Nightgaunts - A Lovecraftian short creature film
We're adapting of one of HP Lovecraft’s classic tales of terror into an surreal short film, combining live action with motion capture and stop motion animation.
In the year 1920, a young writer is tormented nightly by apocalyptic visions of a strange ruined city, where the last remnants of humanity are hunted down by ravenous eldritch creatures! There is no place to hide, for the great Old Ones have returned, and they have reclaimed the world as their own.
The Origin of the Nightgaunts
When it comes to the work of writer H.P. Lovecraft's, the thing that most people remember are the creatures that he invented. Undying alien gods, and shapeshifiting horrors beyond man's feeble comprehension, like the great Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, and the Demon Sultan Azathoth.
But these were not the first creatures that Lovecraft saw in his imagination. For years when he was younger, Lovecraft writes that he was terrified by a vivid reoccurring nightmare. In these dreams, Lovecraft found himself trapped in a strange city, with bizarre angles and alien geometry. And then, swarming out of the darkness he would see them. A race of faceless flying creatures. Horned, black, and slender, with membranous bat-like wings. Every night he would run from these creatures, and every night they would chase him down. They would pull him screaming into the air in their talons, and carry him over a hellish world teeming with shapeless monstrosities. This early experience would leave a lasting impression Lovecraft in his work as a writer, with these terrifying images creeping into his work time and time again. After 30 years, he write down his nightmare, turning it into a short piece called 'Nightgaunts'.
Creating any adaptation comes with challenges, but it is especially difficult when it comes to Lovecraft's writing. The power of his work isn't in the events that happen in the plot, but its in the way he describes things. The deeply unsettling mood that he manages to create. Cyclopic images and glimpses of cosmic cycles that utterly dwarf his characters and the reader, to create an overwhelming sensation of helplessness. The constant looming threat fearfully mentioned throughout the mythos he created is the inescapable prophecy that one day mankind will be cleared off the planet when the Old Ones awaken to reclaim the world as their own.
In our film, we want to bring Lovecraft's apocalyptic vision to life. To show one dreamer's terrifying glimpse of a future world, where behemoth alien Gods tower over the destroyed cities of man. Where the last humans are reduced to hiding like our mammal ancestors during the Age of tyrant lizards. Hiding in the ruins, like insects under a stone, and fleeing from hungry swarms of Nightgaunts that pick off the last survivors.
We aim to capture this oppressive atmosphere through our use of surreal visuals and experimental film making techniques. For inspiration, we've been looking at German expressionist artwork and films of the 1920's. In particular we are drawn to the work FW Murnau, creator of Nosferatu (1922) and Faust (1926).
We want to emulate his expert use of bold angle, dark shadows, and bold mythical poetic images. By combing live action, photomontage, and both 3d and stop motion animation together, we aim to create a film that feels like a lucid nightmare.
Here is an early test clip that we put together last month, show some of the techniques we will be experimenting with.
The Creature Design
One of the main attractions of our project is the chance to bring some of Lovecraft's classic creatures to life in a new way.
Now the Nightgaunts have been around a long time. For nearly 90 years, sci fi illustrators have been drawing them, and for the most part they've come to have a fairly accepted standardized look. They are depicted as humanoid demons with bat wings on their back.
But for our film, we want to reimagine them as if they were creatures that evolved on another world. Living alien organisms, with adaptations that help them survive in their environment. To stay true to the source material, there are key features that we needed keep: they are horned, slender, with a pitchfork tail, grasping claws, bat like wings, and have no face. Next we looked at nature for answers.
For example, the creature that has no face but still need a way to eat prey. So like a star fish, we've imagined it has evolved a mouth in its chest, and can extend it's stomach directly onto prey. Then instead of a tail, we've given it a long forked tongue that extends out of the chest mouth to taste its surroundings. If it has no eyes, it must have developed a form of echolocation. So we've shaped the horns to act like bat's ears, to channel sound into the giant ear drum that takes up the Nightgaunt's entire face.
Nightgaunt with first pass of texturing.
Like in our last film, 'The Jovian Project', we are excited to again be using Motion Capture technology in part to help bring the film’s creatures to life. Although working with Mocap may have a complicated pipeline, it has huge advantages for us as performers and storytellers. There is so much that is gained from having a human physically perform on a set. It allows us the chance to become the creatures, and to make discoveries we never would have thought of if we were just sitting behind a computer. Using stilts, our mocap performers are forced to rethink how to move and interact with their environment with pteranodon like elongated arms and folded wings. We also get to explore the behavior of a blind creature. We've done shots where the actors are blind folded or have closed eyes, forcing them to navigate by the sound and by touch. In the end, we hope to create creatures that are believable as real animals, not just monsters.
While our team embraces new technology, we are also very passionate about keeping classical styles of animation alive, such as stop motion. As animators, the work of legend Ray Harryhausen remains one of our biggest inspirations. No matter how good the computer rendering is, sometimes there is no way to replace the real thing. So for our film, we want to pay homage to the classics and find creative ways to incorporate stop motion into creating our environments and the Creatures FX. Such as in bringing to life the writhing lakes of shape-shifting Shoggoths. The downside is that using stop motion is largely more expensive and time consuming for our production than it would to be to use 3D Animation. Therefore the extent to which we will be able to use Stopmotion in our film will have to be determined primarily by the amount of backing our project receives.
