Australia’s own Chris Jones got his start as a freelance children’s book illustrator while working on his Industrial Design degree at Swinburne University of Technology, later to get involved with computer games at Beam Software. He eventually left Beam (by then known as Infogrames) in 2000 to begin working on The Passenger; an impressive, animated short film that took approximately six long years for Jones to complete, entirely on his own. A true passion project!
The director himself took some time to speak with me about short films, his inspirations and all things The Passenger, so read through and get acquainted with Chris Jones, a film-maker you should know!
For those that may not be familiar with your work, can you explain what it is that you do?
I do a bit of everything – 3D animation, illustration, design, music – but at the moment I seem to have made a name for myself as a short film maker.
What first inspired you to get into film making?
I grew up on Lucas and Spielberg films, so that probably has something to do with it. I started making flip books and super 8 animations pretty early on, and I don’t actually remember a time when making films wasn’t on the agenda.
From inception to end, The Passenger took roughly 8 years to make. 1998-2006 was a drastic evolution period for the internet and the necessary software. How did this expansion help shape your short film?
I’m not sure it helped it… it was more a detriment than anything. I was worried the film was going to be out of date before I’d even released it. Computer animation tends to age more rapidly, and less gracefully, than live action or traditional animation, but I was unprepared for the amount of time it would take and didn’t want to pour money into upgrades when I could make do with the tools I already had. In hindsight, a few strategic upgrades might have actually saved some time/money.
The evolution of the internet didn’t shape the film so much, although it did impact on the way shorts are distributed, which opened some new avenues by the time I was ready to release the DVD.
You’ve pointed out on your site that “A Star Wars trilogy, a Lord of the Rings trilogy and a Harry Potter trilogy were made” in the length it took you to complete a 7 minute animated short. Is this discouraging to you or all the more motivation?
It’s more of a novelty than anything, although it was slightly disconcerting watching all those films go by (some of which I’d rather like to have been involved in), while I was only making a small fraction of one. Of course those films were made by armies of thousands of robot zombie clones, so my relative output was not so unreasonable in comparison.
You created the film entirely by yourself and funded it from your own pocket as well. How much did it end up costing? (Not including the price of 3,500 sandwiches)
Expenses directly related to the film were about $24,000; that includes rendering computers, audio software, mastering and 35mm film transfer amongst other things.
What inspirations contributed to the idea for the film and the character design?
The initial impetus came from a visit to the Siggraph computer graphics convention in the US, and bus trips to and from the convention centre. For some reason I was in the mood for dark comedy at the time, and I drew inspiration from things like The Twilight Zone, Looney Tunes and ’80s Spielberg films. The character design originally came from a TV commercial test I did years earlier that was influenced by Ren and Stimpy to some degree, although that was toned down once he became three-dimensionalised.
Were you surprised to win awards for The Passenger? Were you surprised you didn’t win more?
I wasn’t overly surprised to be honest, as most shorts always seem to win something at least, provided they exceed a certain minimum level of quality. I wasn’t too surprised that I didn’t win more either, because I only entered two competitions! I did win an award at a festival that I didn’t even know I had entered though, which was a bit unexpected… Most of the festival screenings were invitations, and usually out of competition.
What have you been working on since The Passenger?
I’ve done some freelance work for some film, TV and game pitches (most of which have been shelved I think), put together the website and The Passenger DVD (both of which were significant undertakings in themselves), and have been contriving ideas for follow-up projects. I’ve also been doing some music which I might release one day, as well as building a virtual human for use in future projects.
Who are some of your favorite short film directors?
I don’t really follow any directors of short films, in fact I don’t normally make a habit of watching them… but most of the better ones I’ve seen come from Pixar. Also Looney Tunes of course; the ones in the late 40′s and early 50′s in particular. There’s some impressive work coming out of some of the animation schools as well.
Any desires to make an animated (or live action) full-length?
Yes, both. The practicalities are presently well beyond my means though.
What do you feel is the status of short films in a predominately full length world?
In a way I think shorts have more in common with music videos and TV commercials than feature films. They’re not something people can plan their evening around (unless it’s a short film festival), and they’re not very lucrative, so they’re usually made as a vehicle for film makers to move on to bigger things. With the advent of video sharing sites (along with deteriorating attention spans) they’re also running head to head with innumerous viral home videos, which means they’re viewed in a more spontateous, “disposable” environment than before. That can’t be helpful to their stature.
On the other hand, with movie studios constantly churning out an endless stream of sequels, prequels, remakes, spinoffs and adaptations, you’re probably more likely to find something new and original on the short film scene.
What is your ultimate goal as a film maker?
Well if I can make a film that causes a quantum shift in the way movies are experienced and transforms the world as we know it, I think I’d be happy with that. And if it pays the bills that would be a bonus.
Written and conducted by: Brian Lion