Cartoon Brew TV #20: The Terrible Thing of Alpha-9!

Today on Cartoon Brew TV we proudly present The Terrible Thing of Alpha-9! directed by Jake Armstrong. It was created as his thesis film at the School of Visual Arts. If you have a question for Jake, he’ll be participating in the comments section below, and if you’d like to find out more about his work, visit his blog at JakeHatesYou.blogspot.com. He’s also provided us with some notes about the making of the film:

Making this short was really fun, mostly for the research it involved. I got to reconnect with shows like “The Outer Limits” and “The Twilight Zone”, watch weird old soft sci-fi movies like “Forbidden Planet,” and the occasional big-monster-themed Looney Tunes episode. I felt these shows are so over-brimming with crazy style that it felt relatively easy to find things to put in visually. The comic book feel was strongly based on a lot of people, but the big ones that come to mind are Dan James (Ghostshrimp), Rui Tenreiro, Brecht Evens, Thomas Herpich , and Kazimir Strzepek. There are plenty more, but these all heavily influenced my style.

For the look I wanted to start out with an almost nour-ish, very serious soft-science-fiction feel. I chose red as the main color in the opening mainly because I love that stark red color choice in Raoul Servais’ “Sirene.” I was kind of hammering in the idea that this man is a serious bounty hunter, and that this was a very serious story. I think I intended to, for the most part, stay with that feel until the monster gets playful. Then it just turns into my take of the Looney Tunes short, “The Abominable Snow Rabbit,” where the big dumb yeti chases Bugs Bunny around calling him “George.” I wanted to play up the light mood and make the monster as cute as possible, really just to emphasize the large change that happens later when the characters are suddenly hit with reality (at the “splat!”).

To me, the spaceman is kind of boring. He’s basically me in most respects: he kind of looks like me, he’s kind of a grumpy old man. I feel there’s also the side that feels some remorse for what he does. He feels guilt, but pretty much stays the straight and narrow. The monster, I think, is really interesting. He starts off as a big, dumb beast, and then shows more cognition as the story gets more tragic for him. He understands what’s happening, but he just tries to ignore it. I like that the monster is a pretty absurdist character overall.

This short took about 6-8 months to write and figure out most of the design and stylistic choices, and another 8-9 months of drawing and coloring. It was a totally digital process, past the initial boards. I drew it completely using Flash, which was a trying thing since I needed a Cintiq to do anything on it. I was so busy with drawing, that my grandiose plans of writing music for it were kind of put on the shelf. The only bit that’s still there is the sad organ during the credits. Though I feel it would be better with music filling the space, I’m still pretty proud of the way it turned out. The project feels over now, and maybe on the next project (when I don’t’ have a deadline) it can be more complete with music.


  • http://mattmarblo.blogspot.com Matt

    Yes! This was my favorite animation at the Dusty’s, glad its finally online!

  • http://www.dougwilson.co.uk Doug

    That is really spectacular for a thesis film, well done Jake. The characters are really funny and have good interaction, and the story is real nice. The design of the whole thing is just very cohesive and this is a great short. You obviously don’t need my advice cos your immensley talented but when you said “maybe on the next project (when I don’t’ have a deadline) it can be more complete ” I cringed. I can see your next film (which i’m looking forward to by the way) could be a long time coming. Don’t forget that a deadline can be a good thing and force you to commit and get things done!

  • http://stefanssketchblog.blogspot.com/ Stefan

    Terrific – well done! I really enjoyed that. Excellent design and storytelling – and sound too. Like Doug I also think a deadline is a good thing – I’ve seen lots of people endlessly tweaking shots that were fine the first time round – taking twice as long to finish a film – if they finish it at all.

  • http://www.enigmation.de slowtiger

    This is a great little film. I especially like how design and animation perfectly fit together, and that no single line gives away that it was done in Flash. So much for people who always blame the tools!

    The colours are really well chosen, the dull but saturated look reminded me of some of my favourite (european) comics from the 80′s, like Daniel Torres or Max.

  • http://thingsicomeupwith.blogspot.com/ Jim Gisriel

    there’s something to be said about a just really well made animated short. from story to design to animation. god i really love this short. it was the only thing after i was at the dusty screening that really just took my breath away. just like dam dude

  • Rafa

    I absolutely loved it with every pore of my skin !!

