How do we begin to describe the work of New York-based animator Jack Wedge? A totally confusing, surreal acid trip in which it’s hard to tell which way’s up and which way’s down, and which forces you to question your very existence could be a good place to start.
The graduate of New York University’s (NYU) practice, however, for all its bizarreness, is entirely brilliant. Combining contemporary techniques and strange storylines, his portfolio is distinctive and full of engaging work. And believe us when we say that one watch of his short film Goodbye Mommy is never enough.
Telling the story of a detective who gets caught up in a mysterious case involving extraterrestrials and a missing king, Goodbye Mommy warps and bends as the camera constantly swings throughout a distant, dystopian future. With a colour palette of neon juxtaposed with dark colours and static energy, the world Jack has created is at once nightmarish and compelling, not to mention a display of how good an animator he really is.
Jack is originally from a town called Katonah, about an hour north of New York City. “I grew up on a street that had a lot of other kids running around so it was sort of a wonderland of childhood adventure,” he tells us. Today, these experiences feed into his filmmaking as he describes animating as “sort of playing around”. When it came to choosing where study, NYU’s film and TV course where he specialised in animation proved an easy decision. “I remember wanting to go to New York because that’s where my sister lived and where everything cool happened. I love New York so much. I still try to soak it up as best as I can,” he adds.
While on the surface, Jack’s films are visual experiments that push the aesthetics of animation, there is depth and purpose to his work and he has big plans for how he can use his medium to tell stories about the environment, promoting action against climate change. And, let’s be honest, is there anything more important than that right now?
It’s Nice That: When and why did you become interested in animation?
Jack Wedge: I guess the reason I started was that I just loved movies, and instead of getting a bunch of people to agree to act and help me shoot and design everything, drawing enabled me to do stuff faster. So there’s a practical reason that enables me to really work anywhere and not spend that much money. But also, I have always loved drawing. I asked a friend once where their creative drive comes from and they said it was a push of not knowing what else to do and a pull towards the feeling of making something you really loved. I agree with that 100 per cent.
“I don’t think I have ever made something that has come out exactly as I intended”Jack Wedge
INT: Who is a creative you admire or someone who has helped shape your practice?
JW: I’m really lucky to come from a family of artists, all of whom are very different and critical. My dad especially is a huge inspiration to me in many ways. He is an amazing filmmaker and animator himself and he introduced me to a lot of movies and stories when I was little. They became a very large part of my childhood – epic stories like Princess Mononoke, Iron Giant, Robin Hood, King Kong, Star Wars were all very big inspirations to me.
My dad taught me not only about movies but how the world works in general and how you should treat people, how to pick fights, when to compromise, how to commit to your ideas, how to hear and listen to your audience. Love you pop. Thank you.
INT: Tell us about Goodbye Mommy?
JW: Goodbye Mommy is a magical, surrealist neo-noir sci-fi movie about a heartbroken detective who can’t stop feeling sorry for himself all the time. He gets caught up in a mysterious case involving extraterrestrial visitors and a giant, old king who has gone missing. The movie is just as much about the setting as it is about the characters. It takes place far into the distant future in a land full of strange gangsters, moving landscapes, robots, and different types of creatures.
I don’t think I have ever made something that has come out exactly as I intended. My process is sort of arduous and painful. For me, watching the final version now, I think it’s a movie about perspective – how seeing things from different angles and distances can change how you think about things. It’s funny to say that now because while you’re making something for so long, you get so close to it – obsessed with it – ironically, perspective is the exact thing you tend to wind up losing.
INT: How would you describe the aesthetic of Goodbye Mommy – was it inspired by anything?
JW: The aesthetic of the movie came from learning 3D software after being stuck with a 2D hand-drawn framework, combined with taking a history of cinematography class at NYU. I had never thought about cinematography in 3D space before then. We were looking at German expressionists and film noir movies. I remember thinking about how those directors were using tiny bits of light very carefully, leaving vast parts of the screen in darkness. I realised then that it would be cool to make an animated detective movie. The style of the movie passed from my 2D work into my 3D stuff. I remember worrying that my models weren’t going to be as distinct or as good as my drawings in the beginning, but in the end, I realised that I could get them in my own style as well.
“Storytelling is one of the most effective methods of portraying an environment as something important”Jack Wedge
INT: Tell us about the techniques you used to create this look?
JW: The movie was made in Maya, Zbrush, and After Effects. I spent a lot of time storyboarding and thinking about the world that I wanted the story to take place in. A lot of time went into designing stuff and looking at strange photos of secret passageways, old castles, and unexplored moon tunnels. The lighting and camera work in the movie was really inspired by John Alton and Federico Fellini, as well as The Furies by Slavko Vorkapich. The book The Long Tomorrow by Moebius was also a big inspiration.
INT: Do these kinds of themes continue into your other work?
JW: I have made several animations that all live in the same borrowed world and speak the same visual language. Characters and places sometimes overlap in my movies. I love hiding things in the sets, leaving subliminal messages that mirror what characters are thinking, like voices in their head letting the audience know how they’re feeling.
I think I am attracted to lonely characters searching for friendship, companionship, or camaraderie. Maybe it’s because I get a little lonely working by myself all the time!
INT: What will you miss about university? And what are you happy to leave behind?
JW: I will miss the NYU animation floor and all of the amazing teachers, TAs and students who inhabit it. The animation department at NYU is an incredibly close and special place. Everyone is really weird and driven and kind. But at the same time, I’m also really excited to start working and gain more experience in professional studios.
INT: What are your plans now that you’ve graduated?
JW: I want to keep making movies. I want to make movies that showcase the environment and landscapes of the world that the movie takes place in, portraying them as important characters with their own opinions, dreams, and interests. I hope that environmental storytelling, as well as movies about this climate crisis we have found ourselves in, will become more popular. I think that storytelling is one of the most effective methods of portraying an environment as something important, that should be valued and protected.
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About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.