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Animator Chris Jones talks about The Passenger

Chris Jones, animator, talks about the making of his short film The Passenger - at home on his Pentium III computer...

READERSVOICE.COM: How long did the movie take to make, how did you make it, and what was the cost?

CHRIS JONES: The Pentium III that I used for the animation was doing test renders and final frames overnight for a couple of years, then I bought an audio PC which joined in towards the end, and I had the two new render machines and the old PIII going non-stop on the finals for a month or two. I’ve always found network rendering to be fiendishly difficult, so I loaded up Lightwave on each machine and kept manually feeding shots to them independently.

I had about $60,000 (AU) in savings when I left my job as a game artist – by the time I’d finished, six years later, I was almost back to nothing. I had to go and get some more work so I could afford the $6,000 for a 35mm print and sound remastering for its theatrical release.

RV: Does this mark the beginning of the era of people being able to make 3d films at home, with good production values?

CJ: I think it’s been possible for a while, but essentially it means taking on the work of 100 people in a range of disciplines and not many people have the time, patience or ability to do that. You’re also limited to shorts. Single-handedly making an entire feature film at that level would be somewhat unfeasible at this point.

RV: Will you continue to make films this way, or with a studio and their computers and budgets?

CJ: Studio, computers and budgets please! Spending 6-8 years of your life making 7 minutes of fairly superficial entertainment isn’t really the most productive way to make a living… If I ever decide to make another film all by myself it will be either really simple, or really really short.

RV: How many people were involved in making the film?

CJ: With the exception of a 4 hour mastering session to make sure it sounded ok through cinema speakers and the odd helping hand from friends with little things like getting funding applications together, it was all me.

RV: If you haven’t mentioned these already, can you list some books you could recommend to people, fact or fiction, especially any out-of-the-way books people might not have heard of, and maybe say why you liked them?

CJ: Well everyone’s heard of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, so I won’t mention those. Except that I liked Harry Potter a bit more than the films, and I liked Lord of the Rings a bit more than the books!

I recently finished Peter Jackson – A Film-Maker’s Journey by Brian Sibley, and that helped demystify some of the inner workings of the Hollywood system, as well as keeping me motivated during a gloomy period in The Passenger’s marketing phase.

I always considered Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Dirk Gently series to be particularly amusing in my school days. I should give them another look.

RV: The Passenger is screening with the 2007 Oscar-nominated shorts throughout the U.S. Where has it been shown and how did you find out your film would be touring with these others?

CJ: Since I had become eligible for Academy Award consideration, I was approached by Shorts International who were working with Magnolia Pictures to release the Oscar nominated films. They didn’t have enough nominees to make up a full session time, so they wanted to include some of the other “runners up” that they liked. It was initially showing in about 50 theatres across the country but it’s winding down now.

RV: The Passenger premiered and won Best Animation at the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival. Did you go over for the festival and what was it like?

CJ: Film festivals aren’t really my thing, I couldn’t afford to go, and I hate public speak ing… so I went! Had I stayed home I would have felt like a big coward, and it was my world premiere after all.

I turned up for my screenings and somehow bluffed my way through the Q&A sessions, and I spent the rest of my time riding my bike around L.A. which was a novel experience. Fortunately I met another film-maker there who helped pull me out of my financial situation with some effects work when I got back. So on the whole I think it was worthwhile, expensive and nerve wracking as it was.

RV: Where did you learn 3d animation and how long have you been creating it? Which programs do you use?

CJ: I taught myself 3D Studio 3 at University in 1994, and used it for my graduation project. I had been fascinated with 3D since before Tron, and was thrilled to discover that such tools were within my means. A year later I bought myself a PC, Lightwave 3D and Corel Painter (Fractal Design Painter at the time), and have been using them ever since. I also use an old battered version of Adobe Premiere for editing and grading and Cubase SX for sound and music.

RV: Is distribution still a problem for people making their own 3d films and how do you solve this problem?

CJ: It’s a problem if you plan on making any money from it! The whole distribution landscape is shifting at the moment, and the internet is opening up all sorts of possibilities, but you have to be really clued in to take advantage of them and one wrong turn can close off a lot of other avenues like TV or festivals. Getting exposure isn’t an overly difficult prospect if you’ve got a film that’s worth seeing, but turning that into money is a different story…

RV: What are some of your film plans?

CJ: I’ve been messing around with a feature film idea, and thinking about a sort of alternative format audio-visual concept thing, but there’s nothing very solid at the moment.