“Hello! It’s your turn to operate the scenic railway. The local town cats would love to join you for the ride too, if that’s ok.” This is how you are greeted when you enter Alexander Perrin’s online interactive experience Short Trip.
Using the arrows on your keyboard, you can take a tour in an old-fashioned looking tram through incredible landscapes, across beautiful bridges and past gorgeous buildings – all hand-drawn by Alexander. The main character is a cat and we see other cats casually going about their day – waiting on the platform to board the tram, selling their wares at the local market or going to church.
For Alexander this started as an experiment, to see how hand-drawn images could be brought to life by putting them together in a digital context.
“My entire life I’ve been just drawing small worlds, I’ve always loved creating little meticulous scenes with people and machines and landscapes,” he says.
“But when it’s on paper, it felt like it really lacked life. I found that I already had a picture in my head how things should move and how things should react.” So he decided to build it into an online experience.
Staying close to the limitations of illustrations and their physicality, Short Trip features a linear story in which you can only go back and forth with the tram and there’s only small movements from the cats walking around, the mills turning and the tram moving.
“The pleasure I get from small motion is very similar to what people get from creating and watching miniature railways,” Alexander says. “It’s something about bringing these complex systems down to a scale where you can just see it all at once.”
And he’s right, going on this short trip has something really soothing about it. It reminds me of slow TV, a form of television where you can watch 7-hour long train rides, 168-hour of reindeer migration or a 134-hour boat trip.
“I love slow TV,” Alexander says. “There’s one particular railway episode that’s somewhere maybe in Norway, from Oslo to somewhere up in the far north. It’s hard to describe why watching those videos is so captivating and so relaxing, calming and therapeutic.”
Alexander based his version of slow TV on a Japanese mountainous landscape which you can travel through by, you guessed it, tram.
“It’s this delightful sort of tram railway. It goes up a mountain and it goes through all sorts of tunnels and bridges – it’s just the most extraordinary scenery,” he says.
“The very mechanical, artificial structures like the rail itself and the cables and the bridges are so naturally sculpted into the landscape, it is like it’s seamless. You barely notice it, you think it’s part of the landscape.”
And although Alexander’s homage is only about five minutes long, it brings the same joy to its audience. But what I suspect has really captured the attention of many (Alexander’s tweet about the project was retweeted almost 4,000 times) are the unexpected passengers on the tram – the cats.
“I’m obsessed with cats and I’ve been around cats through my entire life,” Alexander says. “I have a cat and she’s the love of my life. She keeps me calm, she’s very sweet and very accommodating and just a lovely personality to have around.
“I started including my cat in the games I was creating about five years ago. Ever since then I made her the lead protagonist in everything I create. Partly as a tribute to her, and partly because it just works,” he continues.
“I only realised more recently the cat passengers on this railway make a lot of sense in the way cats act – they never really have a place to be, they’re very laid-back, they’re rather indifferent towards anything that happens. They seem like the perfect characters to be riding a railway which doesn’t go anywhere – they’re just riding along for the hell of it.”