Tagged: independent


CITY OF ROTT is a 2006 animated feature film created solely by Frank Sudol. It’s an action zombie comedy which are three of my least favourite genres, but to counterpoint that it’s an independent animation which interests me greatly. I’ll try and not let my personal taste in genre get in the way of an impartial review.

The story follows an old man named Fred as he navigates a treacherous world in which zombies have eaten most people and the few remaining struggle to survive. Fred also talks to his walker which gives him advice. Not surprisingly other survivors Fred encounters think he’s a bit crazy. Throughout the film Fred’s motivations are simple. The first being to find a new pair of shoes, the second being to not get eaten. It soon becomes apparent that the zombies are created by parasitic worms which breed in earth’s water supplies.

city of rott 2Fred might be old but he is by no means defenseless. He kills an astounding amount of zombies by bashing their heads in, decapitating them with his walker or shooting them with guns he finds later on. Gore fans won’t be disappointed. There are possibly more zombie fatalities in this film than any other I’ve seen. This abundance of blood and gore is amusing and even comedic at first but tends to wear a bit thin thin in the second half.

city of rott 1One of the things that I found really enjoyable in CITY OF ROTT was the character of Fred. He’s definitely not your average old man and it’s good to see a character that really defies genre stereotypes. Fred is also a bit of a bastard, which leads to some great comedic scenes. For example he meets a nurse who’s been bitten. She wants an antidote and Fred agrees to help, taking her to the zombie infested mall. He then tells her that she needs to go in and get him some new loafers and he’ll give her the antidote. When she refuses and presses Fred for the antidote he lies and tells her that the cure is to get bitten again by a zombie. I found myself laughing pretty hard. The downside to Fred’s character is that it doesn’t really develop. At the beginning his primary motivation is to get new shoes and it never really progresses from there, leaving the story feeling a bit flat.

Fred meets several survivors through his quest including the nurse, a violent gunman, another old man and an office worker who is nailing himself inside a box to escape the zombies and parasites. While these characters are well fleshed out and often funny, they don’t really seem to advance the story much and for the most part, are simply excuses for something to happen to Fred.

City of Rott 4

Due to it being made by one person, the animation is extremely limited and done in a 2D digital cutout style. The characters, background and props are hand drawn but digitally coloured which works fairly well. The visuals are bleak and the colour palette is mostly browns and grays which is what you’d expect from a zombie film. The voices are all done by Sudol and work well with the exception of the Nurse. She’s the one female character in the film and her pitch shifted voice shook the illusion, however I can’t think of a better voice for Fred. I really enjoyed the score and thought it worked with the mood and animation really well, reminding me of industrial-esque midi songs that were in old FPS games like DOOM and QUAKE.

CITY OF ROTT is no masterpiece but it’s a titanic debut effort from Frank Sudol (he’s gone on to make DEAD FURY, SHOCK INVASION, GNOME IN THE HAUNTED CASTLE and CITY OF ROTT 2.) It’s definitely also not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of zombie films or weird action animation this might be for you. CITY OF ROTT is a refreshing take on a fairly stale genre. I’ll be interested in seeing Sudol’s more recent work to see how it’s evolved and developed.

-Hamish .S

People Will Try to Discourage You – Especially Other Animators Pt. 1

If you’re going to get into solo feature film animation, not a lot of people will understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and you’ll face a lot of derision from some of these people.

Already this early in my life as a filmmaker I’ve faced disapproval, people telling me that what I’m planning on doing can’t be done and general opposition. I’ve had this sort of reception from many different types of people including family and friends, but what really surprised me was that this response most often came from people who work in the ‘animation industry’. When I was at art school I would walk across to the animation school and talk to the teachers there about animation as they were so called ‘professionals’ in the industry. Whenever we got onto the topic of solo feature animation and what I was planning to do, they dismissed me and said it was impossible.

I recently had a similar encounter and thought I would share it with you all because you’ll likely come across the same thing. I went to a party the other night and began talking to a friend who works at an animation company about the feature I’ve started work on. Now I don’t normally talk to people IRL about my animation because the more I talk about it the less likely I’ll actually get it done and most people don’t really understand or care(and I don’t expect them to), but she asked me what I had been up to and I was a bit drunk. She seemed at first taken aback and then posed a series of arguments as to why I shouldn’t do what I’m doing.

