I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

All Hell Breaks Loose: A Chat With Nick Cross On "Yellow Cake"

by Network Awesome
July 7, 2014
Animation is a brutal medium. Those drawings don't move on their own you know; there's a person who draws each and every frame. Most animators work in teams, so when we find one who goes it alone it's all the more reason to celebrate. Now just imagine it's a totally brilliant satire of post-American politics. We caught up with the main man Nick Cross on his brilliant film "Yellow Cake"

Network Awesome: "Yellow Cake" is a pretty brutal story, how did it develop?

Nick Cross:I came up with the story in 2003.  That was at the height of the sabre-rattling about Iraq having 'weapons-of-mass-destruction.  There was a lot of talk about yellow cake uranium which, instead of sounding ominous, reminded me of a delicious dessert treat.  That duality seemed to me to be really funny and that was where the idea was born.  After that was just my own take on how the first world treats the third world, politically and economically, but done as a cartoony fable.  I generally like to present heavy topics with a cute and happy introduction, sort of to lure the audience into a false sense of complacency before all hell breaks loose.  Each film I make, I try to perfect this technique, one day I'll get it right.

NA: Certainly the ending is highly critical on today's TV environment, but since you released it online do you think that we understand "news" in a different way now?
NC: The changing of the channels at the end was more symbolic-sort of to represent how mass media portrays war as entertainment, something that is consumed and then when we get bored with it we can just move on to something else.  I think that the same is true with both television and the internet-horrible stuff goes on and continues to go on whether you pay attention or not.

NA: Tell us a bit about how you made the film. Was it just you or a team? Who made the sound? How long, what method, etc etc please.
NC: I made the film by myself.  The music is stock library music that was originally composed for old industrial films from the early-sixties.  I tend to like using a lot of stock music because it's hard to get that authentic sound that comes from real instruments, especially when you are working with little or no budget.  Most composers now use artificial music or pre-recorded loops and it just doesn't have the same quality.  The downside to this is that you can sometimes hear the same piece of music used in other productions which can sort of be a weird experience.  Process-wise, I animated the whole thing in Adobe Flash using a Cintiq tablet.  I used to draw everything on paper, the old fashioned way, but since I started using the Cintiq tablet in 2008, my production time has been reduced by a lot, and the quality has improved as well.  It is definitely one of the greatest tools for animation and art in general that's been invented so far (at least in my opinion anyway).  The backgrounds were painted in Photoshop. In that fil, I was trying to really get a sense of contrast in the lighting - brightly lit areas mixed with deep, dark shadows.   I work on my own films in my free time between commercial jobs, so the progress is somewhat inconsistent and as a result it took about 3 years to complete the whole thing.  The method was just a hell of a lot of time and effort - thousands of individual frames and a couple hundred background paintings.  It's sort of like running a marathon, one step after another until you eventually reach the finish line.

NA: Last question, Can you tell us a bit about Black Sunrise? It looks positively epic!
NC: It's a feature-length animated film that I started working on last year.  It's going to be a 'silent' film like all of my other independent work-no voices, just music and sound effects.  It tells the story of a world where basically every conspiracy theorists nightmare has come true.  The main character, however, isn't really aware of it - he just 'sleepwalks' through his life until one day events happen that force him to wake up.  I'm also experimenting with a dual narrative structure where the two different story arcs sort of converge at the end of the film.  Right now, I'm working on the whole thing by myself.  I had a funding drive through Indiegogo last year which helped to raise a bit of startup cash, but not enough to allow me to work on it full-time or hire anyone to help out.  I'm hoping that further down the line, I may be able to get some funding through government grants, but for now I'm just taking it day by day.

Questions by Network Awesome writers and editors. We're a lot of fun - you can find us at apocalypse-themed parties, museums of science and industry, and snarky media-obsessed websites.