stage for some true cosmic horror.

Perrey isn't the only '70s futurist touchstone for Strada. Nearly everything about When the Moon was Gibbous feels like a nod to the psychedelic era of science fiction, and European sci-fi in particular. The impossibly proportioned creatures and hand-painted aesthetic of the gorgeous ultra-wide-angle landscapes draw from the same well as Fantastic Planet, with a healthy dollop of the cosmic weirdness of folks like Phillipe Druillet, Mœbius, and the rest of the Heavy Metal crowd thrown in for good measure. From the word mark to the film grain to the slight wobble and flicker of the film, everything about Strada's short is meant to evoke an unearthed fragment from a lost classic of the analog era.

Working within those influences, though, Strada brings a unique sense of humour to her work. Take the creature designs, for example. Combining alien anatomy with deeply Freudian drawings led to some of the most memorably disturbing sci-fi art of the 20th century. Strada's designs are Freudian, too, but so blatantly so that it crosses over to whimsical, even straight-up silly. Alien as they are, they're also oddly relatable—more so than the film's human characters, a gang of manic little troublemakers going out of their way to pester an apparently gentle giant. Even when Milan Grajetzki's score drops away to leave just an eerie hum and the humans' confused shouts, they still seem silly, more a gaggle of clowns than the typically intrepid space explorers of sci-fi's past.

The only negative thing I can think to say about When the Moon Was Gibbous is that it's too short. The aesthetic is so fleshed out and so perfectly executed that it's a shame we only get just over three minutes in its world. There are other films out there that scratch a similar itch, from the nature doc parodies of the Intergalactic Who's Who (from Calgary's Kevin D.A. Kurytnik & Carol Beecher) to the upcoming (and incredible) Terra Incognita, to any of the inspirations listed above. Still, hopefully this won't be our only visit to Strada's animated cosmos.

When the Moon was Gibbous

dir: Erika Grace Strada

syn: When the Moon Was Gibbous is sci-fi fantasy observing the life of a colorful ensemble of beasts, when they are abruptly interrupted by the arrival of a small group of humans, that are determined to subdue the largest one of them.

2021

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Strada's website has a great collection of concept art, animatics, and backgrounds from the film on her website.