“Wolf Within” by Alex Horan

The Cartoon Brew Student Animation Festival is made possible by sponsor JibJab and their strong support for emerging filmmakers.

Alex Horan’s Wolf Within grabs the viewer with its opening line: “As a boy in Kansas I was afraid of three things: rattlesnakes, tornados, and my father.” The short doesn’t let up, hitting all the right emotional beats throughout its nine-and-a-half minute length and exhibiting maturity and ambition that are rare for a student filmmaker.

Horan’s film, the seventh to debut in this year’s Cartoon Brew Student Animation Festival, was produced at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. The film is both period piece and family history, based on the relationship between Horan’s father and grandfather, the latter whom the filmmaker never met. Without giving away the story, Horan’s literary allusions to the Jack London novel The Call of the Wild give the viewer an entry point into the world of the film, while providing an engaging narrative framework.

Horan delivers the complete package: carefully considered cinematic compositions and camera movement, one the more lush monochromatic palettes you’ll see, evocative sound design, and understated but highly proficient animation that matches the tone of the story. It’s this attention to detail that gives resonance and poignancy to the father-son relationship depicted in Wolf Within.

Continue reading for comments from the filmmaker Alex Horan—


I tend to lean towards humor in most of my work because it lends itself so well to the medium and it’s something I feel I have a natural ability to produce. I was afraid of using comedy as a crutch, and thereby challenging myself as both storyteller and an animator. For my degree project I wanted to push myself to create a film that made the audience feel something deeper than laughter; a film where you could connect and empathize with the characters. I felt that in order to create a film that meant something to the audience I first had to make one that meant something to me. I looked at what was closest in my life and found my father standing at the forefront. When I was growing up, he recited parables of his youth that shaped his character which, in turn, shaped mine. By deciding to explore the relationship between my father and grandfather I provided myself with the source material necessary to create a compelling narrative. More importantly, I also ended up learning a lot more about myself and my own relationship with my father and a man I never knew.


Nothing fancy here: backgrounds in Photoshop, frame-by-frame animation in Flash, compositing in After Effects and edited using Premiere. I love Foley so I tried to do as much as possible, only downloading sound when completely necessary. My favorite was using a pad of Post-its for the moth’s wings, utterly satisfying. I had initially hoped to use my father for the narration but quickly learned he’s a doctor, not a voice actor. I lucked out with a really talented guy from California using a casting website, which was a great learning experience coaching somebody via telephone.


Over the course of the year I really struggled with the narrative structure of this film. Initially I had a rough animatic with a general outline, but nothing concrete. I wanted my father’s story to carry the same weight for the audience as it did for him, but finding a way to do this narratively proved to be difficult. How much narration was too much? When was there not enough? Should there be any at all? I felt there was a fine line between spoon-feeding the audience and leaving them totally clueless. Unfortunately, due to deadlines, I had to start animating immediately and hopefully iron out the kinks along the way. I met with my god sent teacher, Tammy Dudman, a couple times a week where we’d just workshop my story. During these meetings we explored the relationship between my father and grandfather which, in a way, became an inquisition of myself. Here, I finally realized I had to worry less about my audience and more about myself and the film I wanted to create. Regardless of how tight or loose a narrative structure is, ultimately it is the viewer who decides how to interpret the film.


Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike was a huge inspiration to me as well as The Road by Cormac McCarthy, both works obviously dealing with similar themes as my film. Also, The Book Of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi naturally played a huge role throughout the filmmaking process. Daniel Sousa’s film, Mikkel Sommer, whose loose style really influenced a lot of my process work leading up to my film. Additionally, “A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash actually influenced me quite a bit because of its Americana feel and the lyrics of Shel Silverstein which parallel my father’s upbringing in a way.


I’m sitting on a few short ideas right now that need some nurturing which I will continue developing and producing over the next five years. Ultimately I’d love to produce my own original content for television or film, but until then I feel there is still so much I need to learn about the industry. I’d be more than happy being a worker bee somewhere just to learn the ropes where I can develop my skills further as both an artist and an animator.