Anime na amfetaminima.
Since showing his debut feature We Are The Strange at Sundance last January, M dot Strange has become the poster boy for DIY filmmaking as he’s warded off all main stream avenues for theatrical distribution, concentrating instead on festival screenings, grassroots programs like MobMov (mobile movie drive-ins) and now a comprehensive 2-disc DVD package that is a must have for low-budget animators and filmmakers alike.
It’s hard to describe the film other than to say it’s really experimental. (surprised?) All I know is the two main characters really want ice cream. But what makes this film great is that it is so out there. I like how Variety reviewer John Anderson puts it:
“We Are The Strange… is a Freudian/spiritual/psycho-dramatic and high-tech catalog of visual imagery through the ages, as well as a plummet into the bramble patch of Strange’s soul.”Only half way through do you really grasp the plot, but from start to finish the stunning images (a mixture of stop-motion animation and 8-bit graphics), video game qualities and score, created by 8bitpeoples, is what keeps you sucked in.
Accompanying the film is a plethora of features that helps us better understand the Str8nime world (Strange+8 bit+Anime). Along with a commentary by M dot and producer/illustrator Sean Boyles, there’s deleted scenes, alternative soundtracks to the film and a director’s cut all on disc one. Then the second disc is where the fun starts. There’s a making of section that gives away all the “secrets” to how the film was made: how M dot created the characters (some of the stories he tells are hilarious), a tour of the stop motion studio (aka, his bedroom), and what I found most interesting, a tour of his desktop, where he shows how he rendered the animation, storyboards, editing and a lot more. Disc two also includes a recap of his festival tour and some of M dot’s animated works pre-WATS.
This is obviously a way for M dot to expand his talents to a wider audience (and make a buck), but he also takes the time to create a useful tool for other artists to learn from. - Jason Guerrasio
We Are the Strange — movie review
by Kris Nelson
Like his outfit today, a light green glen plaid short-sleeved button-up that could have possibly been purchased by millions more at the (*gasp*) Gap, garnished with a few original logo homemade stamp buttons, the kicker being surprise Skittles-colored high-socks and lime Crocs, M Dot Strange is a welcome unpredictable enigma. His masterpiece We Are the Strange is just as unpredictable, appearing to be a dark compulsion drive through a sociofugal psychosis of abandonment, misogyny, naïveté, despair, brutal murder, and greed. It’s lasciviously lashed in a mishmash macrame of animation techniques: stop animation, backdrop dreamscapes, green screen, 3D modeling and environs. With that in mind, if I told you that I mostly remember the cute quirky moments, the beauty and comedy, you might not believe me. Heck, I didn’t believe it myself.
In a brief introductory preview to his work at Anno Domini, I was intrigued but a little worried by the seemingly sloppy sawed-off dolls’ heads and assorted melted and mangled metallic props. I didn’t quite realize it at first (mostly because previous photos of M Dot he had his mug obscured), but there was the avant garde artiste at the show trying to teach some kids claymation. “Nuh-uh,” one insolent youth expressed, ignoring his tutor’s patient reminder to follow the pattern — move the clay, take a picture, move the clay. The youngin just wanted to smash some Play-Doh. Such a moral sentiment enforcing We Are the Strange ain’t child’s play.
Crafted in his bedroom/makeshift studio, M Dot slaved and toiled. Don’t take this statement lightly; he spent many a sleep-deprived night struggling through a caffeine-fueled subconscious. Maybe this is why We Are the Strange plays out like a nightmare with a plot, as if we’re trapped in his head during those long late nights. The disjointed visitations of other lofty concepts swirl in; unconventional windows. “Str8nime” is what he dubs this culmination of “Strange”, “8-bit”, and “Anime”. It is absolutely fitting that M Dot has selected a unique name for his created genre, as this is like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
And what will you see, exactly? A bald-headed steroid-adled beefcake berates and boots an employee named Blue (pictured above right) in a sort of twisted Kechak (Balinese shadow puppet play) arena. He is disgusted by her skin; any time she speaks or smiles, it turns into a scaly pixelated wireframe-y grid. Overly concerned with peer acceptance, she retreats. Such an unspoken truth. Blue runs off into the creepy forest (the “Forest of Still Life”, no less) and into one of the most enchanting scenes (swirling cumulus and diaphanous lanterns adrift), where she meets a Gameboy-addicted little kewpie boy eMMM (oddly resembling Gary Oldman, well to me anyway) whose simultaneous main goal and fright in life is to board a train into Stopmo City to get some ice cream (based on a true story, M Dot admitted at Cinequest). The pair eventually head into town to find death and destruction caused by misshapen monsters and rancid robots and evil dust devils. Rain, a skeletal ninja harlequin who looks like a Tootsie Pop ghost (pictured up up above right in red) , a murderous fiend who’s either a vigilante or just really insane, has hacked his way through all the ghouls in town, unstoppable. In a midst of supposed scribblings, raggedy cut-outs, almost unfinished cartoonish hash (purposely pixelated 8-bit images created in Mario Paint), electronic squeals and squealing electronica, the juxtaposition between violence and innocence unfurl to reveal the main big baddie: the aforementioned CG Pimp with delusions of grandeur, except now he’s helming a giant robot. Oh my god. Blue must find her courage and her voice in order to defeat her oppressor, but not before kewpie cutie-pie eMMM engages in a Godzilla-proportioned battle.