“You should just make a short film. It’ll be much easier and you can try and get it into Annecy.” 

Well there are many reasons why I want to make a feature as opposed to a short film. The first would be that I view the two formats as fundamentally different in what you can achieve with them. With a feature you are able to weave great stories with considerable character development to push your conflict and therefore your narrative. In comparison a short film it is much more difficult to do this because of the time constraint. That is why more short films are whimsical and quaint and tend to lack the depth capable of being generated by a feature. In saying that though it is not a rule, there are short films who do this better than some features but they are very rare. Another reason is the fact that I find animated features more intriguing due to their scarcity whereas animated shorts are everywhere. If I’m to pour my heart and soul into a project for 3-5 years I would rather it have a duration I can really work with to make it great and stand out, rather than another short even if that short was well executed. The third reason is that all my favourite films and most of my influences are features. Why is that? Again, it’s because you can do MORE with a feature film. I like plenty of shorts sure but the films I really take inspiration from tend to be longer form.

“You should collaborate instead of doing it yourself.”

There are pros and cons to everything. Here are some I’ve discovered about the differences between solo and collaborative film making.

Benefits and drawbacks of solo filmmaking

  • Complete control over your project
  • Don’t need to compromise vision
  • Other won’t let you down
  • You will likely develop faster
  • Have to do it yourself
  • It’s more difficult
  • It takes more of your personal time

Benefits and drawbacks of collaborative filmmaking

  • You can use others skills and expertise
  • It’s easier
  • It will take less personal time
  • You will likely need to compromise your vision
  • You will need to pay them in either time or money
  • You will be reliant on others who will possible let you down or doom the project

Both modes of production are valid and it’s really up to you with what you want as a filmmaker. Personally I much prefer the idea of doing it myself and creating something personal than compromising my vision and relying on others. This maybe because I’ve had a LOT of bad experiences with collaboration so I see the pitfalls of it clearly. Perhaps one day I will work collaboratively but not until I’ve got enough behind me to not have to compromise.

“Have you heard of the ‘Thief and the Cobbler’, making a feature by yourself is impossible. You’ll just end up like Richard Williams.”

Richard Williams is an animator who tried to make a feature animation called ‘the Thief and the Cobbler’  for over 20 years and never finished. Firstly Williams wasn’t a solo feature film animator. He had an entire team working on the Thief and the Cobbler. He also wasn’t working on it full time due to his work on commercials to raise money for the expensive cell animation style his team were working in. In my opinion the real reason he never finished it was because he never really wanted to finish it, at least subconsciously. It was his fear of failure masquerading behind perfectionism that stopped him from completing it. While the story of Richard Williams and ‘the Thief and the Cobbler’ is a good lesson on what NOT to do, it still doesn’t really have many similarities to the idea contemporary solo feature animation. Technology has advanced so far that it’s perfectly possible for one person or a small team to complete a feature animation provided they put in enough effort. It’s not even like i’m the first person ever to make a solo feature film. Frank Sudol, M Dot Strange, Nina Paley, Jeff Lew, John Bergin, Bill Plympton, Ray Nowland and others have done it so why can’t I? The real answer is you can if you want it and the only things that can stop you are your health or your will.

“What’s your end game? What do you hope to achieve with this film?”

I hope to make a good film and I hope to say something. There is no other end game. This is the real thing. When I finish this film I will make another. I don’t want to get picked up by any animation company, I just want to have the resources to keep making better and better work and improving. One day I hope to have made good enough films to have some people who find watching them rewarding.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my rant. It’ll be up in a few days.

-Hamish .S


Turning Pro – Sometimes You’ve Got To Say No

I was talking to an artist friend today over lunch and we got talking about the projects we’ve been working on. He was concentrating pretty much solely on his own projects and it was going really well for him. It made me realise how much of my time over the last 2 years I’ve spent working on other peoples projects and not my own.

When I was starting out it was ok to spend a lot of my time working on other peoples projects because I was excited that someone saw enough value in my work that they’d want to use it for something. I guess I also used it as a form of validation, that “y’know someone wants my work so I must be doing ok.”

