Feasting in Cartoon Gore with Frank Sudol - June 2010
Interview by: Preston


Trailer Trailer Trailer

For those who maybe unfamiliar, why don't you give us a small introduction about yourself?
Hello Film Bizarro. Thanks for the interview. As a lifelong artist, a great opportunity hit in 1998, right out of college (major of computer animation), for the "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut" movie in Los Angeles, California. After working as a lip synch animator and assistant Technical direction on the film for about a year, the decision to move back home and start an independent studio followed. BlackArro Productions began soon after in 2005.

What made you decide to pursue illustration and animation as your career?
It's been a lifelong dream and nothing else will do. With that in mind, constantly striving to improve is the main focus, in an effort to deliver entertainment in the genre's of horror, action and sci-fi, with a unique style and presentation. 'It's fun' is the main reason I do it.

Who were your inspirations for animating and illustrating when you were younger, and are there any modern animators who you admire or enjoy today?
There are plenty of Saturday Morning Cartoon Shows from the 1980's that all have inspired me, including “Dungeons and Dragons”, “Transformers”, the list goes on... For the comic strips, my favorite style was Garfield by Davis. I remember at one point, deciding I wanted to develop my own style and the basic shapes of that cartoon were a great starting point from the basic style I was drawing previously.

For feature films, I'd say the computer animated “Beowulf” is inspiring, and “Lion King” also. There's more, but those are the first two I can think of at the moment.

As far as modern animation these days, I really admire what's been happening in video games more than anything. “Fallout 3” (and the series) would be a great example, featuring great animation, a brilliant post-apocalyptic world, plenty of awesome enemies from uniformed Enclave to DeathClaw monsters, and some exciting cinematic kills, featuring plenty of gore. I'd say “Fallout 3” is very inspiring.

So you graduated with a major in computer animation; did you do any animation before you went to school?
Before going to college, I worked on animation at home, practicing with the "Disney Animation Studio" for the Amiga 2000 back in the early 90's. Made some "home made" cartoon films as practice and for fun.

I think most people are familiar with your background of working with South Park Studios but have you worked for any other animation studios?
Good question. I've done other independent animations and design projects for other companies over the years, but Paramount Pictures/South Park Studios was the main animation studio I've worked at and picked up a good amount of experience, working six days a week, 12 or more hours a day for awhile. It's important to see how professionals handle the whole process of making a feature film. A constant process of re-working and improving what's already there.

What made you decide to start your own company rather than continue working for companies like South Park Studios?
Creative freedom is the main reason. Having the ability to make a vision into reality. Granted, the first three were rough around the edges, but have some charm to them, whether through the constant gory action, hand drawn cut out style animation, or the odd characters and situations.

What were your plans or what were you setting out do when you made your company BlackArro?
BlackArro Productions focuses entirely on animated films that offer plenty of gritty action, whether through the genres of horror, action or science fiction. The first three were made just to get the ball rolling and see what's possible for a small one man "team", though I may eventually expand things if it becomes necessary. For now though, handling all the animation work, music and production reduces costs and is plenty of fun too, otherwise I couldn't do it.

What did the people around you think when you set out to animate your own feature films?
A big undertaking, but they have seen evidence that it's possible through past efforts.

Onto your first movie, "City of Rott", where did the concept of this movie come from?
"Day of the Dead" from Romero was the main inspiration. I still feel there's a ton of room for improvement for a future "City of Rott" sequel.

You've mentioned before being inspired by some of the big names in zombie movies, and in your movie there are some homages to those people and movies. But I'm curious, did any of your zombie designs come from movies as well? Because I thought I saw a creature that looked a little similar to the infamous "Zombi 2" zombie.
Yes, the worm eyed zombie from "Zombi" by Fulci, the "Blind Dead" series, "Day of the Dead" and unintentionally, probably a few others.


Even though it's just a cartoon, did you think putting in the amount of gore and carnage in "City of Rott" was going to cause any problems for you, like maybe getting distribution?

Actually, I believe that's what helped it get distribution. Unearthed Films specialized in gore-films, and with their ad in Fangoria for "Rock 'n Rule", I sent them an email to consider checking out the "City of Rott" trailer. I was happy they accepted. There were very few feature animated zombie movies out there in 2005. As a matter of fact, "City of Rott" may be one of the first official "animated cartoon zombie movies", but don't quote me on that.

If you don't mind me asking, how long did you shop "City of Rott" around before it was picked up by Unearthed Films?
That was it. Unearthed Films wanted it right away. I had a few other possibilities pending, but I wanted "City of Rott" with Unearthed Films, considering their success with "Rock 'n Rule" and their embrace of gory movies.

