Superhero Shorts: A New Mutant
Superhero Shorts: A New Mutant
Welcome to another edition of Superhero Shorts where I share a superhero short film and ask a few questions of its creators. This time I’m talking with a group of students who created their own short for their college film class led by Eric Limarenko. They adapted a comic story written by Brian Michael Bendis called A New Mutant, as usual, you can watch it below.
This is a story I’d never known about and it’s definitely a great piece to adapt to a short film. The writing was excellent and makes me want to check out more of Brian Michael Bendis’s work. The acting was decent, especially for a student film though I’m used to a more raspy-voiced Wolverine like Hugh Jackman or the animated series, but the actor did a well enough job, it was also a nice way to hint at the claws at the end without actually showing them which may or may not have been able to look good at the student level on their timeline. The special effects also work quite well for being at this level, I especially loved the comic panel styled opening. Overall I quite enjoyed it, it was a nice quiet story handled very well by the student actors and filmmakers. But enough from me, let’s hear from the professor and some of the students involved in this project.
Bubbawheat: First off, can you tell me your name and what part you played in this project?
Kevin Neil Smith: My name is Kevin Neil Smith, and I was the producer on the film.
Grant Pichla: I’m Grant Pichla, the editor and visual effects artist for A New Mutant.
Ezra Bakker: My name is Ezra Bakker. My position on the film was to handle anything that lived in the kingdom of sound, which included capturing audio on-set, conducting ADR sessions, sound design, and scoring/composing.
Eric Limarenko: My name is Eric Limarenko, I am the professor of the BCA 521 Cinematography class at Central Michigan University for the Broadcast and Cinematic Arts Department, and an avid comic fan.
BW: Who was it that came up with the idea to do an X-Men fan film for the class?
EL: I loved this particular issue of Ultimate X-Men and I knew it was something we could realistically produce in a 16 week semester.
GP: Eric’s passion for the subject matter influenced the class heavily and gave everyone some excitement when the project began. I’m not personally into comics as much, but I, among all the others in the class, bought into the idea of putting the film together within 16 weeks due to Eric’s excitement.
BW: This is a rather quiet story compared to many action-filled superhero stories, especially ones involving Wolverine, what was it about this comic that was more attractive than one with more action in it?
EL: I loved the tone in this book. It’s rare that a simple conversation in a world that is supposed to be action packed could have such an emotional impact. Obviously, Brian Michael Bendis gets all the credit here. The way he can craft a narrative in the Marvel world is inspiring. His recent work in “All New X-men” is absolutely fantastic.
KNS: I was personally attracted to it because it was less action-oriented – while it takes place within the threads of Marvel’s tapestry, it is, at its core, a tale of discovery and sacrifice. Not only is it a self-contained story (which obviously helps from a one-off video standpoint), but it has a clear, powerful dramatic message that appeals to fans and non-fans alike.
GP: I think this suited our abilities best. Clearly, to complete all of the CG-heavy effects that something like Iron Man would require could not be completed in under 16 weeks. This story presented itself as a short coming-of-age/horror film, with some slight special effects added, as opposed to a film in which special effects are the prominent aspect.
BW: I love it that more and more fan films are able to use original music instead of borrowing from other sources. Ezra, can you talk a little bit about the pieces you did for the film and what inspired them?
EB: So this class was actually my first experience with scoring for film, and when Eric told me I would be handling that department, I was 60% thrilled at the opportunity to learn, and 40% terrified because I knew we had a very talented editor in Grant, and I knew he would set the bar high on the visual side of the film. Despite my inexperience, we all felt that the film needed original music, to reinforce the themes and emotions the audience would see coming off the screen. There are essentially three distinct musical pieces in the film: The main theme, Jay’s Theme, and Wolverine’s Theme
The initial musical idea for the main theme was inspired by the theme song from the animated X-men series (best cartoon theme song of all time) and there’s actually a little musical homage to that theme song buried within the end of ANM’s main theme. As I was writing it, our producer Kevin would come and listen and would give me feedback about whether or not the piece was evoking the tone and emotion that we were trying to establish, and really helped me to focus on making sure the piece resonated with those aspects of the film.
Jay’s Theme is really just a small progression that I came up with when I was messing around trying to find appropriate instrumentation for the songs. I showed it to Kevin, and he said it was perfect, and I believed him.
KNS: We were insanely lucky to have Ezra; without a doubt, he matched the vibe and tone of the piece in a way I could not have imagined; he continues to surprise me with his talents.
