Cartoon Brew’s Student Animation Festival proudly presents Ballad of Poisonberry Pete by Adam Campbell, Elizabeth McMahill and Uri Lotan from Ringling College of Art and Design. The filmmakers give fresh life to the tried-and-true Western genre by inserting a left-field element into the mix: baked goods. Despite the short running time, the filmmakers create distinctive personalities and designs for all the characters. Dramatic shot composition, atmospheric lighting, and appropriate music complete this tongue-in-cheek tribute to classic Western films.

Continue reading for comments from the filmmakers, pictured below from left to right, Uri Lotan, Adam Campbell and Elizabeth McMahill:

The idea for The Ballad of Poisonberry Pete developed from a partially realized side project that we made with our good friend Josh Garlick. We had seen a lot of 24 hour films online from students at other schools and wanted to make one too, so when we had a day off from school due to a holiday we jumped at the opportunity. After the animation labs closed at midnight we went home to brainstorm and plan out the day ahead. Adam was a resident advisor and one of his residents had given him a pie, which he brought with him.

Somehow that pie got us to the Cowboy Pie that became known as Poisonberry Pete. We then stayed up making pie puns and silly drawings until 3am. The next day we set to work. By the end of the day we only had half an animatic, but it was half of an animatic that we loved. At Ringling we pitch several ideas for our thesis shorts and fully pre-produce two of those ideas in the second half of our junior year. We completed the work for and passed one idea for our first pitch. When we had to start pitching ideas for the second film we tossed in the pie western idea. Our class liked it and we liked it, so we went with it. A lot of the jokes and characters from the first version are still in the final, but the story, quality of the characters, and everything else got a huge overhaul in the weeks that followed.

We used Autodesk Maya. Rendering was done with Renderman for Maya, compositing with Nuke, editing with Adobe Premiere, and a great deal of miscellany was done in Photoshop. Our rigs were created using Rapid Rig, but we modified it to better meet the needs of our characters. To achieve better fidelity and control, all of our rendering and post was done using a linear workflow. The software and powerful HP workstations that we used were provided by Ringling, as was use of the school’s wonderful render farm. Outside of school, we had the pleasure to work with Garth Neustadter, who composed our music, as well as Mutante Media, who did our sound and mixing. They did an amazing job and really helped to bring the film to life.

One of the greatest challenges in making this short was getting the flow and emotion of the story to work. The whole film was under constant revision in the preproduction phase and right up into early production. It was all pretty much working, but everything needed to be made better. We cut a lot of gags for the sake of flow, the showdown portion probably is half of what it used to be in earlier versions. We edited a lot of stuff out but we also added a lot as well. Right before we entered the layout phase we had a gag session where we got together and just let ourselves go to town thinking of any stuff we could add or plus before really committing to the film layout in 3D–that was the night we decided little Blueberry should burst into song instead of giving her little speech. Even after our layout was completed we were trying to smooth out the story. It was then that the shots of Pete tossing the coin to Blueberry at the end were added in. It was tough to go back, think, and add shots when we were under such pressure to get animation underway and just stick to what we had, but when we saw those new shots play next to each other with our temp tracks it gave us all shivers and we knew we had made the right move.

We all learned so much in making this film, we overcame a lot technically and sharpened our artistic sensitivities a great deal. Most importantly though, we learned the power of the audience. It seems like an obvious thing, but this film really made us appreciate the power of an audience that buys into your film. You really define the arena in your film, but the audience is integral and as soon as they stop participating you have a problem. We had that issue for a long time with the sheriff, people just couldn’t accept that he’d shoot at a little girl like that and we kept working his shots and dialogue for a long time to fix it. In contrast, other parts like the piano playing pie at the beginning getting shot and our cut to live action were eagerly accepted by audiences.

We drew a lot of inspiration from westerns, both classic and contemporary, such as Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and 3:10 to Yuma. Puns were of course a HUGE source of inspiration as well. Humor was just as important to us as our choices in film making and things such as SNL, the Muppets, and Airplane! were always in the backs our our minds. And who could forget pies, what could be more inspiring than dessert?

Adam Campbell
Elizabeth McMahill
Uri Lotan
Poisonberry Pete Facebook page

The Cartoon Brew Student Animation Festival is made possible by the generosity of our presenting sponsor JibJab.

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