Annually, the Grand Cinema's 72 Hour Film Competition challenges squads of local filmmakers to produce short, original features - from storyboards to DVD - in three days or less. This year's entries will be shown at a big screening party on May 9 at Tacoma's Urban Grace Church.
Writing a script, wrangling actors and securing locations can be tricky enough under such a tight deadline. But in 2010, Nick Butler attempted something even more ambitious than all of that. "I tried to do an animation project, and it was a total train wreck," he said laughing as he recalled the ill-fated story of "Kat and Bunnie."
The attempted film's source material was an indie comic book Butler had written and illustrated; and he felt more than equipped for the task since he had the run of a computer lab at Pacific Lutheran University that year.
But complicating matters were misguided attempts to coordinate with two collaborators overseas, his younger brother, Christopher, in Japan and a PLU student named Thor Wang who'd returned to Norway. "The coordination just ate up all my time," Butler said. By the 11th hour, he had cut off all ties and rushed to meet his deadline.
Finally, he was horrified to realize he'd accidentally overwritten half his files. Animation: Fail.
You'd figure Butler had learned his lesson that year, but last Sunday he was back at it again, working on a new animation project called "Agent O" He figured he'd had less than two hours sleep since Thursday evening, when contestants were briefed on this year's rules at the Grand.
When asked what was keeping him upright, he rattled a bottle of neon orange fluid. "Rockstar!" he declared, with a big grin.
This year, at least, he had the sense to recruit John Carlton a local collaborator and fellow animator. The two met after Carlton - a veteran of the video game industry - learned of Butler's upstart company TurtleDust Media. It is housed in a suite on Tacoma Avenue that Butler obtained through Spaceworks, a city program that pairs aspiring entrepreneurs with vacant office and retail space.
"Our proposal to Spaceworks was that we'd complete two minutes of feature length quality animation, that will help us get more jobs, and bring that work into Tacoma," Butler said, alluding to Nintendo, Bungie and other companies that have turned Western Washington into a hotbed for computer animation.
Storyboards for the duo's long term project, "Peanut Butter Jelly Jam," hung on the wall nearby. But the 72 Hour contest seemed like prime opportunity to work on a fresh green-themed project about a secret agent otter (voiced by Carlton) who takes on an evil robot (Butler's wife, Bethany) that is flooding the waterway that O and his friends live with plastic junk.
I've never done an animation for the 72 Hour," Carlton said. "So it's definitely been more painful and more leisurely at the same time because everything is done within a relatively small space. "There's not so many people to coordinate with, so it's easier to just blaze ahead. But doing a complete animation of the length that we're working on here in 72 hours is pretty painful."
"The duo plans to pitch the project to "Nick Jr." Learn more about TurtleDust Media online at www.turtedustmedia.com