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Re-Writing a Novel Prison Escape in ‘Writers’ Block’

Wonky Films’ quirky short chronicles innovative ways to escape a prison for bad writers.

Bristol animation studio Wonky Films has been making the rounds with an inventive and funny short film about the most interesting jail break you’ve ever seen. I recently had a chance to interview co-director Tom Gran, who told me a bit about how the film was made.

Dan Sarto: How did the project come about? What is the genesis of this film? What inspired you to make it?

Tom Gran: We usually build our projects from a genre or setting that we like and we felt prison movies was an area we liked a lot but hadn’t really explored yet. We thought something about a character trying to escape from the film itself in some way would give us a chance to play around with the narrative structure of the film but still have a fun straight-forward story.

DS: How long did the film take to make? Can you provide some basic details to give us an understanding of the production itself?

TG: It took around five months in total. The film was animated mainly in Flash and then assembled in After Effects. Backgrounds were done by Adam Davis using Photoshop and Art Rage. The bulk of animation took place over about a month, during which I was working with another animator, Todd Setter. After that I spent a few months doing clean up, color, adding in all the stripes and tattoos and regretting my life choices.

DS: Describe the creative design and look development process. Did you do a script? An animatic? Storyboard? What was your preproduction effort?

TG: Initially we wrote a script and I did a few pieces of concept art and using those we pitched the film to IdeasTap. After we got the funding, we moved onto proper character design and making an animatic. We came up with the look of the characters by making photomontages of various actors that we thought were appropriate, which ended up being a pretty fun way to approach the design process. I personally find storyboards to be a pretty awkward means of storytelling and usually skip it and go straight into animatic. I kind of need to see things in motion to get a feel for whether they're working or not.

DS: Can you share more details regarding the main digital tools and techniques used? Any part of the production that you feel a geeky nerdy techy animation fanboy would love to know about?

TG: I actually think we probably could have used some geeky nerdy techy animation fanboys advising on the project since I pretty much had to figure out a lot of the technical process on the job. Probably the most advanced thing I did was using a track matte to mask the stripe texture onto all the characters' jumpsuits, which ended up just being a case of hitting the same option in a drop down menu about a thousand times.

DS: What were the biggest challenges you faced making this film?

TG: Working out how to make the really big set pieces and camera moves work and look impressive enough. We wanted to get a really grand sense of scale in those parts and really most of our previous experience is in fairly small, character-focused stuff so it was kind of unfamiliar territory for us.

DS: What did you learn making this film that you’ll bring to your next project?

TG: To keep things a lot simpler and tidier visually. It's really fun to come up with something big and sprawling but if you can't pull it off it ends up doing more harm than good.

You can find more of Wonky Films’ work here -

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.