Boxhead: The mind behind the horror

A few weeks ago, looking for great stories across the web about the animation industry, I stumbled across a project on Kickstarter called: Boxhead- An Animated Horror Film (funding page). I was fascinated by the premise of the film, which I discussed in a previous post. Project funding closes on April 22 and less than $2000 remain to reach the intended $26,000 goal.

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Randall Kaplan, creator of “Boxhead.” “I think a drawing or painting can express things that a photograph can’t. So, the logical next step beyond a still image is a moving one… it really has no limits,” he said. Photo courtesy of Randall Kaplan.

Randall Kaplan (originally from Brooklyn and now living in Los Angeles), the mind behind the darkly engrossing film, was kind enough to provide The Animation Curation further insights into the film, his inspirations and the flush of ideas yet to be explored in the industry.

Why did you choose to make Boxhead animated?

I’ve been drawing my entire life, and I always wanted to tell stories. I think this is the key to eventually doing animation.

The creature, Boxhead, came to me at around 11 years old. Back then I’d draw my own comic books, photocopy them, and sell them on the street in front of my house for $1. I tried doing this with Boxhead, but never finished the comic. The image of Boxhead never went away. Over the years I drew the creature again and again, and slowly a distinct storyline began to emerge.

In 2008, I made Boxhead into a live-action short film. I knew after making this that I had to ultimately expand upon the idea and make it a feature film.

While drawing the characters and doing some preliminary sketches and storyboards, I realized that I wanted to see these characters, and the creature, Boxhead himself, come alive. Not as people acting them out, but as the artwork itself, moving along with music and sound.

My mother is an animation director and story consultant, so I grew up around this medium. But it was only when I began to explore this film seriously as a feature that the story line demanded that it be animated.

What is it about animation that interests you?

Drawing image after image to create movement is thrilling like very little, maybe nothing else. I knew I was interested in animation for some time but it wasn’t until I actually began the process of animating this film that it completely consumed me. I’m still fascinated and obsessed by it.  And I know I’ve only barely begun to scratch the surface. In this film alone, there is so much more to explore.

I think a drawing or painting can express things that a photograph can’t. So, the logical next step beyond a still image is a moving one, and that’s why animation is such an incredible medium. It really has no limits.

What do you think there are so few animated horror films?

I think it has a lot to do with fear; fear of doing something different. In the West, animation is thought of as primarily a medium for children’s entertainment. This is, of course, a huge oversight and an awful mistake that studios make. There is nothing wrong with children’s entertainment, but imagine if all live-action films where family films. How boring would that be? Well, it’s equally as stifling to say animation can only be for children or “family-friendly”. By pigeon-holing animation, you limit what should be limitless.

There are many artists working against this stereotype and there always have been. Animated films for an adult audience are becoming, thankfully, more commonplace. Yet, in this medium, horror is a genre that remains rarely explored.

It’s really only the Japanese that have had the imagination and foresight to explore horror in animation. I think this comes out of thinking of animation as a medium for all genres, not just fantasy or musicals.

Still, there are very few animated horror films the world over. I think that needs to change. I hope that Boxhead will help.

What would you surmise is the current state of the animation industry?

I think we’re still in the infancy of what animation is capable of. With every year that passes, more and more new ideas come to the forefront and push this medium further.

I would like to see the big studios embrace traditional animation again. Computer animation is fine, but there are so many more ways to tell a story. Too often, the most prominent animated works look exactly the same.

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Kaplan working on his film. Photo courtesy of Randall Kaplan.

I think people are tired of the same kind of stories, the same styles and ideas. We need diversity and invention in all art.

What is your favorite animated film?

It’s a hard question to answer.; there are many.

Grave of the Fireflies is one of my favorites. It rips my heart out every time. It’s a great example of animation being at least as powerful as live action, if not more.

I love old Disney features like Snow White, Pinocchio and Dumbo. I love the old Fleischer short films.

I also love anything by Richard Williams, particularly his version of A Christmas Carol.

What is your favorite horror film?

Again, a very difficult question to answer. But Hellraiser might be the one. It’s what truly opened up my mind to the possibilities in horror.

My two favorite decades for horror, however are the 1920s and 1930s. The ’20s had the great expressionist masterpieces; Caligari, Nosferatu, and Faust. The ’30s had Frankenstein, Dracula, Vampyr, M, and Island of Lost Souls. The list goes on and on.

I think horror filmmakers today should watch these films repeatedly. So much of what made them great has been lost in recent decades.

Who is your greatest inspiration?

Again, I can’t stop at just one.

I’d say my “big three” are Francis Bacon, Clive Barker and Trent Reznor.

The paintings of Francis Bacon are haunting on a level that few things are. They hit you with a raw emotion and animal intensity that always inspires me.

Clive Barker’s writing, films and paintings create worlds that fascinate me endlessly.

Trent Reznor’s music inspires me on a visceral and personal level. His use of sound inspires me to create.

Boxhead is very diverse for animated film, especially an American one. Animation has so much potential and I think should be seen as more than children entertainment. How do you think can indie animation break through and become popular to wider audiences?

Thank you. I hope Boxhead will help add something new.

I think if filmmakers go with their gut, and create films that come from their deepest and most personal ideas and visions, then you will see animation transform.

I think the only thing holding people back is fear. If you can get over that fear of not being understood, and push through that and create something that you really feel and want to see happen, then you’re on the right path, and eventually people will join you on the journey.

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