A feel-good psuedo comedy ripe with genius choreographed suspense sequences and oft disturbing yet enticingly gorgeous moody visuals?! Hells yes. Watch the trailer and see for yourself.
NOTE: Now I glossed over the soundtrack, but it should be noted as a character of its own. Experimental electronica fusing industrial screeches and playful video game bleeps called “chip tune music” was skillfully created on Gameboys and Nintendo entertainment systems by Noise, Inc. Incredible. The DVD includes six different soundtracks for you to toggle through if that’s not your dig. Recently, fans from all across the globe have helped M dot translate We Are the Strange in 17 languages, including 1337! Here it is subtitled in English with a handy dandy playlist for more languages in the side scrolly nav.
M dot Strange Finds a Way at Sundance
PARK CITY, Utah — In the daunting hierarchy of the Sundance Film Festival, with its hype machine, big stars and indie royalty, a young movie maker named M dot Strange would seem to have little chance of gaining much attention.
A 27-year-old guy from San Jose, he gave new meaning to the term “studio apartment” by jamming eight computers into his place and producing “We Are the Strange.” The movie has a wide visual vocabulary borrowed from the far reaches of the Web, anime, video games and children’s nursery rhymes. And dolls. Lots of dolls.
But his film received a premiere last Friday night at midnight at the Egyptian Theater, a coveted slot at Sundance, and quite a few members of the audience left midmovie.
But what would have been crushing for another young filmmaker was no big deal for M dot Strange, who arrived at Sundance with a huge audience in tow. During the last two years, he has been posting a video blog on YouTube letting people know how the movie was coming along. And then two months ago, he finally posted a trailer, and almost immediately it was downloaded hundreds of thousands of times.
While we were talking at the Kimball Art Center in Park City, he checked the site and showed me that over 648,000 people had already viewed the trailer for a film where he served as writer, director, animator and effects coordinator.
Kevin Donahue, vice president of content at YouTube, said M dot Strange has created an audience in part by talking to it. “The originality of the work is quite high, but he has also built a real rapport with his audience,” said Mr. Donahue. “He has an online film school and a very active community.”
And so what about his big fancy premiere?
“Well, it all felt very foreign to me, watching it in a room with strangers,” M dot Strange said Saturday. “Some YouTube kids came up from Salt Lake, which was cool, and they seemed to really enjoy it.”
Wearing a black stocking cap and sporting a wisp of hair under his lip, M dot Strange, whose actual name is Michael Belmont, looks more like a snowboarder who wandered over from the nearby chairlift than a big deal filmmaker (see for yourself at carpetbagger.blogs.nytimes.com), but he represents a new paradigm of filmmaking that could have a profound effect on the traditional models of film production, distribution and animation.
The money is not there yet — M dot Strange is doing a brisk business in T-shirts associated with the film — but the Web has proved that if you produce something the consumer wants, a business model might follow.
Another Sundance film, “Strange Culture,” premiered at the Egyptian on Friday, but will get a second premiere today on Second Life, the online virtual community, including a live Q. & A. with the director Lynn Hershman Leeson, and the stars Tilda Swinton and Peter Coyote, among others.
Ms. Hershman Leeson, an established filmmaker and artist, made “Strange Culture” to bring attention to the case of Steve Kurtz, an artist and professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, who called 911 when his wife died of heart failure in her sleep.
The medics who responded to the call became suspicious of his art materials — his work centers on germ warfare and genetically modified foods — and called the F.B.I. Agents in Hazmat suits showed up immediately and began impounding his computers, books, his cat and even his wife’s body. Mr. Kurtz was detained as a suspected bioterrorist, eventually accused of mail fraud and is now part of an ongoing federal trial.
