The fourth film in Cartoon Brew’s Student Animation Festival is a monstrous achievement–quite literally. Blenderstein! by Zach Bellissimo was produced at New York’s School of Visual Arts. The film draws upon an appreciation of classic horror movies and traditional animation principles, but Zach also adds a personal voice that is completely original. There are many highlights–funny character animation, excellent color, superb staging–and the end product looks as professional as any piece of hand-drawn animation being produced today. No surprise then that Zach was hired straight out of school by the New York arm of Titmouse, which is a sponsor of this year’s student festival.
Zach (above) provided us with detailed production notes about how he made Blenderstein!:
I had just seen Jake Armstrong’s The Terrible Thing From Alpha 9 at the [School of Visual Art's] Dusty screening one year and I knew I wanted my thesis film to look as good as that. I didn’t start thinking about it until midway in my third year at SVA. I had a couple ideas fluttering around until I realized I should probably pick something with a subject matter that would hold my interest, like classic horror movies.
I had created these characters during my freshman year but hadn’t done anything with. It was for a color theory assignment and I drew a demented monkey scientist (Dr. Frappe) pulling a lever and activating a blender on the head of a gruesome monster (Oogle) while a warty hunchbacked henchman (Boyle) stood by with a sign that read “Evil Milkshakes for Sale”. I thought it was a funny idea and originally wanted to make it into a comic, which never happened.
So I started re-developing these characters for my thesis. My initial idea just had Dr. Frappe, Boyle and Oogle together in a story but I found that it was too one-sided, so after watching some old horror films to get my juices flowing, I realized I should add a victim! Again, I went back into my old sketchbooks and found a girl character that I used to draw in tons of scary situations. Once I redesigned her she became Sydney and everything else fell into place.
The film is called Blenderstein, (STINE, not STEEN) as an homage to Frankenstein, even though none of the characters are actually named Blenderstein. The whole short is actually an homage to classic horror. Actors like Vincent Price, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Peter Lorre were all people I drew blood from to stitch together my final monstrosity. I think characters like Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and Wolfman are just as iconic as Mickey Mouse or Spongebob. So I strived for the design my characters to be just as recognizable as any of them.
The film took me about 8-1/2 months to finish, from afternoon storyboarding in August to all nighters of clean up in March. I did all the animation, inking and coloring in Flash. The backgrounds were drawn in dark pencil and then colored in Photoshop. I colored the exterior backgrounds and Tara Billinger colored the interior ones, to help lighten my load. Also many talent-budding underclassmen helped me with coloring, as did my good pal Nico Colaleo. I also got constant critique and advice from Michael J. Ruocco and constant reminders to take breaks and live a little from Danny Jackson. You’re going to kill yourself if you do absolutely nothing but work all the time. My film would be nothing without the help of these fine people.
Despite all the grueling hard work, multiple all nighters crammed in a studio with my other SVA peers, scorched by the heat of the Cintiqsâ€¦I had the time of my life making this film. Being around my fellow classmates, dealing with the same issues, helping each other, going completely mad together (we were a hot mess especially in the wee hours)â€¦it’s a great experience that I will never forget and hope to relive it only if it produces the same results: a project I’m very proud of and a slew of likeminded people to call my friends.
So I hope everyone who sees my film enjoys it and feels the same way about it as my grandma did. She said, “Oh Zach, I loved your Blenderstein. But keep him locked up; I don’t want him to get me or any of the neighbors! Anyway does your fax machine work? I want to send you a recipe for shrimp cakes.”