Jan Švankmajer’s Final Film

Jan Švankmajer is in the process of making his final film, ‘Insects’. He has successfully crowdfund part of the production on indigogo, which is getting more common with filmmakers of his level.

When asked about why he chose crowdfunding over more traditional funding methods, Svankmajer stated that “It gets increasingly difficult to fund independent art that scrutinizes the very core of our society. Who would deliberately support their own critics? We make a film every five or six years not because of a lack of ideas, but due to the lack of funds to back up our projects. Our hope is that crowdfunding may be the way to change this. The initial $150,000 we aim to raise on Indiegogo will enable us to start shooting with live actors; eventually, we will need to raise far more in order to complete the animations and post-production.”


The film will be based on the satirical Čapek Brothers play, Pictures from the Insects’ Life. Svankmajer has stated that “The Čapek brothers’ play is very misanthropic. I’ve always liked that — bugs behave as human beings, and people behave as insects. My screenplay extends this misanthropy further while also reflecting Franz Kafka and his famous ‘Metamorphosis.’”

“To those of you who choose to support our effort, I want to thank you. I promise you that I will invest my entire body and soul into this last feature film of mine. After all, that’s the only way I know how to create.” (JŠ)

I’m really looking forward to seeing what Svankmajer accomplishes with Insects, but also sad that this will be his last film.


Feature Screenplay Completed!

It’s been a while internet.

After 8 treatments and 26 drafts,  I’ve finally finished my animated feature screenplay!

It took me longer to write than I expected, or planned for, but it’s the first feature screenplay I’ve written so I needed to learn a huge amount.

It clocks in at 76 pages which is pretty short for a screenplay. The standard rule for screenplay/film length is that 1 page = 1 minute of screen time. However, this isn’t a hard rule and depends on a few factors. Mamoru Oshii’s 1985 animated feature ‘Angel’s Egg’ has a runtime of 71 minutes, yet the screenplay was supposedly only 1 page long. It really depends on the film’s style and format. My screenplay has pretty minimal dialogue and concentrates more on visual storytelling, so I’m expecting the finished film to run 80/90 minutes.

So now I’m moving on with the rest of pre-production, at the moment that’s storyboarding and art design. I’ll update more soon :D


10 Lessons On Filmmaking From Roger Corman

Here’s a great article from Filmmaker Magazine on Roger Corman’s ‘10 Lessons on Filmmaking‘.

Roger Corman is a filmmaking legend who has produced over 400 hundred films and directed dozens more. While many of the films he worked on are undeniably genre trash, he has also worked on some greats such as The Masque of Red Death (1964), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Intruder (1962) and Forbidden World (1982).

Roger Corman knows how to get shit done and he’s definitely worth taking some advice from.

-Hamish .S

Aspect Ratio!

I’m about to begin story-boarding so I’m currently looking into what aspect ratio to use for my film. Although it seems like a it’s pretty small and inconsequential decision, it will impact how I compose and edit the shots and the overall look of the film. It’ll also be really hard to change even half-way through pre-production.

Everything I’ve previously worked on (except for a few old 4×3 projects) has been 1.78:1 (or 16×9). This is pretty much because 1.78:1 is the main standard for HDTV and web based videos these days, so it has almost become the default choice. However, there are some other aspect ratios that are worth looking into.

There have been many aspect ratios used throughout the history of cinema. Here’s a great video from FilmmakerIQ on the history of aspect ratios for those interested.

I’ve also found a great vimeo channel called Unsusual Aspect Ratios which highlights the diversity of aspect ratios people are using out there.

Most contemporary feature films use one of these three aspect ratios:
2.39:1 – ‘Scope’
1.85:1 – ‘Flat’ or ‘Theatrical Widescreen’
1.78:1 (16×9) – HDTV

Of course there are exceptions to this, such as Mommy (2014) by Xavier Dolan which is mostly uses a 1:1 square aspect ratio, or The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) which changes between 1.37:1, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1. These rare aspect ratios are interesting but I’m mostly interested in using the 2.39:1 ‘scope’ and 1.85:1 ‘flat’ aspect ratios. There are several pros and cons to both which has made it pretty difficult for me to decide on which I want to go with.

2.39:1 ‘Scope’ aspect ratio (sometimes referred to as 2.35:1) gives a wide field of view which is great for panoramic shots, landscape shots and tight close-ups. The wide frame can lend your cinematography theatricality and gravity.

