Episode 70 – Ash Thorp – Deconstructing the film making process of Lost Boy
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Episode 70 – Ash Thorp Interview
Allan McKay interviews Ash Thorp, a graphic designer, illustrator, artist, and creative director for a multitude of media, including feature films, commercial enterprises, and print.
Ash has worked on graphics for Ender’s Game and Total Recall, as well as contributed to the design concepts for Spectre, Prometheus, X-Men First Class, Call of Duty and others. His first directorial debut started with the assembly of an international team for his Ghost in the Shell tribute, as well as the main title for OFFF Barcelona 2014. In 2015, he was requested to assemble an international team of designers and create the title sequence for FITC Tokyo. Later that year, Ash co-directed “Ares — Our Greatest Adventure”, a promotional trailer for the feature film The Martian.
Alongside with co-director Anthony Scott Burns, Ash created a concept short film Lost Boy, based on Ash’s graphic drawings. In this podcast, Ash and Allan about the entire process — from pre- to post-production — “step by step, frame by frame”.
Lost Boy: https://vimeo.com/188650521
Ash Thorp’s Website: http://ashthorp.com/info
Ash Thorp’s IMDb Page: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4500808/
Ash Thorp’s Company Learn Squared, Inc.: https://www.learnsquared.com/
[-[1:40:29] Allan: The origins of Lost Boy. It’s been a long journey. Do you want to talk about how it actually began?
Ash: It started about 3 years ago. ImagineFX Magazine reached out to me to do a piece in their magazine. I was flattered. It was reassuring that I was on the right course. I asked them what I should draw. The theme was superheroes. I wanted to do my own Punisher but my wife advised me to do my own idea. She is always pushing me.
[-1:39:01] I created the name Lost Boy because there were only so few windows on the sign inside the drawing [for the length of the title]. I didn’t attach a story at that time.
[-[1:38:21] I like to work organically and use the muse and the inspiration from the things that I love. I’ll binge on all kinds of things — comics, novels — until my own thing comes out, and then I twist it.
[-[1:37:38] My career was becoming more successful by that time. I loved helping other people with their projects, but I felt that I was missing out on what I really wanted to do: which is make my own stuff. So I decided to make my own thing.
[-[1:37:10] I started drawing every night. I shared those drawings with [my friend] Anthony Scott Burns [who is a director and visual effects artist]. He thought it was awesome, so we started forming a narrative. It went crazy from there.
[-1:34:34] Anthony suggested we make our own comic book. [-1:34:21] Then I started developing another film called Spiral. I was having my own artistic Renaissance. Then Mischa Rozema and Jules Tervoort (from PostPanic Pictures, in Amsterdam) reached out to me to help them with the title sequence for their short film Sundays. They asked if I was developing anything at that time. I said I was.
[-1:33:20] They asked me to put something together and pitch it to them. Anthony and I put together a pitch packet for Lost Boy. Mischa and Jules basically signed the dotted line right there and became our partners.
[-[1:32:15] Allan: As artists, we’re always intrigued about how people work, what kind of pitfalls they fall into.
Ash: I’ll do my best to paint an honest picture.
[-1:31:37] We had to get the legal involved. I’m very keen on keeping the rights to the IP (Intellectual Property). Amsterdam has a different legal ramifications, and this is an American property. We needed to make sure we spoke the same language. Anthony and I own the rights and are co-creators of Lost Boy together.
[-1:31:01] For me, it’s important for us to retain the creative on everything! Not that anybody would have bad intentions. Even Anthony and I have a contract together.
[-1:29:50] Allan: I agree, it’s such a critical thing. No one thinks of the legal stuff until shit hits the fan. The more prepared you are in the beginning (even when you’re an artists and you don’t want to think about the business stuff), the better. I’ve seen so many friendships go to shit. You partner up but if you don’t have that comfortable conversation in the beginning, that means there are no bounds set. By having those discussions and setting the responsibilities between you, you’ll be very clear and feel good moving forward.
[-1:27:49] Ash: I grew up studying George Lucas and all those guys. When you make your own world, you have to share it. But those boundaries are really important. It was very important that Anthony and I retained the artistic rights. PostPanic was going to produce and help facilitate all the things that are needed (and they did an amazing job!) and Anthony and I would work to get the film to the level it needed to be.
[-1:26:05] “If I can give any advice to anyone that’s listening, make sure that you have a lawyer or someone who understands contracts and you be clear about what you want. But lawyers create their own work, and you’ve got to be very careful about that.”
