Cartoon Brew TV #4: The Last Temptation of Crust

Today offering on Cartoon Brew TV is The Last Temptation of Crust, a graduation film created by Dax Norman at Ringling School of Art and Design. It’s a CG short quite unlike any other that we’ve seen recently, and is directed with an assured sensibility that brings grittiness and cartooniness into the world of computer animation.

Dax Norman’s creative endeavors don’t end with this short film. In fact, he can’t stop creating, whether it’s bowling pin characters (buy them here), paintings, psychedelic animation tests and various artistic experiments. His home on the Internet is DaxNorman.com.

Dax Norman will be participating in the comments section so if you have any questions for him, feel free to ask. We also asked Dax to give us background on the project. Here, in the filmmaker’s own words, is everything you need to know about The Last Temptation of Crust:

It is a true honor to be included on Brew TV, thank you so much. This website is an invaluable tool for animation artists and fans alike.

I’d like to tell a bit about where “The Last Temptation of Crust” came from. This tome, as wacky as it may seem, is based on a true story, so I will begin at the “First Temptation of Crust.”

It was less than a year before I was to start production on my senior thesis at Ringling School of Art and Design, in Sarasota, Florida. As I was walking home from school I noticed something glowing. This object that caught my eye would later capture my imagination. Sitting on a bus stop bench, with a streetlight shining upon it, was a perfectly pristine piece of cherry pie, encapsulated in a clear to-go box.

Here is where most people would say they looked around, wondering if anyone was watching, or if it was some kind of trap. I guess that’s just not the kind of person I am. I inhaled the pie. It was absolutely scrumptious.

One of the factors that might have contributed to this automatic response I had to the pie would be my love for food, and more particular, free food, as anyone who witnessed me trolling all of the free pizza events at Ringling can surely attest.

So after this happened, I went about my walk home, and thought little of it.

Only a day later, in my concept development class, I was called upon by my teacher, Jamie Deruyter, to tell the class a nugget of story that could possibly be good for an animation. So of course I told about the pie. Everyone reacted favorably to the story and that is when I realized it could be a viable idea. Basically, it is a man vs. self-situation, where the character decides whether to eat the pie, or not.

The next semester was pre-production; this is when I began creating storyboards, character designs, and an animatic that would form what was to become “The Last Temptation of Crust” the next year.

Brent Lewis, a classmate, came up with the title. “The Last Temptation of Crust” perfectly encapsulated what I wanted to say in this story, and almost acts as a concept statement in and of itself, as well as being an ironic play on the Martin Scorsese movie title.

During the course of the year, the story kept evolving and mutating during production. My wife actually came up with the idea for the band-aid part, which was spectacular. Once I built Frank Finkerton, the protagonist, in 3D, he took on a life of his own. I was just having fun thinking of ways he could become sloppier.

I really wanted to limit the dialogue and try to tell the story with little words. Frank Finkerton makes lots of noises, but only says two words.

The look of the film was also very important to me. I had not really seen any gritty CG environments, so that is something I wanted to shoot for. Everything I have seen in CG is too clean and shiny for my sensibilities. Animation is an exaggeration of real life, so I wanted to portray the world based on how I see it. Unfortunately, the world Frank Finkerton lives in is not an exaggeration; I would routinely find band-aids, old socks and discarded lobsters on my walk home from school. I looked heavily at the paintings of Edward Hopper, and the photography of William Eggleston for reference and inspiration.

Last but not least, a few words on the character, Frank Finkerton. My goal was to make a character that I could imagine existing outside of this one isolated story. In my favorite movie, “The Big Lebowski,” the Coen Brothers do this perfectly and I think that is a reason why the film is so beloved.

I sought to make a character that is not idealized in any way. Frank is basically a likeable goofball, but he thinks he is the coolest guy in town. He is a legend in his own mind. The biggest compliment I would get, upon seeing Finkerton, is that people would say, “I used to know a guy like him.”

Originally, Frank was conceived as an odd amalgam of Bill Murray’s Big Ern from Kingpin, Randy Quaid’s cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation, and R. Crumb. Around the time I had started animating the piece, however, I found a book in the Ringling Library that blew my mind, “Wolvertoons” by Basil Wolverton. This was a major revelation to me, and no doubt would partially form the way Frank would act. I even made a drawing after I was finished, of Frank Finkerton in Wolverton’s style, as homage.

His actual movements, oddly enough, were subconsciously inspired by my own. My wife says she sees a lot of the way I act in him.

The actual production for the short was 6-7 months long and included modeling, texturing, rigging, layout, animation, lighting, rendering and compositing. I did all of this for “The Last Temptation of Crust” myself, but with considerable guidance and advice from my teacher, Keith Osborn, as well as classmates and all of the Ringling Faculty. The talented Neil Anderson-Himmelspach composed the original score for the short.

