Interview With Editor/Director Oliver Simonsen: The Absurd, Surreal, Metaphyiscal and Fractured Destiny Of Cerebus The Aardvark

Written by Luke Barnes

I recently had the chance to interview editor/director Oliver Simonsen about his new film The Absurd, Surreal Metaphysical and Fractured Destiny of Cerebus The Aardvark, which features a self-reflective Aardvark going on a journey of self-discovery whilst also conducting a heist. We discuss issues of CGI animation and deep humanist philosophy

I hope you enjoy.  

Q: Why did you want to make this film? 

A: I’ve been reading Cerebus from the start when i was young:). Having said that, I would probably have done a film of my own lesser known comic book character Captain Zap if I thought it would gain traction…with a nobudget CGI feature animated film the hardest thing is getting people interested in working on it. Cerebus had laid the foundation and proven its appeal. If the Cerebus film hadn’t generated enthusiasm with CGI artists from the start it wouldn’t have happened. It couldn’t have. Another thing is that CGI is a field that has so many specialized skillsets so you can’t plan when you have people with those certain skillsets when needed…when they have a window you have to work with it. The pipeline is one of nimbleness you could say:)

Q: Did you have a message you wanted get across? 

A: Wikipedia says the absurdist philosopher Albert Camus stated that individuals should embrace the absurd condition of human existence. 

Britannica says Surrealism was a means of reuniting conscious and unconscious realms of experience so completely that the world of dream and fantasy would be joined to the everyday rational world in “an absolute reality, a surreality.”

Anyway, if anything it is maybe that even the smallest choices could have a huge impact. Especially if you are a talking aardvark?:)

OK, yes there is more:). I know some might be upset that it’s a liberal movie, but that’s what Cerebus was back then.

Q: How did you find the process of adapting this from the comic book source material?

A: Ideally I would have done the script adaptation and storyboard and then tried to get the project off the ground. Considering it was a longshot that this could even happen, that just wouldn’t make sense. Besides I’ve also seen so many projects with beautiful concept art and pitches that never go anywhere.  A CGI no budget feature has never been done – more people have been on the moon you could say:). Guinness here we come!:) We were like a handful of people at first and had animators and character modellers, but no riggers or environment modelers if I remember correctly…anyway, luckily Dave Sim, the creator of the comic, had done a lot of heavy lifting just by virtue of doing the comic. The idea was to have the movie be the first issue and so we started on the main scenes of that issue while I started expanding on it…whereas i soon got stumped trying to stretch what is almost a Looney Tunes cartoon in length into a full feature. I was a thinking it could have kind of a groundhog day theme of Cerebus just always failing in getting the gold in one adventure after another…like in the comic. And then I remembered issue 196 that explained if Cerebus hadn’t traded his Northern Barbarian Warrior helmet for a Merchant vest way back in issue 4 he wouldn’t have fractured his destiny – a seemingly small event that catapulted and informed the rest of the series run. So it kinda fell into place – as so much did. So in the end the film is the early issues 1,4, 5 and 13 seen through the revelation in issue 196.

Q: What went into the animation process for this film, how did you achieve it?

A: We voted on which software to use. My vote lost and we went with Maya which i didn’t know how to use at the time. It is the most popular software so that probably helped with artists joining the team. Though even so we were all using different year models/editions of the same software which still caused a lot of issues. Those who didn’t have Maya we also still tried to find ways to work with. In some cases those softwares would get discontinued. Luckily Maya stuck around:). We rendered mostly with Mental Ray which came with Maya at the time, but that actually did get discontinued and we could then not upgrade our software or we’d lose it – was really hard, nearly impossible, to work with those who had newer editions of Maya at that point. Mental Ray is beautiful but slow – especially compared with some of the amazing renderers they have now. Now you have things render in realtime, meaning no render time at all, as before you would take hours if not days to render 24 images that make up a second of screentime. So much time, years, could have been saved if we had what they have now. A thought was to transfer everything, but almost every scene is separate. And you know all kinds of problems would arise because nothing is ever glitch free. We figured it would probably be years’ worth of additional work to do so.

Q: What is your favourite moment from the film?

A: I still go around quoting Necross exclaiming  “…and then!” lol. Eh, ironically of course:).

Q: Any funny stories from production?

A: The production was a true joy – so much fun. Such an enjoyable experience and feel blessed i got to have it. I think that sentiment was shared by most – it kinda had to be for people to want to be there. Made some good friends, too. (Didn’t know any of them beforehand, I might add). I know some people might think that with the film taking so long, and yes sometimes I’d joke it’s like watching paint dry, but there are so many little victories along the way and such a great vibe that I really loved every minute of it. 

Q: How do you feel your films differs from other animated offerings?

A: While needless to say it is rough around the edges I do think it works on its own terms and has something to offer that others don’t. I come from the indie self-publishing comix scene and that “things are rough around the edges” is not only a given it’s embraced. No one would point out how the drawings aren’t John Buscema level. Polish is almost a dirty word:). You seek out those comics for different qualities then you would something by the big corporations. So far there is no CGI equivalent of the indie comics scenes or even of say John Cassavetes whose debut “Shadows” started indie film making. Or Henry Jaglom, one of the most independent of independent filmmakers. Or Peter Jackson’s debut “Bad Taste” – so different from “LOTR”:). And yet even these had higher budgets than our film. The CGI movie Hoodwinked, from like 20 years ago, is often referred to as having a shoestring budget, but still cost $8 million. (Even when not adjusted for inflation that is likely more money than any of us will ever see in our lifetimes).

Our film really did have zero budget – way less than self-publishing my 90s indie comic Captain Zap:). No art supplies, printing or major shipping needed. 

And of course with today’s tech/web we have more comics and film than ever. And I imagine indie CGI feature length films are going to become much more frequent too. Hopefully we have a little place in history as pioneers in that regard:).

Ultimately, we tried not to be a watered down version of what others already do so brilliantly – it’s mind blowingly epic what is done these days. And there’s so much of it. We figure anybody taking the time seeking out no budget/microbudget/low budget animation would be doing so looking for something a bit different. Something that hits a different tone, has a different feel than what others do. Hopefully there is enough likeminded peeps out there to sustain that though i don’t think any of us are holding our breath that we are going to see any money to speak of. Just overjoyed we got this far. I’d like to say I’m super grateful to Dave Sim, our Distributor and the channels who took a chance on us for making our dream come true. 

Q: Future plans?

A: I hope someone will give me an actual budget to make a movie:). If not keep drawing comics – maybe make a movie with my phone or something? 

Q: What advice would you give to any future filmmakers reading this? 

A: I’m so envious of future filmmakers who have all this technology at their fingertips from a young age. You can be practical and follow your dreams at the same time – you don’t have to break the bank. 

Q: What will people get out of your film?

A: It is from top to bottom in character, story and execution about being an outsider and not trying to fit in. There’s room for something unusual once in a while. To not try to belong and be part of a group at all costs. Or maybe we should? lol. It does want you to think about it and have some fun with it, too:). So while we hoped to make a movie that is breezy and quirky – it’s meant to have substance, mind games and levels.

If you would like to check this film out for yourself it is on Plex and Tubi now

If you enjoyed this interview, then please head over to my Patreon to support me, I offer personalized shoutouts, the ability for you to pick what I review next and full access to my Patreon exclusive game reviews. Check it out!

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