Shane Acker makes his feature film debut with 9, based on his own short film. The short just showed his rag doll creature exploring the post-apocalyptic world silently. For the feature film, he had the creatures talk with celebrity voices.
Shane Acker's 9
“We did play around,” Acker said. “We experimented with taking the human voice and distorting it, filtering it through different machines in some way but what we found is when you did that, it removed you from making that kind of leap to understanding that they’re humans in some way. It made them kind of cold. You lost the warmth inside of them when they became so mechanical. So after we did some experimentation with that, we realized that no, they’re going to have to be the natural voices of the actors. But we do introduce, we see how one of the creatures gets its voice in the film and so we kind of sort of suggest to the audience how they came about having and possessing voices. At that moment we kind of mechanize and distort the voice.”
Acker’s “stitchpunk” creatures are unusual. Making them relatable was a challenge. “The basic idea is we’re trying to show that these creatures are human, that they are the vessels of humanity. I think by starting so abstract, they’re strange creatures. They’re at a completely different scale. They’re mechanical in some way, made up of bits and pieces of leftover objects and they have numbers. That seems so far removed from humans so then the challenge is how do we slowly convince the audience to see the humanity inside them? So maybe it’s better that we start so far removed so by the end of the movie you start to understand who they really are.”
The short film stands along as its own entity. Acker did not repurpose any footage for the feature. “There are bits and piece of the short in the film, definitely the inspiration of the world and the characters comes from the short, but they’re different films. We didn’t reuse any footage. None of the assets really made it into the feature.”
9 almost looks like stop motion with its rag doll aesthetic, but it is indeed CGI. Acker originally conceived of stop motion animation but opted for CGI with the short. “When I was doing the short I did some tests in which I animated on twos and I had no motion blur. It did have a kind of stuttery stop motion feel but at the end of the day, that just became, I don't know, that kind of a conceit to do that so that it looked like stop motion didn’t really help the storytelling of the film, didn’t help visually the look of the film because I think if stop motion animators could get more motion blur in their stuff, they would. So at the end of the day, I just decided to use all those things that you get, the benefits you get from doing a CG production but still trying to keep the look and the feel, the real tactile nature that you get in stop motion on the characters and the believability of mechanically how they’re put together, you could in the real world create these characters and these creatures and have them function in a stop motion environment but keeping it all in the digital world.”