// you’re reading...


Anthony Lucas on The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello

Anthony Lucas, director and co-writer of The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, talks about his favorite books…

Anthony Lucas’s animated short film The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello is one of the freshest-looking films in a long time.

Ironically, the whole film uses a medium that started in the 18th century: silhouettes.

I attended a question and answer session by director and co-writer Anthony Lucas one Saturday evening in mid-December, at the Schonell Cinema, Brisbane.

Anthony Lucas said silhouettes had been around for 250 to 300 years.

“So I’m the latest incarnation of that – doing this.”

In his 26-minute animated film The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, everyone and everything appears in silhouette form, except for atmospheric effects like steam, clouds, and the sepia sky.

The silhouette of a Victorian era- gentleman, like an Indonesian shadow puppet, stands on a cast-iron platform high in the sky, looking out at iron dirigibles flying past – strange masses of metal that look like Jules Verne-style submarines.

The setting, Gothia, floats in mid-air, and it’s a world of steam, revolving cogs and gears.

The darkness of the silhouettes matches the Victorian gothic atmosphere perfectly.

The film is set in 1276, but everything about Gothia is Victorian fantasy, influenced by Jules Verne and Edgar Allen Poe.

Jasper Morello, (voiced by Joel Edgerton) narrates the tale of an air voyage.

He and the rest of the crew, including an old seadog style captain, and a sinister scientist Doctor Claude Belgon, leave Gothia where a plague is sweeping the population.

Red, pulsating lava-like eruptions are shown on some silhouetted figures to depict the disease.

Jasper is haunted by a one-degree error he once made – an error that resulted in a crewman’s death, and he gets a chance to redeem himself on the voyage.

On the voyage the crew are forced to transfer to an abandoned vessel, the Hieronymous, drifting in uncharted airspace.

Later Doctor Belgon entices the Captain to land on an unknown island, where they encounter a plant that could cure the plague sweeping among the people of Gothia.

Back at Gothia, Jasper’s wife has contracted the disease, too.

There is a problem, however – the plant is carnivorous, and voracious.

It’s a unique film and Jasper Morello and the Lost Airship is the first in a trilogy of voyages.

The two sequels will be titled Jasper Morello and the Secret of Alto Mea, and Jasper Morello and the Ebenezer of Gothia.

There is also a feature in the works, about an aeronaut war.

Mr Lucas showed a couple of his other films that evening I saw him speaking at the Schonell Cinema, at the University of Queensland.

The first was his short claymation film, Slim Pickings, about a hungry guy in a lonely house in a bleak junkyard landscape.

Desperate for food he eats his tomato plant, which is also his best friend – unaware that the plant has provided him with a tomato.

After the screening of Slim Pickings, Mr Lucas opened his briefcase full of claymation models and shadow puppets and used a small camera to highlight the tiny models, which projected onto the screen behind him.

There was the anthropomorphic tomato plant (about ten centimetres high), and a tea pot (about five centimetres high) both from Slim Pickings.

One technique he used in Slim Pickings was to only film one shot of the feet of the main character walking along.

Once it had been established the character had feet and could walk, he only needed to film the character from the waist up.

He said Slim Pickings had similar themes to The Little Prince by Antoine de Exupery.

The Little Prince had been about giving and taking, too.

Mr Lucas didn’t think he’d make another stop motion film.

Then he screened The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, which won the best short animation prize at this year’s Australian Film Institute awards, and at the Flickerfest International Short Film Festival.
After the screening, Mr Lucas talked about the making of the film.

He said he wrote a one-page outline first, then he and writer Mark Shirrefs wrote the story together.

Then Shirrefs wrote a 25 page treatment.

They received more money to make the film, and then Shirrefs scripted it.

He said the film received $220,000 funding from the Australian Film Commission.

Mr Lucas said Mark Shirrefs had written more than 50 hours of tv and knew every scenario there was.

“I end up writing heaps of stuff that he ignores,” Mr Lucas said.

Jasper Morello took three-and-a-half to four years to make.

Mr Lucas put the start of this period at the time he made station identifications for SBS (an Australian government tv station).

He had made a lot of other tv commercials, too, like for Smarties.

He said the SBS station identifications were 20 second grabs made with “highly-stylised silhouettes”.

But he wanted to take his silhouette-style films to the next level: he wanted to tell a story.

So he made a six minute drama, Holding Your Breath.

(He showed this film after he talked about The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello.)

Then it took “a year and a bit” to get the script written for Jasper Morello, and the film took one and a half years to make.

It took six months to pitch the film, and now Jasper Morello had a distributor, Madman Cinema, which would be releasing the film in select cinemas throughout Australia.

Jasper Morello had a crew of nine, including an old-style animator, Peter Cook – a “stunningly brilliant animator” who drew all the key poses of the film.

Also on the crew he had two c.g.s, two miniature-makers, one background artist, and one character designer.

He said he learned to use Photoshop during the making of the film.

And there was a lot of research and development as the filming progressed, trying to work out how to show hair on silhouettes for example.

Now it was a 16 hour a day job marketing the film.

The dvd of Jasper will be released in March, 2006, and it will have its SBS premiere on March 9.

Mr Lucas said he’d made the investors’ money back, “if not more”.

Also he had written two page-long synopses for two short sequels to Jasper Morello, and was working on a feature outline.

The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello was in the Sundance Film Festival, and he hoped this would lead to more investors for his film plans.

The feature would be about a war of aeronauts, and would have themes inspired by the battle at Gallipoli, Turkey, in WW1, where many Australian and New Zealand soldiers lost their lives.

Mr Lucas said 10 members of his family on his father’s side lost their lives in the battle.

So one theme of the feature film would be the senselessness of wasted life.

He said the feature would be “more like a full-blown adventure film from beginning to end, like a spy thriller”.

I asked Anthony Lucas for the titles of some of his favorite books.

Anthony Lucas:

Pride and Prejudice – I didn’t at first appreciate this one when I did it at high school, but over the years I have read and re-read it and watched the movies and grown to love it.

The delicate observations of human nature are really fantastic.

Lord of the Rings – for sheer thrill and imagination nothing beats it.

I remember when I was seventeen reading it for the third time – It was 4.00am in the morning and Frodo was climbing Mt Doom and I couldn’t put the book down.

Heart of Darkness – a very mysterious novel.

The Art of the Empire Strikes Back – the first book about movies I bought, with the conceptual art and production art from behind the scenes.

Better in some ways than the final images from the film; all the work by Ralph McQuarrie was quite inspirational.

The Album Cover Album – a collection of record covers which inspired me to think in terms of graphic design, and it was the first graphics book I ever bought.

I thumbed through it at QBD in the city for six months before I had the money to afford it.

All of the above books have influenced Jasper Morello to some degree.

I also greatly admire Jane Eyre, the Diaries of Douglas Mawson, anything by Conan Doyle and H.G. Wells.
See www.jaspermorello.com