Kickstarter is full of extravagant claims and hyperbole, but when Toonocalypse promises that it’s “one of the most unique alien invasion movies ever made” it absolutely delivers when you scroll through its funding page. It’s an apocalypse tale that’s as big as Cloverfield but with the cartoon injected art style of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? In all of my years in the art industry I’ve never seen a hybrid art project quite like this. Fans of big action movies will enjoy it and fans of old point-and-click adventure cartoon games like Toonstruck will be obsessed with it.
I was instantly in love with this project and had to find out more information through an interview. I spoke with Owen Rixon, who co-wrote the film and will also be directing and animating it. He’s worked in the visual effects industry for five years and was nominated for a McLaren Animation Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and also a Scottish New Talent BAFTA. Currently he runs The 2D Workshop, which is a 2D, VFX, and music production company in Edinburgh. Joining him on this project are Callum Barton (writer and composer), Siggy Stone (producer), David Kaye (actor), and Jimmy Thompson (actor).
Can you tell us a little more about how the idea for Toonocalypse came to you?
I was invited by my friend Siggy Stone (Toonocalypse’s producer) to see Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters” at the Edinburgh International Film Festival a few years ago. We were both really impressed with the fact he had made a feature length monster film with big VFX shots on a really small budget by doing all the effects himself. Afterwards we were discussing how I, as a 2D animator, could do effects for a short and the basic idea for Toonocalypse was born. The idea got left for a few years as I didn’t have the time or money to develop it, but recently, after starting a production company called The 2D Workshop, myself and my colleague Callum Barton decided to start scripting the idea properly.
What was the first day of work on this project like? What sort of resources did you have to gather to make this dream come to life?
The first day of work on this project actually happened a few days after watching “Monsters”. Siggy and I decided to shoot some footage and see what could be done with it. The footage was all low light, SD handheld, but I found that when it was motion tracked and the animation was adjusted to fit the lower quality of the footage it actually made a much more interesting and believable visual experience. While the film will be shot in HD and in better light conditions, that original idea for compositing the animation into amateur looking footage will remain an important style for us to maintain.
What’s a normal “day at the office” for you and the team? Share your work process with our readers!
Currently it’s just constant promotion of the Kickstarter to raise funds. We’ve been contacting everyone we can think of who might be interested in investing. The response on the internet has been really overwhelming and it’s great to see people getting excited about the project at such an early stage.
As for the work we are doing, testing is an important part of the project and we have been working on ways of making really high quality effects shots with only our 2D tools. We are also still adjusting the script to get the strongest story we can. Although it’s an exciting visual project, it needs to be as captivating a story to create the quality film we are aiming to make.
To further inspire today’s young artists, can you share more photos of your current sets and prototype puppets from your studio? What part of the project are you currently designing or filming at this time?
The story requires the world to be populated by hundreds of uniquely designed aliens. As we had to design them anyway, we made it a perk of the Kickstarter so people could not only adopt an alien, but be re-designed into an alien based on the person donating. We are also designing the more sinister alien characters that turn up later in the film. They are also unique, but thankfully there are fewer of them to animate!
Fill in the blank: The future of animation is ______? In what ways do you think the animation industry will change the most in the next few years?
Expansive. For the past few years, after the huge boom in CG animation, the industry became dominated by CG movies to the point where 2D features stopped being made in Hollywood. These days, there are a generation of children who have been brought up on CG films rather than classic 2D films, and where once CG was the new, exciting medium, 2D films that break through like “The Illusionist” and many of the Studio Ghibli films are now a unique and exciting change.
I think that the medium used will be less specific to CG and more open to techniques like 2D and stop motion animation. I also think we’ll see animation being used for more adult themed movies. The critical success of films like “Waltz with Bashir”, “Persepolis” and many anime features shows us that more and more, audiences are prepared to accept animation as a sophisticated story telling tool, rather than simply cartoons for kids.
I love the “Toons” cartoon alien creature designs you’ve shown for this project. Having them start off as a harmless alien pet epidemic and transitioning into dangerous evolutions is a genius rebirth of the Gremlins idea. I’m dying to know more about their names, backstories, and motives! Can you give us some new teasing details about them?
The Toons in the film can’t talk, so the names they have are simply names that humans have given them. Our two main Toons are called Steven and David. While this adds a moment of comedy at the idea of aliens having such standard human names, the main reason for picking those ones in particular is that they are the characters played by Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum in “Independence Day”. To explain the back story and motives would be to explain the ending of the film, but I can say that the apocalypse that ensues part way through the film, although caused by the Toons, is not entirely their choice.
Brilliant idea with the Independence Day tie-in! Roughly how long do you think Toonocalypse will be when it’s completed? Also, when is the projected release date?
We are aiming for the film to be 15 minutes long. We don’t have a specific date in mind as the project is so early in its production, but we are currently aiming at the first few months of 2015.
Kickstarter is full of just as many promising funded projects as it is promising unfunded projects. What are your plans for this project if it doesn’t meet its Kickstarter funding goal? I’d be devastated if I never get to see the final cut of this project!
The majority of the money we are trying to raise is for post production and animation, so if we weren’t to get the money, we would still shoot all the live action. From that point we would seek other funding, and I would work on the project in any spare time I had, but the release date would likely be pushed back considerably.
Is there anything else you would like your followers to know at this time?
Firstly, we are hugely thankful to everyone who has supported us this far. A lot of people don’t realize that if we don’t meet our £7,000 target then we don’t get a penny, so it’s really important that people donate what they can and tell everyone they know to get as many people involved in the project as possible. We are so excited to make this film, but we can’t do it without the donations of our supporters.
Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring animators?
I would say get as much experience as you can at any level, even if it’s tiny web adverts or indie films. Doing that sort of work not only gives you something to show potential clients, but also helps you chose exactly where you want your career to go. For me, working at big studios that produced high end CG and high end 2D really helped me decide that I wanted to focus my efforts on directing 2D films, and when you know that, it’s much easier to make important career decisions.
Thank you for taking the time to have this interview with us! Be sure to keep Animated Career Review updated on all of your project’s announcements in the future! Good luck on your Toonocalypse Kickstarter!
Check out more interviews at Animation Career Review's Interview Series.