The cons of 2.39:1 lay in distribution. Depending on your digital distributor, your film may be required to be ‘pan and scanned’ (cropped) down to 16×9. This is unacceptable as it will ruin the framing of your shots completely. Thankfully this seems to be getting less common as digital distributors are happier letterboxing the film to fit 16×9 screens.

Many of my favourite live-action films such as Kwaidan (1964), Kuroneko (1968), The Sword of Doom (1966), the Lone Wolf and Cub series (1972), The Devils (1971), Onibaba (1964), Dogtooth (2009), the Female Convict Scorpion trilogy (1972) and Old Boy (2003) have been shot in 2.39:1 scope ratio.

OctoberTheDevils4The Devils (1971) ~2.39:1

maxresdefaultWe Are The Strange (2007) ~2.39:1

kuroneko 2Kuroneko (1968) ~2.39:1

1.85:1 ‘flat’ is wide yet not excessive. It’s the middle ground of theatrical aspect ratios. It is also close to 1.78:1 so on 16×9 screens the letter boxing is minimal or optionally (but in-advisably) you can cut a little off the sides to fit the frame.

Many great films such as A Clockwork Orange (1971), Fitzcarraldo (1982) and The Birds (1963) were shot in 1.85:1; as well as many great animations such as Ghost in the Shell (1995), Akira (1988), Angel’s Egg (1985), Princess Mononoke (1997), Waltz With Bashir (2008).

g1Ghost In The Shell (1995) ~1.85:1

a-clockwork-orange (1)A Clockwork Orange (1971) ~1.85:1

angels-eggAngel’s Egg (1985) ~1.85:1

One of my initial hesitations for using 2.39:1 is that until pretty recently there just isn’t that much animation done in that aspect ratio. Some early Toei animations such as Magic Boy (1959), as well as the more recent Evangelion 3.0 (2012) used 2.39:1, however nearly all theatrical anime has, and continues to use 1.85:1 ‘flat’.

With the exception of a couple of 2.39:1 Disney animations such as Brother Bear (2000) and Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), the majority of Disney films were shot in their preffered aspect ratio of 1.66:1.

Another rare example of 2.39:1 aspect ratios being used in animation is M Dot Strange’s feature films We Are The Strange (2008), Heart String Marionette (2012) and I Am Nightmare (2014) which all use the 2.39:1 aspect ratio.

Many of my favourite western and independent animations had extremely tight budgets, so they tend to be a mix of 1.37:1, 1.66:1, or 1.85:1, such as Fantastic Planet (1.66:1), Midori (1.37:1), Hair High (1.66:1) and Alice (1.37:1).

Let’s look at the DCP frame sizes.
. Flat (1998×1080 or 3996×2160), ~1.85:1 aspect ratio
. Scope (2048 x 1080 or 4096×1716), ~2.39:1 aspect ratio
. HDTV (1920×1080 or 3840×2160), ~1.78:1 (16×9) aspect ratio

The majority of my audience will access my film through VOD or from downloading it, which means the film will most likely be watched on TVs or computer monitors; the majority of  which have an aspect ratio of 16×9. This means that if I went with 2.39:1 for my film, most people will see the film letter-boxed. Letter-boxing isn’t such a big deal for me (I actually kind of like it), so I’m not going to let that influence me.

What could influence me is if a distributor makes me crop the finished film to 16×9. That would be the worst possible scenario for a 2.39:1 film. While it’s worth considering hypothetical situations and problems that may come down the line, it isn’t enough to sway me. It also seems to be coming less frequent as network bandwidth’s improve across the globe.

I’m instantly drawn to the 2.39 scope ratio. But is it the right choice for my animation?

To help me decide I made some 1.85:1 and 2.39:1 (or 2.35… whatever!) viewers from cardboard and duct tape so I could frame some shots and find what feels better to me.

aspect ratio viewers
I framed multiple shots of various types to get a feel for the frame ratios. I looked at framing human figures, objects and landscapes in Extreme Close-ups, Very Close-ups, Close-ups, Medium Close-ups, Mid Shots, 3/4 Shots, Long Shots and Extreme Long-shots and in a wide variety of angles.

aspect ratio viewer 1 aspect ratio viewer 2Sketch by Jared Brown

The shot framing tests pretty much just confirmed what I already thought.