I’ve been feeling for some time now that I don’t need practice making anymore. I’m a competent animator and anything I don’t know I’m confident I can teach myself. What I really need is to make my own work and the experience I get off making my own work will be ten times as valuable as slaving away for someone else, even if no-one sees it.

Every month I get a couple of offers to work on something for someone. Most of the time it’s not paid and is considered an ‘opportunity’. Not getting paid sucks but it isn’t even the problem though, as even paid creative work will drain you of your time and resources. I’ve seen plenty of creative people get swallowed up by the advertising industry, never to really utilize their talents, or create anything lasting… only to create the next shitty coke ad.

I think that part of turning pro is seeing these ‘opportunities’ for what they really are. Most things offered to you are a waste of your time. And most paid ‘creative’ stuff either takes up ALL the time you would have to work your own art, or actually pay less per hour then minimum wage. If you have to earn money to live but want to become a pro artist/musician/animator/mangaka I recommend getting a shitty job that pays the most possible for the least amount of time and work 2-3 days a week, and spend the other 4-5 days working hard at your own art. In a few years you’ll be a pro, and even further on you might be able to sell your own works to supplement your shitty job or get rid of that shitty job all together.

As long as you have money to eat, pay rent and be healthy, your time is more valuable than money. Work hard on your own projects and you’ll get where you want to be. It’s hard but that’s ok, the difficulty is part of it. If it was easy it wouldn’t be worth doing, and every humanoid with an opposable thumb would be doing what you do.

As soon as I finish the few projects I’m working on now, I plan to work solely on my own stuff. I’ll try to compromise as little as possible, as compromising is a slippery slope and can lead to your doom as an artist.

leeches1Don’t let the fuckers drag you down!

Good luck and let me know how it goes for you!

-Hamish .S

Suzan Pitt

Suzan Pitt is an animator and painter and who has been creating and producing independent animated shorts from 1970. Her bizarre surrealist animations are visions and psychological explorations into the female psyche. Her short film ‘Asparagus’ (1979) was screened for a number of years with David Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead’ on the midnight movie circuit, so you can kind of gather the feel of her work from that.

‘Asparagus’ depicts a cell-animated protagonist with no face, who dons a mask and walks to a theater. She enters the theater(animated in stop-motion) and makes her way backstage, where she unleashes a pandora’s box(or bag) of shapes and objects which circle over the crowd. She then deep throats and consumes phallic asparagus as it morphs into other materials in her mouth.

‘Asparagus’ is one of the most engaging surrealist animations I’ve come across. The mood and ambiance is undeniably strong as the bizarre scenes unfold. The use of cell animation gives it a similar aesthetic to Rene Laloux’s ‘Fantastic Planet’ which I really dig, and the slow pace definitely works with the sequences to create a mesmerizing effect.

‘Joy Street’ (1995) is another ambitious animation from Suzan Pitt. It follows it’s suicidally depressed protagonist as she wallows in a night of despair and is then helped by a strange monkey. The film starts off dark and foreboding but then as the monkey character comes to life, the film is suddenly overcome with the silly and slapstick. I was despairing at this point because the one things that irks me most of all is slapstick comedy; particularly because it’s prevalent in so much animation. However the film suddenly jerks back into more adult themes and the combination of slapstick lightheartedness and dark undertones was intensely bizarre and really impressed me.

‘Jefferson Circus Songs’ (1975) is one of Suzan Pitt’s earlier works. It is a bizarre combination of cell animation, creepy puppets and pixilation.

Suzan Pitt’s work as been shown all over the world and she has won awards at mutliple film festivals including the Naples Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival, Morelia International Film Festival and Ojai Film Festival to name a few.

If you follow animation for long enough you’ll likely come across her work at some point. Suzan Pitt is definitely an animator to look at if you’re interested in abstracted narratives and less conventional works.

Her web presence is pretty sparse but from a statement on her website, she currently teaches experimental animation at CalArts… rad! She has a dvd for sale here, which I plan to get as soon as I’ve got some spare money.

-Hamish S.

Writing a Comic for the First Time – Pt. 1

I’m a big fan of certain comic and manga artists, like Charles Burns and Junji Ito but I never thought I would end up making one.

