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Apocrypha Entertainment Presents:

SDCC 2009: I had the chance to sit down and chat with up-and-coming animation superstar Shane Acker about the feature film version of his amazing short “9” (opening on 9/9/09). Acker’s a young guy, very laid back vibe about him, and definitely knows his geek stuff. I walked away that morning thinking very much that he’d be successful with the SDCC crowd for a long, long time, because he’s definitely one of us. –Marc Mason

MM: I’m with Shane Acker, director and writer of the new animated film 9. You did the short a few years ago and now you’ve got the full-length feature film coming out. I would assume you’re pretty happy.

SA: I am very happy! It’s great to kind of be able to present it and roll it out here at Comic-Con. This is where the real, true fans are. We’ve been flying low, under the radar, but now are starting to release more and more things and creating buzz, and I think a lot of the fans have already found lots of stuff and embraced it. And I’m excited to meet these people who are so enthusiastic about the project.

MM: I’ve talked to a lot of animators and they all seem to have one thing in common, so I’ll ask you: were you one of those kids that started as a teenager, doing flipbooks and working your way up until you starting making your own animated films?

SA: I did a lot of drawing in the back of class, a lot of cartooning. I was also a skateboarder, growing up on the skateboard really, and I would draw these step-by-step tricks with my cartoon guys going across pages. I didn’t know I was doing animation back then- I was just having fun. But I think was sort of what led me to where I am today.

MM: Was there a tipping point where you went with animation rather than comic books?

SA: It’s funny, because I actually went to school for architecture. I was always a cartoonist, I was always drawing comics as a kid and all that fun stuff, but when it came down to it and high school was over and I had to start making real world decisions- how do I become a professional, how do I make money?- architecture seemed like a very professional and astute way to kind of do that. So I went and explored architecture for a while. It wasn’t until I was finishing my Masters degree in architecture and I had a few electives to pick up… I saw there was an animation school and thought I’d take some of those classes. The first one of those, I was over come with the feeling of “what am I doing wasting my time on architecture? It isn’t really my true calling in life.” So I enrolled in that program and here I am today.

MM: And this is where you’re going to stay. Are you already thinking about your next movie?

SA: Yeah. There are a couple of projects I’m developing right now. One of them is actually live action, though there’s world-making involved. The other one is another animated piece. I love animation- I love filmmaking, really; it’s funny, because I draw a lot of inspiration from live-action films and try and bring that sense of storytelling and cinematography into an animated piece. So I do think for me that going into live action would be a natural place to go.

MM: Is this your first time at Comic-Con?

SA: No, I come down very often. I was down four years ago with the short, actually. I like coming down because I’m a big fan of the comic book artwork and the fantasy artwork. It’s great to be able to walk the floor, especially towards the fringe of the convention where it’s just the artists with their tables and their work. You make some really amazing discoveries, and meet some incredible artists that way. It’s really inspiring to see.

MM: You don’t have much time left before you won’t be able to do it anonymously.

SA: Ahh… we’ll see how that goes!

MM: You can wear a mask from here on out… Okay, so I have to ask: audiences love a good apocalypse. So what is it about yours that they’re going to love the most?

SA: I think it’s a unique take- it’s a post-human tale. We screwed up so bad that we’re gone. And what are left is these creatures, these inventions from a scientist that live on. In some ways, they’re a new manifestation of humanity and embody all the hope and promise that humanity once had. And the question is whether or not they will live beyond our shortcomings. They can create a new world. So we’re on a journey with these creatures, using their perspective to look back on our world and it’s about them finding out who they are and understanding that their relationship to the humans, and that they are intimately tied in to the downfall of humanity.

Go watch the trailer for the feature film version of 9!

MM: I think what struck me when I first saw the trailer a while back was that I though it looked like it was “for me.” It looked like something that was for grown-ups. How do you approach that story when you know that kids are probably going to see it, even though it’s aimed a little more at adults? How do you find that balance?

SA: I was really inspired by the early Spielberg movies and early Lucas movies. One of the reasons they’re so inspiring is that they work on many levels and they bring in a broad audience. They’re not afraid to deal with real subject matter; there are real stakes and people die. There’s real drama and real tragedy in those films but at the same time they’re incredibly engaging and captivating and fantastic. So that’s where I’m drawing my inspirations from; is E.T. for kids or is it for adults? Is STAR WARS for kids or is it for adults? You can have a fantastic world, but as long as there are real emotions for people to empathize with, things work. We didn’t set out to make a movie by saying “yeah, this is going to be PG-13: edgy and gratuitous and dark”; we just set out to tell the story and this is where we ended up. And it ended up PG-13, but because it’s the story we wanted to tell.

MM: How did your voice cast come together?

SA: A lot of it came from when we were writing the script. We started developing the story and discovering who these characters were. And we knew that, unlike other animated films, we didn’t want to go too broad with it. We wanted sincerity. We wanted actors that would speak in their own voice and do it very naturalistic, very human. Once we were set, we approached actors we thought would embody these personalities. The thrust is that, even though these creatures are strange and eccentric and don’t look anything like us, over time in the movie, you really start to see the humanity inside them. So that was how we assembled our cast.

MM: Is sincerity something that’s difficult to capture in an animated film?

SA: I don’t know. I think Pixar’s and some of the other animated films are really good at it. But animation is abstract, no matter how you slice it. It’s about how you refine it down to the core and essence of what’s real in some way. You look at FINAL FANTASY, and I don’t mean to pick on them, but they used motion capture- “Isn’t that human, isn’t that real?” If you look at that film versus THE INCREDIBLES, where they are so stylized and extreme, yet they feel so much more real and believable and human than FINAL FANTASY. That’s one of the great things about animation: the shorthand can make things very real. It’s all in how you portray those characters, and how you make them perform and move, that makes them believable. And sincere. And that’s what we were trying to do with this film.

Marc Mason  

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