Horror films go deeper than you might think. The monsters we see in films represent the darkest parts of ourselves. This idea was the foundation of a short film for class 2 student, Andy Gattis. Andy hosts a podcast called the Straight Chilling Podcast where he talks all things horror. If you’re a fan of horror films be sure to check out the podcast!
He was in Mathijs Luitjen’s group and did a masterful job of bringing this idea to life through motion design.
In class 2 of our program, we ask students to complete a project we call the Visual Essay. The idea is to challenge students to engage with subject matter that is most interesting to them. So for the visual essay students start by working on their script, storyboarding and art direction. Finally, they execute the animation, complete the edit and design the sound.
Andy put love into every aspect of his short film and it came out beautifully. We asked him for a short interview to talk about his process and what he learned along the way. But before the interview, watch his final film below.
Perspectives on Horror: John Carpenter on Monsters
Andy started this project with the concept. He based on his visual essay on a quote from John Carpenter about Horror Films and their meta-narrative. From here he jumped directly into an animatic/storyboard to help navigate the possible concepts. Since Andy decided to do frame by frame animation he needed to test out his animation concepts and block out the action, shown in the GIF’s below.
A big challenge for Andy was to find a final style for his artwork. After going through several versions he settled on a totally black and white approach to the piece. Some of these earlier versions contained more color and shading, but as each version progressed, the style with the most contrast seemed to win out. Below you can see the progression from his storyboarding into the final frames.
Interview with Andy Gattis
What was the biggest thing you learned on this project?
One thing I learned that being a purist comes at a cost. It came as a great shock to me (and only me, it seems) that the camera moves I was planning were fairly ambitious for frame-by-frame. I outright REFUSED to cut myself ANY slack on the those moves, though. I had to make this great, and I wouldn’t allow myself to answer any criticism with “well, it was just easier this way.”
The trouble is, those camera moves combined with hand-drawn animation meant that I could loop very little, so even with fairly simple linework drawings like these, doing it was going to be a significant challenge. I felt the burn, I can tell you that.
What was the hardest part of the piece to execute?
Tough to say, but I think it was probably that first upside-down pan. Up to the day I started working on that, I had only animated frame-by-frame with still camera shots. Simultaneously, I was still actively working out the style I was aiming for. I went back and forward on what that enough that I wound up having to redraw that whole scene around 4 times, animatic included.
How did having a mentor help you grow?
Mathijs Luijten helped me in many ways, but the biggest in pushing me to move forward. If I didn’t get those weekly reality checks from him and the class, I might still be spinning my wheels on alternative style approaches to this very day. He validated what worked, and warned of the potential tripwires along the way. So the project moved forward and saved me from my own indecision at critical times. For me, nothing keeps the trains moving quite like getting some perspective.
How long did you work on the piece?
I had to stop keeping exact track, to keep the stress down. But from the beginning, the idea was to complete half of the piece for the 12 week course, and the other half afterwards. This was to accommodate the length of the piece I truly wanted to make. Even with that in mind, I wound up spending more time than intended. All things told, I’d put it around 200hrs, likely more.
How many different Art Directions did you explore in the process?
Two or three, all things told. I knew a general feeling of foreboding darkness was required for the content, and I knew I wanted to make a lot of little references to John Carpenter’s work throughout. So I looked at primarily black-and-white solutions, as I rewatched several of his classic films. I focused on heavily contrasted charcoal drawings, some spooky, softly shaded environments, even looking to old episodes of The Twilight Zone for inspiration. In the end, it became clear that something simpler, heavily textural, and completely desaturated was the way to go for this content.