EB: The class took place during spring semester, and for spring break I visited my girlfriend who was living in Albuquerque New Mexico at the time. If you’ve never been there, ABQ is about as desolate, isolated, and eerie place you will find in a 1st world country. I felt that the whole vibe of that region really matched the tone of the original comic. Wolverine’s theme developed as I was playing my guitar and thinking about that section of the world, and some of the emotions I felt during my stay there. I liked the fact that the song evokes desert imagery, and is reminiscent of old western movies in which the “good guy” is super rough around the edges, and solves problems with fists not words. And what is Wolverine if not that? I mean…he literally uses his FISTS… and the adamantium coated claws inside them I suppose.
GP: I think it was important as well to have original scoring; borrowing from other sources at this tier of filmmaking is a disservice. We are not Hollywood by any means, but we’re also at the point where the sound in our films should be original and unique to the subject matter.
BW: What was the biggest challenge involved in making this short?
KNS: the biggest challenge with this short was honoring the heart and soul of the comic. My main goal, from a personal standpoint, was to deliver a thought-provoking experience for the audience. To come short of this goal was a horrifying prospect.
GP: From my position, the hardest challenge on this film is sort of hard to pinpoint. A few that come to mind are simulating and rendering the fluid animations of smoke and fire for the respective scenes, in addition to the time restraints put onto them. I had never ‘generated fire and smoke’ before in my career, so this was something that I had to learn from top to bottom. In addition, modeling a 3D cave that could be rotated around, based on the angle of the shot in each scene was another long process that was largely influenced by time. In terms of things like computer generated imagery, it is completely an art; what I mean by this is I could probably still today be trying to perfect the cave, fire, and smoke. Most nights of the semester involved rendering all night, then I’d wake up, check the results, make adjustments, render all day while I was at class and work, come home, make adjustments, render while I sleep, and do it all over again the next day. Some of the smoke simulations took about 30 minutes per frame! (24 frames per second)
EB: Personally, my biggest challenge was developing an efficient workflow between Grant and Myself. Since we were editing and scoring simultaneously, there were a lot of frustrating and unforeseen technical logistics involved with transferring edits from the system he was working on, to the system I was working on.
EL: The biggest challenge for me was keeping up the morale of the class. This is supposed to be a learning experience with expected mistakes but at the same time we were striving to produce the best product we could with no budget and limited time. I was truly blessed to have such a talented group in one setting.
BW: What was the biggest reward?
EL: The biggest award for me is how proud the students were at the end of this process. When Bendis retweeted us the same weekend Avengers came out it was a real thrill.
GP: The biggest reward by far was the applause we received at our debut screening. It is rare to get an applause that loud and directed towards yourself (and the others in the crew of course) anymore these days. I miss high school sports haha!
KNS: The most rewarding aspect of working on this project is that I feel we succeeded in our aim. I am incredibly proud of what we came up with.
BW: May I ask what was the final grade on the project?
KNS: I honestly can’t remember the final grade, but for me it was always a succeed/fail kind of grading, and I feel we succeeded in our goals without a doubt
EL: They got an A.
BW: Eric, have you had previous classes that have made a short film like this, or was this your first one?
EL: This was actually my fist 500 level class. I usually just teach the introduction to video class. I am however teaching the same class now and we are producing an original script called “immortal”. It’s a fantasy that follows a man who has been cursed with immortality by a gypsy. We have the same 16 week deadline to get it done. I have a great group again this year.
BW: And finally I have to ask you all, what is your favorite superhero movie?
EL: I hate giving a definitive “favorite” answer to anything but I’ll say this: The 15 year old Eric will tell you “Superman 2”. “Avengers” was phenomenal and I have watched the mind blowing opening sequence of “Watchmen” an unhealthy amount of times.
GP: Favorite superhero movie is a tie between The Dark Knight and Batman Returns. Both of their styles make for a very complete and unique comic book film for different reasons.
KNS: My favorite superhero film is The Avengers – Joss Whedon is a magician. The way he works w/ and honors the intricacies of ensemble casts is nothing short of magnificent. Not to mention, the action is AMAZING
EB: My favorite superhero movie would have to be “Batman: The Animated Series.” Which is not a movie at all of course, but occupied all of my weekday afternoons from 1st grade-4th grade. I still watch episodes from time to time, and I am still amazed at the sophistication of the plots, sound design, character development, and noir style of that series. Children’s programming at its finest.
BW: Great answer Ezra, it was a big part of my weekday afternoons as well, though I was a little older. Is there anything else anyone would like to add?
EL: The group liked working with each other so much they got together and produced this little short after Mutant wrapped.
You can check out the mutant score and Ezra’s work here.
This is Grant’s current project featured on Film Break.
Thanks so much for answering my questions, it’s great to hear about a class where everyone can work together to create something everyone can watch and enjoy, and I look forward to hearing more from all of you in the future. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.