    Congratulations to Jake, for all the effort, well done !!!

  • toonertime

    i am 57 and i hope to make something as great
    as this before i am 67!

    adults with attention deficit have sloppy work habits.

  • Bob

    I’ve gotta agree, this is a really nice thesis film. I can only hope mine comes out as coherent and interesting.

    You didn’t mention Christy Karacas as an influence, but I can definitely see some stylistic similarities. Was that conscious or just a by-product of having to do such a huge volume of drawing?

  • http://www.gulbransen.net/preaching Dave!

    That was wonderful!!! The start of a very promising career… I can’t wait to see what you do in the future.

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    This film is terrific.
    It’s nearly as good as One Eyed Ophelia Jackson.

  • RDee

    Great animation on the characters, love the big expressive monster. Create some real pathos for him.

    job well done!

  • http://siskavard.blogspot.com corey

    WHOA thanks for sharing this! A great film!

    I actually had to watch this with no sound, unfortunately, but the short still reads extremely well, which is great!

    It’s also nice to read that Jake did his homework beforehand.

    Hats off to ya!

  • Brian

    Awesome short! I hope to see more from you soon.

  • http://www.tonydistefano.blogspot.com Tony DiStefano

    Jake ,that was great! The storytelling was excellent. Wondeful animation, Great color style.I think you will wind up a leader in the animation field.Much luck!!!

  • http://stephenneary.blogspot.com pizzaforeveryone

    this is really cool. really solid work. loved seeing that monster cry.

  • http://ryanmcculloch.com Ryan McCulloch

    Fun! Great style!

  • http://www.rauchbrothers.com Tim Rauch

    man, that’s sweet. very very cool, glad i finally got to see it!

  • http://www.dejarnettedesigns.com DeJarnette

    Great animation! Excellent character designs and superb storytelling. Love the ending.

  • http://www.arielvillaverde.com Aerial Flyer

    Lots like the work of an animation “veteran”! Simply great.

    Even without stylistic-references, looks like Jake has true, natural drawing, design and boarding skills.

    This film will win many awards. Congrats Jake!

  • vineet

    i loved the way the monster moves. What was the process of figuring out a 6 legged walk?

  • Steve

    Very well done. More than enough twists to deliver beyond the advance hype needed for people to watch it.

  • BobT

    I love this film.

    My thesis film for next year is also going to be sci fi story. This film actually gave me some inspiration for my film. Thanks!

    I really like how this film is funny without trying to be overtly funny.

  • Oscar Grillo

    Superb soundtrack!

  • http://caramelkiller.blogspot.com/ Emily Barrera

    Great style, story & characters!
    Very original. Thanks for sharing.
    -
    Congrats, Jake.

  • Charles

    great end credits

  • http://dailygrail.com/blog/8389 red pill junkie

    When are we going to have a rating system at Cartoon Brew TV?

    I’m dying to give this awesome short 5 brews out of 5!! :)

  • http://chrisbattleillustration.blogspot.com/ Chris Battle

    THis is one of the best things I’ve seen all year.

  • http://tomboycomics.blogspot.com emily

    Superb job, Jake. The things I enjoyed most were the wonderful acting of the the monster, and the refreshingly indie comic artists’ art style. Thanks for giving Twilight Zone an animated comeback, albeit gruesome.

  • http://www.milowerx.com Mike Milo

    Wow! I am floored! that was an amazing film my friend. So full of life too. You will go far in animation. I especially liked that it really had no dialog. you told the entire thing in pantomime which is much harder than talking in my opinion. The color was great, the animation was great and the storytelling was stellar. A couple of questions, you mentioned you did it in Flash… did you use the Pencil tool or the Brush tool for cleanup? Also which did you rough animate with? I’d love to know more details about your production process.

  • http://incoherent-thought.blogspot.com Vincent

    Yay! I like the credits almost as much as the short.

  • http://rauchbrothers.com Mike Rauch

    Bravo, Jake! It was great to see this on the big screen. I’m glad I can come visit it here on the Brew now too. Can’t wait to see what you do next.

  • http://www.blackdotstudios.com Ian Jones-Quartey

    I had the pleasure of seeing this at the SVA screening and it’s still great on the second watch. Fun, well designed, and well animated. Keep up the good work Jake!!