1.85:1 is a solid aspect ratio. It excels at framing MCU’s, CU’s, MS’s and 3/4 Shots. Framing long shots or ECU’s with it is ok, but it has less room to create interesting compositions. I feel that this aspect ratio would be great for framing scenes inter-personal conflict and intimate subject matter.

2.39:1 was good at framing at CU’s, MCU’s, MS’s and 3/4 shots but it was a little harder to frame them effectively due to it’s width. This aspect ratio was excellent at ECU’s, LS’s, ELS’s, panoramic and scenic shots. The 2.39:1 aspect ratio will be great for impressive scenic shots, grand, intense or epic subject matter as well as dynamic compositions.

Ultimately (as you may have guessed), it really just comes down to taste. What kind of film do I want to make? What kind of actions will be occurring on screen? What kind of cinematography will suite the style and content? What am I most comfortable using?

After thinking about this for some time and swaying back and forth multiple times I’ve decided to go with 2.39:1. The wide frame gives heaps of room to create dynamic and expressive shot compositions. I also feel that the wide frame will suite my film better, as the subject matter is intense and will contain a fair amount of large set pieces and spectacle.

Maybe I overthought this, but as it’s something that will be hard to change once I’ve begun, I thought I should really try to figure out what I wanted. I hope this helps any other filmmakers or animators out there trying to decide which aspect ratio they want to go with. If you have any questions hit me up.

-Hamish .S

New Studio!

Underground Animation has been down for a few days because I forgot to pay some bills, haha whoops.

I’ve been a bit absent on here lately because I’ve been moving into a new house(still no internet) and I’ve also found a cheap studio to move into. It’s been a while since I’ve had a studio. I’ve just been working away in my bedroom for the last few years. While I’m a firm believer in working wherever you can (not having a studio isn’t an excuse not to get shit done), having a place outside your bedroom to go and work is really nice. But y’know if for some reason I can’t pay studio rent anymore I’ll just find some other way to get by and make my film.

Here are some pics of my new work-space.



My film is progressing along pretty steadily. I’m still writing, fixing things and improving the screenplay. It’s definitely taking form. I’m about to start storyboarding so I’m researching aspect ratios and looking into the one I want to use and the look I want the film to have. It might seem like an insignificant decision but it’s essentially picking the way you’ll be framing your world and it’ll have aesthetic ramifications from the storyboard to the editing. I’ll write a post about that pretty soon.

In the meantime check out this great post on Monster Brains about an exhibition featuring the works of four of my favourite animators, Ladislas(Wladyslaw) Starevich (1882-1965), Jan Svankmajer (1934) and the Quay Brothers (1947). It contains a fascinating video detailing a lot of the work in the exhibition.

600full-wladyslaw-starewicz (1)Ladislas Starevich and his daughter Irene Starevich. The collaborated on several animation together from 1930-1958.

Hope you’re all kicking ass creatively.
-Hamish. S

Great Women Animators!

I’ve recently stumbled across an excellent website called Great Women Animators.

The website is a database of female animators from the 1800’s through to the present. It also covers both animators working in the art world and cinema industry, which is great as there sometimes can be a bit of a divide as to what animation resources cover.

It’s by no means an exhaustive list of women working in the animation field, but as it says in the sidebar, it’s always going to be a work in progress. The database contains several of my favourite animators such as Suzan Pitt and Caroline Leaf, but there are many more that I’ve never heard of. I’m keen to dig in over the next few weeks and find some great animation I haven’t come across before.


I probably don’t need to say it but initiatives like Great Women Animators are a great way to address the gender inequality in moving image and the greater culture which it represents. According to a multiple of sources there are far less Women working in cinema than men. I have not been able to find any statistics on equality in the animation industry itself, but I imagine animation is a ‘bit’ better than the cinema industry as a whole, but probably not by much. The website also has a great resources section if you want to continue delve further.

Hopefully databases such as Great Women Animators help young women(and everyone) to find artists that inspire them and encourage them to dive in and start making. Initiatives like this create a great way to discover new artists that can inspire and influence your work, so check out the website or accompanying tumblr!

The website is run and maintained by Canadian artist/illustrator Heather Kai Smith who’s work you can check out here.

Great Stuff!

-Hamish S