Online Premiere: House Special’s “Jailbreak”
Stash is excited to present the online premiere of “Jailbreak,” House Special director Aaron Sorenson’s light-hearted, stop-motion wink to German Expressionism. Photographed in rich black and white, the ambitious in-house film follows the studio’s wildly successful 2015 CG short “Tale of Momentum & Inertia.”
Stash: What was the project brief?
Aaron Sorenson: Jailbreak was created through HouseSpecial’s Short Stuff program – we imagine, develop and produce short films by us for us. I wanted to create a unique, funny short that pushed the look and a style into something unlike anything the studio had done before.
Tell us about the production process.
Each layer of the sets were laser cut and then assembled and painted by our in-house fabrication team. The puppets were sculpted in clay from concept designs. The sculpts were then cast and molded into dimensional, movable characters with full armatures inside. Each was hand-painted and clothed before making it onto the stop motion sets. Footage was shot at 24 frames per second (fps).
What were your inspirations?
I was inspired most directly by the silent German Expressionist films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Golem. But I was also inspired by my love of prison break films such as Escape from Alcatraz, I Was a Prisoner on a Chain Gang, and Papillon.
The main character, Klaus is inspired by Cubism (mostly Picasso). We squashed his form into something rather flattened and kind of 2.5D.
The sets were designed to reflect that same flat, skewed aesthetic.
Why stop motion?
Stop motion just seemed right for the story in terms of atmosphere and capturing an intentional theatrical feel. The textures and tangibility of practical sets and characters are really arresting and doing it in black and white makes the viewer focus on those details.
What were the creative challenges of the project?
I wanted to make something that felt fresh. This dark genre has been done before in stop motion, so we focused on getting the look to be unique. Using the laser cutter as the main set construction tool helped a lot to maintain a 2D feel and capture the linear quality of the production design.
We studied productions notes from black-and-white shows like The Munsters and The Addams Family to understand how to use color to create rich gray tones. Turns out that the color pink, when shot in black and white, becomes a deep shade of gray.
Trying to get as many elements in camera as possible. In the opening shot we really wanted to push all the way through the prison bars without having to shoot the foreground as a separate element. We had to figure out a way to subtly crank open the bars as we pushed into the scene. We eventually took a section of the wall out to get the camera through to make the shot work. I love these sorts of problems.
Animating the tiny version of the puppet on the rooftops was challenging. It was a hard shot to block for choreography and timing. It took many motion control passes to figure out the camera move and our animator, Suzanne Twining, worked out the movement through a series of pop-throughs (animation tests). Such technology of series of pop-throughs is found on many sites devoted not only to cinematography. Many portals that specialize in gambling use it. For example, to show the most profitable online casino bonus for the person who first went to such a site, developers use series of pop-throughs. It allows you to cover a wide range of the most profitable offers for people from any field of activity, even cinema.
The puppet was also so small (about 4-1/2-inches) that he was easy to break during animation. That puppet had to be constructed to retain his small scale without his armature adding too much bulk to the design or profile. It came out great in the end and was definitely worth the extra effort.
What is your favorite aspect of the entire spot?
Even though the design is pretty bold, it supports the story instead of distracting from it. There was always the concern that we’d lose focus on the story and just go crazy with the design, but the team’s focus on the characters and the story guided us through the production of this cohesive, stylized short film.
Tell us about the hardware and software tools.
We used Dragonframe during animation, Maya for special effects and Flame for final composite.
Are there any other details or productions stories you would like to share?
There are an amazing amount of details throughout the short that the crew added on the sets, props and puppets. For instance…
In the opening shot there is the most wonderfully disgusting toilet way down in the bowels of that awful prison cell. Originally we had spikes coming out of the bowl, but it was a little hard to read at such a small scale. There’s also this weird cage torture thing I love that is a prop in the end shot.
There are treasures like that all over, especially at the end of the short. I love how great model builders will bring such enthusiasm and creative little details to everything they touch.
Conceived & Directed by Aaron Sorenson
From HouseSpecial – a Short Stuff™ production
Creative Director: Kirk Kelley
Executive Producer: Lourri Hammack
Production Designer: Alan Cook
DP: John Nolan
Editor: Steve Miller, Cam Williams
Line Producer: Nicole Fitzhugh
Production Assistant: Alex Webster
Character Designer: Aaron Sorenson, Alan Cook
Background/Environment Design: Craig Bowers, Don Flores, Sharon Huang, Kristy Kay, Phillip Spehar, Tod Polson
Character Fabrication: Katie Mello, Margaret Meyer, Chris Ohlgren
Set/Prop Fabrication Lead: Greg Fosmire
Set/Prop Fabrication: Gary Logue, Katie Mello, Margaret Meyer, Josh Pearce, Emma Van Halsema
Animator: Suzanne Twining
Swing/Electric/Grip: Jake Hauswirth
Wrangler: Rob Melchior
Art Dept/Stage Manager: Erica Johnson
CG & POST PRODUCTION
FX: Patrick Van Pelt
Opening Titles: José Díaz, Stephen Bodin
Matte Painting: Stephen Bodin
Flame Artist: Rex Carter
Editorial Assistant: Dino Coons
MUSIC & SOUND
Original Music Produced By: Mophonics
Original Music By: Roberto Murguia and Róisín Malone
Creative Producer: Kristoffer Roggemann
Creative Director: Stephan Altman
Sound Design & Mix By: Lance Limbocker, Limbocker Studios
A special thanks to the Oregon Film Board