  • http://reggaenights.wordpress.com Reggaenights

    From one independent animator to another, great film Jake! Thoroughly enjoyed it! And thanks to Cartoon Brew for exposing talent like this!

  • julian

    Thank you for that treat Amid …and to Jake Armstrong for making this film. looking forward to seeing more in the future.

  • http://v-f-h.blogspot.com/ JDW

    Glad to see that this is finally online, I wish Jake the best of luck in the future.

  • http://www.rohitiyer.com Rohit Iyer

    Great work, Jake! As mentioned before, I think this is a really mature and sophisticated film and I’m glad that films like this are being made. I love the style and sound design and I found the Terrible Thing very endearing.

    Like Mike Milo, I’m curious about your Flash workflow, as you’ve succeeded in overcoming the tools to give it your own look. A blog post or even a comment would be very helpful.

    Again, awesome film!

  • http://ewangreen.blogspot.com Ewan

    Sorry Red Pill Junky but I disagree, may there never be a rating system for Cartoonbrew and not just because all the films that are posted are awesome. Ratings are for unthoughtful glances instead of proper discussion. However, 5/5!

  • Brian

    Loved it, very nice work. Keep it up Jake!

  • adamredwoods

    Great animation!
    The style really helped keep the theme loose.

  • Christine Panushka

    Splendid—-Congratulations to Jake!

  • http://flickr.com/oritoor ori toor

    this is mega awesome. i wish all animation was done with such love and care for the design and characters.

  • http://jakehatesyou.blogspot.com jake armstrong

    Thank you everyone for all of the awesome things you’ve been saying!

    Doug: I couldn’t agree more. The deadline is what made me push ahead in the end to even finish what I did. I will be setting deadlines on the next thing, but still with the awareness that animation will always take longer than expected. I suppose in this case I didn’t plan well enough to put the music in, and will try to fix that next time.

    Bob: Yeah, it would be hard to say that Christy Karakas isn’t a big influence. Interning on Superjail, we were drawing his awesome drawings ten hours a day. I think that even though I always loved his style, I unconsciously ended up emulating it some since I was in the same work process in Flash.

    Elliot: I couldn’t agree more.

    Charles: Thanks about the end credits! Actually they were all final cleanups done by me, but the rough designs were all done by me, Paul Villeco, Rebecca Sugar, and Kat Morris (all their work was on the Brew, check them out!). They deserve a ton of credit for helping think of awesome poses and ways of spacemen to die when I had writer’s block.

    Mike Milo and Rohit Iyer: Thanks! I totally agree that pantomime is harder, though I always default to it because I can’t write dialog to save my life. You can cheat so much life and believability into of a character just by adding a lip-sync, and I really wanted to do that for this film, but it’s hard to write in dialogue when one character doesn’t speak. For my process, I did storyboards on paper, then immediately scanned them and put them into an animatic in Flash. From there I worked using the brush tool to do revision storyboards, layouts, and rough animation. The cleanup was also the brush tool, but I turned the tapering pretty low and zoomed in a bit to get smoother lines. Unfortunately I feel like the lines were so precise because I was using a Cintiq. The revised storyboards were on a tablet and it was incredible how bad it looked in comparison to the Cintiq lines. But that’s probably just me. I feel like the most important thing when working with a program like Flash is to try to emulate natural media as much as possible. For Superjail, they tried to emulate pencil line. In mine, I tried to emulate thick comic book inks.

    I’m pretty amazed that everybody has had such a good reaction to this, well, amazed and happy. Thanks again to everyone who’s been commenting and watching, albeit sick that so many people like to see the poor monster cry. Let me know if you have any more questions!

  • Omnitarian

    Wow! What a stunning piece of work. The animation floored me, but my favorite part was the absolutely priceless emoting done the monster.

  • Tom Pope

    Pretty sweet alright. The one and ONLY thing that pulled me out A LITTLE was the monster’s crying near the end. Only because his emotions were pulled off SO well without human-like sounds until then. But that is small and nit-picky; it’s great!

  • JG

    Wonderful… Bloody wonderful!

  • Ralph M.

    Great film!! The story moved right along at a decent pace and kept my interest through the entire film. Great job! :)

  • Amy Kravitz

    This film has strong directing and design work. I think it also makes a strong thematic/political statement about how people perceive hostility where none exists and about how violence is perpetuated through ignorance. I empathize with the creature and I want to see it find a worthy friend. The creature itself has a situation and a personality strong enough to support another film.

