Moving Paintings From Inside

Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.

In 1993, I was honored to be asked by my friend, artist and musician John Bergin, to write the precis for his graphic novel From Inside. It was an exciting time. Kevin Eastman, fat with cash from the meteoric success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, created the Tundra imprint and published such ground-breaking work as Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz's Big Numbers, Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell, Stephen R. Bissette's Taboo, and Dave McKean's Cages. Bergin and his friend James O'Barr brought over The Crow, Kerosene, and the Bone Saw collection. And then there was From Inside. In the introduction, I wrote:
John Bergin's work exists in a world of perpetual darkness and droning ambiance. His artistry lies not so much in his ability to maintain this consistent dark vision (which he does with a vengeance), but in his ability to build a rich and complex world inside such a singular dimension. He has the ability to dance right on the edge of suffocating nihilism, while providing just enough oxygen to sustain life.The beauty of his art uplifts you, while its devastating message crushes you to dust.
From Inside has always been a film, even when it was a comic book. When I first got the galleys and began thumbing through it, I saw storyboards, I saw frames and camera angles, I saw sweeps and transitions. The experience on the page was extremely cinematic. So it makes sense that John would want to go the other way and make a film that feels like reading a comic book in motion. And no, we're not talking about a comic book being adapted to the big screen as a full-blown animation. John worked with the original art from the book and did the ol' Ken Burns Effect on the panels, adding some animation elements, and 3D models and set pieces. The result feels like a mash-up between a static comic book, a pop-up book, and full-blown 3D animation. Its "bookness" is more intact than other comics made into films.
The main characters of From Inside are Cee, a young pregnant woman, and a seemingly endless steam train. John has always had a "thing" for trains and that adoration comes through in the immense detail of the 3D models and animation, the texture maps, the sounds, and smoke effects. It's a giant beast of a machine (literally in some scenes). It's mind-boggling to consider that John did nearly all of this work himself (the credits for the over-one-hour film are ridiculously short) on a Apple G5 Dual 2.7 running Maya, Photoshop, and AfterEffects. Some shots took weeks to render. One took over a month. John ended up spending 2-1/2 years of his life on this effort. The story of From Inside opens with the pregnant Cee on the train as it traverses a post-apocalyptic landscape. As we fall into the sonorous rhythms of the train, we hear the gentle voice of Cee:
I have tried and tried to remember how this wasteland came to be. I don't remember where I got on this train and I don't know where it's going. What difference does it make? When the end of the world has come, it's too late to wonder why.
From there, the train slows and stops at one whistle stop of horror and devastation after another. Cee's experiences on and around the train bleed into the dreams and nightmares she's having in the little womb-like compartment she's been given by the engineers. Through her narration, we learn of life on this helltrain and are made privy to her most intimate fears, her grieving over the loss of her husband, and her total apprehension over bringing a child into this world. And it's that last bit that From Inside is really about. It's a nightmare meditation on fears of being pregnant, questioning the sanity of bringing a child into an insane world, and the generalized, frequently irrational, fears young pregnant couples have over the devastating impact a newborn will bring down upon their lives. However it will work out in the end, it will surely be catastrophic to your pre-child life. And the certainty of that can be terrifying.
If you're looking for happy endings here, look out. (John jokingly calls it "the most depressing film ever made.") Like the novel, John rations use of the oxygen throughout. When the film ended, it was all I could do to keep my head out of my oven. But in the end, I was more satisfied than bummed -- I'd had the unique opportunity to climb inside of a book, a world, that has intrigued me since the day I was introduced to it. You can watch a preview of From Inside on the movie's website and read the blog John has kept throughout the project. The film is currently traveling the animation and film festival circuit, and not surprisingly, scooping up a number of awards. See the News section of his site for the screenings schedule.


  1. In general I try to avoid movies that make me want to put my head in an oven, but I just watched the preview for this and I’m interested.

  2. It looks intriguing, but when can *I* see it? I guess its not out on Blu-Ray or DVD. Is this meant for theatrical release? There didn’t seem to be much info beyond a bunch of festival awards.

  3. Under the News section, there’s a screening schedule through April. I get the impression from John that it’ll eventually be released on DVD.

  4. These still images are very beautiful. To see that animated would be amazing. The story and the writing are really interesting as well. I like the sound of these sonorous rhythms…

  5. So when is it coming to Vancouver B.C.?

    Anyone know where I can find the torrent for the video if its not coming to Vancouver?

