‘Chef Giants’ cook up an animated entry at this year’s Slamdance
Short film started as a music video
In an animated fantasy world known as Gobble, two goblin musicians stop at a diner run by famous chef giants, and while one of the goblins enjoys his meal, the other is put off by health code violations.
Ethan Dirks and Troy DeWinne, the creators of this world, invite virtual Slamdance attendees to see what happens next in their short film, “Chef Giants,” which is currently screening at the virtual Slamdance Film Festival.
“We’re both extremely excited about getting into Slamdance,” Dirks said. “We weren’t expecting it, even like a little bit. I mean, Troy does live-action films, and I do web development. So, when we got into Slamdance, we thought, ‘Oh, no. This is serious.’”
“Chef Giants” is an original story that combines music written and played by Dirks and DeWinne, with a live-action music video that has been rotoscoped by DeWinne.
Rotoscoping is the act of hand-drawing animation images on top of live-action motion picture footage, which was a challenge for DeWinne.
“There’s a reason why people don’t do rotoscoping anymore — it’s literally hell,” he said. “It took six months, four hours each day, for one minute and a half of film.”
DeWinne took his time because he didn’t want to take any shortcuts.
“I didn’t want any amateurish mistakes to be seen,” he said. “So I went line by line to get it done.”
Throughout the process, DeWinne did get some professional help from Ben Bays, who rotoscoped Richard Linklater’s 2006 animated crime drama, “A Scanner Darkly,” which starred Keanu Reeves.
“Ben Bays was one of my professors at the University of Texas, and he gave me some good tips on how to rotoscope,” DeWinne said. “It was still painful. I hated it, but it looks cool.”
The idea for “Chef Giants” came after DeWinne and Dirks made a music video while they were housemates in college.
“We started doing this weird goofy music, and we came up with the idea of goblin musicians as personas for us,” DeWinne said.
The song itself was totally improvised, Dirks said.
“We got high five years ago and played it,” he said. “It rose out of a strange place from the subconscious, and it happened that Troy decided to shoot a music video for it.”
Since DeWinne had experience as a filmmaker, he decided to direct a live-action video of the song for laughs.
DeWinne and Dirks had to rerecord the song, because the original MP3 was so unlistenable, Dirks said.
“I think an important detail was that the music wasn’t really that good in the first place, but we found if we raised the pitch up a little bit and sang about fantasy topics, it would all of a sudden become goblin music,” he said.
Over the years, DeWinne and Dirks conjured up more ideas, including characters and scenery, for the film.
“We took fantasy and mixed it up with anachronistic, modern technology and situations,” Dirks said. “And we followed what we called the ‘rule of cool.’ If it was cool then we’d put it in. I mean, in a fantasy world we could have giant spatulas and ovens, right?”
“Chef Giants” is the foundation of a larger project that the two hope will become a streaming series, DeWinne said.
“Thankfully, I found an A.I.-driven program that would make rotoscoping easier,” he said. “With this program, we could draw every 15th frame and then the A.I. would fill out the rest. That would make a full-sized series achievable.”
The two filmmakers have upped their commitment to the series since Slamdance pulled “Chef Giants” into the festival.
“Ever since we got that notification, we’ve been kicking up marketing and reaching out to people to the max,” DeWinne said. “Ethan had a full map that we integrated, and we’ve been fleshing out these lands, islands and scenes.”
Where: Slamdance Film Festival
When: Through Feb. 25
Cost: Festival passes are $10
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A special screening of Elizabeth Lo’s “Stray” will set the stage for a Nuzzles & Co. fundraiser.