File0018I’ve decided to write a comic because It’s a great story telling medium, It has quicker output than animation which allows me to produce more stories + get better at telling stories over time; and it’s still a visual way to tell them.

Coming from an animation background I’ve never written a comic before so I thought I’d detail my home-made process to encourage anyone else out there who wants to create and make interesting and diverse comics/graphic novels/manga. This process works for me but everyone is different so don’t be surprised if your process ends up different.

1. Detailing Ideas and Basic Concepts

My memory is completely shithouse so when I’m thinking of ideas and concepts for stories I’ve got to write them down right away, otherwise they slip into the fog that is my swiss cheese brain.

So to begin with I just write down ideas and visual ideas that I think of, into my journal(to keep it all together). I also write down questions I need to ask myself like “what is the protagonists motivation in this point?” or “what am I trying to say with this comic” or “why is this character even a human?”. Asking myself these questions by writing them down helps me to answer them by forcing me to think, and if I can’t answer them they’re on the paper so i can come back and work them out later.


2. Sequence of Events

The sequence of events is the scaffold where the narrative starts to come together.
On a blank page I write paragraphs that describe what is happening and basic dialogue. I then separate the story beats and breaks with arrows. The SOE is kind of like a story mind-map.

So an example of would be..

       ‘Protagonist wakes up in sewer with no legs. Pushes character b off of her(startled) and talks to him. Character b explains his intentions and background(limited). Protagonist has flashback to falling into sewer.


  Protagonist finds driftwood and shoves them into her leg holes, creating prosthetic shins. Crawls out sewer grate into bare concrete trench. City can be seen in distance.



I find the sequence of events to be particularly useful in establishing early problems and holes within your story which is indispensable.


3. Script

The script is where you start fleshing out your dialogue and the concepts that the characters and their interactions will construct. I’ve found that using the same script format as screenplay scripts works best for me. So under your character names the text will be dialogue, then other lines will be descriptions of actions and what is going on in the scene. You can find a script format tutorials everywhere including here.

Writing and formatting your script in a word processor is a pain in the ass so I’ve found that using a screenwriting program like ‘Final Draft‘ to be much better. After a few hours of use the program becomes second nature and makes writing out a script easy and quick.

I tend to write several drafts of the script over several weeks. I’m new to writing for character so I find convincing and ‘natural’ dialogue particularly challenging. After I write my first draft and wait a few days, I’ll go back and view the work with fresh eyes. I often find much of what i had written previously to be… pretty shit, but that’s ok because you can use previous dialogue and work on it to make it better, more complex and more natural.


4. First Visual Draft

The first visual draft is comprised of a series of small boxes representing pages, and stick figures in the boxes representing characters with primitive surroundings. The idea is that you can quickly sketch out what you visual want each panel to look like and not worry about the quality of your drawings.

This is only meant to be seen by you so don’t be ashamed by the quality of your drawing. As long as you can understand what is depicted then your drawing is good enough. It’s about getting the vision out of your head and onto paper to be worked on later.

I recommend numbering your ‘pages’ as it can get a bit confusing after a while.


5. Second Visual Draft

If I was working by myself I would skip this step and go on to step 6. to save time, but my friend Oscar C is illustrating the final work so I’ve created a second visual draft to convey my ideas to him.

The second visual draft should be a representation of the final work. The comic zine I’m working on will be an A5 sized booklet so all pages in this draft are that size. I draw on both sides of each page so when I bind them it will look like the finished book, and you can flick through and see any weaknesses it might have.

The pages and drawing will take longer than the first draft because you the drawing need to make sense to someone else. In this stage you will also likely change pages and panels because you will realize other things work better. This is good, don’t be afraid to change from your first draft.


When all the pages are complete you can bind them with a bull clip to keep it all together. You now have the entire comic in draft form!



The next 3 parts(final panels, editing + digitization, self publishing) will be in the part 2 of this tutorial.

I just bought a book called ‘Making Comics’ by Scott McCloud. I can’t recommend it because I haven’t read it yet, but it stood out from all the other ‘how to make comics’ books I could find. Instead of teaching you how to imitate the style of other comics etc., it concentrates on how to construct a good story, effective panel layout, what to show and what not to show in those panels and stuff like that, which is exactly what I need. It also seems that master storyteller Neil Gaiman recommends it so it’s definitely worth a look. I’m hoping it will improve my comic writing abilities.


