Eric Power is an independent animator based in Austin, Texas. After building up quite a reputation producing music videos and shorts, he decided to turn to features. Path Of Blood (now available on Vimeo on Demand) is the result.
A blood-soaked samurai tale following a noble Ronin, Path Of Blood is an impressive achievement. It boasts an impressive visual style, employing a form of 2D Stop-motion using paper cut-outs. Think South Park meets Seven Samurai and you'll not be a million miles away. There's something that feels wonderfully subversive about using this style for such a serious and ultra-violent tale- perhaps it's that it recalls collages you might make as a child (although clearly this is on a whole other level).
Connoisseurs of Samurai movies will get a kick out of it too. It pays homage to Samurai films of the past, with a particular eye on 70s Chanbara flicks. It feels brilliantly authentic, right down to the cicadas chirping in the background and the editing flourishes. Hell, Power even went to the bother of making it in Japanese, with the help of a translator.
Even at a relatively modest 61 minutes, animating a feature single-handedly is no mean feat. We caught up with Eric and asked him some questions about his experiences making the film.
AFA: Can you fill us in on your background a little bit- how did you first get into animation?
ERIC POWER:: I began experimenting with animation in High School. It was very basic stuff, but interested me. When I was 17, I got the opportunity to work on Richard Linkletter's Waking Life thanks to Bob Sabiston who is a family friend. I did a few small things in that film, nothing very major, but as a young man working around so many talented artists I became quite inspired to pursue my own animations. Over the next several years I experimented with various forms of animation. The passion grew to the point where I decided to pursue it as a career.
The "cut-out" style you use in many of your works is very distinctive. How did you come to settle on this particular style?
The cut-out animation came about after many years of experimentation. I was working with digital animation and various forms of stop motion (yarn animation, claymation, found objects, etc.). I got a music video gig working on a song that I felt would benefit from a "folk" art style. I chose watercolour painted paper and shot it in top down stop motion. I was pleased with the aesthetic and kept it in mind for future projects. About a year later I decided to try the style again, this time using multi coloured card stock on The Lovely Sparrows music video for "Year of the Dog". After the video premiered online, several blogs and sites took notice. It ended up on a best of the year list for animated music videos and was featured on several prominent sites. I began to get requests to do cut paper animation and eventually it became clear I had developed a reputation based on the style. Over time, I found my skills were improving in the medium. I also fell completely in love with the tactile nature of the work. Eventually I realised I could achieve shots I thought were impossible in the medium and it replaced my digital work entirely.
On to Path Of Blood! The jump from shorts and music videos to a full feature is a pretty big one- especially for somebody working independently- how did the project come about?
Path of Blood came about based on the short film of the same name I made in late 2010. I screened the short at various film festivals and placed it online where it started gaining a decent audience. I have always wanted to make feature animated films. I made the decision to jump head first into production, since it made more sense to act with little to no money than to wait and wait for the potential of an actual budget. It may have been foolhardy, but despite the limitations of the budget and my skills with animation at the time, I am very pleased with what I was able to make.
It's pretty clear from Path of Blood that you know your Samurai films! Were there any particular films or film-makers that were particularly an influence on you, or was it more of a general homage to the genre?
I LOVE Samurai films. I remember watching Ran in High School and being fascinated with both the subject matter and the skills of the director (Akira Kurosawa). I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker after seeing it. I love the Lone Wolf and Cub films, Hideo Gosha's work, and adore the Zatoichi series. I had been collecting Samurai films for some time before considering making a film in the genre. It seemed like a natural choice for my first film. Path of Blood is my love letter to the genre as a whole.
Were you influenced by any samurai anime at all, or would you say your main influences were live-action?
In terms of anime, I very much enjoyed Ninja Scroll and a few other obscure 90's ninja animated films (Black Lion comes to mind). I was more influenced by the films, since that is what I was watching at the time, but I definitely enjoy anime.
One of the most impressive things about the film (aside from the technical achievement) is your decision to make the film in Japanese. Was that always part of the plan? It pays off in adding authenticity but it must have created some challenges of it's own.
I knew from the get go that I wanted to film in Japanese. I am the type of person that always prefers subtitles to dubbing in my films. In live action films especially, I want to hear the actor's native tongue. It felt like the right thing to do and I was fortunate to already have a Japanese translator (Sarah Luce) on board before I even began writing the script. I am not a speaker myself, so she also acted as my voice over director. The process was quite natural and ended up being less challenging than I thought it would be.
The score is very fitting and perfectly matches the film. How heavily involved were you with creating the music yourself?
John Dixon created the score for the film. He is a long time collaborator of mine and I knew I could trust him to deliver the goods without much involvement from me. John and Sarah are married and have travelled to Japan several times. John was completely on board with the feel I had in mind. I gave him free range and it certainly paid off.
A lot of indie animators, including major figures like Bill Plympton have turned to platforms such as Kickstarter to help produce their work. Did you ever consider crowdfunding for this project?
I actually did launch a Kickstarter for the film in 2011. I tried to raise $25,000 but only made it to around $10,000. After failing to reach my goal I still had a handful of people that wanted to help out anyways. I was able to raise $17,000 through private investors, family, and kind donations. The rest I put in myself, but never reached $ 25,000. Halfway during production I had to take on freelance gigs on the side to keep going. It was a real struggle. The budget was already way too small and I basically had to do the best I could under the circumstances. I ended up taking on sound design duties as well as all the editing and animation, etc... Basically, besides the voice actors, the entire film was made by John Dixon, Sarah Luce, and myself. It was a crazy time and I am anxious to work on big projects again.
Can you give us any idea what's next for you? Any Plans for more features?
Currently I am working on a series called Life on Paper. It is an animated series about life as new parents. My wife and I brought our baby girl into the world last February and the inspiration I have taken from the whole experience has made the time right for this project.
I am also nearly done with a screenplay for a feature length animated silhouette film (like the flashbacks in Path of Blood). I've made some improvements in this form of animation during production on Path of Blood as well as two recent music videos in the style. I may try and raise funds for the project soon in order to get production underway. The film will be quite beautiful and unlike anything I've made before. I have my fingers crossed!
And Finally... As a thanks for chatting to us feel free to plug your project(s) to our readers...
As a plug, here's a recent music video I made that blends cut paper animation with live action. I've been developing this style for the past three years and it's looking promising.
PATH OF BLOOD is available now to rent or buy from Vimeo On Demand. See more of Eric's work and find out more at his website.
Path of Blood - Trailer from Eric Power on Vimeo.