Ten years in the making, Quentin Vien’s animated film Deadman’s Reach is a technical wonder

The London-based animator talks us through the process behind the 11-minute long film which involved 1000s of drawings.

4 September 2020
Reading Time
3 minutes


We’re always impressed by the animations that come through the door here at It’s Nice That. After all, we all know it’s a particularly tricky medium due to its laborious frame-by-frame process. When we came across Quentin Vien’s 11-minute animation, however, the feeling of awe went to another level. Entirely hand-drawn, the quantity of images required to make up this lengthy animation is astonishing. As the Blinking director tells us: “It’s one thing to draw a drawing, it’s another to draw 1000s of them.”

It all started with a notebook filled with drawings and sketches. Quentin says of the inspiration: “The book was hand-bound using coffee packaging (named Deadman’s Reach) which gave its title to the film and in a way, its tone too.” Along with drawings, the animator scribbled down lyrics from his favourite songs which provided a loose narrative to his mood and feelings at the time. “I was doing a drawing a day and would post it on my blog (remember blogs?) when I decided to make it into a short film,” adds Quentin.

After printing out all the drawings, which provided a rough storyboard, he went on to craft a script which shapes the story. He wanted the final film to maintain the “organic and sketchy” look of its original iteration, but the biggest question, was how to get the film done when the animation is down to you and you alone. Quentin had to come up with a reasonably quick way to put the film together. First, he shot the sequences in live-action which was “quite creative and quick.” Secondly, he turned the live-action into limited animation, a “technical but interesting, animation-wise,” process which involves most of an image remaining static while feeling alive at the same time.


Quentin Vien: Deadman's Reach (Copyright © Quentin Vien 2020)

Next, he tackled the linework and shading which was “pretty simple and repetitive” for Quentin who usually draws in this cross-hatched style. The task at hand at this stage, however, was rotoscoping each frame one-by-one. As the animator puts it, it’s “tedious, but the kind of thing that can just be picked up at any moment.” On reflection though, Quentin does not recommend animating a ten-minute [film] on your own, adding, “it’s stupidly long.” And when he says that, he means ten years.

That being said, there were many highlights when it came to making Deadman’s Reach too. Having self-published the book to finance the film, Quentin recalls the “incredible feeling” when 500 books landed at his door. One of the oldest cinemas in London, The Phoenix, premiered the film in between two features in another amazing moment for the animator. Not to mention the seven-day marathon finishing the biggest shot in the movie and scanning thousands of drawings, then seeing the shot move, which was “sooooo satisfying.” And to top it all off, the sense of achievement after finishing the almighty production was also pretty great.

It’s a film with a subtle narrative which Quentin admits might take a couple of watches to understand. “Overall the character overcomes his demons (represented in red in the film) and rebuilds himself from them instead of running away. I think it’s always good to grow from our struggles and make them part of us instead of forgetting them or ignoring them.”

A highly personal narrative, Quentin hopes the film connects emotionally with the audience. “I don’t think it will speak to everyone,” he acknowledges, but judging from the feedback he’s got so far, this beautiful and evocative animation is sure to move many of you out there. “If I can make them fall in love with the music at the same time, that would be awesome too,” Quentin finally goes on to say.

GalleryQuentin Vien: Deadman's Reach (Copyright © Quentin Vien 2020)

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.


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