Jack Astro Production Diary

I thought about writing this as I went along with production but since I believe talking about a project can often take the wind out of its sails I decided to just wait until it’s been released and then write up some thoughts about the production.

This film started as a reaction to my day job in pre-school animation. I felt the desire to create something for myself that would be enjoyable to work on (shock horror!) and hopefully to watch. There are so many limitations imposed upon stories for kids that are complete nonsense. Anything remotely imitable is immediately flagged up in case it enrages the cotton wool brigade of parents who don’t want the surrogate babysitter (TV) to mess up their kids. Here’s an idea, why not watch cartoons WITH your kids and talk to them about what they’re watching (rant over).

It is refreshing to work on something for myself and not worry about who the audience will be. I can imagine kids will probably enjoy the film, it is a little edgy but I want it to be suitable for all ages.

The film started with a spaceman character in my sketchbook. I found the image so compelling that I endeavoured to craft a story around the little fella and the story developed through doodle based brainstorming. My process is pretty atypical from the general consensus of STORY IS KING. Instead I prefer to develop character first. Interesting situations/set pieces. Then work out the story from those key elements. To me this seems like a more organic fun way of approaching things and I’m sure people will argue the results but there is more than one way to the top of the mountain.

I storyboarded a first version of the film and then showed it to some of my peers and people whose opinion I trusted both in and out of the industry. I generally got a very positive response to the film which was encouraging and had a number of notes of things I could possibly improve. This helped develop and streamline the film in a certain direction. Bear in mind that this process went on for months just tweaking and thinking about the plot. I knew I could procrastinate forever if I continued to solicit feedback on the story so at some point I had to commit and live with my limitations.

I animated 3 key sequences that I knew would be the most fun/challenging first. I was thinking that if the film proved to be too much work at least I’d have some interesting stand-alone shots for my show reel. I worked on the animation in order of shots that I KNEW had to be in the film and left certain sequences alone while I developed the story and details. It was a very organic process that could not be done under studio conditions where others are relying on you but working alone this was a very fun and freeing way to work.

I was also developing the look of the film as I went along, initially I didn’t plan on colouring and shading the film but it became clear when I did a test that this would transform the film into the look I wanted. This is probably the part I could have most used some help with but once I committed to it I enjoyed the monotony of the task. With my tablet PC I could sit on the couch in the evenings and work away without much thought on the process.

In the middle of making the film I finished one freelance contract and had a break where I got a TON of work done for the film. I then went travelling round Europe and when I returned, moved to Dublin to start a new freelance animation contract. I put the film aside for a few months and got distracted with other things and inspirations I found from our Euro trip. Once I got settled into the new city and job I decided to make a commitment to finish the film in the next 8 months. I wrote up a schedule with milestones and to do lists and had charts on the wall to cross off my progress. With this stuff around me I really stuck my nose to the grindstone and spent probably 24hrs a week working in my evenings and weekends around a full-time job.

I sourced most of the sound fx and music in the film from freesounds.org and recorded a couple things myself around the house. I would’ve liked to record my own music but being away from all my music kit I decided to just use what I had available. I would try to include music earlier in the process on another project.

With the film finished I am in that phase where I’m not sure quite what to think of it. I’m proud of finishing it and I do think it is the best film I’ve made to date. It was such a learning experience that I can’t wait to move on and make something better, but it is such a struggle to get something to this point that I want to enjoy it and see how people react to the film.

I think it was Ira Glass who said about creativity that for a long time you have the ability to tell what is good/bad about something but not the skill to create something good. It is a difficult dichotomy and why so many people give up on making things before they get good. It is far easier to become a critic than a creator. I am on that journey myself and hopefully I am on my way to making good things.

Jack Astro HD Short Film and Comics Pack