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09.25.2017
Justin Paul Ritter
Director
Horror Interview by The Gravedigger
08.05.11

Q: What prompted you to work on an animated movie, THE LIVING CORPSE, after working in live-action, on such films as KATIE-BIRD?

It has always been my dream to make animated movies. Live-action filmmaking was meant to be a step toward my long-term goal of getting involved with animation, but I enjoyed it so much that I stayed there a bit longer than originally anticipated.

During my very early days in the movie business I had two options put before me.

The first option was to work at Disney Animation thanks to a good friend who arranged a situation for me; they brought me in for an orientation meeting, during which it was explained that I would spend the first 4 to 6 years working as an assistant coordinator, then the next 4 to 6 years after that as a coordinator, then the next 4 to 6 years after that as an assistant production manager, then the next 4 to 6 years after that as a production manager, then the next 4 to 6 years after that as a production supervisor or possibly an associate producer, then after that I might be far enough along in the ranks to start talking with some of the higher ups about getting a chance to direct some test footage. I spoke with my friend about this - who was in his mid forties at that time - and he confirmed that this sort of slow methodical movement through the ranks was the standard approach to becoming a Director with Disney. On the flip side, I had a phone conversation with a production manager at Roger Corman's live-action studio in Venice Beach; the person on the phone told me that I could come down the next day and start as an intern, but with hard work I could be a First Assistant Director or possibly even a Production Manager within a few short years. I decided to try a few days at the Corman studio. During my first day I had a chance to speak with two different working Directors at the company, both of whom told me remarkable tales of insanely fast ascension to their positions as Producers and Directors thanks to constant turn-over and the need for hard-working self-sacrificers willing to do whatever it takes to see a movie completed on time and budget. I decided to take on the Corman internship full-time, and within one year I was doing professional script rewrites and directing second unit. It was still a long road to helming an animated feature film from that point, with several years spent working in the Live-Action and Visual FX worlds, plus countless hours of studying and training on my own whenever possible.

Q: How closely does the script you wrote follow the original comic book series by Ken Haeser and Buz Hasson? Does "The Living Corpse" still encounter a plethora of supernatural creatures? Is he more or less a "Gatekeeper" between life and death? Is Project Lazarus included?

The script for the movie covers a part of Corpse's history that isn't really covered in the books. At the time when we were given the greenlight for the movie, the book was still in very early stages; Ken and Buz had self-published a teaser issue and just a few of the initial story-arc books had been 100% completed. I was able to work out a limited publishing agreement with Zenescope to cover at least the first 6 issues, but we weren't sure about what the future of the book would hold from there. With uncertainty about the time-frame for the release of the books, we decided that it would be best to take the script in a direction that wouldn't conflict with the outline Ken & Buz had for the books if for some reason scheduling forced the movie to come out before the full run of the initial comic story arc, or if they decided to change things along the way. I had actually written a 50 page treatment which was very close to the story line of the books, but I'm glad we went in a different direction. We still see Corpse dealing with lots of creatures. And we do get a sense of his 'mission' in the afterlife. But primarily, the script that we put into production covers more of Corpse's personal issues in dealing with his newfound status as an undead dude and how that affects his relationship with his son. I'm looking forward to working with this character again on future projects and tackling the Corpse's relationship with Lillith, as well as Project Lazarus - neither of which were covered inthis movie.

Q: I've only seen a few still frames from the movie and it has a very different look than the comic book, which had a "Saturday Morning Cartoon" look to it. Why the departure?

A big part of what makes Ken & Buz's books so unique is their approach to the illustrations. Each panel and page has its own tone. At one moment, Corpse might be drawn in high detail with a very serious and horrific appeal - but then the very next page might be simple heavy lines with bright colors and a strong sense of camp. In comic book format, the style can vacillate from one approach to the next along with the artists' whim, but trying to capture this constantly changing visual approach in a movie would require breaking the movie down into many different sections with each requiring different artists with different abilities. Not only were we limited by our resources in a way that would make a constantly changing visual approach beyond our scope, but as a Director it seemed to me that what works in comic books wouldn't and shouldn't necessarily always work in a movie.

From a purely creative standpoint, I wanted to work in CG as opposed to hand-drawn, because it allowed us to create an interesting blend of the cartoony and the realistic. Though the movie is definitely 'fun' in many ways, the ability to simulate more life-like camera movements and lighting scenarios allowed me to give a certain dark aesthetic to the movie that would be much more difficult to capture with hand-drawn material. Additionally, working with '3D' on a hand-drawn movie is not something I had any experience with; I wanted the '3D' aspect of the movie to be achieved with as much technical proficiency as possible, and the best way to do that was to stick to a medium with which I'd had previous experience. I am starting to experiment with '3D' on some hand-drawn materials in my spare time, and it looks rather interesting - but it would have been out of the question to gamble everything on an untested approach at the time we went into production.

