When The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello was nominated for Best Animated Short Film at this year’s 78th Academy Awards, it underscored the fact that Aussie animation is rising to global prominence.The 3D short had already won top honors at numerous international film festivals and competitions and, although it did not secure the Oscar, the recognition it gained was a testimony to Australia’s penetration into an area long dominated by Hollywood productions.Since the 1980s Australia has been quietly developing a pool of production talent and building high-end post houses matching those of Hollywood. Plus, cutting-edge films like Babe, The Matrix series and Moulin Rouge have given the Australian industry international visibility.Still, as Anthony Lucas of 3D Films Pty Ltd, who directed Jasper Morello, points out, it has taken some time for the country’s animation to get noticed outside its home turf.Lucas is known domestically for his work on TV commercials, children’s television and national TV station IDs. Jasper Morello is his 10th short film made entirely in silhouette, a unique style of animation he calls the Shadowlands and defines as “a silhouette world of gothic horror, spindly figures dwarfed by bleak landscapes, and Jules Verne machines.”The half-hour animated short tells of the adventures of Jasper Morello, a disgraced aerial navigator who flees his plague-ridden home on a desperate voyage to redeem himself. In a world where airships are made of iron and computers are powered by steam, he ventures into uncharted skies filled with horrors only to discover that the greatest horror of all lies within us.Shot on 35mm film that was converted to Sony’s Digibeta and Betacam SP formats, the film used a technique that places computer-animated characters over photographic collaged backgrounds. It’s a style that Lucas and his production team have been developing for years using stop-motion and miniatures. With Jasper Morello, they achieved the same style through digital technology.The film’s 3D characters were crafted using Autodesk 3D Max and Maya, while the visual effects were created using a combination of Audodesk Combustion and Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, along with Cel-action. “We used all the real-time particle effects that Combustion was capable of producing,” said Lucas.The main challenges in putting together the 27-minute film, he added, was the sheer quantity of work and the dexterity required to make it feature-like while maintaining its quality.
Written by Patricia Lee