Jack Astro Production Diary

I would have written this as I went along with production on the Jack Astro Animated Short Film. But since I believe talking about a project can take the wind out of its sails, I decided to wait until it’s finished. Then write up some thoughts about the production.

Animation Day Job

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 and hopefully fun 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. The parents who don’t want the surrogate babysitter TV, to mess up their kids.

I think if more parents watched cartoons WITH their kids, and talked to them about what they’re watching there would be less issues but I’m not going to change the animation industry.

Independent Animation

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 hopefully it’s more or less suitable for all ages. In my independent projects I am not thinking about the intended audience other than I know it would appeal to me, or to my younger self.

Story Development

The film started with a spaceman character in my sketchbook. I found the image so compelling that I crafted a story around him. It developed through doodling and brainstorming. My process is pretty atypical from the general consensus of STORY IS KING.

Instead I prefer to develop character first. Interesting situations and set pieces. Then work out the story from those key elements. This seems like a more organic way of approaching things. 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 trust, both in and out of the animation industry. I generally got a very positive response to the film which was encouraging. And I 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.

Animation

I animated three key sequences that I knew would be the most fun and challenging first. If the film proved to be too much work at least I’d have some interesting stand alone shots for my animation show reel.

I worked on the animation in order of shots that I KNEW had to be in the film. So certain sequences were left 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 that colour would transform the film into the look I wanted. This is probably the part I could have most used 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.

Life Happens

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 24 hours a week working in my evenings and weekends around a full-time job.

Sound Design

I sourced most of the sound effects 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.

Finished Film

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.
Early development artwork for the Jack Astro animated short

Jack Astro HD Short Film and Comics Pack