Completed June 2019
Short Live Action Comedy
Tagline: A professional fly killer finds a fly that refuses to die...
Roles: Director, Writer, Actor, Sound Designer, VFX Artist, Stop Motion Animator
A world-renowned, professional fly killer, named Carl, is on the cusp of finalising his latest and most powerful invention; a machine that, with a single pulse, will annihilate every single fly on this world. Whilst testing its efficacy within the limited range of his workshop, a single fly miraculously survives the death pulse. Adamant that his machine not be undermined, a chase ensues between the fly and its would-be killer. Before Carl has a chance to squash it, the fly crawls into a small hole in the wall, out of reach. Putting his eye up to the hole, Carl sees before him an impossible fly utopia; bathed in golden light and hope. Jolting backwards, his sense of the world now fractured, the fly re-emerges and lands on the blueprints of Carl’s death-machine. As he looks on, the fly redesigns his machine, transforming it into something far more intriguing; a machine that turns flies into humans…
Understandably the idea of FLIT is all rather odd - and, as you sit there mindlessly scrolling through this rather wonderful website, you're probably thinking to yourself; how did FLIT come about?
It all started on a perfectly ordinary summer afternoon...
I have never been particularly fond of flies—annoying pests that are at their most annoying when they keep landing on you, despite your best efforts to swat them out of the air before they land on you again. This very thing happened to me whilst I was sitting in the sun, minding my own business, and desperately racking my brains for story ideas. As my pen was inches away from pa-per, no doubt about to write something incredibly insightful and artistic, my train of thought was viciously derailed by an obnoxious landing carried out by a fly on my arm. I flicked it away nonchalantly, about to tend to the derailed train, when the fly made another landing. About to initiate another flick, I stopped myself quickly before the fly spotted too much movement in its peripheral bulb-vision. I slowly lowered my arm and simply observed the fly—it turned out to be quite interesting, it wandered around quite happily on my arm. At this point I suddenly had a thought: what if we left flies alone—if we orchestrated a global ceasefire whereby people stopped using various weapons to kill flies and we simply left them be. If given that chance, would flies work together and create something great?
The answer that I quickly came to is that they almost certainly wouldn’t do any-thing too extravagant—although it got me thinking. And, after a little bit of thinking here and there, FLIT was born, with fly civilisation and all.
Behind The Scenes
Making FLIT was a long but thoroughly enjoyable process - hopefully the latter comes across as you watch it; the former is about to be revealed. I thought I'd include a bit of insight into just what went into making it the global award-winning world record internationally acclaimed and revered artistic masterpiece that it is. Consider this a how-to-guide should you too ever find yourself needing to make a film about flies.
At the heart of the film is the script, and it went through many versions and drafts as I tried to work out how best to tell Carl's story. All the way from having a 'Swat Team' come to his rescue, to having an evil mayor trying to squash his fly friend - the story could have gone in all sorts of directions. Eventually, however, I opted for a more contained narrative; with everything taking place in one room and with only two characters, designed to allow audiences to really get to know Carl and his friend without being distracted by unnecessary characters of locations.
One of the major underlying themes of FLIT is the unity between the unifiable, with this taking the form of the unlikely friendship between Carl and the fly. The development of this friendship takes Carl down a path of significant change, turning him from the world’s best fly killer, to a man that wouldn’t hurt a fly. This evolution alone captures the essence of this theme, yet it is pushed even further by having him turn himself into a fly at the end, to join in on the fun with his fly friend. Carl's final action as a human is intended to add a certain level of complexity to the story—up until then, the development of the friendship in itself is somewhat remarkable but not totally alien to audiences. The act of turning himself into a fly is hopefully something that comes as a complete surprise to audiences and pushes audiences to think about Carl's motivations for doing so.
Another heavily explored theme is the conflict between man and nature. We initially start firmly on the side of Carl - even sometimes egging him on to crush the fly with all his might, with audiences getting wrapped up in the theatrics of the various weapons that he uses. This excitement suddenly comes to an abrupt standstill when Carl finds the fly civilisation. This discovery should surprise audiences - having us now sit upright, almost re-evaluating the world in the same way that Carl is now forced to. Conflict between man and nature now comes to a ceasefire -with audiences being encouraged to tone down the hostilities towards the fly as it redesigns the blueprints. And with Carl's decision to build the fly's machine, we start to see a bond develop between him and the insect, and in turn see relations between man and nature thaw. Things come to a head when Carl thinks that the fly has been killed - with man and nature’s relationship at this point being proven to have truly changed with Carl's genuine distress at the death of his new-found friend. Finally, all chance of further conflict between man and nature is rendered im-possible when Carl realises that he and the fly aren’t so different after all. By changing himself into a fly, he accepts the unity between man and nature - and accepts that man is better off as part of nature.
