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Outcast Hero: The Making Of An Independent Animated Feature

Gemma Bright is a very talented independent animator who has been working on the feature Outcast Hero since 2006. She has very generously agreed to share her experiences working on the project with our readers!


By Gemma Bright

What if I were to tell you I was working on an animated movie?
“Cool,” you might say. “It's a big undertaking, but a rewarding one.”
Now what if I were to tell you I am working on an animated movie by myself?

There have been many reasons for me making this decision – some of them within my control and some of them not – all of which have contributed to the ongoing tale that is “Outcast Hero”

The events of “Outcast Hero” mostly play out on the earth-like planet Tagen, home to a number of species, one of which are the chimerites. It tells a story of a genetically gifted chimerite named Muxlowe Daemyn who – after using his abilities to save Tagen from a energy-eating creature dubbed “Oxcerbus” – promptly becomes universally popular. With all this attention having gone straight to his head, Muxlowe is caught off guard when he wakes up one morning to discover he has inexplicably become human, a feared species with the reputation for having created the Oxcerbus in the first place. Cast far from his home, Muxlowe and companions Adrian, Vira and Marlon now have several mysteries to solve – how was such a transformation possible, who did it, and why?

Illness can end up determining what happens in your life to an extent. In my case, a chronic metabolic condition forced me to give up a full time job in 2004 and work part time from home. The unpredictability of the symptoms restrict my independence, and often make it very difficult to think or function well. A situation like this could easily become all-consuming if one obsessed over it, but I've been determined to channel my attention into more productive things. One of my outlets has been storytelling with a view to animation.

Outcast Hero emerged after a dawning realisation that one didn't need the backing of major studios in order to create something. In a time before crowdfunding websites, this was still quite a novel thought. The thought arose after coming across a project on Newgrounds during the same year in which I quit my job. It was an animated feature film called “Minushi”, and the most surprising thing about it was it was being worked on by one person. Inspired, I sketched pages of concepts for what would later become Outcast Hero. The aspect of how long it might take me to do a movie alone didn't feel like an issue. The fact I could get the ball rolling by myself was really freeing and motivating. July 2006 saw Outcast Hero's production get into full swing.

I used the same production techniques that major animation studios did, which I had learned the basics of from watching animated film documentaries. After the concept art, I worked out the base structure of the plot, which was followed by the earliest draft of the movie's script. Then came the storyboarding and animatic stages – the first version of the movie merged these two stages together by drawing the storyboard onto 9x9cm pieces of paper and scanning those into the computer for composition. Later versions have used thumbnail sized storyboards and the animatic is being upgraded to a digital format.

In mid 2010, the first version of the animatic was completed and watched by a few people who relayed critique back to me. This cycle of small scale test screening and feedback has been repeated over time, in order to further improve the movie's contents. Since then I have focused on the animatic's second version, discounting a year long break I took in order to make “Outcast Hope” - a prequel short to Outcast Hero which also served as a test bed for me taking a piece of work to a finished state.

For the past eight and a half years I have been crafting the world of Outcast Hero – its environments, characters and the stories that drive them – without a budget to dedicate to the movie's production. Friends have generously dedicated their time and skills to voice some of the cast and develop various ideas.

Crowdfunding has been suggested to me in order to get more people on board and thus speed up production of the movie. I have debated the idea, but you need to have a substantial audience in order for a crowdfunding campaign to be feasible, and running a campaign is extremely stressful. You have the pressure of fulfilling everything you promise your backers – rewards and actual project work – in a set amount of time. The second of those things is quite influential to me, as my state of health requires keeping external stress levels down where possible.

In summary - I've learned to work realistically within my own boundaries, without sacrificing the pursuit of my creative ideas. I'm not sure how long it will take to complete the movie, or how I'm going to overcome those future production obstacles, yet I feel surprisingly chill with regards to these things. Outcast Hero is a project which I - and those which follow the movie's production - are savouring the journey of, as well as the prospect of a finished outcome. This gradual pace, unshadowed by the expectations of others, allows the story to develop organically and I feel is creating a more solid end product as a result.

Working solo on an animated feature is not for the faint of heart. It takes longer and requires much patience and dedication, but I've always seen it as the more favoured choice over not working on the feature at all. For me, creating Outcast Hero has been a fascinating experience. I have learned so much about movie directing, animation and cinematography, and continue to discover new things every day.