The eighth selection in our Student Animation Festival, Playing For Keeeps, comes to us from Dylan Hayes who graduated last spring from the Rhode Island School of Design. Playing For Keeeps is both witty and violent, primitive and sophisticated, and through all its strangeness, surprisingly poignant. Hayes uses hand-drawn animation to startling effect, creating a stark, ominous environment with a minimalist drawing style. The motivations of each of the film’s characters is crystal clear, yet the message one takes away is open to viewer interpretation. Perhaps a clue lies in Hayes’s film synopsis, in which he outlines the rules of his world:

Lesson 1. Everyone gambles, not everyone loses.
Lesson 2. The world is full of traps.
Lesson 3. You cannot win if you don’t take risks

Hayes (above) wrote these background notes on the creation of Playing For Keeeps:

It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly where this project started off. When I returned to RISD in the fall, I knew I vaguely wanted to work with the ideas of risk taking and gambling for my Degree Project, but wasn’t sure where to go with it. I ended up making a lot of visual maps, and became interested in opposing concepts like frugality and risk taking, passivity and aggressiveness, and the idea of traps, rituals, and relationships. I was also reading about a lot about various mythologies, specifically, how life, death, spirits and the afterworld are perceived by cultures in New Guinea and Haiti, the world of Vodou, and a little bit of Japanese folklore to top it off. I wasn’t interested in recreating or depicting these traditional myths so much, but in creating my own mythos with its own rules, structure, and logic.

I spent most of the year doing little animation sketches and doodles, comics, songs, whatever, around all of these concepts, started making connections, and basically began fabricating a story about these four beings in a forest. I didn’t get around to actual real production until February, which admittedly, is later than I would have preferred. A lot of that early experimentation and basically procrastination of “real work” came from my fear to commit to a project, especially a year-long project, but in the end it worked out great because it allowed me to really explore these ideas and characters. The further you go you just keep discovering more and more relationships between seemingly disconnected concepts, which was really exciting for me.

As for the actual production of the animation, the whole piece was hand drawn in pencil, occasionally painted, and then all of the masking, compositing, and general post production was done with a combination of After Effects and Photoshop. I’m a big fan of the aesthetic of pencil drawings, and didn’t want to lose the physical, personal feeling you get when flipping through someone’s sketchbook. The sound design, which is the real fun part, was either recorded live or created in Ableton Live, usually a combination of the two. Other than that, this was a crazy piece to work on (and get in on time), but it was a good project that really pushed my own reservations in commitment and risk taking. I’m not exactly sure what’s next, but something science fiction might be on the horizon. Or maybe more ghosts?

Filmmaker Websites
Dylan Hayes website:
Dylan Hayes blog:

Cartoon Brew’s second annual Student Animation Festival is made possible through the generous support of Titmouse and JibJab.