John Bergin (Kansas City, MO) and I go way back. We first met, in the early 90s, through the zine publishing scene. I instantly became a big fan of both his art and his music. Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with him on a number of projects, such as the soundtrack to Dan Abnett’s sci-fi novel, Traitor General (the Warhammer 40K soundtrack John mentions in the interview). I also had the honor of writing the introduction to John’s graphic novel, From Inside. So I was thrilled when I heard he was making it into a movie, but wondered how on Earth that could even be possible. One man, one desktop computer, and endless hours or bit-twiddling. But if anybody has the wherewithal to follow folly to a breathtaking conclusion, it’s John Bergin. From Inside, the movie, has done well at a ton of film festivals, and it deserves it. It’s such a testament to what heights a person and a personal computer can reach these days. As John says below: “Get started today! Don’t hesitate. Use whatever you have available.” A maker motto to live by, for sure. — Gareth
First off, can you give MAKE readers some background on yourself. Tell us about your day job? Your artwork? Your music?
I wrote and illustrated comics through the 80s and 90s. Some titles I worked on are Ashes, From Inside, The Crow, Bone Saw, Golgothika, and Brain Dead. I also did a lot shorts for publishers like Heavy Metal, Dark Horse, and tons of designs for album and book covers. I recorded a lot of music through those decades, too. My main musical projects were Trust Obey and C17H19NO3. Have done soundtracks for The Crow, Warhammer 40K, and collaborated with Jarboe from the Swans and Brett Smith from Caul. My trials and tribulations in all this are documented at grindertool.com and frominsidemovie.com for anyone who’s interested in spending a few hours reading, watching, and listening.
How did From Inside come about? What made you decide to make it into an animated feature?
It started out as a graphic novel, published in the mid-90s. And ever since then, I’d wanted to keep the story alive and accessible. The issues it explores are timeless. Originally, it was a 300+ page graphic novel. That’s a pretty heavy project to keep in print, and comics are a pretty small niche market. I poked around with e-publishing in the late 90s, but the technology just wasn’t robust enough, the quality, and format. Eventually, desktop computers became powerful enough that it wasn’t that hard to take it on myself as an animated feature. So, I guess my answer is because I wanted to reach a larger audience. It’s done well and has played at dozens of festivals around the world. It won Best Animated Feature at SITGES.
Had you done any animation before?
A few short films in the early 2000s. Here’s one I did that that played at a couple of festivals, but was never released anywhere.
What’s From Inside about?
From Inside is about a pregnant woman traveling on a train across a bleak, post-apocalyptic landscape. She struggles with feelings of guilt over her lost husband as well as learning to cope with the fact that there isn’t much of a world left for her baby to be born into.
When did you start on it and how long did it take you?
I started slowly in early 2006… ramped up the production over the year until it became somewhat of my exclusive focus through 2007 and 2008. It took about 2-1/2 years to complete.
What tech did you use? And how much did technology change in the time it took you to finish? Did you upgrade or did you stick with the same tech you started with?
I used the last of the G5 Power Macs, with Maya, After Effects, and Photoshop. Technology changed a lot over those few years. I think Alias (Maya) was sold during that time. A few major upgrades to After Effects as well. I didn’t upgrade. I learned the hard way (when I upgraded a few pieces of software, I think it was Quicktime) that changing even the most minor thing in a production pipeline can break everything. With DIY filmmaking, I’d say that would be one of my major recommendations: stick with whatever tech you have from start to finish. Generally DIY takes a long time, so that’s a hard rule to stick to… but you’ll waste more time fixing problems if you don’t stick with your original pipeline. Time investment is one of the advantages a DIY filmmaker has — use it wisely.
How did you educate yourself on the techniques and technologies you used? Are there web resources you would recommend to others? Books?
I made use of online tutorials and DVDs. Also, read a stack of books about four feet high — most of these books are out of date now. Most of my education with Maya and After Effects has just brutal trial and error. Chris and Trish Meyer publish a nice series of book about After Effects you might want to check out.
What advice would you give to people who are interested in doing desktop movie making/animation?
Get started today! Don’t hesitate. Use whatever you have available. The equipment at your disposal today is easy to use, inexpensive, and on-par with what studios use to make blockbusters.
Are there some favorite low/no-budget films of others you’d recommend?
Here’s a couple DIY films and filmmakers I’ve enjoyed over the past few years:
Christiane Cegavske’s Blood Tea and Red String
I am dot Strange
“I’m just an animator who makes features films alone. I document the filmmaking process here, comment on related issues, discuss thangs I like, and do my best to provide helpful information for other artists.”
[Editor’s Note: Some adult content, cursing, R-level nudity, etc.]
Where can people see From Inside? Will it be available on DVD at any point?
Multi-platform release this year. DVD, iTunes, etc. There will be a deluxe version, too, that will be packaged with a book.
You’ve done some fun movie projects with your kids. Can you tell us about those?
My kids would basically write their own stories and direct me. We’ve had films play in festivals and at the Smithsonian. Funnest one was called Cloud Warriors — about two kids who fly around on winged machines fighting robots. These things were usually animated, with greenscreen kids comped in. Lots of duct tape, cheap lighting… and our bluescreen was just a sheet stuck on a wall. Here’s one of our films, where it’s proven that kids can solve any problems — with help from birds.
What projects are you working on now?
Writing a few scripts. One of them is an adaptation of my comic book Golgothika, another one is called Wednesday.