My next CG short that I recently started modeling characters for, continues where “The Last Temptation of Crust” leaves off. Frank Finkerton heads into the bowling alley seen in the short. Finkerton will aim to win the affections of an unknowing lady at the lanes. It will be called “Llavarse los Manos” (To Wash the Hands).


  • Tiny E

    Love it Dude. I too hate cherry pie. But socks with sandals? I guess you gotta just wear what you dig.

  • http://www.robbgibbs.blogspot.com Robb

    Good going Dax. As gross as your piece is, it feels weird to say “what a breath of fresh air”, but yeah……..
    X O X O X O

  • http://www.robertcrumbcartoons.com Dan

    Cartoonist Robert Crumb’s work getting mentioned in proof he is getting more recognition! Keep up the great stuff. As “gross as it is”….as they say…yeah, right!

  • Tim Brown

    Great job Dax!

    I particularily found the band-aid sequence both hilarious and repulsive….true genius!

    Can’t wait for the return of Frank Finkerton!

  • http://davidokeefe.com David O’Keefe

    totally disgusting. i loved every minute of it!! bravo!!!

  • Paul N

    Nice work Dax. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how most CG characters move the same and seem to be bound by the laws of physics more than cartoon characters should be. Frank definitely doesn’t have either problem, and it’s a refreshing (if odd) change.

  • http://gavinball.blogspot.com Gavin Ball

    Wow….that was definitely one of the grimiest things I’ve seen in a while….reminds me of the Spike and Mike animations I used to watch back in the day!

  • spencer

    everything about this looks good and plays out very nicely. it’s impressive to me when an animator can make such good use of the 3d cg medium, as you have done here. i can definitely detect the influences you mentioned, while also seeing bits which reminded of other things — particularly the old mtv station id spots and even earlier will vinton stuff (with a little added ick and grotesqueness).

    looking forward to the next installment! are you planning to keep things similar to the first, with the simple story and limited dialogue? it certainly works!

  • http://fredcline.blogspot.com Fred Cline

    trippy and engaging
    I like the grime and chaos

  • mike n. scott

    You must of had a weird childhood. I’m still laughing at Frank. p.s. Who was the guy at the end of film ?

  • Shane

    A true gem from the cartoon animation architect. I can’t wait for the return of Fink…the Ladies Man!

  • Dave

    Moms will love it!

  • http://www.daxnorman.com Dax Norman

    Thanks to everybody for the nice comments, and thanks again to Cartoon Brew for adding “The Crust” to Brew TV.

    As for the questions I saw so far, I definitely want to keep things simple, story wise, on the next installment. There will be more characters involved, but I aim to tell the story through acting alone, with minimal dialogue.

    A big goal I have is to make 1 animated short per year, all with interconnected stories, a la “pulp fiction,” so when they are seen together they make sense. Also, since I had so much fun with Frank Finkerton as a character, I want to explore his world some more and see what other trouble he will get himself into.

    I forgot to mention it before, but that guy who comes in at the end of the short is actually me.

  • JG

    Haha, brilliant! Weirdly enought, the manneristic movements combine well with all the filth. Love the carricature and the movement!..

    Though you mentioning that you haven’t seen any gritty environments in 3d kind of surprised me. Maybe because I self-taught 3d in an internet forum environment 10 years ago – back then everyone used to do gritty still lives and evironments, it was everywhere, mainly cause it was great texture and lighting practice, and it was easier to hide the shortcommings of rather primitive rendering means (like bands in shadows made by multiple lights of fake GI, or sloppy antialiasing, or plain low-res of sub-div only models, etc…) which stood out like a sore thumb in “clean” renders or the rendering took forever.
    So atleast for me, this short also looks nostalgic…

  • http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/marmaladearmy Doug

    Tremendous short! So disgusting yet somehow endearing and dare I say appealing. In particular I like the attempt and sucess at making the movements completely individual to the character and different from most everything I’ve seen. This screams French to me, as if Sylvain Chomet came to 3D (and didn’t get fired). Is he an influence as well? Can’t wait for the next installment.

  • http://www.daxnorman.com Dax Norman

    Thanks, Doug.
    Yes, Chomet is definitely a source of inspiration. “Triplets of Belleville” is my all time favorite animated feature.

  • KO

    Hey, what’s going on in the background. Looks like a car has stopped and some girl is… hmm… nevermind.

  • http://UncleEddiesTheoryCorner Eddie Fitzgerald

    Haw! Nice going! I can’t wait to see the next Dax norman film!!!!