  6. the train image looks suspiciousl like somethig from “Gadget”– almost verbatim? And they aren’t really moving paintings are they– they are animations using paintings. A moving painting would be actual oil, acrylic moving, like Perry Hall’s Livepaintings.

  7. The image of the train caught and held my attention for a very long time. That image alone makes me want to read the original book, and see the movie. Not really sure what that says about me, but I know what it says about his art: it’s amazing.

  8. OFF Topic: sorry –

    Takuan, since you have such a good recall of trains, maybe you can remember a painting of a train that I saw years ago. The painting is of an old train at night, with a dark snowy background. I think two children were in the painting also. The children were dressed in old timey clothing with hats and scarves I believe. I’ve searched for this painting many times on google image search to no avail. Again, sorry about the off topic comment

  9. As Gareth posted re DVD: It’s in the works. Watch the From Inside blog or site for news…

    Takuan: YES they did have more fun. The engine is the J3 Hudson. Just a regular steam engine under all that art deco stuff. I think the engineers didn’t like the covering very much — it was heavy which slowed the train and the plates made it difficult to access the engine for maintenance. Incredible, though, to imagine this GIANT MACHINE was powered by hot water. You can read a few of my notes about it here:

    John, director From Inside

  10. “what style of stack?” I think it was like one from late 1800s or early 1900s – larger at the top I believe (I’m going from a mental image from years ago) – the painting also had a European setting – the train was all black – I’ve seen it online before.

  11. It may be from the book then – I imagine there are lots of train pictures in it. I haven’t seen a copy in years though.

  12. She stood a moment in the falling snow, mitten in mitten with sister, and looked up at black mass of the idling engine before her. The throb and irregular puff of white crystal echoed the brief moments ago of the team drawing the sleigh to the station, away from the snug farmhouse – never to be seen again. Clothes on back and hasty valise, they had fled west, mere minutes before the white-clad men had skied east, rifles bobbing on backs with each grim kick and pole stroke.

    Now they filed aboard with the others from the outlying farms, the village folk already gone ahead. Last looks over the shoulder and stepping up into the light and warmth of the car, already muggy with many bodies. Settling where they could, she nestled next to Mother as the train pulled out, whistleless. The few dim bulbs overhead went out soon after and they gently rattled and swayed into the limitless winter. She dozed.

    A timeless nap later, her eyes opened onto the crowded, stable-like scene. The car fair stank of close pressed flesh by now and she felt then just how long and far away the privy behind the farmhouse had been. All was darkness outside the rimed and fogged windows. Moving softly she made her way to the small door marked “Water Closet”.
    She gathered her long, heavy skirt in one hand and leaned gingerly against the wooden wall, balancing with the other hand and the tiny stall exploded. The door flew open and Mother, her face a rictus, tore her from the seat as shards and flinders of white porcelain spun around their heads. The staccato slap of the heavy machine-gun bullets hammered through the roof and shredded the paneled walls all about her even as Mother clutched her tight and threw them backwards into to the tangled mass of fear behind her.

    The faint drone of the fighter sounded over the rail noise for a few heartbeats and then faded into the night.

  13. If one were to want to read the graphic novel this was based on, say, is it possible to obtain it still, or is it now out of print?


    I was a heartbeat away from ordering this graphic novel until that price hit me like the economy in the face. Next paycheck for sure. Assuming it is out of print at that price, but goddamn, i MUST read this before the DVD comes out. Will be keeping a close eye on this one, and showing it around my sides of the internet to people that may be quite interested. I could use something like this ‘feel good hit of the summer’ to put my own feelings on my life into perspective. Fantastic write up, this movie looks amazing.

  15. goddamn! its about time! im a huge fan of john bergin…. he’s an amazing artist, writer and musician (trust obey, C17H19SO4) it is time he became more well known! i bought this graphic novel in college, and have been waiting years to see this actualized! :^)

    BUY THE GRAPHIC NOVEL! it is dark, dark dark stuff!

  16. Sorry Gareth. There’s a part of me that’s still a 13 year old so. cal punker in 1981. If you saw me now I’d probably just come off as some mean corporate douche bag.

  17. I loved that book. I can’t recommend it enough. It was so visually powerful and stunning. And very dark. lol at Amazon’s “I’d like to read this book on Kindle” link. Somehow I don’t think it would translate.

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