[-1:25:18] When you make these things, nobody knows the value of them. They’re just an idea in the beginning and a bunch of drawings. But I value it. [-1:15:51] “You need to be very clear from the beginning. And that’s just Business 101. Business is cut black and white.”
[-1:22:26] Ash: “What I want to do in life is do the things I enjoy, with the people I enjoy. Being good at business just facilitates the longevity of doing such a thing. As an artist, I’m not inspired by doing business; but business becomes the art.”
[-[1:22:04] When I was young, the business stuff would kill me. The legal stuff, if you’re looking to create your own IP, you need to take it seriously.
[-[1:19:49] So, we finally got past the legal stuff. A lot of it is just talking, “You’re human, I’m human.” We got to a great place. We all wanted the same goal.
[-[1:19:15] Anthony and I met up in New York, on a job. We spent a day to storyboard the sequence and took the previs to PostPanic. We started doing location scouts. We originally wanted to shoot in Scotland or Iceland but ended up shooting in Spain (where Sergio Leon shot a lot of his Spaghetti Westerns).
[-[1:16:43] Then we found our two of our actors, formed our crew. It was all hands on deck at that point.
[-[1:15:10] I’ve done a couple of smaller directing jobs by that point; but I felt, “Oh shit! This is getting real!”
[-[1:14:40] Allan: Did you have an AD? Did PostPanic bring on its own people?
Ash: Yes, they brought their own people. Anthony and I are very controlling. We met the DOP and the AD.
[-[1:12:36] “It’s all so multilayered. There is so much stuff that goes into this. Film productions are just intense.”
[-[1:10:32] Filmmaking is high stress, you have to be so ready. The level of madness on set is crazy. “Learning to work with DOP and [making sure] they’re seeing what you’re seeing and you are aligned.” Anthony and I had to live with the responsibility of it.
[-[1:11:44] Allan: How long was preproduction?
Ash: Oh, man, we lost a couple of months in legal, but that needed to be done. And then a month or so of writing and storyboarding. We spent quite a bit of time working with VFX on location (prosthetics, etc.) So 3 months, maybe?
[-[1:07:07] Allan: What about production? How long were you shooting for, including pick-ups?
Ash: We had no time for pick-ups, so we had to get it when we had to get it. I believe it was 4, maybe 5 nights.
[-1:06:10] I think the tendency with our film is to say “This is like Mad Max or Sin City”. It’s not that. Anthony and I put so many reference PDF’s together: costumes, visual effects, VFX.
[-[1:05:26] Allan: How long was the turnaround for doing post? And also, how much was you and how much was PostPanic?
Ash: The way it works for PostPanic, this is a passion project for them. They constantly had their own work, so post-production for Lost Boy took quite a long time, a year, I think, from start to finish.
[-[1:04:37] We had a very defined thing. So in getting there and figuring out every small detail, PostPanic would have to do several simulations in Houdini, and render those, and that all takes a long time. Their staff is anywhere from 15 to 40 people, depending on what they had going on.
[-1:03:32] I stayed more hands-off than I usually would because PostPanic did such a great job. “As an artist, I’ve learned so much through this filmmaking process: of making something out of nothing, step by step, frame by frame.”
[-[1:02:27] Toward the end, Anthony ended up putting the film together. We stayed in my studio studio for six days nonstop, finishing the grade (using DaVinci) and visual effects. We even did sound design editions ([some in my garage, to my wife’s amusement]). But mostly, PostPanic cared for all of this stuff.
[-[59:55] Allan: With casting, how easy or hard was it for you to find the right people? You’re so passionate, trying to find the right person — how did that go?
Ash: We had two rounds of casting and we found both of our actors after the two rounds. We wrote this thing keeping in mind that it wouldn’t require heavy acting because we knew we couldn’t afford well known actors. You start writing dialogue in there — it starts getting very difficult. We wanted to minimize all the risk.
[-58:49] For the character of Lost Boy, we were looking for a face we could light: The way the nose line connects and the way the bottom jaw area works, the way the light cascades. We wanted him to feel like a predator, a monster, a Frankenstein. For Xeh, she had to be a very beautiful person that you could sympathize with.
