Cartoon Brew TV #19: To the Moon

We’re wrapping up the first season of Cartoon Brew TV today with a spectacularly animated student short called To the Moon (2008) created by Jacob Ospa at the School of Visual Arts. The dialogue-less film follows a British adventurer’s journey to the moon (which bears a striking resemblance to Ralph Kramden). Ospa’s amazing grasp of cartoon animation, with shades of Tex Avery and Bob Clampett throughout, is made all the more incredible by the fact that he was only twenty-one years old when he made the film. We expect to be hearing a lot more from him in the coming years.

If you have a question for Jacob, he’ll answer them in the comments section. And if you’d like to find out more about his work, visit him at JacobOspa.com. Below are some notes about the film from the director:

I first got the general idea for this cartoon back in my third year at SVA (School of Visual Arts) when I read an article about The Great Moon Hoax of 1835, in which the old New York Sun published a series of articles claiming that an astronomer had discovered fantastical life on the moon when he looked through a powerful new telescope. I thought, “Gee! What if the newspaper articles were actually accurate and someone was actually intrigued enough by the discovery to actually go to the moon and actually make contact!”

At first I wanted to think of a somewhat scientifically plausible way to get fictional 19th century explorer Professor G.H. Emerson to the moon, but when it came time to storyboard I decided to throw reality out the window and have him use a hot-air balloon. I also altered the “life on moon” angle. I think I finished the first storyboard some time in August or September ‘07, but I really don’t remember. What I do remember is having a tough time coming up with a good beginning and ending. It was difficult to reconcile the differences between the explorer and the moon.

For the look of the film, I wanted it to have a somewhat dreamlike quality, especially in the scenes in space. At first I intended to draw everything on paper and scan it in and color it in Photoshop, but I just wasn’t happy with the line quality I was getting. Instead, I decided that I would ink everything in Flash. I soon realized however, I would never finish it that way and decided to draw everything directly into the Flash using my Wacom tablet. It was very tempting to use all of those wonderful tricks and shortcuts that Flash offers, but I resisted as much as possible. Daniel Neiden (a friend of the family, a composer, and a Cantor) came up with the idea of using Holtz’ “The Planets” as the basis for the musical orchestrations. He brought in Charles Czarnecki to do the arrangement and composition. Charles and I worked together on timing the animation to the music, and vice-versa. Doug Crane was a great advisor who gave me good advice and lots of encouragement.

Looking back on it, there are a ton of things I wish I’d done differently, but I won’t go into too much detail with that. The biggest one is that I wish I’d kept it shorter and simpler with quicker pacing. I had only managed to finish coloring everything on the actual day of the screening. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to transfer it in time. I can’t tell how embarrassing it was to look up at it on that big screen with every single jagged edge (due to not working at a higher resolution) blown up to gargantuan proportions for all to see, seeing unfinished20lo-res rough animation, quite a bit of sloppy inking and background rendering, the limited animation in many places, and so on. I always intended to work further on it and really finish it, but after not working on the film for over half a year I want to move on. Despite all of that, I’m still proud of what I did accomplish, and of how much I learned.


  • Trystan

    WOW!
    I’m definitely going to send everybody I know a link to this.
    Great work.

  • Mike Johnson

    Well done…Bravo!

    I really enjoyed To The Moon, and especially your choice to keep it dialogue-free. Was it more difficult for you to move the story forward based purely on animation alone, rather than rely on a script, or did you decide that it would be simpler to let your animation tell the story?

    It seems to me that you chose the route that might present more potential pitfalls, but the result IS astonishing nonetheless.

  • http://comicrazys.com Christopher

    Hey, that moon looks a lot like Jackie Gleason in the opening to The Honeymooners, or is it just me?

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

    I was having breakfast with Jacob only this morning and looked him his work the second I returned home.
    He is a very fine animator in a classic style.
    He deserves lots of work and money for his talents.

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    Bottom line: a beautiful cartoon.

    Complaints: The grey/brown outlines. Bugs me. I lurvs some harsh black outlines everywhere. Grey outlines looks like a faulty xerox.

    The orchestration was good, but the sample library/hardware sucked. It sounds like a Roland CM-64 from 1989. For heaven’s sake, torrent sites are stuffed-to-burstin’ with gigs and gigs of the latest and greatest orchestral sample sets. Use them!

    Didn’t Holst’s heirs re-assert control of MARS? See:
    Holst Foundation Sues Film Composer for Copyright Infringement
    http://www.playbillarts.com/news/article/4750.html

  • Steve Ryder

    Wow there is something refreshing about this piece!! Fantastic job!! I hope to see more of your stuff in the future!

  • http://mrdarbyshire.com Michael

    Brilliant! One of the greatest cartoons of the last 10 years!

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com robcat2075

    Wonderful piece! I hope it brings you attention and opportunities.

    The sample sounds didn’t “suck”. I admire the work of the arranger who wove all themes together.

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

    Really great work AND Jacob’s a really nice guy. He’s gonna do some amazing things for sure.

  • http://kittyhasfleaz.blogspot.com/ Felicia Spano

    JACOB RULES!!!!

  • http://hedgehog-rover.deviantart.com Martin Juneau

    Wow! That’s a very great short. I like the inspiration of Tex Avery and Bob Clampett in this one. The character designs are hilarious and very alive. I wish you great success as an animation artist. You deserve it!

  • http://bobjinx.blogspot.com Bob Flynn

    Good for you on resisting the tempting shortcuts of Flash…it goes to show that you can create the handrawn feel in a program known enticing us to cut corners. I like the overall whimsy and friendliness you’ve been able to achieve. Equally funny!

