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It wouldn’t be the first time that one of best-selling author and contemporary legend Neil Gaiman’s stories have been turned into a movie. Both “Coraline” and “Mirror Mask” were critically-praised, the former even garnered and Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature. However, both of those had big studio backing, independent film-maker Christopher Salmon has a different idea. Utlizing the popular site, Kickstarter, Salmon has pitched the idea to make one of Gaiman’s short stories, “The Price”, into an animated short.
Newsarama recently spoke with Salmon about his artistic talents, the animation process of the short, and what it was like to recieve Neil’s approval.
Newsarama: Okay, Christopher, tell us a bit about yourself
Christopher Salmon: Where to start? I’m Canadian & grew up in the stunning Okanagan valley in BC.. I’ve always wanted to make movies an spent my youth and, well, pretty much my whole life trying to develop the talents and skill set to do just that taught myself to draw, write, and sculpt (so I could make rubber monster masks and then foam-latex creatures & stop-motion puppets) Took enough piano so I could generate a simplistic John Carpenter-esque score to go along with my cheesy horror films I made in High School TV class, which usually plotted around some cool new special effect I’d figured out, like my own version of the chest-burster scene from Alien so, totally high-class stuff
I thought I might get my break into film through special effects make-up, but I wound up in the video game industry for many years, just from reading stuff (Fangoria, Cinefex) and trying things out. I blew my chest off once trying out a home-made squib (not so funny) my Mom took one look at the blackened mess on my chest and ordered me to surrender my can of re-filling gunpowder on the spot not too bright either … (me, not my Mom — she rocks)
Nrama: So big horror fan, I take it?
Salmon: I love monsters, so yeah, I’ve watched a lot of horror flicks, but the whole blood/torture/dark-evil thing isn’t what draws me … I just dig the monsters, you know?
But I love Sci-Fi, fantasy, anything really mostly, I love movies. That’s what I love about this story of Neil’s; even with the cool monster stuff, the overall feeling is hopeful, positive, and a little melancholy.
Nrama: Out of all of Gaiman’s stories, what drew you to the Price that made you want to make something like this?
Salmon: The theme of redemption. A chance to design some really cool monsters. I like cats too, so really it was win-win-win! Also, I was looking for something on a small scale that I could handle the bulk of the work for. In the animatic, I didn’t feature any of the secondary characters at all (you could see their feet or profile in shadow) … by being able to keep the focus on the Narrator/Neil, The Black Cat, and the monsters, I could manage costs and put the funds towards these central characters. So it was all of these things, but primarily the theme & feeling I got while reading The Price.
Plus, if I can see it immediately in my mind, I know my chances of recreating successfully are very high and once it’s in there, the only way to ever get it out … is to make the film!
Nrama: Tell us about the animation process.
Salmon: Originally, I was going to make the entire thing fully animated. Even when I created this over-the-top animatic (I was trying very, VERY hard to impress Neil & convince his agent that they could — and should — trust me with the piece), I had planned on saving-up and paying for a small chunk of full animation to better demonstrate the look the final film would have.
I chose the first incarnation of the devil, and designed this really cool demon-thing, then paid for a talented modeler to create it 3-dimensionally using Z-brush and Maya. To help the animator, I actually videoed myself stomping around in my basement, lip-synching to the sound effects I’d already put together (pretty silly looking all-in-all, but effective). We tweaked things as much as we could (for the price I could afford) and rendered out the frames. We created an environment, and I took all of the pieces and composited them in After Effects. I edit in Premiere Pro, so after I do my thing in AE, I import the clips and put everything together.
On this project, I actually started with an audio recording of Neil reading the story (which is told in first person anyway) and used a temporary score to build the soundtrack of the film first, working out the timing and emotional beats until I was happy. Then I began to create images (some were painted in Photoshop, some were 3D models pulled from free online sources, some were just photo elements merged and retouched …. whatever I needed to get the basic idea across) and composite them into scenes. I started with the opening titles and found I got carried away pretty quickly … I started animating the waving grass, had light beams gently unulating down onto the house (modeled after Neil’s of course) and started moving the camera around to create a more cinematic feel and I just kind of kept going.
Anyhow, after completing the animatic with the one small segment fully animated, I showed it to many people, and got a very positive, strong reaction to the film and to the technique I was using. They thought, yeah, the devil part was cool, but they kind of like the ‘moving-illustration’ thing … and that got me thinking.
To do the whole thing in full animation would take much, much longer to make, involve more people, and obviously cost a lot more. And really, how can I compete on my small-scale with the million-dollar-per-minute productions from Pixar and Dreamworks that audiences have come to expect as the norm? I realized that I could create really high-detailed 3D models using Z brush that could be posed and rendered in as many positions as I wanted, adding interactive lighting, etc. …. and that got me really excited.
I could maintain the feel of the animatic but use these beautifully detailed models and a much more sophisticated set of compositing techniques to really make something unique and befitting this very unique subject matter! It was a great fit, and one that I think will win people over once they view it.
Nrama: What was it like getting Neil’s blessing to do the project?
Salmon: It was surreal … the first time he wrote back it literally took a minute to realize who the email was actually from! Neil’s assistant Cat Mihos told me that the thing that made my project/request stand apart from the many he receives daily (she said) was that I had actually done something … made something, took a risk and was able to show him what I could do and how I wanted to do it. The fact that he genuinely want to give something back 9in a very real way), is incredible.
I got a chance to meet Dr. Steven Covey last night, and he mentioned the concept that life is not about accumulation, but rather about donation, about giving. Neil Gaiman really lives that life. So inspiring, man.
Nrama:How many backers have you had so far?
Christopher: As of right now: *488. We’re at *$25,482. Actually, I feel pretty good about it; these things happen for a reason (I’m convinced), and I just have a terrific sense of optimism about this project
Nrama: What has the response been so far?
Salmon: Unbelievable. Everyone who writes, almost without fail, has mentioned that “The Price” is their favorite short story by Neil, and the reponse to the visual look (as developed as it is right now) has been equally positive and very affirming. So much good will being thrown at me — how can I fail, right?
Nrama: What has been your experience through this all? What do you think of Kickstarter and what are you going to take away from this win or lose?
Salmon: Kickstarter was the answer I had been searching for. I’ve been living with this for four years, and everytime I looked at different funding scenarios, my little project just wouldn’t fit the mold: too small, too expensive, not mass-market enough. I was asked many, many times why I couldn’t just expand it into a feature-length movie — that would be much easier to finance! And I don’t know how familiar you are with the story, but that is such a silly suggestion. It would completely destroy the story itself. So I was kinda stuck for a while, but thinking about a problem for long enough, turning it around and around in your head, you start to realize some key things: Who would be interested in “The Price”? Neil’s fans, of course. Wouldn’t they be willing to pay for a film-version of a really beloved story? Yes! So, along comes Kickstarter, and it was just like “Ah-hah!”
The whole experience, thus far, has been an emotional roller-coaster, but I love roller-coasters, so it’s all great! Thrilling! So what if I can’t sleep and don’t feel much like eating? That last part’s not really accurate. I always feel like eating.
*Newsarama notes: Those were the stats at the time of the interview, as of this time, the backers have increased to 651 and a total of $47,895 has been donated.