For the core members of our team, this will be our second film project together. Our first animated short film 'The Jovian Project', loosely based on the short story 'From Beyond', was an homage to the classic B movies of the atomic age and the horror movies of Vincent Price. Our film has met with success in festivals around the world, winning the Berlin Scifi Film Festival's award for Best Animation.
Here's a behind the scenes look at the making of 'The Jovian Project'.
Given our the strong reception we've received from science fiction and horror fans out there, we've decided to rejoin forces to bring you an even more ambitious film project!
Evan Hall - The Dreamer
In our surreal film, Evan Hall will be playing the leading role as the Dreamer, a young writer whose reoccurring apocalyptic nightmares have pushed him verge of nervous breakdown. This character is inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's own descriptions of himself in his youth, and Lovecraft's reoccurring fictional character Randolph Carter.
At Victoria School of the Performing Arts, Evan received the Dean Storie Award for his work in Physical Theatre. This inspiration led him to Vancouver's Seacoast Studio, led by Canadian theatre alumnis Scott Swan to learn Naturalistic, Shakespearian, and Film & Television Acting. He has since performed in at least 100 different Film Productions. He has also performed throughout BC with Seacoast's long-running show, Fractured, an ensemble play about the growing consistency of school shootings in North America, where he received the Greater Vancouver Zone Theatre Festival's award for Best Supporting Actor.
Evan and Noah have worked together on Noah Van Buhren's award-winning production "The Jovian Project" where they both used motion capture. This time Evan is on the other side of the coin, working on camera against the mo-cap characters, and is enjoying the new challenge.
3D Animation Team
Noah Van Buhren- Director, Concept Artist, Animator, Mocap Creature Performer
Eveline Roza- 3d Character animation
Eduardo Alonso - 3D Animator/ Mocap Assistant
Cosmo Chen- VFX artist / 3D Renderer
Motion Capture Team
Noah Van Buhren - Runt Nightgaunt
Jocelyn Collin - Alpha Nightgaunt
Jonathan Collin - Motion Capture Assistant
Rick Overington - Motion Capture Technician
Stop Motion Team
Chantal Beaulne - Stop Motion animation
Kat Ruiz- Stop Motion Animation
Jane Lê- Stop motion Assistant
Somit Sharma- Camera man
Teejita Gupta- Makeup / Practical FX
Thaddeus Walker - Production Assistant / illustrator
To complete the film by early this summer, we need to raise a minimum of $2,500 to make this movie. This money will be used to support the animation team, as well as going towards covering the expenses of filming the live action content including: practical gore FX, gear rental, insurance, props, craft services, etc.
That's really just a skeleton budget though, so we've created stretch goals to put some flesh on it. All additional money raised will support costs such as additional visual effects such as stop motion animtaion, better practical effects and set building.
Stretch Goal #1: $5 000
In our film, we want to create a nightmarish landscape teeming with the eldritch Gods and monsters from Lovecraft's mythos. The more resources we we receive, the more creatures we can bring to life using both 3D and classic stop motion animation.
Stretch Goal # 2: $10,000
Ia Ia! Help us reach this goal, and we shall attempt the insane, the unthinkable! We will attempt to raise our master, the Great CTHULHU Himself from His sunken prison beneath the sea!
We will also be able to spend More on Practical Effects! More on Makeup and Prosthetics! More on Set building! And More Locations, to bring this thing to life!
In addition to this, we know that our Cast and Crew deserve to be rewarded for the time and effort they've put into this passion project. The more support you give us, the more we will be able to make sure that all of our Team and additional volunteers, not just the film's director, are able to financially benefit from their hard work and dedication.
Help us to break down the thin walls of reality and let this horrible vision come bursting forth to blot out the sky with their black wings.
Become one of us, and join the Essoteric Order of the Black Wing, Servants and Heralds of the Nightgaunts. Pledge your support to our dark masters and receive their generous rewards. Before it is too late...
Our production has already started filming, mocap recording, and animating. With your help, it is our aim to have the film finished by this summer!
Risks and challenges
This film is a passion project, being made by fans of Lovecraft's work. There are few films out there that successfully capture the true feeling and atmosphere his stories convey. We want to make the kind of film that we've been waiting to see.
I am confident in the team that we have recruited. Most of us met through Emily Carr University. Some of us have spent 4 years together and we've learned a great deal from helping out with each other's films projects. Now what we want is an opportunity to test out our skills, and see how far we can push our limits.
The last three months have been spent in pre-production. That time has been spent developing concept art and creature models, drawing story-boards, casting actors, costuming, and location scouting. And so far, we have been financing the cost of costumes, props, and equipment by ourselves. But to fully achieve the vision we have in mind, it is going to take more time and resources.
For example, 3D animation is less expensive but we would like to incorporate traditional techniques such as stop motion animation and practical effects to add to the old school feel we want to recreate.
One way or another, we have started this project and we will see it through. All we are asking you for today is to help us make this short film something exceptional that satisfies all the fans of weird fiction out there who are craving more.
- (60 days)