[-[58:10] “Casting is so unique. You have to really step outside your body and look at it from multiple different angles.” [-[57:45] We saw hundreds of faces and we asked them to do the action and send us their tape. We met the actors over Skype. The beauty of casting these days, you don’t have to be there [in person]. They can send us videos and the proof is in the pudding. I know Ridley Scott has cast his films over Skype.
[-[55:47] Allan: How did you typically break down each night on location? What shots were you doing on which particular night?
Ash: We wanted to start with the harder stuff. It’s really hard to do action, especially action slow mo. We tried to do the harder stuff in the beginning, just in case we ran out of time. We started with Xeh’s running, which you get a bunch of flack for: “It’s too slow!”
Allan: These days, the attention span to capture someone is 8 seconds. You’re making something that’s a filter. You’ve weeded out the people who aren’t your audience.
Ash: Yeah, I don’t want them. It’s just about finding the tribe.
[-[53:00] We did the death scenes at the end.
[-[52:07] Allan: Did you have any moment of self-doubt, those inner voices saying it wasn’t going to work out?
Ash: Yeah! The whole project. The whole time. When I’m sitting at home drawing, I don’t have too much doubt because I can control it. But when I’m asking all these people to do this thing — an image I have in my head — it’s quite complicated.
[-[51:29] “It’s nerve wracking to make film. It’s not easy. It’s the hardest form of art because you’re doing all the things, it’s everything. It’s all visceral.” I was constantly doubting it, I just wouldn’t show it. [-[43:05] You have to have a good crew to protect you and shield you. The process is so intense, it takes so much stamina.
[-50:01] “Self-doubt is part of the art though. It keeps me grounded, it keeps me alert and aware.”
[-[50:09] Allan: How do you deal with it?
Ash: “You’ve got to let a little bit of it come in, deal with it but then move forward.” A director’s job isn’t being good at art: It’s about communicating your ideas and having a good taste; and facilitate the best abilities in your teammates.
[-49:21] You get personally attacked for the final product. I wouldn’t have it any other way though. “I think great art comes from a freakout moment. That’s when great work is being made.”
[45:19] It’s a part of it. If you want to be a strong person, you’ve got to deal with both. “I love the idea of living a life that’s filled with challenges so that I can understand what I’m made of and how far to push myself. The struggle is part of it. It’s part of the journey I like the most, I think.”
[-[43:20] Allan: “I truly believe you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone. If you’re always comfortable, then how are you going to grow?”
[-42:06] Ash: Going to from drawing in my office to being to Spain with a bunch of people I’ve never met or worked with and trusting them; the level of chaos and level of the unknown — I would never change any of it! This is all coming from inspiration of all these comic book artists. I feel very privileged to do so.
[-[40:07] Allan: Do you want to talk about what’s happened since you’ve launched Lost Boy?
Ash: Sure. At every stage, the film changes. The moment you release your film and release it to the world, it’s no longer yours. It’s a very sad time. You never know: You might think you have something special, but maybe you don’t.
[-[39:13] The overall response has been amazing, super positive. I find it interesting about some artists though: They are so shitty to one another. If they only knew how difficult it is to make this stuff, instead of making some stupid comment.
[-37:54] Since releasing the film, we’ve done a ton of meetings, met a lot of interesting people. We wrote a treatment for an episodic treatment version. But part of what Lost Boy is that it’s about questioning our programming. It’s interesting to see the repetitious programing of Hollywood. They don’t know what to do with our film.
[-36:06] “Trying to make something that’s different and unique, it just takes a lot more risk.” And no one can buy something they can’t see, so you have to sell it; and that takes a lot of money and effort. So, we’ll see who wants to invest and make something bigger.
[-[34:33] The goal for me is that if we’ve gone this far, there is no reason we can’t go further, especially with Netflix, and Amazon, [and even Kickstarter, for fundraising].
[-32:15] “What’s the point of making something if you can’t have creative control?”
[-30:24] “If you want to do something, just go and do it! I’m so sick and tired of asking for, ‘Hey, can I go make my thing?’ Fuck that! Go DO it!” “So many directors get caught up in how complex it is — in their career — and all the layers of social bullshit that have to comb through.”
[-29:15] “Be real with yourself that fact that tomorrow isn’t promised. The time that you have is the most amazing thing that you have and you can only enjoy it while you have it. So take that seriously. So, GO! Try it! Chase your dreams, don’t ask for permission!”
[-[27:57] It’s not easy but it is possible.
