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Just thought it'd be interesting to have a few articles on the cartoons that never were.
By the by, Cary Howe's full account of the plug being pulled was posted on the official site, but that's dead and the page in question isn't recorded by Archive.org. Google has a cache of it, but since Google caches get scrapped after a period of time I'm not sure it'd be wise to cite it as a source.
But in case we need it, here's the full text, preserved for posterity:
Towards the end of 2005 I was working at company called Toys Toys Toy sculpting characters for a toy-line called Freaky Flickers. I put together some test shots and pitched a possible TV series featuring the characters. I wrote the first draft of the half hour script in late January of 2006 then hand built our first computer, a 3200 Athlon Shuttle box. Battered and bruised the machine is the last remaining machine from the film.
For the entire first year I modeled, animated and rendered on the same machine. I expressed my need for voice tracks early on but it was late May 2007 before the first tracks were recorded. Less than three minutes had been rendered had been rendered by the time of the VO session due to our single slow machine set up. After the first voice clips were added I proposed expanding to a 90 minute feature. It took a little convincing but we, Mr Gantner and I, came to agreement to make it a feature and divide the proceeds of the film and film merchandising.
I finished the full length script and in September of that year I recorded the remaining voice overs. Due to our extremely tight budget our sessions tended to run one to two hours per actor. A real nightmare and I referred to it later as “speed directing”. I had managed to build a second machine, a dual core, earlier in the year but progress was still slow. Late in the summer I hand built a quad core and we finally started to make slow progress. By the end of the year I had talked Mr Gantner into a decent Alienware machine which was a savior. Another machine bought from a competing company proved to be junk and was a nightmare until I gave it back in disgust. With my merry band of home computers, most hand built, I began to make real progress.
By the summer of 2008 I had pushed past the 30 minute mark and we were well into Act 2. Due to our insanely short VO session I had gotten few reactions sounds so I managed to schedule another session for additional dialogue and reactions sounds early Fall of that year. With the added sounds the edit began to come together. I maxed out the Intel 20” iMac I was editing with so a low end Mac Pro was purchased. With the added power things started to take shape in Act 2. There was casual interest in the film but it was failing to get traction.
In January of 2009 I recorded a voice over locally here in Arizona for a new trailer and cut the trailer in a couple of hours right after the VO session. Suddenly with the new trailer we were getting a lot of attention. Mr Gantner made some contacts and managed to get a few meetings. Most showed interest but the offers were fairly uninspired. It was suggested we turn it into a theatrical feature. I was extremely hesitant and pointed out it was easily 4X the work and we needed drastically more equipment and actual workstations. I got approval on an anemic budget, half of which never materialized. A workstation and several render boxes were purchased and I began reworking our not quite half finished film. That was when MGM made an impressive offer that included a 2,800+ theater release. I was stunned and thrilled. Our little film suddenly had a major release.
Just prior to the MGM offer I brought in an old “friend”, the quotes will make sense later, to help edit the film and round out the sound effects. With the additional help progress picked up dramatically. I managed to rework 30 to 60 seconds most days. The animation wasn't up to pare for a theatrical and the textures and models often wouldn't hold up so the existing shots were largely redone and at times started from scratch. The film was looking radically better and actually looked on pare with films with budgets 10X to 100X our little film's budget. I was continually plagued with hardware and software problems and we even had a 50% defective hardware rate on our pro level equipment. Financing the workstation and renders also caused a month delay.
Inspite of all the problems the film was chugging along and by early June we were rounding an hour and looking good to finish by the end of the month. I was by this point animating, lighting and rendering around 1.5 minutes on a good day, nearly 2 minutes on an excellent day. We were required by our deal with MGM to provide Prints and Advertising money. This had been a major concern to me from the beginning because the amount they wanted was roughly 100X what our film's entire budget was, to date we haven't passed $250,000 spent on actual production. That includes actors, hardware, software and all payroll. I was nervous but was constantly assured it wasn't a problem.
By the end of first week in June I was told Mr Gantner was waiting on final approval and we should have a commitment for the P&A money by the middle of the
week of the 9th and foreign distribution shortly after that. I was elated because I knew if we didn't have it by the middle of the month we'd never make our July 1st
deadline for the P&A money so we'd blow the October 9th release date.