  • Emily

    Better than One Eyed Ophelia Jackson.

  • http://www.osborneink.com Matt Osborne

    One important point: the sound work here is terrific. Everything from the lasers to the bouncing monster to the head exploding is a perfect noise. If you watched a silent, raw cut, it would NOT be nearly as funny.

  • Niki

    that was insane! it freaked my brother out!

  • http://seanvdm.livejournal.com SeanvdM

    fantastic. I loved the ending!

  • Sara

    My favorite part has to be when the monster frowns but then turns his head as his smile gets wider… lovely. Or maybe those two ridiculous monsters, and how the hanging one changes when it moves. Two things though; the man at the very beginning seems to have a different balding pattern than he does after the title… and he never puts on his oxygen tank… the thing is, this short is so good, I’ve watched it enough to notice that. The backgrounds, line quality, and colors are so incredible. I think there are at least a dozen stills from this that could be printed nice and glossy and framed. Excellent work.

  • Mesterius

    Terrific! By the way, Jerry and Amid, how do you actually download films from CartoonBrew TV? Whenever I press “Click to download”, all that happens is that a new web site opens and shows the film in quicktime. Could anybody help me out here?

  • http://www.inforthekrill.com Greg Holfeld

    This is the best thing I’ve seen in ages. Not a frame is wasted. All the fat is cut. Note the shots where the forced perspective hastens the astronaut’s walk through the scene. The timing is perfect, the design is top-shelf, and “I can’t believe it’s Flash.”

    Brilliant. Crap, wish I’d made this.

  • http://persistenceofvision.blogspot.com/ Ethan

    Finally found time to see this short. It’s great, love the style, the characters and the story. Really well put together. I really like how it’s a character driven story. That it’s the different personalitys that pulls it along. Good stuff.

  • http://[email protected] wabash

    Really something special. Great replay value. Can’t wait to see your next project.

  • http://[email protected] colin

    Great stuff! Somebody hire this guy!!

  • http://www.chakolee.blogspot.com Felipe Zavala Muñoz

    Genial!!!!!!!

  • Ignacio Ochoa

    Very Interesting.
    Good woork.

  • http://russell-reyes.deviantart.com Russell

    damn, i thought this was gonna be some cutesy feel-good film. i feel sad now. :C

    still a great movie animation and humour wise(for the most part)

    and for Mesterius, try right-clicking and choosing ‘save file as’ or save target as’

  • http://www.tchernablog.com Nosfera II

    Wonderful and wise. Proof that the most “terrible thing” is that we always fear that which we don’t understand…whether on Alpha 9 or right here on Earth.

  • noahphex

    You really should submit this for Fantastic Fest. It’s make a great bumper to a full length film.

    http://www.fantasticfest.com

  • A

    the story reminds me of borges’s “the house of asterion.” great job

  • http://carolwyatt.blogspot.com Carol Wyatt

    This is amazing and beautiful!

  • http://aaronrenier.com Aaron Renier

    Super job. Thank you for not killing the monster… I was so worried such a dear character would kick the bucket. Good job! Super!

  • http://www.gudmagazine.com/ Kaolin Fire (GUD Magazine)

    Dude, this is awesome! I’d love to see the storyboards, too! :) (here from a sam and fuzzy tweet)

  • http://www.twitter.com/Professor_D Gerald

    I was expecting to laugh, but I was not expecting to almost cry there at the end.

    Good job, Jake! It’s pretty cool how you were able to make something that was so powerfully and simply moving. I did not see that little twist coming, and it packed a wallop.

    Well done, and I hope to see more work from you in the future! Best of luck with your endeavors!

  • dogs are way sweet

    Great job. I really enjoyed it. The art style reminds me of KC Green a little. I would like to ask if Mirella Toncheva is bulgarian and what was her involvement as an assistant.(here thanks to Sam and Fuzzy too)

  • ukimalefu

    I LOVED IT!