Now "City of Rott" was a one-man show with you doing everything from the animation to all the voices. Did it become overwhelming at any point or did your drive and passion help push you through all the hard work and computer crashes?
I'm driven by the thought of completing a new film, having had plenty of practice as a kid. Back then, I animated a 2 hour plus movie called "Arro". It took years to complete with school and outside activities, but with a final push, I stuck with it and got it finished. Same with "City of Rott", "Dead Fury", "Shock Invasion", and now my fourth film. Not easy, especially when you want to create new things before completing the first one.

I think that's amazing you made an animated movie when you were younger and still going to school. Think you'll ever let fans catch a glimpse of "Arro" or any of your early work, or are they destined to remain in the BlackArro vault?
Thanks. They might eventually appear in some form, as extras if I get a chance to edit them into a presentable form. The film "Arro" would require quite of bit of cleaning up and editing. It was actually about a robot that could transform into almost anything to fight crime and clean up the city. Looking at it now, it definitely needs editing for pacing, and would require a new soundtrack and maybe voice-overs in some spots.

What part of making "City of Rott" was the most fun for you?
The action scenes are always fun, but take the most time and work. "Shock Invasion" I'd say matches the amount of action seen in "City of Rott". Having Fred kick the worms out of the zombies with his walker was great fun.

Did you take any time off between "City of Rott" and "Dead Fury"?
I wish I did so I can take a longer look at the script. But before "City of Rott" was even on DVD, work on "Dead Fury" already began. Had I had a chance to make "Dead Fury" again, things would be different, looking back. Part of constantly examining what needs improvement and then improving it. For the fourth film, I'm taking my time, unlike the first three which I scripted, then started pre-production right away without really absorbing the overall quality of the scripts. The first three's main strength's are the gory action.

While "City of Rott" had some comedy it was still a pretty straight forward zombie flick, but “Dead Fury” seemed to have a lot of comedy to it and was also a bit of a parody on the horror genre. What made you decide to go that route with your second movie?
"Evil Dead" is an awesome film, and “Dead Fury” was an effort to pay tribute to it, but also see what it would be like to attempt a "parody" of some great classic horror films. Looking back, there's some good things there, but overall, I'd rewrite the script if given the same opportunity these days. Pacing is another thing I've been working on. And knowing who to not do character voices for. Example being the character 'Jen'. I had someone in mind for the part, but had already made the temporary version of the voice. Once things got underway and I still didn't get the part cast, I just went ahead and kept the temp version in the film.

Did you know you wanted to make a demon-supernatural movie next or was that element something that came later?
The demonic spirits taking over the bodies of the living was always intriguing, ever since seeing the "Exorcist" as a kid. "Evil Dead" follows in that line of 'possession' horror, so I'd say it was planned already for Dead Fury.

Did the production for "Dead Fury" go more smoothly than "City of Rott" or was it just as challenging?
It went through a couple revisions. Originally, "Dead Fury" was about Fred as a mafia 'Godfather' who sent his goon to hunt down some ancient treasure after all his other goons failed to bring anything back from the underground tomb. The first version before that followed the mutant 'father', who was actually the lead, only cast as a down on his luck freak who ends up being attacked and trapped inside the tomb by a gang of thugs. In the end, I went with the story of Max as the lead, on a hunting trip gone wrong with his father and two friends, after they discovered the deceased family of freaks' cabin.

Any lessons learned from making "City of Rott" that helped you out with "Dead Fury"?
Animation using Image Ready was still a hurdle to get through. Image Ready is part of Photoshop, and can be quite a hassle to rotate arms, legs and characters for smooth animation, as the program doesn't offer rotation. It forces you to copy and paste multiple versions of each position of the part, unlike other programs (Flash, Toon Boom) that let you rotate one piece, without having to create multiple pieces to create the illusion of movement as in Image Ready. Image Ready was the only animation program I had during those times, so it's what I worked with. These days, if I could do it again, I'd use Toon Boom, which I have. Though now, I'm using a computer animation program to create my fourth film. A huge improvement in quality of animation with the latter two programs.

You've recently completed your third movie, "Shock Invasion" (Anti-Human); is there anything you can tell us about this movie?
Yes. Here's the premise:
Ral Foster awakens to a post-apocalyptic world, nearly void of humans and filled with the caustic alien beasts responsible.

With few options, Ral joins his next door neighbor, Ruford, and together, they blast their way through wave after wave of monstrous alien attacks through malls, freeways, city streets, forests and more.

Their goal? Reach a massive military underground fortress stocked to the brim with weaponry designed to eradicate the alien scum. Success depends on whether they can put aside their differences long enough to survive to the end.

Shock Invasion (Anti-Human), is complete and currently being prepared for digital distribution this summer, while DVD distribution is still in the search process during the tough economy. It'll be available to own the download this summer for a super low price. (blackarro.com for details). Shock Invasion completes the "trilogy" of cut out style "budget" gore films from BlackArro Productions.