Over the weekend the workstation began acting up and crashed every time I tried to do a test render. It had been dicey since the second week but it was my only
64 bit machine to set up shots so I had previously soldiered on. Now the situation had become dire so I overnighted it Monday morning after working all night. On
Tuesday I spoke to the manufacturer all morning until noon but they couldn't find the problem. I was desperate to get it back because I knew we'd have to deliver
shortly after P&A was available but I was exhausted from the alnighter. I said good night to Mr Kann who was editing the film in my living room. I had taken to
wearing ear plugs due to a noisy neighborhood and the jet engine like render boxes that were in my kitchen. I passed out a little after noon that day. I awoke a
little before 8pm and noticed immediately it was too quiet. I grabbed a robe and staggered out half asleep to a dark silent house. The project computers were
gone as were the back up drives and Mr Kann. I noticed a letter taped to the wall from Mr Gantner explaining that the P&A money had fallen through so he was
shutting down the film. I collapsed into a chair and was unable to rise for many hours. I had put every cent I could spare for nearly four years into the film and
maxed out my credit cards. My rented house was being sold so I also needed to move by the end of the month. I had lost everything. I had covered for all the
hardware and software for the first year and most of my licensed software and my personal files were on the computers. I felt violated and in shock. One of my closest friends Mr Kann had apparently turned on me and let my associate take the equipment and files while I slept. He had disappeared back to his home in Martha's Vineyard and to this day he has yet to respond to phone calls or e-mails. I had known him for 15+ years and had paid his way to come out for the job so him turning Judas was as hard a blow as loosing everything.
Where it stands? As of writing this Mr Gantner is claiming sole control of the film and has shelved it. The release is off and there's no reason to think it'll ever be finished. I've handed it off to a lawyer but I have bigger problems. I was expecting promised merchandising advances to move on so I'm desperate. I have to move in a couple of weeks and I can't even aford to pay my current bills. I have covered all the office expenses among other things since the beginning. I went in a few hours from owning half of a theatrical feature that was to come out in four months to being soon to be homeless and with a mountain of debt I have no hope of repaying.
I have none of the latest work, it was all on the back up drives, but I'll try to post some newer renders. I have some preserved in e-mails. The very latest shots were among the very best so it's sad I can't post any of those. I no longer have access to the edit so I can't post excerpts so the trailer and teaser will have to show the potential. Remember both were done before the re-render to theatrical so the final shots are much better in both look and animation but maybe you can get a feel between them and some of the newer renders what was lost. I'll also try to post a first draft of the script. A lot was added but it'll once again give you a feel for the story.
What to do? For me telling the story of how it came to pass and handing it off to lawyers is all that can be done. If it goes through legal channels it's effectively dead so there's only a few week window to bring it back from the grave. At this stage I have to focus on the fact that my next address has a license plate on the back. I love my car but a 15 year old Miata isn't my idea of the Ritz.
Do feel free to contact the Freaky Flicker toy web site and Mr Gantner personally and voice your interest in the matter. I'll leave it up to you whether you choose to say “atta' boy for sticking it to the artist” or “how could you kill a film like this after all the years of pain and suffering”? It's doubly sad because it was a first of a kind and showed a new path to making films. As CG films range mostly in the 80 to 200+ million level imagine a theatrical level film being made for under 300K. I've got a secret for you. If the equipment was available from the beginning rather than at the end it could be made in half the time and for far less money. There's nothing stopping a couple of people with the right skillsets from making a theatrical feature for the price of a modest house or even a single person making a DVD level film for the price of a modest car. Filmmaking is about to change and the Freaky Flicker film could have lead the way but as it is it's unlikely to even be a footnote in history. I've joked about being the unknown filmmakers for our complete and utter lack of publicity. As it stands I think it'll remain the unknown film.
If you happen to be walking down the street and see a guy sleeping in a little white Miata you might knock on the window and give him a thumbs up if you like what you've seen. Otherwise let him sleep in peace, I guarantee you he needs the rest.