Solo features Solo features

Producing an animated feature is a demanding endeavor at the best of times. Making one alone is borderline-masochistic.

Yet solo-produced features are becoming more common, as changes in the industry open up new resources for animation filmmakers working solo (or almost solo). Digital technology has made it easier to animate on the cheap, while crowdfunding has opened up a new channel for the money needed. Solo-produced films are now winning plaudits and major awards.

Three such films have registered on our radar in recent months. Only one is currently available in the U.S., but with luck, the other two will soon join it.

Absolute Denial

A brilliant yet disturbed programmer sacrifices everything in his quest to build the most powerful AI system in the world. As its intelligence outstrips his own, things take a turn for the strange.

Absolute Denial is overwhelmingly the work of Ryan Braund, who wrote, directed, produced, and animated the film (Chris Hees of Bridge Way Films co-produced). The subject matter may be futuristic but the technique is old-school: Braund hand-drew the 30,000-plus frames, doing much of it in lockdown. This is his feature directorial debut; he previously directed at the BBC.

“Absolute Denial” had its world premiere at Amsterdam’s Imagine Film Festival earlier this month. SC Films International is handling worldwide sales.

Empress of Darkness

The empress has been slayed; the world is cursed into darkness. Thus begins this synth-scored slice of high fantasy, which follows Alpha as he is hunted by Graxus’s evil horde.

The “gut-wrenching, blood-drenched fantasy adventure,” as it is billed, must have been an adventure and a half to make: the film was directed, produced, and solo-animated by Nick DiLiberto, a Canadian artist whose studio Gorgon Pictures is based in Fukuoka, Japan. DiLiberto has done this before: in 2016, he released the apocalyptic sci-fi feature Nova Seed, which — like Empress of Darkness — he drew entirely on paper.

Buy “Empress of Darkness” on DVD or stream it on Amazon Prime Video here.

Junk Head

In a dystopian near-future blighted by pollution, a virus, and other problems besides, a cyborg made from junk explores an underground realm populated by monsters and clone workers. The gonzo stop-motion feature is largely the work of self-taught Japanese filmmaker Takahide Hori, who worked with a tiny team.

Seven years in the making, Junk Head grew out of an earlier short film that won at the prestigious Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival. The feature was actually completed in 2017, when it played at a number of international festivals, but it only came out last month in Japan, where it has topped the mini-theater ranking. A follow-up is in the works.

“Junk Head” does not currently have U.S. distribution.

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