  • http://jakehatesyou.blogspot.com jake armstrong

    Dogsarewaysweet: All of the assistants did pretty much the same, they did a ton of the inbeetweens throughout the short and some help with movements, designs, and decisions near the end. If you want info on Mirella, it’s here at http://moliv.blogspot.com/ . I believe she is Bulgarian, but her blog could probably answer better than I could. I think you could search any of the other credited people’s names if you wanted to see some of their amazing work as well.

    Gerald: Thanks! I don’t know if I’ll post the storyboards, I worked mainly in thumbnail size. In these the monster looked more like a potato with an occasional arm and an irregular number of eyes. Directly after was layouts, which looked almost like the final product. Either way I’m probably too shy to post the storyboards online, but if I get up the nerve, it’ll be on my blog.

    Also thanks Sam and Fuzzy for posting an awesome article!

  • ccrow

    Awww… the poor little guy just wanted a buddy! Loved it!!

  • tranduy

    It’s great! I want to do so, you can tell me the software to the TVC?

  • http://www.studionix.com Jonathan Nix

    Brilliant!
    That monster is superbly animated.
    Would love to see more of him.

  • stew

    Awesome! The reveal at the end has lovely echoes of the conclusion of the “Seduced Milkmen” sketch from Monty Python series 1 ep. 3 and Neil Coslett’s “Killing Time at Home”, but done in an even more brutal way. Wonderful work.

  • http://www.theangeronline.blogspot.com/ horace

    this is a great work
    i want to download but i just cant do it ive really like have this video to put in to m psp to see everywhere

  • tgentry

    I really love this short. Very inspiring work.

  • http://www.danmeth.com Dan Meth

    UN-Believable. WOW
    Jake, I am inspired. I can’t believe you are still in school. Fantastic

  • http://xeth.com xeth

    That was a really GREAT cartoon.

  • Joe Essaf

    First off, this was amazing! Right from the get go, I loved the red beginning and unique style. It’s just very enjoyable to watch before we even get into the story. I thought the idea of setting up to meet this evil, life-threatening ‘terrible thing’ to when he is all ‘throw it! throw it! play, play play!’ was really fun and it made me laugh-out-loud.

    Jake, it says you graduated from SVA. I am applying to colleges soon for 2D animation and SVA is on my list. Do you recommend it? I’ve heard good and bad things about it, but I would like another important opinion. I am also looking at CalArts, Laguna College of Art + Design, SCAD, and UArts. Any advice?

  • http://jakehatesyou.blogspot.com jake armstrong

    tranduy: I’m not sure what TVC is, but I used Flash to draw, After Effects to composite, and Protools and Final Cut to export with sound. Hope that answers it!

    Joe Essaf: Thanks! I can’t really talk much about schools, I could go on for a long time, but really you should look into each programs curriculae differences and the films they produce. It’s not law, but those often tell you what to pick. For me it was either CalArts (character animation school)or SVA (primarily an independent narrative animation school) because both had figure drawing; and I’m glad I went with SVA. Whereas I don’t have the precise movement of a CalArts student, I’m happy to say I got a less mainstream design sense SVA could offer. Good luck!

  • yourbrothersfriendcory

    Nice short film, dang! Very artistic! The backgrounds, the way the characters moved, the colors you used, the overall story… EXCELLENT. Jake Armstrong did you steal this? :) Are you sure you didn’t steal it? I’ve stole cartoons before, it becomes a dirty addiciton. No, but seriously I can’t even complement you in an artistically correct/educated enough way to say how cool I think every detail of his film really is (because I lack the language, other than “Wow!”). I’m impressed. I really enjoy the fact that it didn’t turn “Disney” at the end the way I predicted it might. The guy died! His head popped! Ha! And then the other guy dies (well I heard him scream). Just awesome… Congrats Jake! I hope you go on to make millions.

  • THUROP

    Great job brother! This kicks ass!

  • Baza

    Oh! This is lovely!

  • akira

    damn, nice job dude.. i hope you get a show greenlit soon, i wanna see more of your stuff! Inspirational!!!

  • http://drawrick.blogspot.com/ Rick

    Damn good and damn fun! I got nothing else…;) Oh yes please make another animation short sometime!

  • http://drawrick.blogspot.com/ Rick

    Man it was great and I hope you make some more shorts!!!

  • Llama

    I’m speechless, I have NO speech!!
    So totally brilliant, so emotive, the visuals are compelling, the animation has a wonderful bounce…. I’m in LOVE.