Still More Toy Stories...

In what can only be perfect timing, I got e-mail this weekend from Damon Wellner of Probot Productions. Probot was one of the groups of Star Wars DIY filmmakers I discussed in Convergence Culture and continues to be a leader in the space of action figure cinema. Wellner shared their most recent production, Raiders of the Toy Box, which is being released just in time for the new Indiana Jones movie, and it's a great example of what Probot does. This amateur or semi-professional action figure filmmaking anticipated the emergence of commercial series such as Robot Chicken, as I suggested a while back here in the blog. Even more interesting to me was a press release describing some recent developments for the Probot producers:

Probot Productions was founded in 1998 by former Emerson College film students, Damon Wellner and Sebastian O'Brien, as an experimental attempt to create a universe of "living" toys, and to lampoon Hollywood with its own merchandise. Probot's world of Toy-Cinema was hatched out of the elaborate action-figure battles staged by Damon, Sebastian, and their toy collecting friends. Their first project, ALIEN 5, was made with no editing facilities, so the entire movie had to be shot in sequence, and edited in-camera, a painstaking process which took 6 months to complete. The resulting 22 minute video was finished for under $150....

Probot's epic Star Wars parody, PREQUEL, caught the attention of Hasbro, Inc. makers of the Star Wars toy line. Impressed, Hasbro commissioned Probot to produce recreations of scenes from the Star Wars Saga for their website. Probot met the challenge of reproducing the cinematography and effects shot-for-shot, using 4" action-figures. To help achieve this, the in-camera effects were enhanced in post-production with CGI elements, resulting in a unique blend of old and new-school styles. The video has had a resurgence as a hit viral-video on YouTube, and as a featured video on MySpaceTV, with over 420,000 views so far.

Since relocating to Hollywood in 2000, the team's production values have soared. Damon has learned more about the professional techniques of visual effects, miniature photography, and pyrotechnics, while working freelance for visual effects companies. Damon assisted the model-makers and pyrotechnics crews for big budget Hollywood features including Hellboy, Resident Evil 2, and The Punisher. Probot's 2004 release, ALIEN 5², a 30 minute sequel to ALIEN 5, was the culmination of all they had learned about storytelling and effects. Until now.

While the company continues to release a steady stream of new Toy-Cinema viral-videos each year, Probot's latest project, a feature film titled, The Gibbon, promises to take the company to the next level. It is a co-production of Cinefile Video, and after 18 months of pre-production, the film is in production now. The screenplay is an entirely original concept and story by Sebastian O'Brien, and is being shot and directed by Damon Wellner. The budget, just under $30,000, while microscopic by Hollywood standards, will be enormous in the microcinematic world of Probot Productions.

The entire cast consists of custom-designed, 7" scale action-figures, sculpted by a corral of talented sculptors and action-figure customizers. The original story combines elements of super-hero comics and classic monster movies. Probot's effects team will be pushing the envelope of Toy-Cinema with a newly developed technique by the director to digitally animate the character's faces. The result will be a truly unique film that will be hard to categorize, but easy to enjoy!

Thanks to my young nephew, Jacob Benson, I wanted to share another delightful example of how childhood play is giving rise to new forms of participatory culture -- in this case, through the use of hand puppets rather than through the animation of action figures.

"The Mysterious Ticking Noise" is my favorite of a series of episodes of an amateur produced Potter Puppet Pals series. It's hard to explain why this one brings a smile to my face but it just does.