Thursday, September 8, 2022

Bringing Cerebus to Three Dimenstional life: An interview with Oliver Simonsen

I have had the pleasure on the social media site Twitter, witnessing the rise of the project, Cerebus Film, or The Absurd, Surreal, Metaphysical and Fractured Destiny of Cerebus the Aardvark by Oliver Simonsen. I watched as it grew, slowly but surely, and while dozens of people have a dream of making something that comes from their heart, few have the ability to drive it to completion. As Cerebus is my wife's personal favorite comic, and Dave Sim is a Canadian, also like my wife (although she is now a dual citizen), I have a warm spot for the character and its great epic run. So now, I present an interview with Oliver Simonsen.

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What is it about Cerebus that you find appealing?

Creator Rights. Our production was quite the Woodstock-like production, you could say. And like Award winning bestselling feminist Author Mary Gaitskill said "I definitely feel like the aardvark sometimes", when asked about putting Cerebus on the cover of her recent book.

I believe the cover was harkening back to the collage she made on her notebook back when - again, like her my introduction to Cerebus goes way back. Basically from the get-go.

I basically learned to read from my hippie mom reading me comics as bedtime stories like Fantastic Four, Dr Strange and Thor. (A tradition I continued as Mr Mom with my own son. That's my son in the banner there btw:)) And right below a picture my mom also holding a comic here: (Photograph taken by Robert Altman.) And check out her own book about her time with the Stones among others. I'm even in there a bit - I had a pillow fight with Keith Moon:)

Yes, I remember comics before there was Cerebus - and before there was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Bone, Usagi and Groo...or Pacific, First and Comico. 

Me through the ages:)

There was for all intents and purposes only DC and Marvel. Marvel was seen as the progressive rebel. By the time Cerebus started in the 70s Marvel, who had pushed comics to a new level starting with the Fantastic Four in terms of creativeness, smarts and intelligence, even boasting College kids as its demographic, had begun to stagnate - even facing bankruptcy. I think many, like me, were looking for the next comic fix to continue what Marvel had started.

Legend Steranko said it best:

Gail Simone says Cerebus was a favorite growing up

Neil Gaiman supports Cerebus on Patreon. Cerebus was the "go to" for cool and smart comics - here featured on the cover of alternative newspapers with an article by the The Wachowskis
In the comic field "trade mag" Cerebus was in the banner for the newsline column (drawn by Bruce Timm)

Cerebus would even make it onto mainstream newstands alongside Spiderman and Mickey Mouse

Even when Cerebus ended the fine folks behind the long running magazine dedicated to Twin Peaks started one about Cerebus.

How did you decide to attempt to adapt and animate Cerebus?

I put the idea out there in a forum and it got immediate traction. Right away I was presented with 3 various Cerebus models from around the globe to choose from. Cerebus has tremendous proven crossover appeal and there's incredible diversity on our team. So we voted on what software to use and my choice lost and I had to learn the software that won.

Particularly, was the decision made independent of discussions with Dave Sim, if there were some?

I had sent him a xmas card with my attempt at a Cerebus cgi model. He was very nice about my cgi efforts, but said there was a 99% chance he wouldn't approve a Cerebus film. Not surprising as he has turned down George Lucas, DreamWorks and Paramount. He wasn't called the Godfather of Indie in the grunge era 90s for nothing. (Though even Godfather of Grunge Neil Young himself signed record deals.)

How difficult is it to create an ancillary work based upon the written and illustrated story that has been established and published? Do you want to evoke the original, or do you aim towards new creation rather than replication?

The idea was to do the first issue. The winning Cerebus model was made in a different software and back then transferring it wasn't so easy so we needed to remodel (and slightly update) using the winning model as reference. We figured we'd do the key characters and scenes while I wrote the script and got the voices recorded. The scenes had to be non speaking scenes so mostly the action scenes. Turns out stretching a looney tunes length comic into a feature is hard. One idea was to expand the personalities of the heist brothers to that of McGrew Brothers, but that got voted down by the Cerebus fans. Just as well as it would be difficult to explain why they would see themselves as needing "muscle" help. So instead of Yosemite Sam we went with something more akin to the Looney Tunes goofy gophers Mac and Tosh.