– Hamish S.

Time VS Detail

One of my big problems in venturing to make a feature animation, is that I realistically only have 3 to 4 years to complete it in. Because I’m doing it ALL(writing, design, production, animation, sound, post) I’m going to have my work cut out for me. The slowest part of the workflow for me will always be the animation and actually generating the shots. This means that my animation needs to be quick but it also needs to look good enough to evoke mood and engage my audience.

There are several ways to speed up animation, but not a hell of a lot to speed it up but still retain quality. This year(2013) my biggest goal is to create several short works that will help me reach a style and form of animation I can continue to develop when creating my feature. Right now I’m all over the shop, I’ve experimented in silhouette, drawn, stop-motion, multi-plane, 2D digital, 3D cgi, and hybrid animation forms but have not settled on anything I could use to make a feature to the standards i want. My work will always have elements of many forms in it, but I need to get a base form down to develop my style in.

time vs detail


These are all factors that will help me decide what direction to go in developing my own form. The other is the actual style I want. All the animation I really admire that’s done by a  single person or small team has been pretty heavily stylized. I see photorealism as a trap. I’ve seen and heard of numerous animators working on an amazing looking photo-realistic short animations, only to have it take them years to create 5-10mins of animation. On top of that, photorealism is boring. If you want photorealism, pick up a fucking camera and use that. The only way I can develop into the master storyteller i want to is to create many projects over the years and learn from my mistakes, not get bogged down on one project searching for perfection. In saying that though I do need to be a perfectionist to an extent, but it’s like balancing on a tightrope. Produce quality animation + finish it in a certain time so i can move on and develop.

awyeahphotorealism‘Aw dude check out that sweet photorealism!’

 I’m starting on this search as soon as I finish a quick silhouette animation I need to get out of my head in the next month. I’m pretty sure I can reach a direction with style/form this year if I work hard and take plenty of risks.

-Hamish. S


Solo Feature Animation – Heart String Marionette by M Dot Strange

M Dot Strange is a solo feature film animator and ‘Uberector’ from San Jose, California. What is a solo feature film animator, or Uberector I hear you ask? Well it’s someone who through wielding a gigantic amount of willpower and determination, has completed a feature length animation, mostly if not completely by themselves. An Uberector is pretty much the embodiment of Auteur theory and D.I.Y or Die mentality. M Dot is such a man and he does it well.

Heart String Marionette is the second feature animation from M Dot Strange, his first being We Are The Strange. Heart String Marionette or HSM is a tale about a samurai, a child and a prostitute who quest to defeat an evil warlord and his minions who are devastating the world. On the surface the narrative of HSM is a relatively simple tale of revenge and Good fighting against evil, but on closer inspection the story is thick with subtext about rampant capitalism and commercialisation, sexual abuse, resisting corrupt governments and corporations, and navigating the current world as a creative, artist and individual.

The art in HSM is mindblowing. M Dot Strange creates a world that is as tangible as it is surreal. The characters and monsters have a childlike simplicity to them, as they all represent puppets and marionettes. The atmosphere of HSM is thick, dark and foreboding.  The score to HSM by composer Endika was heartfelt and amazing, however i feel it was a little overused as it covers the majority of screen time without break. This has the effect of making HSM seem more like an opera than a film. I’m not sure if this is something I liked or detested. I feel that the lack of diegetic and atmospheric sound in HSM took me out of the space that was created and I felt like the world was less of a place I could inhabit and explore, which is something I value in animation. It also made HSM into a sort of weird Noe theatre puppet show which I enjoyed.

The only other criticism I have of HSM is the way females were portrayed, which could be construed as misogynistic. From reading and watching M Dots work(especially the strong anti-misogynist message throughout We Are The Strange) I know this is not the case, however it troubled me non-the-less.

Heart String Marionette is an odd and highly personal work from one of the best and most innovative artists and filmmakers today. I definitely recommend getting a copy and supporting M Dot Strange, just don’t watch it with your mum.

You can buy the digital version of Heart String Marionette HERE for $5 which is totally worth it.

You can read about more M Dot Strange madness on his blog HERE where he talks about being a rad filmmaker.