Moving Paintings From Inside

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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.
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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.
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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.