I expanded a bit on the town dynamics and how Cerebus is different from everybody else. I inevitably started thinking maybe we could include more issues:)... have it be episodic with Cerebus always losing out in a Groundhog Day kinda way... when I remembered the storyline from the comic about the fracturing of his destiny by trying to fit in when trading his Northern Barbarian Helmet for a Merchant Vest.

Dave Sim is a talented creator, who by his hand and mind created something others have not, being an epic story, gathering philosophy, humor, and social criticism for the purpose of entertainment outside of DC and Marvel, but, he has later on also developed a controversial reputation. What was your experience?

While working on the Cerebus film I was also working with Howard Cruse and Steve Lafler on adapting their comic stories (Also with Sean O'Reilly who has since Directed animated films and just recently made his liveaction film debut). They are all really great and easy going. Can't tell you what a privilege it has been. I had to put those other projects on the backburner as it was clear trying to get one project to the finish line was a daunting enough task. I believe this is the first time a CGI feature has been done with no budget. No crowdfunding or anything.

Do you have more plans for additional works in the same realm, or do you now plan to focus more upon your own projects?  Where can people find your work, and what do you hope to gain from it? Is it financial reward, or is it artistic appreciation or something else?

People have been really kind. I got to live the dream. Hopefully I'll have something to plug soon. You should definitely check out these amazing books by my wife, Carma

And here's a shoutout to my stepson and stepdaughter and her wife !!

In the meantime please check out my acclaimed comic "Captain Zap"

And of course our acclaimed Cerebus film currently on Tubi, Plex, Xumo and Box Brazil Play. Thank you so much for the interview. Very kind - it all helps as we also have zero marketing budget. Trying some hype below:)

"Film Threat" review (8.5/10): "...the animation on Cerebus is excellent, making the character stand out starkly against the backgrounds, just like in the comics. Also, the camera angles are great, as is the lighting." "The script and general vibe are slavishly faithful to the comic books. I can’t imagine the godawful changes a more commercial production would have imposed on the adaptation. The Elrod sequence, in particular, is a showstopper" "I have already watched the film three times. I plan to watch it several more" "...movies don’t get much more independent than this"

"Another Millennial Reviewer" review (5/5): "...a magnificent film..."

"Another Millennial Reviewer" interview

"UK Film Review" (4/5): "Immersion is an area that Cerebus the Aardvark gets so, so right. The animation style is incredibly distinct. While it’s rough around the edges and very obviously made on a tight budget, it’s full of character, allowing it to stand out from the crowd. There are some great visuals here, too: close, intimate shots and sweeping scenic shots that give us the feeling of being transported to another time and place; Simonsen is a master of worldbuilding. The black and white scenes, in particular, are absolutely stunning to behold..."

"Overall, I really enjoyed my time in the world of Cerebus the Aardvark. It’s not perfect by any means, and it’s significantly held back by budgetary constraints. But Simonsen has shown himself to be a talented director. I’d love to see him do a sequel. I’d especially like to see him given a bigger budget to work with; I can only imagine what such a visionary could achieve."

B&S About Movies: "Before the black and white comics explosion, I discovered Cerebus"" You’ll be quite surprised how great this looks and moves" "This is an incredible effort" "I consider it a success." "I’m just so pleased that this exists. 12-year-old me is so excited about it."

Comic Crusaders: "I mega loved it! I had a blast! It's fun!  It's fire!"

"The Independent Critic" review:
"...lot of evident artistry from beginning to end." "...a joy to watch""

Kevin Carr radio show": "I respect the heck out of it." "Deserves to be seen" "Kinda Rocks!"

Movie Critic Mike Haberfelner: "...really good and also pretty funny..." "enough sarcasm to make it feel as fresh..." "...much care has been put in character designs, richness of backgrounds and looks in general, and the animation is very fluid."

Mike Haberfelner also interviewed me

A thumbs up review from "Voices from the Balcony"

Arguably the biggest comic site "Comic Book Resources" full page spotlight

And vlogger juggernaut "Comic Tropes" gave us a nice shoutout calling our film a gift and saying that Cerebus is well animated and voiced

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