Do you have any favorite kills from City of Rott, Dead Fury, or Shock Invasion?
“City of Rott” is the scene where the zombie chews up the truck guy loading the donuts boxes. “Dead Fury”, I like the scene at the end, when Max faces the final demon zombie and absorbs some serious damage, and “Shock Invasion”, the scene where Ral blasts a bloody path through the final wave of alien monsters (though the film is yet to be revealed).

You mentioned you're currently working on a 4th film. Anything you want to tease us and the readers with now while we wait?
The fourth film is going to step things up in all aspects of quality, from animation (computer animation), pacing, storytelling, and scripting. It's definitely an action movie with much more variation of what can be done compared to the limited 2D cut out style of the first three films. I'm giving this film extra attention, so it won't be ready until I'm positive it's met my new standards of film entertainment. This film will definitely be a departure from what has been expected from BlackArro Productions.

You have a very distinct design and style in your movies. Let's take your characters for example; have you always drawn/designed them this way? Or was it something you developed over the years that you liked and felt it represented your style and preference, or was it more of a result of being what worked best for your one-man projects?
Thanks. It's very close to how I draw, of course the only limitation being the fact each character has to be chopped up and then re-assembled for cut out style animation. Otherwise, I'm happy I've been able to capture much of my drawing style with the first three films. The fourth, which is computer animated and may not fall into the "horror" genre precisely (it's more of an action sci-fi at the moment), has my style in shading and detailing, with characters I've modeled from scratch in the system, so it also captures my style, though is much easier to animate fluidly this time.

This could be just me be but from watching both movies I felt that they could of carried over to the video game world and worked very well given the designs, the animation style, and all the mayhem that's in both movies. Have you ever thought about possible video games or maybe lending your style to video game companies?
Video Games are a life long passion (since the days of "Donkey Kong" and the Coleco Vision), and yes, all three of my first three cartoon films were greatly inspired by side scrolling third person action games on the Nintendo, Genesis, Coleco Vision, and more (without naming every system). Not one game in particular, but there's a short scene in "Shock Invasion" that's like watching a side-scroller alien blaster game.

As a horror fan, what are some of the titles you grew up on that you loved and what are some that enjoy today?
Thanks for asking. As a kid and an adult, here's some long lasting favorites: Don't be Afraid of the Dark (age 6), Tourist Trap, Day of the Dead, Devil Dog, Creepshow, Alice Sweet Alice, Tales From the Darkside, The Shining, Woman in Black, Don't Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (Manchester Morgue), Salem's Lot, Dawn of the Dead, Evil Dead, The Exorcist, Pet Sematary, Return of the Living Dead, and countless other classics. This year, I will check out Romero's latest "Survival of the Dead". It's nice to see a single director so dedicated to zombie films, even in his elder years. Romero's a big inspiration for myself, and many filmmakers without a lot of resources at their disposal. Action movies are also a major inspiration.

What is your favorite aspect about horror movies? Are you a gorehound, do you prefer the movies to be more atmospheric and moody, is it more of an entertainment factor, etc.?
I like quite a few types of Horror movies. Zombies, ghosts, monsters, demons, haunted houses, cheesy horror movies, comedy-horror, and quite a few others.

Have you seen any more modern titles that have impressed you or that you think have staying power and will become cult titles?
Interesting question. Anything that's not a direct remake will probably have a chance. I don't mind every remake, though it's hard to name many that are better than the originals, as they lose the spirit and energy that make the originals so good in many cases.

Since you have made horror movies yourself, have you found yourself being more involved in the horror community and establishing connections with other filmmakers?
When I have some free time, I keep an eye on the horror forums and participate when I have something to add. As far as connections, there's a few I've made that could always lead to new opportunities.

Do you think you'll ever get involved in horror movies or movies in general that aren't animated?
Good question again. For the foreseeable future, unless I reach a larger audience and a major studio wants a live-action version of my work, it's doubtful I'll be doing live action filmmaking any time soon, though I have experience making some goofy homemade horror trailers and skits as a kid over the years, so that gives me an idea how tough live-action filmmaking can be.

For you personally, what has been your biggest reward since breaking out, starting your own company, and making these movies?
Accomplishing a life long goal of "Getting my movies on DVD" finally came true. Now I have bigger goals in mind, which I hope to accomplish soon. Time is always ticking and there's really no more time to waste, so the next film I make better be my best. That's my new outlook on filmmaking. "City of Rott" reached Hollywood Video stores and Movie Gallery (when they were around as a retail store) for rental and purchase. Walking into Hollywood Video and seeing "City of Rott" for rental was a nice benchmark of what's possible. I have to thank Unearthed Films and their connections, for giving "City of Rott" that opportunity to reach those markets.

Well that's all the questions we have, thank you Frank for taking the time to do this interview, we appreciate it. Anything else you would like to say?
Thank you for the interview with Film Bizarro. Best success with your horror movie coverage and keep up the great work!

Frank Sudol is of course on IMDb.
And please check out his sites:
http://www.blackarro.com/
http://www.fsudolart.com/




 

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