As well as featuring a selection of completed features from throughout the Annecy festival there are regular highlights on works in progress. These moments in the programme give the audience a chance to take a peep behind the scenes of a making of a film and give the features a little momentum, long before their theatrical release. Last year Ma Vie de Courgette director Claude Barras gave Annecy a flavour of what was to come and this year the film delivered on it’s promise and scooped two of the top prizes at the festival.
One of the highlights in this years Work in Progress showcase has to have been the closer look at Mike Mort’s Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires, the feature outing for the titular star of Raging Balls of Steel Justice. The films synopsis is as follows:
It’s no longer 1985 – it’s 1986, and Chuck Steel has work to do if he is to prevent the worst plague ever to hit los angeles – a scourge of deadly Trampires, mutant hybrids of vampires and bums.
We’re big fans of the work of Mike Mort on Skwigly, and even bigger fans of the prospect of a British animated feature making its way to the big screen, so we settled down to the talk, chaired by Dmitri Granovsky with producers Joseph D’Morais and Rupert Lywood sharing the films secrets.
The presentation started with a trailer, a more updated version of the one above. I must say that I was apprehensive, Raging Balls of Steel Justice was such an adrenaline fuelled romp, the thought of stretching, and maintaining that energy over the period of a whole film seemed unrealistic. Rest assured that the elements that make Chuck what he is have not been stretched – they’ve been grown and developed. The trailer itself was an exciting flurry of fights, explosions, gags and much more. Expect to see Chuck, not just as the 2-Dimensional meat-headed action hero we know him for, but as a more complex character with real character moments and arcs. Alongside other returning characters you’ll be familiar with from the short such as the stressed out Police Captain Jack Schitt and the dim witted Maloney, we are introduced to Abraham Van Rental – eccentric British Trampire hunter and an as of yet unnamed, mysterious police therapist and potential love interest for Chuck, who is still reeling over the death of his wife at the hands of ninjas. Classic 80’s stuff. As you might expect the star of the show has been in development since he was a doodle in Mike Mort’s schoolbook so there has been plenty of time to ready his character for a big screen outing and this certainly showed in the presentation.
The whole film is being made for a mere £15 million, a slither of the budget of other animated feature films which according to the producers is adding to the creativity as opposed to hindering it. “When you have money, you can forget how to be creative” said D’Morais “Instead of throwing money at problems, they find solutions” going on to discuss how crew members look to eBay and junk shops to make and mend their way through the shoot where necessary.
We also saw a clip, presumably from earlier on in the film where Chuck and a his newly assigned rookie cop partner are in his muscle car in hot pursuit of another car full of machine gun toting criminals. The chase is as hilarious as it is action packed with Chuck pulling out all the stops to halt the villains in their tracks. As Steel leaps around his car performing a violent and purposefully far fetched ballet of stunt driving and gun fire, he keeps popping back to the car to remind his rookie partner that he likes to work alone, terrifying the young cop and setting up Chuck Steel’s macho ego nicely. After the testosterone fuelled car chase and fight sequence (with an explosion thrown in for good measure) it’s back to Captain Jack Schitt’s office for a de briefing that’s filled with some fantastic sight and verbal gags. The clips we saw were a mix of completed footage and animatics, but they still managed to delight the audience.
We also saw extended versions of the scenes where Abraham Van Rental is being interrogated, adding a nice “Bumpires” gag to the back and forth. Director Mike Mort has voiced all of the male characters in the film, which may change before the film is released, though there is little wrong with Mikes efforts. It would be nice to see the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sly Stallone, Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme and the rest of the Expendables to do some voices in the movie, even if it is just Trampire cameos, as they’d fit right in.
In order to achieve the quality of the shots the animators are equipped with a Motion Control (MoCo) filming rig that has been set up to make the film look like the action film it is offering dynamic camera moves to take in the enormous and well detailed sets. The animation itself is still very smooth. In an age where films like The Pirates or The Boxtrolls use rapid prototype replacements the animators on Chuck Steel are doing things the old fashioned way, sculpting each frame and lip syncing by hand. This delivers some deliciously smooth looking animation and it’s no wonder that the animators are only creating 3 seconds worth of footage per day.
After Trampires is complete there are plans to make two more features adding to a Chuck Steel trilogy of films, and although these are only pipe dreams at the moment that have yet to be green lit and funded I was concerned that the studio itself may have to pack away when Trampires wraps as the film is currently the only thing Animortal is working on at the moment. I asked the panel if the studio would continue to work after the film had wrapped and they confirmed that it would, which is brilliant news for animators based in South Wales.
We expect big things from Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires when it is released in 2017.