Christopher Salmon and "The Price"

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Four years ago, Christopher Salmon decided he wanted to create an animated film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s short story “The Price.” Inspired by the story’s theme of redemption, Christoper prepared an animatic as a proof-of-concept for the film, some of which you can see in his pitch video here:

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With animatic in hand, Christopher approached Gaiman with his idea. He knew that it was important to prove that he had the ability, the passion, and the commitment to see this film to completion. He admits, “When I created this over-the-top animatic, I was trying very, VERY hard to impress Neil and convince his agent that they could — and should — trust me with the piece.”

And it worked.

Christopher was flabbergasted when he received not only permission from Gaiman to go ahead with the project, but encouragement as well:

“His response was unexpected, and gave me hope that it would actually happen. As it turns out, that road was an awful lot longer than I could have ever guessed … here we are 4 years later!

One thing that was especially encouraging: his assistant once shared with me that what made my project stand apart from the many he receives on a daily basis was that I had actually done something. I made something, took a risk, and was able to show him what I could do and how I wanted to do it. The fact that he genuinely wants to give something back (in a very real way), is incredible to me, even now.”

While incredibly humble, Christopher’s talent as an artist and filmmaker is readily apparent in his animatic. When I asked Christopher a bit about his creative past, it turns out he’s had thing for DIY projects his whole life:

“When I was young, I was enamored with movies, especially if they featured monsters and creatures, so I taught myself how to draw and paint and sculpt (mostly so I could make rubber monster masks and then foam-latex creatures and stop-motion puppets). I took enough piano so I could generate a simplistic John Carpenter-esque score to go along with my cheesy horror films made in High School TV class. These were usually plotted around some cool new special effect I’d figured out, like my own version of the chest-burster scene from Alien.

I have done a lot of design, illustration, motion graphics work and editing throughout my career, always with an eye towards being a filmmaker ‘when I grew up.’ I worked for many years as both an Art Director and Creative Director, and created many cinematic segments for video games — most notably for Advent Rising (which had the help of another fantastic author, Orson Scott Card).

All of this work was to develop the skills I’d need to tell cinematic stories, so even though I haven’t attempted anything exactly like ‘The Price’ before, I’ve been preparing all of my life (literally).”

Being largely self-taught, the style of Christopher’s animatic is uniquely his own, lying somewhere between 2D and 3D. I asked Christopher how he decided on the look of the film, and it turns out that sometimes the best laid plans give way to even better ones:

“Originally, I was going to make the entire thing fully animated. Even when I created this over-the-top animatic, I had planned on saving up and paying for a small chunk of full animation to better demonstrate the look the final film would have. I chose the first incarnation of the devil, and designed this really cool demon-thing, then paid for a talented modeler to create it in 3D and an animator to help bring it to life. It was a very expensive process and fraught with compromises. After completing the animatic with the one small segment fully animated, I showed it to many people, and got a very positive, strong reaction to the film and to the technique I was using. People thought, yeah, the fully-animated devil was cool, but they really liked the ‘moving-illustration’ thing, and that got me thinking.”

“To do the whole thing in full animation would take much, much longer to make, involve more people, and obviously cost a lot more. And really, how can I compete on my small-little scale with the million-dollar-per-minute productions from Pixar and Dreamworks that audiences have come to expect as the norm?

I realized that I could still create really high-detail 3D models that could be posed and rendered in as many positions as I wanted, adding interactive lighting, etc., and that got me really excited! I could maintain the feel of the animatic but use these beautifully detailed models and a much more sophisticated set of compositing techniques to really make something unique and befitting this very unique subject matter!”

Christopher’s project has taken a foothold among Gaiman’s fans, in no small part because it’s a project that fans want. For Christopher, that fan support has been incredibly motivating:

“Almost to a person, every email and comment I’ve received has said basically the same thing: ‘The Price’ is their favorite Neil Gaiman short story, and they can’t wait to see the movie — how insanely great is that? To get this kind of intensely positive feedback — to feel all of these people out there hoping for the success of my little film — is more affirming and encouraging than anything else I could have imagined!”

The type of creative community forming around Christopher’s project reminds me of something we talked a bit about last week — artists supporting artists, and creative folks inspiring others to create. In that same spirit, Neil Gaiman has been instrumental in spurring Christopher forward in his project, and Christopher has then passed that creative energy onto his backers. 

As a huge Gaiman fan myself, I couldn’t resist asking Christopher, “So how cool is Neil Gaiman?”

His response: “Honestly, he is even cooler than you think!!!”