Friday, May 22, 2015

Randall Kaplan's Boxhead

Hey there. Recently, an animation Kickstarter that looks like it might be of interest to some managed to get successfully funded. It's an animated HORROR film.

To my knowledge, the only people who have pulled off horror films in animation would be the Japanese. Ralph Bakshi tried a live-action/animation horror film, but thanks to the meddling of execs, we got Cool World, which is considered a mess by many.

I freely admit to not being much of a fan of horror (though I do love horror-comedy, like Gremlins, Cabin In The Woods, and the Evil Dead movies), but regardless, I'm a huge supporter of animation as a serious storytelling medium that's capable of being more than "just for kids". Besides, I tend to have a fascination with the macabre, and-

Alright, ALRIIIIGHT!!! 

So anyways, now that we got a humorous bit out of the way, time to be a bit more serious. This project is the brainchild of Randall Kaplan, a filmmaker and artist who has worked in the film industry as an editor, concept artist, and even actor, and he has done some short films of his own. It's based around this character that came to him in childhood that he dubs Boxhead, a human-like creature with a head that has eyes and nothing else and a long stalk of a neck.

Creepy looking, isn't it?

He drew this character again and again, and it grew into a story. His thesis film in college was a live-action short film involving the creature, which was shown at festivals and eventually compiled with Kaplan's other films on the DVD "Behind The Flesh".

But he wasn't done with Boxhead yet, oh no. The story only grew, and Kaplan decided it should be a feature length movie, and as he was drawing these concepts and storyboards, he came to the realization that he HAD to see these images and characters come to life through drawings.

This is the story, according to the Kickstarter page:

Al is an aging, alcoholic recluse. There was a time when he aspired to be someone; a writer, with a life and career. That time, along with all of his dreams have long passed him by.

He lives alone, his life reduced to an empty, solitary and drunken existence.

But as time slips away, a strange creature watches, waiting in the dark...

One night Al discovers something absolutely horrible that could possibly save his soul.

He takes on the role of a detective, acting out a story he never finished.

All the while, the creature enters into different people's lives, unveiling their deepest fears and regrets, their loneliness...

...and feeding off of it.

Al is led down a rabbit hole, through a labyrinth of past and present fantasies and nightmares, to ultimately, find himself.

Promotional Art for Boxhead done by Randall Kaplan
This film has creative potential for quite a few reasons. First of all, as was mentioned, it's an animated horror film, a rarity outside of Japan. With the whole Animation Age Ghetto thing in place, people are still under the delusion that animation is just "for kids". In actuality, it's capable of being a storytelling medium in its own right, one that's capable of matching or even surpassing live-action. And with the right mind and the right project, it's possible to demonstrate that. I believe in its potential to be that. Sure, there can still be animation for kids and families, but that doesn't mean that ambitious, adult projects can't be accepted as well. I've mentioned that I was a huge fan of indie animator Bill Plympton before, and a lot of the reason was because he was always daring to be different from the mainstream, and it always showed in his work.

Randall Kaplan's project is similar. It dares to be different. It dares to present something new to animation and horror fans alike. And that's something that deserves to be admired.

Second, rather than being exploitive nonsense like certain horror films tend to fall under, this deals with some pretty heavy themes, like loneliness and isolation. It's very personal to Kaplan, but he hopes it'll be universal to others. To me, it's a story that has a lot of promise to it, a story about someone who has given up hope but, amidst a series of truly terrifying events, manages to finds himself. It's one that presents the possibility for a lot of depth. I love good stories, and this has the makings of not just a good horror story, but a good story in general, from the interesting premise to the strong themes.

And under it all, surprisingly, there will be a tenderness to it, something that doesn't come to mind when you think "horror". I don't know how most horror fans would respond, but personally, I like this idea. Sometimes, there needs to be something to balance out the darker aspects of a project, like humor or poignancy. Just like life isn't all sunshine and rainbows, life isn't all bleakness and misery, either. I love dark stuff as much as the next guy, but it's always nice to be reminded that, even in the darkest of times, the good of humanity can still shine through.

Turner Classic Movies wrote a blurb about Kaplan's short films back in 2009, and one that will hopefully apply to Boxhead as well:

"Kaplan expertly blends the uncanny, grotesque, and the touching..."

Already, this film sounds like it could be up my alley. Despite not being the world's biggest horror fan, I've managed to find quite a few I like and, thanks to stuff like Cinemassacre's Monster Madness reviews, I can understand and appreciate what the genre is about, what the appeal is, and what it's capable of. Besides, as someone who understands what it means to be lonely, (yes, even for someone who's not very social such as myself, I've had my fair share of loneliness,) I'm pretty sure it'll manage to gravitate towards me as well.

Third, just from what I've seen of the project, through the opening scene available on Kickstarter, as well as Kaplan's concept drawings, it looks great. The drawings are creative, well-shaded, and they really give off this heavy atmosphere. As I mentioned, I tend to have a fascination with the macabre, and whenever the macabre is depicted through drawings, it's very fascinating, because you can see where someone's imagination can truly go.

Like I said, he managed to get it successfully funded, but I feel indie artists need all the help they can get. I wrote to Kaplan, and he said that he was still open for donations and support of any kind. I plan to write back to him once I finish this blog post, thanking him for responding back and likely donating some money, because this is a project I'd like to see come to life, and one that I'm sure a lot of others would like to see as well.