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

    Jacob, that was very impressive! I’m surprised that you managed to do so much work all by yourself. I’m also pleased that you only compromised on minor sequences and the actual moon fight is a superb bit of animation!

    One thing I would like to ask is, did you ever considered adding sound effects with the music track? While the film has a Fantasia-ish tone, I think accenting certain gags with sound effects might work better.

    The fact that you animated this in Flash is a great example of how the medium can be used as an animator wants to use it. The Kricfalusi-style characters and animation is wonderful to see.

    I’m also curious about the inspiration for the moon character. He looks a lot like Marlon Brando – is that intentional?

    Again, great work. What a way to end the season!

  • Chiskop

    jesus that was glorious!

    I agree with Rohit Iyer about maybe using a bit of Sounds to accent the gags but dude, this was top notch. Way way up there. Glorious dude. Probably the best thing on brewTV. ever.

    How long did it take you to animate this piece? A year? months?

  • http://blog.ninapaley.com Nina Paley

    That’s a great example of truly visual storytelling. A solid, gratifying story beautifully conveyed without words or dialog. Well done!

    I loved hearing Holst’s “Planets” in the soundtrack – it made the film deeper and funnier for me.

  • http://theAMIGOunit.com Nate Milton

    Jacob my boy, glad you got this done (not to say I didn’t crap my pants during the screening last may, my eyes watering over your inbetweens) but I’m glad it’s done, for your sake.

  • Theo

    It looks and plays great with the outlines Jacob gave it. Harsh black outlines would have made it resemble every other Flash cartoon out there, and there are way too many of them, which all look cheap. This film would surely land Jacob a job at Pixar, had it been made at Cal Arts. It outclasses everything done in the professional industry in 2008, on both coasts.

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    Just to clarify: The orchestration/arrangement is great. The talent involved is obvious and considerable. I merely quibbled with the technical detail of the quality of the synth patches themselves, which many viewers would probably consider a minor thing.

    And I’ll repeat: It’s a beautiful cartoon.

    No mention of the John K-inspired moon? It looks not only like Ralph Kramden – it also resembles the face of Powdered Toast Man.

  • Jacob

    Hey! Thanks to y’all who commented so far for all the kind words. Very much appreciated. Now, I see there are some questions out there! I will try to answer them as best as I can.

    Mike Johnson: There were some difficulties in figuring out how to begin the film without words and explain just what’s going on (I don’t think I arrived at the final versions of the opening and closing scenes until maybe halfway through production), but overall I’d say it was definitely simpler to let the animation tell the story.

    Christopher: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t influenced by that.

    FP: First, thanks for both the compliment and the criticisms. I think more than the colored outlines, what really hurts it are all those gradient effects I attempted in After Effects. Harsh black outlines, while really nice to look at, seem to have become ubiquitous in modern animation and I just wanted to try something I’d never tried before. I agree that the results are mixed. But I do respectfully disagree with your second point. Charles did an excellent job on the orchestrations, and I would definitely work with him in the future.
    As for the third point, I’m gonna have to look into that. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

    Rohit Iyer: I can’t believe it either. Sound effects might have made a very nice addition, but I barely had enough time to finish it even without sound effects. Well, actually…I probably could have done it sometime between May and now…but uh…well there’s always next time…

    Chiskop: I’m actually not sure how long it took to animated this, because I’m not entirely sure when I started animation on this. I think animation began in October ’07, so I’ll say around 8 months, more or less.

    That’s all I got for now. Thanks guys!

  • Mike

    FANTASTIC!!!

  • Chris Knox

    Lovely, lovely work!
    Well done, young fella.

  • http://ghostdigits.blogspot.com Kat

    You’re an incredible animator, Jacob, and a pretty cool guy to boot. It’s an honor to know you.

  • fishmorgjp

    This is excellent! The toned-down outlines work great in this fantasy of a bygone era. The lack of sound effects is likewise fine—it helps reinforce the impression of a silent comedy, and lets the music shine.

  • http://toonamir.blogspot.com/ Amir Avni

    Remarkable! What a wonderful film! BRAVO Jacob!

  • Aleksandar Vujovic

    Ridiculously good.

  • Georgia Rachelson

    Jacob, you know I have always believed in you. You have a great imagination and ability. Grandpa would be so proud – I sure am.

  • Jay Sabicer

    Brewmasters:

    Well done on your first “season”, although I’m curious on when the second season will commence.

  • Tony W.

    This was really good but why didn’t the moon burst when the guy stuck the flag in him the first time?

  • Jacob

    Tony W.: Good question! The way I see it, it’s like the difference between a splinter and a knife. The moon’s skin is thick enough to handle the flag pole, but the star just cut a bit too deep. Although, I suppose the cartoon could have been much shorter if I had him popping in the first place…

    I also apologize for a typo. “I’m actually not sure how long it took to animated this…” I’ve never been a good typist.

    And thanks again to everyone. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • G. Melissa Graziano

    Nice job! Especially great squash & stretch on the expressions. :)

  • Param

    Awesome job Jacob, I know you’re gonna be doing great things, all the best man!

  • julian

    amazing man……..cant wait too see what the future has in store for us …….more,more,

  • http://jimgrue.com James Sugrue

    damn Jacob, we gotta work together someday.

  • RDee

    Amazing work!

    I just discovered this site last week, and am very happy I did.

  • http://www.nomundoanimado.blogspot.com shirley

    Wow! Fantastic job!! I will send to everybody who I know a link of this short and I’m going to put a link in my blog. Really great a short.

    shirley