Ms. Hershman Leeson, 65, felt that the film needed to get out quickly by all means, and after working with the Stanford Humanities Lab to create a digital archive of her work on Second Life, building a theater there and premiering the film seemed like a natural step. Admission is by invitation only so that demand does not swamp the servers.
“These are important social networks that we could not have had before,” she said over coffee in Park City last week. “By having the film both here at Sundance and on Second Life, we have two streams that we hope will eventually become many. And that’s really exciting.”
In the past, a filmmaker had to throw a Hail Mary pass at a place like Sundance, hope for attention amid the clutter, and then against all odds, get a film picked up for distribution. For every “Little Miss Sunshine,” a breakout Sundance film that has been a critical and commercial success, there are hundreds of films that never found an audience.
But a number of digital commercial initiatives, including The Daily Reel, an online video site (www.thedailyreel.com), allow audiences and filmmakers to meet in new ways. Jamie Patricof, the producer of “Half Nelson” and one of the people behind The Daily Reel, said he wanted to create “a breeding ground for new filmmakers and a place to find them. It’s hard enough navigating a film festival like this one, let along finding the people who are doing great work online.”
Because of the limits of bandwidth and attention span, most of the film content online is short-form, but that will change. M dot Strange, who has a series of 10 films planned, already has members of his active, vocal community around “We are the Strange” weighing in on a proposed ending after he put up 18 minutes of the film. “It’s like a real-time focus group,” he suggested.
There have been talks about traditional distribution, but M dot Strange said he didn’t really care one way or the other. Other than attending his own premiere, he hasn’t been in a movie theater in six months.
“I’m already part of a big campfire,” he said. “We talk to each other all the time about what we are seeing and thinking. It’s a personal experience without anybody in between.”
The playing field between audience and filmmaker is shrinking as well. When M dot Strange blogged about his rather awkward pursuit of buzz at Sundance on Thursday, one of his fans made an animation overnight with a hilarious bee motif in response. M dot Strange laughed and called his colleagues over to look at it on YouTube. “This guy is amazing. He’s faster than I am,” he said.
Strange + 8-Bit + Anime = Str8nime. Learn DIY Filmmaking from M dot Strange
By Jason Silverman
It's anime on amphetamines — with a throbbing techno beat and a dash of Kabuki. Most of all, M dot Strange's berserk and beautiful We Are the Strange is a triptastic triumph of DIY filmmaking. Strange (former Web designer Michael Belmont) spent three years and roughly $20,000 crafting his feature-length debut — learning animation, creating virtual landscapes, and scouring gutters for props. Last December, he went into lockdown mode, working 30-hour shifts to finish in time for Sundance. The plot? Something about an anime waif and a mopey porcelain doll searching for safe haven in a vicious videogame world. But that's beside the point. The visuals are dazzlingly hypnotic, dropping references from the Brothers Quay to Super Mario Brothers. Strange calls his technique Str8nime (strange + 8-bit + anime). After 86 brain- melting minutes, viewers may not know what hit them. (The Sundance crowd didn't — there was a minor stampede for the exits long before the closing credits.) Still, Strange has attracted a fierce online fan base — eager acolytes are even learning how to make their own Str8nime via his "Film Skool" clips on YouTube. This fall, he's self- releasing a DVD, with free parking-lot screenings across the country. "People have to stop jumping for the Hollywood carrot," he says. "I'm training a new generation of filmmakers." Check out Strange's technique below.
| ||M dot's 8 Steps to Str8nime|
1) Shoot the stop-motion doll in front of a homemade closet greenscreen.
2) Launch Maxon Cinema 4-D and render the 3-D background for the shot. Remember: "Blocky makes better; 8 bits was always enough."
3) Import stop-motion sequences into Adobe After Effects and remove the greenscreen.
4) Import the 3-D background renders into After Effects and match them with the movements of the stop-motion doll.
5) Create the most evil 8-bit sky you can in Mario Paint and add it to the scene. "It won't be that scary, but that's the point."
6) Add 3-D particle effects or hand-drawn wind.
7) Str8nime is not photorealistic, but it is photographic. Create depth-of-field blur and lens distortion.
8) Dial in the color. "If it doesn't burn your eyes, it's not bright enough. If the voice in your head doesn't scream 'WTF?!' it's not strange enough. When you're finished, chant, 'This is Str8nime. This is Str8nime.' Over and over."