For seven years, Morgan Galen King has been careful not to update his Windows PC. Starting in 2014, he skipped all prompts on his work computer, attempting to preserve the Photoshop and Premiere tools he had built to animate his high fantasy ultra-violent film, The spine of the night. He rotated the whole thing, drawing live action scenes, frame by frame, until they came to life under his stylus.
King worked alongside co-writer and co-director Philip Gelatt, and a small team of accomplices. The project consisted of thousands of hand-drawn living layers and a bundle of custom software tools, all of which worked specifically with the version of Windows on King’s computer in 2014.
“I had been very careful not to update anything, which was difficult for such a long production run,” King said. “Seven years is a long time not to update your software.”
And then, as King prepared to export the final cut of The spine of the night for its debut at SXSW 2021, its PC received seven years of updates.
“It was the absolute deadline ahead,” King said. “I went to bed, came back, and Windows updated.”
He couldn’t even open the project. His PC no longer recognized the video card that Premiere used to perform most of the film’s effects. There was a solution, but like all the other steps The spine of the nightproduction was incredibly tedious.
“I had to get in there and as it was trying to load, before it failed, export each section as an individual project, so I could slowly piece it together,” King said.
Gelatt, King’s co-conspirator on The spine of the night, added: “It was tough.”
It took about two weeks to rebuild The spine of the night This way. But, they did. The film is an official selection of the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, which will debut Thursday night. It stars a handful of heavy hitters in the vocal cast, including Betty Gabriel, Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt and Joe Manganiello.
The spine of the night is a violent and trippy epic inspired by the years 1981 Heavy metal and the works of classic animators Ralph Bakshi (the director of the 1978 the Lord of the Rings film) and Frank Frazetta (the true godfather of fantasy art). Bakshi and Frazetta collaborated on the 1983 film Fire and ice, using rotoscoping for animation.
Fire and ice was a crucial touchstone for King and Gelatt in the creation of The spine of the night. In fact, this is the main reason King has built so many Premiere and Photoshop custom tools to get the job done.
“I looked at the particularities of Bakshi’s Fire and ice DVD, ”King said. “I think that’s the only place I’ve really seen someone show how they do it. I kind of reverse engineered, as best I could, to draw on a computer.
The rotoscope process involves filming scenes with real people and then tracing those images one by one. When done right, the result is smooth, lifelike movements, while allowing animators to sketch out all the wild characters and impossible actions they want.
For The spinal column of the night, King and Gelatt filmed the motion reference at a warehouse in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in March 2014. Only one of the top vocal cast actors actually performed in that warehouse: Betty Gabriel, who had just been released. from drama school at the time (“and so nice to work with,” Gelatt said). She was going to become a star of Get out and several Blumhouse projects.
“A green screen studio would have been ideal, but we just had the white walls and wooden floors in this place, and we dragged lights and fans to blow up the hair, and tried to make sure everyone world mimics the actions we needed. , in live action, the best they could, ”King said.