This Christmas Robert Litton came over and paid me a visit, and he brought a little surprise. With him was the DVD of the hotly anticipated animation he had just scored, Gerald’s Last Day. I felt like a little kid who was just visited by Santa. If any of you have been frequenting the indie-stop-mo blogs this year, you’re probably familiar with Gerald and his plight. Gerald is a mutt of a dog who is just hours away from being euthanized at the pound, and he is desperate to be adopted. The film follows his final day as various humans come by his cage to consider adopting him. As each one arrives, he analyzes them and changes his personality and manner, hoping he can come across as the perfect dog for each specific visitor. These displays are as cute and hilarious as they are sad and desperate. And that’s the beauty of this little 12-minute film, it makes you laugh one second and the next your heart is breaking, and then you’re laughing again. The balance between bitter and sweet is perfect, never letting you get two depressed before the pup charms you into chuckling again. Great pathos.
By the end of the short there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I really must applaud Justin and Shel Rasch, the husband and wife animating team, for pulling this off. Gerald’s Last Day was a 2 year production for the Rasch’s, AFTERHOURS. All the animation was done after Justin would get home from his real job (as a computer game animator), and go through the night. On top of that, this was their first stopmotion project, but by looking at it you’d never know. These guys are pros! The quality of the animation is top-notch, but what will really excite all the animators out there is that they never skimp on on the unnecessary, yet highly realistic character movements. Most animators (including myself) when hunched under a hot lamp in the dead of night, pushing a tiny puppet on a fragile set one frame at a time, will only concern themselves with moving the characters from point A to point B, not bothering with extra subtle gestures that give a character more soul and realism. This will usually add hours to a shoot and may end up ruining the puppet. So why bother. Justin, though, doesn’t skimp on any of this, and the audience gets a much richer experience because of it, and fellow animators will be crying as they think of how high the bar has been raised. This is especially apparent with the little girl (voiced by their daughter Aedon) who comes to look at Gerald.
In the end, there’s also a great moral to the story, that’s very subtle (isn’t that nice), and after watching it with children, who will EAT IT UP, it could allow parents to open up a dialogue with their kids about the importance of being yourself.
I was also very impressed with Robert’s daring choice of a harmonica score (I didn’t think he could keep surprising me!). It’s beautiful, moody, and feisty, and just proves again why everyone trusts their creations to him. Click Here to read the great story about how the score almost didn’t happen! The story behind the film is almost more exciting than the film itself, so until you can watch the DVD with behind the scenes special features (which I’m told will include animation shots with all the wiring still in the shot, before being digitally removed) make sure you read Justin’s production blog and watch some of his interviews online, they’re so inspiring to any animator or artist who is trying to follow their dreams! On a personal note I’d like to say that I’ve been very inspired by Justin and Shel’s creative teamwork, and working that exciting experience into their marriage.
Gerald’s Last Day is just about to start its massive tour of the film festival circuit, so you all need to find out when it will be playing on a big screen near you and take the kids or animation lover. Right now most of the festivals are in the California and Nevada areas but I’m sure it will be expanding soon. Here’s the list so far:
San Diego Children's Film Fest at Comicon (July/Aug)
Los Angeles Children's Film Fest (Oct)
I’m told they will be updating the list as they’re accepted.
Thanks again to Justin and Shel for being so inspirational to all us animators, I can’t wait to see the next film!