[-[25:41] When you say you’re going to do something, it often feels like you’ve already done it. But talk is cheap. When you actually make something, you can talk about it — but then you actually have to go do it. That’s very difficult. [-[25:08] “If at the end of the day, you don’t have something to show for it, then what are you doing?”
[-[20:05] “If you want to go somewhere in life, a place or a destination, you have to ride it out, be about it, talk about — and back it up with your actions. It’s about triggering it and being action oriented.”
[-22:09] [Also], Iron sharpens iron. I surround myself with people [who make me stronger]. I’ve been showing my friends Lost Boy — for a year! — and it’s blown them away with the amount of work it takes. They also help me see things differently.
[-[17:21] Allan: Were you strategic with the launch? I have friends who are feature film directors, and the success [of their films] usually comes down to the execution.
Ash: This has been my own design. Months back, I talked to my friends about designing the countdown, get a newsletter, get people aware. Lost Boy got launched on Vimeo, nothing crazy.
[-[15:03] I have a huge list of friends and artists I admire, so I sent them the link. I’ve shared it with people. The news spread naturally.
[-[14:01] “Again, you have to be really cognizant, you have to wear many hats. You have to be a business person. You have to be aware of the IP laws.”
[-[13:17] Allan: You were shooting on a RED camera? Was it the DRAGON?
Ash: Yes, I believe it was the RED EPIC, shot 4K at 120. We wanted to shoot with Anamorphic Lens because it’s the best. It just opens up everything. But as you know, it’s a pain in the ass with visual effects.
[-[11:47] Allan: Where you shooting on 50 millimeter?
Ash: I’m not a huge wide lens fan. I love 45 to 80, that’s my favorite range. I believe we used anywhere from 80 to 50 to 45-ish mil.
[-[10:48] Allan: Any books that you could recommend that you’ve read?
Ash: Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. Robert Greene’s Mastery. I’m in need of some good fiction right now. I’ve finished Stephen King’s Black House. I’m going to read No Country for Old Men next, by Cormac McCarthy. (It’s my favorite Coen Brothers’ film.) Oh, and Eat that Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating [by Brian Tracy] is great!
[-08:29] Ash: “It’s easy for me to say all these things. I’m skipping over a lot of hardship and a lot of pissed off times and anger. The overall experience was quite good. It’s easy to say, being done with it, “It’s so easy.” It’s not! It’s going to be very hard! You know you’re doing it right when it’s really frustrating and you are filled self-doubt, but you have an inkling of hope.”
“Go try something different. Don’t do it for anyone else but yourself. Don’t ask for permission!”
“Be real with yourself that fact that tomorrow isn’t promised. The time that you have is the most amazing thing that you have and you can only enjoy it while you have it. So take that seriously. So, go! Try it! Chase your dreams, don’t ask for permission!”
“I think great art comes from a freakout moment. That’s when great work is being made.”
“I love the idea of living a life that’s filled with challenges so that I can understand what I’m made of and how far to push myself. The struggle is part of it. It’s part of the journey I like the most, I think.”
“You’ve got to let a little bit of the self-doubt come in, deal with it but then move forward.”
“What I want to do in life is do the things I enjoy, with the people I enjoy. Being good at business just facilitates the longevity of doing such a thing. As an artist, I’m not inspired by doing business; but business becomes the art.”
“As an artist, I’ve learned so much through this filmmaking process: of making something out of nothing, step by step, frame by frame.”
“Lost Boy is very bold. It’s very unique. It’s very different.”
“Trying to make something that’s different and unique, it just takes a lot more risk.”
“It’s nerve wracking to make film. It’s not easy. It’s the hardest form of art because you’re doing all the things, it’s everything. It’s all visceral.”
“What’s the point of making something if you can’t have creative control?”
“If you want to do something, just go and do it! I’m so sick and tired of asking for, ‘Hey, can I go make my thing?’ Fuck that! Go DO it!”
“If you want to go somewhere in life, a place or a destination, you have to ride it out, be about it, talk about — and back it up with your actions. It’s about triggering it and being action oriented.”
“It’s easy for me to say all these things. I’m skipping over a lot of hardship and a lot of pissed off times and anger. The overall experience was quite good. It’s easy to say, being done with it, “It’s so easy.” It’s not, it’s going to be very hard. You know you’re doing it right when it’s really frustrating and you are filled self-doubt, but you have an inkling of hope.”
“Go try something different. Don’t do it for anyone else but yourself. Don’t ask for permission!”
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