If you like, you can read more about Boxhead here:

And you can visit Kaplan's website here:

Thanks for reading and, as Kaplan told me in his email, "many dreams and nightmares to come..."

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Two Cool New Kickstarter Projects

Image belongs to Bill Plympton

Bill Plympton's Revengeance

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of Bill Plympton. His work is creative, well-drawn and funny. From his shorts like Your Face and Guard Dog (both nominated for Academy Awards) to his features like The Tune and Idiots And Angels, he is an example of what you can do in animation when you follow your own path without interference from studio heads. Anyone who knows about him is aware that he usually does mostly everything by himself, animation, writing, designs, you name it. He usually has people to composite the films into computers and doing post-production work, but aside from that, Bill's the man behind it all, and he's done plenty of shorts and seven full-length features with this work method. His reason for not going with any collaborators? He never found anyone who could recreate his twisted imagination.

This time, however, he has himself a partner, an artist/writer who goes by the name of Jim Lujan, making this new project his first feature film to have a creative partner. After seeing some of Lujan's shorts, Bill felt that Jim's work was a perfect fit for his animation. So after calling him up and suggesting they collaborate, Jim sent Bill a script, Bill liked the results, and now, here we are. They set up a Kickstarter to get some extra funding for the project.

Bill will produce, animate and direct, while Jim will write, design, and provide music and voice. They even got some names like Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket, Vision Quest, The Dark Knight Rises) and Dave Foley (The Kids In The Hall, NewsRadio, A Bug's Life, Monsters University) to provide some of the voices.

The story, as described on the Kickstarter page, goes as thus:

Revengeance tells the story of a low-rent bounty hunter (named Rod Rosse, The One Man Posse) who gets entangled in a web of seedy danger when he takes on a job from an ex-biker/ex-wrestler turned U.S. senator named "Deathface." Rod has to find what was stolen from the senator and find the girl who stole it. Soon, Rosse finds there’s more than meets the eye to this dirty job. Between the ruthless biker gangs, the blood thirsty cults, and the crooked cops - Rod Rosse is a marked man. If the bullets don’t kill him - the California sun just might!

So as you can tell, this is a very adult story, but since I'm an avid supporter of animation being taken seriously as more than just a medium for younger audiences, I think it has its own merits. There's a demand for this kind of animation, and with Bill Plympton's amazing creativity, I'm positive he can turn out a great production. And despite not being familiar with Jim Lujan, I get the feeling he'll work great with Plympton. I mean, if his work is good enough to impress the King of Indie Animation himself to the point where he gets to work with him, there has to be something to admire about Lujan's work.

There's only seven days to go, though, and they haven't quite made the $80,000 mark yet. They're pretty close, though, so I'm hoping that, by spreading the word, they'll be able to make it.

To check the campaign out, go here: Bill Plympton's Revengeance: An Animated Feature Film by Bill Plympton

Image belongs to Playtonic Games


I've been getting back into the gaming mode, (more on that later, since I have a LOT to talk about involving it,) even getting a Nintendo 64 so I can play catch up with some Nintendo classics, most notably Banjo-Kazooie. Created by Rareware, the same guys behind such games as Donkey Kong Country, GoldenEye 007 for the N64, Conker's Bad Fur Day, Killer Instinct, Battletoads, and a great many others, Banjo-Kazooie is considered one of the greatest platformers for the N64. I actually remember playing it at a friend's house, and playing it again, I still enjoy it. It plays great, it looks great, it's fun, it's funny, it's just downright brilliant. And so's its sequel, Banjo-Tooie.

Sadly, in the early 2000s, Rareware was purchased by Microsoft, and it's only gone downhill since, eventually culminating in what is considered the ultimate betrayal for Rare fans: Banjo-Kazooie-Nuts & Bolts. Don't believe me? Here's what game reviewer JonTron had to say on it, for those curious:

Thankfully, most of Rare's staff left to create Playtonic Games, and their spiritual successor, Yooka-Laylee (formerly Project Ukulele), is now available to be funded on Kickstarter. It actually managed the incredible feat of being fully funded in 40 minutes, (clearly demonstrating how much demand there is for a game of its kind,) but they still allow donations for it to make it the best game they can possibly make it. Not only do they have the original Banjo-Kazooie designer, Steve Mayles, back on board, but they have David Wise (Donkey Kong Country) and Grant Kirkhope (Banjo-Kazooie) doing the game's score. These are just a few of the names from Rare we can expect to work on this game. We don't know what the game's about yet. All we know is that our main stars are a chameleon and a bat and that it'll be done in the tradition of classic 3D platformers.

As someone who's sick to death of most modern gaming trends, this is a hopeful return to the good ol' platforming action adventure games that I love with some fresh faces. Forget stuff like Call Of Duty or whatever generic FPS is on the market. The world needs more games like this, that are in the action platformer spirit of Mario, Donkey Kong, Banjo-Kazooie, and even non-Nintendo games like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro The Dragon (two of my childhood favorites). Hopefully, with games like Yooka-Laylee, A Hat In Time (another platformer successfully funded through Kickstarter,) and Armikrog (the spiritual successor to the adventure point-and-click clay animated game The Neverhood,) we can bring back games that are fun, imaginative, creative, and artfully designed to the industry.

Who knows? We may eventually get a real Banjo-Threeie as well. (Hopefully, Nintendo, Playtonic, or someone will be able to buy back that particular IP. Hopefully.)

To check the campaign out, go here: Yooka-Laylee: A 3D Platformer Rare-vival by Playtonic Games