In Features, Issues

SCRATCH BACK

By Justin Lowe

WHEN UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI film school graduate Syd Garon first encountered DJ Qbert, the master turntablist and top dog of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz hip-hop DJ crew, the Bay Area—based DJ was considering the possibilities for an animated adaptation of his recently released concept album, Wave Twisters. A loosely scripted adventure/fantasy that takes place entirely within an alternate dimension on the tip of a stylus, Wave Twisters was state-of-the-scratchery: all of its music, character dialogue and sound effects had been built with what Grandmaster Flash used to call "the wheels of steels" – a pair of deftly manipulated turntables – and a stack of vintage vinyl.

"It was really just a right place/right time situation," says Garon, who teamed up with co-director Eric Henry and illustrator/graffiti artist Doug "Dug 1" Cunningham to create Wave Twisters the Movie. The first long-format animated hip-hop film, the 46-minute digital mini feature chronicles the exploits of the Inner Space Dental Commander as he battles the evil Lord Ook to restore the four "lost arts" of hip-hop culture: D.J.ing, breakdancing, M.C.ing and graffiti. "We wanted to make use of the visual equivalent of scratching," Garon says. "So we grabbed stuff from NASA’s ftp site and old cartoons and put it together in a scratchlike way, taking the same techniques that Qbert used in making his record and applying them to the world of video."

With Qbert’s guidance, the team (which also included Trisha Golubev, who did the character animation) worked for three years to complete the $250,000 project, discovering that the flexibility of animation produces both opportunities and pitfalls. "We basically have remade the movie about five times. We just keep revising and revising and revising and revising," Garon explains. The film has since had three different "premieres:" at ResFest 2000, in a fine cut at Sundance, and everywhere at once in the final version that is currently touring the international festival circuit and was recently released on DVD. Riffing on a range of pop culture staples – video games, anime, Saturday morning cartoons, Godzilla movies and various sci-fi classics (Star Wars, Lost in Space and Star Trek) – the directors relied on Power Macintoshes and G3s running Adobe After Effects and Photoshop to create the 30-frame-per-second animation sequences and background collages.

"We used a video-game aesthetic, so we have everything very sharp, very clean," says Garon, who worked with the crew to create a variety of funky hybridizations such as a "pimped-out" version of the starship Enterprise, complete with a Captain Kirk—like figure who is styled suspiciously like an intergalactic Shaft, and a chase sequence built on a motion-reference sample from the Steve McQueen classic Bullitt.

The Wave Twisters DVD (see www.wavetwisters- themovie.com) includes outtakes, the directors’ and Qbert’s commentaries, Cunningham’s artwork, animatics of Wave Twisters’s characters, and some unique open-source content. "But the most important feature," Garon notes, "is that we’re going to include the characters and the 3-D models from the film and let people use them in their own projects. We come from this sampling culture, so we have to provide people with the means to sample our work. I’m not going to keep on working on Wave Twisters for the rest of my life, so we’re handing it over to the fans and then stepping back to see what they come up with."

VOD CALENDAR

Filmmaker's curated calendar of the latest video on demand titles.
Free Men Sensation Restless City
See the VOD Calendar →