Q: What was the difference in directing it, as compared to KATIE-BIRD, since the entire process of making an animated movie is different. What was the most difficult aspect?

Actually, the process of making an animated movie has many similarities to a live-action film, at least during the initial stages. I suppose for the 'make it up as I go along' type of directors that thrive on 'winging it' during the shoot, making an animated film would be a jolting shock to the system. But I'm very methodical and work out every detail in advance as much as I possibly can, regardless of the medium I'm working with.

Script to shot list to storyboard to animatic. This process is the foundation for most stylized films, whether animated or live-action. I've done it that way for every film from student projects right up to The Living Corpse. Of course, once you're beyond those initial stages and into actual production, things change quite a bit. But after spending years in the Visual FX side of the business, I'd already trained myself to think of every shot as a separate entity. Just like a Visual FX Producer would break down an fx-heavy sequence into separate shots and then further break each shot down into elements, that's what I did for The Living Corpse. A tracking list was generated that matched cut for cut with the animatic, listing out every shot with relative start and end timecode numbers. From there, it was a process of filling in the blanks and checking off the list. That's an oversimplification, to be sure, but it sums up a large part of the administrative process.

The most difficult challenge with making an animated film - at least when making one with very limited resources - is the frustration of knowing what you want to do and what you are capable of doing, then settling for what the time/money allow for. The biggest appeal of working with animation is the vast freedom to create literally anything the imagination can conjure, but when restrictive resource allowances force you to compromise over and over again, it feels like the 'fun' and 'magic' of the process are quickly replaced with judicious decision making day to day. It is still exciting and rewarding creatively, but like any long term relationship, you start to see things from all sides after awhile and either learn to accept the flaws/shortcomings or crack right up.

Q: How did you go about choosing the cast? How long did it take to record all the voices and sound effects?

The cast was chosen entirely from actors I had worked with in some way previously. It was by far the easiest casting process I have been through. It took less than an hour to go through the list of roles and assign the names. I suppose it was so quick to fall into place, because I had been thinking about and preparing for the movie for such a long time before we actually started production. In a lot of ways certain characters were written with specific actors in mind, which made the fit all that much better.

We recorded for roughly two weeks. The days weren't very long. Surprisingly, voice acting seems to exhaust the actors much more quickly than working on a live-action set, because there is significantly less down-time. No make-up, no wardrobe, no camera adjustments or light tweaks. Once they step into the booth, we go full blast emotionally and vocally with very little pause to rest. Sound FX have been going into the movie on and off for over a year. Basically, as we render and finish a sequence, it goes to the sound mixer. We had initially done a very rough sound mix with temp fx, but we learned early on that to really get things sound great required the mixer and the foley artists to see the final footage as opposed to working from animatics, previz or works-in-progress.

Q: I heard that the movie is also going to be in 3-D. How does it lend to that?

The Living Corpse is a perfect fit for '3D'. It's kooky and colorful, with crazy action, dynamic camera movements and a surreal vibe from start to finish. The addition of '3D' adds to that immersive 'other world' experience - not to mention that it is just plain fun. I've always loved '3D' movies ever since the network presentations of Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mask, House of Wax and so on. Sure, those were the cheesy red/blue (anaglyph) stereo movies, but I still got super excited about them every time I saw them giving the glasses away at the grocery store as a kid. I really pushed to get permission to make this movie using 'RealD' technology so that I could have the extra challenge of making it, and then eventually have the extra fun of watching it. I think audiences will be stoked that The Living Corpse is being offered up in '3D'. And though this adds even more to the feeling of departure from the '2D' style of the books, I think the comic readers will love it; once you fall in love with a character and his world, it is cool to see it in as many forms as possible as long as they are all bringing something interesting and worthwhile to the table.

Q: When can people expect to see the movie?

I'm not really able to comment on this at the moment.

Q: What are you working on next?

I've currently got two new projects in the works that I'm producing with Morris Ruskin at Shoreline Entertainment. One of them is a very rich animated fantasy epic with influences ranging from FRANKENSTEIN to WIZARD OF OZ; the other is a really fun and twisted Christmas movie that goes in some wildly weird and wacky directions. The fantasy epic is already in design and testing stages, while the Christmas movie is just pushing through the second draft of the script. I'm in love with both stories and have been carrying both of them in my head for a very long time - so getting the opportunity to start putting some flesh on the bones is very exciting.


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