This interview has been a long time coming. Believe me. I spared no opportunity to hem and haw about writing up a series of questions for the animators of the upcoming Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated project. I’ve done much to pull my weight with that show and make people aware of it, reporting here as often as I can as new developments arise, I’ve even spoken about them on NPR but an interview is an intimidating thing because I am not you. Frankly, I don’t know what you would want to know about the project. Because of that disconnect, brainstorming questions can be frightening because if you don’t ask the right ones, you may wind up with shitty, unusable replies. You get what you give in this instance. But Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated curator, Mike Schneider, has been nothing but supportive. Have you been to their website? My logo is all over that bitch! And it’s huge! Mike also never retracted the opportunity to speak remotely with the artists on the project since he’s both a nice guy and doing so would be shooting himself in the foot.
Let me take a moment to assume that you know nothing about Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated. It’s a distinct possibility that these words that you are reading now are the first you have seen about this project. Allow me to fill in the blanks. Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated, fundamentally, is a remake of the classic George A. Romero horror movie for which it is named. But this is no mere regurgitation of a movie that has already been remade, it is much more of an epic collaborative art project than anything else. Quite literally, dozens of artists from around the world had either been invited to take part in it or had found it by way of the many news outlets (such as this one) that saw fit to spread the word. The end result will be a completely re-envisioned version of Night of the Living Dead animated from start to finish in a rapid fire kaleidoscopic presentation of artistic styles. From the trailers that are available you can see traditional line art cell animation, paintings, photo manipulation, puppets, clay, barbie dolls, manga and machinima by way of Garry’s Mod. There is even word that a portion of this is done with tattoos. The only rules were that the animators do it in black and white and use the original audio track. Otherwise, the artists were allowed to run wild and from the looks of available footage, run wild they did.
Mike, a night owl by his very nature, originally intended to go it alone as a sort of conceptual project that reinterpreted the classic Vincent Price riff on Richard Matheson’s seminal novela, I Am Legend, by way of The Last Man On Earth, “I found the process and story a bit too isolating. Taking a break from my work I threw on a copy of Night of the Living Dead and when Cooper made his point about their strength in numbers, I realized that I had the wrong approach. Artists aren’t the ones trapped by this system. We are the ones banging at your windows, trying to get into your head, so to speak. So I scraped Last Man on Earth and started to reframe the whole thing as a mass collaborative version of Night of the Living Dead instead,” says Schneider, a classically trained artist with a wide range of disciplines, “I came up with the idea to do a classic film with all sorts of art and animation. The problem for me was that galleries seemed a bit cut off from the masses and few modern films really hold to their creative/ experimental roots. If I could blend these things together, I could make artwork more accessible to people while bringing a bit more of that creative exploration back to a media which has become stagnated with assumptions.”
Schneider’s journey to find his own horde of animators began in earnest, recruiting artists from internet art communities like Deviant Art, who had an outspoken speciality for horror and, specifically, zombies. For instance, April Guadina, “[Mike] found me searching zombie art on Deviant Art. I had done portraits of the actors of Night of the Living Dead last year as gifts I wanted to give them at the Texas Frightmare Convention.” But it didn’t take long for word to spread. Artist, Jorge Solis tells me, “I heard about Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated through the website, Dread Central. I saw one of the trailers and I immediately thought, why hasn’t anybody thought of this before?”
Mike’s searching along zombie themes paid off, though, and coupled with a good idea, the media picked up on it and it wasn’t long before people were coming to him to be a part of the show. Artists from around the world came out of the woodwork, all talented artists bringing to the table a mind boggling array of good ideas, artistic discipline ranging from the traditional to the obscure and a willingness to work on a crazy big-ass project simply for the love of the medium and the potential for otherwise unheard of exposure. According to Carla Rodriguez, “I’ve always loved horror movies and art. So the possibility to bring those things together, along with the collaborative nature of the project, which I thought was really interesting, was very attractive to me.” A love for the genre was an absolutely key aspect for generating interest in Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated, with nearly all artists reporting that they were fans or at the very least, liked horror movies. Though I was most interested in artists who would report that they were not horror fans, it seemed to make the most sense that anyone involved would somehow love the movie. The genre has a tendency to alienate. “The first movie I can remember ever watching was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when I was four or five years old, though I can’t remember the exact circumstances that allowed me to watch it at such a young age, and horror has been my favorite genre ever since,” Artist John Chestnut, who is contributing claymation scenes, tells me, “the idea of collaborative animation sounded cool, but I was first drawn to it because I’m a big fan of the original Night of the Living Dead and the Savini 1990 remake.”
The process for all artists seems to be all over the map, many sticking closely to the source material and simply outputting what they saw in the movie onto the canvas or paper, “I tried to stay close to the images, mostly just infusing them with a heightened intensity,” mixed media artist, Grant Fuhst, tells me. Additionally, illustrator Ken Carrano explains, “Working on the scenes that I chose I tried to embellish what was originally there. I tried to “style” things up a bit.” Yet other artists on the project maintain the original scenery while taking wild departures to speak to the audience in a way that the original film cannot. Sarah Carter explains, “Well, in my scene where Barbara is climbing the stairs, I took away a good part of the background by making it completely darkened so that the audience’s focus is solely on her and the stairs. This was also to subconsciously drive a feeling that she was trapped in both this bizarre new situation as well as within her mind – nothing she could relate to was around her as she was driven into madness. Also, the decision to use after images in the animation, were to help key in to the pulse-like beat of her steps as she neared the terror that awaited her at the top.”
Though the project is, officially, a collaborative work, the remote nature of the artists makes it difficult to actually get together and talk about how they’re going about their scenes, offering feedback and ideas that would help each other craft a cohesive picture. The end product is turning into a scattershot assault on what we have come to expect from an animated work, the absolute antithesis of what any given animation studio would produce. Schneider and company have created the nemesis of the animation world which wields the mighty weapon of inconsistency to present one idea in one movie in dozens of different ways. The isolation of each artist speaks to the isolated, survivalist tone of Romero’s movie. Whether the artists survive until morning rests on the shoulders of each other as they all depend on each other without having ever met one another, let alone know that they’re all working on a project until their names were compiled on the website. But this project doesn’t end with artists. This brand of horror movie communism also includes musicians like Kevin MacLeod from Brooklyn and Jean Paul Roy III who are both contributing musical pieces to the movie. To boot, Rob Hauschild, who runs the boutique DVD label, Wild Eye is ensuring that the feature makes it to the masses in a deluxe package. Websites like my own, Fatally Yours and zombie periodical, Revenant, are stepping up to bring the news to you as it breaks. This entire movement depends on the work of everyone involved to ensure that it survives the entire cycle and finds horror and art fans around the world.
To sum up the purpose and the result, Mike Scneider closes with this, “Most cults are founded on an insane idea because if the members can buy that then everything else the cult’s leader tells them makes perfect sense because it’s closer to their subconscious’s view of what is real then some of the other information they have consumed as fact. Well why don’t we do that with cult films? Forget about ‘reality’… be a fucking artist and offer an alternative to reality. The people who buy into it are then playing by your rules.”
I have to admit. I like the way Mike thinks.