Having no dialogue throughout also posed a challenge; everything would have to come across either visually or orally. This gave me a chance to revist some of my favourite film works for inspiration and guidance, namely; Charlie Chaplin, Mr. Bean, and Tom & Jerry. For this reason the script may look rather odd, as it features features actions exclusively. Also notice how the final film doesn't quite stick exactly to the script; I quickly learnt that there are always quirks during shooting that you need to adapt to if you wish to come out the other side with a film.
Initially, during the early days of working out what sort of person Carl was, I had outlined that he was a cross between Mr Bean and Doc, from Back to the Future. The visual expressiveness of Mr Bean and the boffin-like air of Doc are both characteristics that lend themselves well to Carl. This was useful as an early guide but Carl had to eventually carve his own persona into the script.
A significant facet of his character is that he is scared of flies - this provided ample motivation for his noble and extravagant pursuits of fly killing technology. This also allowed us to have fun with Carl when things go wrong for him in the lab - we could show his confidence falter and have him race around frantically trying to kill the fly but maintaining a safe distance all times in case it suddenly decides to turn on him.
As I went about thinking more about Carl, another heavy influence was Tom from Tom & Jerry. Tom's sheer ruthlessness is an excellent reference for Carl's behaviour during his chasing of the fly - a hungry viciousness that can only be satisfied with the death of Jerry, or a fly in this case. Tom, although ruthless for the vast majority of his screen time, also sometimes shows true sensitivity and care when tricked by Jerry into believing he has been hurt. These moments were truly useful influences when it came to portraying Carl as he changed his attitude towards the fly and started showing his softer side.
Carl's costume also acts as an indicator of character. We decided to have him wear a smart waistcoat and bow-tie - suggesting he cares somewhat for his appearance. However, we aged the costume, giving it a scruffy appearance, indicating Carl's complete dedication to the work at hand in his lab, neglecting his once-smart clothes to pursue greater goals.
Costume design and concepts by Lovisa Litsgård
Making A Fly Killer's Laboratory
Before we got too keen with our hammers and nails, going about building a world for Carl to inhabit, it was important to get a good idea of what we were aiming for. Very much like Carl and his blueprints, I thought it would be wise to first create some concept art for how I envisioned the world to look like. Then, based off of these concept designs, the production design team and I rolled our sleeves up and got cracking on the actual physical building of items. Below, you'll see some of the major elements of FLIT go from a drawing on a page to a fully realised object in the 3D world that you and I inhabit.
I started by first evaluating what I had in my possession; it wasn't much. So I visited a recycling centre at the Edinburgh College of Art and my eyes lit up; bulging with imagined riches - it was stacked up to the ceiling with rubbish. Perfect. So I grabbed what I could and made an inventory of what I have seized - using the inventory to inform my drawing of the concept art - everything I drew in the image I had accounted for and knew existed.:
Carl's Fly Killing Machine went through numerous rounds of concept design; so many that I started to give each version and official MK number - the one we see in the film is MK. IV (very cool name).
Naturally any fly killer's lab wouldn't be complete without a suitable selection of anti-fly propaganda posters. The illustrator of these delights, Peter Tilley, really channelled his inner Carl when creating these:
We then had to actually make it move - this involved setting up camp in a stop motion studio space and meticulously moving each joint, frame by frame. It might sound incredibly tedious, and at times it did feel incredibly tedious, but for the most part it was almost like playing with an action figure - putting it into various poses, except here every pose is recorded for your own enjoyment when you decide to later play it back and see the result of all of your hard work.
And once we finally had all the animation nailed, it was time to composite the images of the fly onto the images of Carl's lab - essentially making it look like the fly was actually flying around Carl rather than just flying around a green-screen backdrop.
On behalf of all of the crew and myself; thank you for scrolling this far down the page - I hope you enjoyed learning about how FLIT was made. It was as absolute joy to make the film, and I can only hope that watching it is equally, if not more, enjoyable.
Somewhat Interesting Links
Making A Fly Fly
"Where on Earth are we going to find a fly who can act?" was a question that I asked myself many times. After sending out numerous casting calls without any response, I decided that there must be another way! After a bit of poking around, I came to the realisation that there were two main options; either create and animate a CG fly, or build a model and stop motion animate it. I went for option two, and embarked on my journey of building a model. After a bit of tinkering around with balsa wood, old joints from MegaBloks figures, and some plastic envelope windows, we had a result:
The Secret Civilisation
Carl's dingy lab wouldn't be half as interesting if it didn't feature a highly advanced fly civilisation behind one of its walls. The fly civilisation took many painstaking hours to design, and many, many more to actually build. Here are all of those endless weeks compressed into easily digestible chunks:
And the bit we've all been waiting for - the film! Go on, give it a watch - you might as well after scrolling this far down. Now that you've educated yourself on the ins and outs of the creation of FLIT you can even keep an eye out for all the tricks and techniques used to bring it to life, compile your findings into an extended analysis, and submit your paper for publishing in the world's leading insect journals. Or, you could instead opt to simply sit back and enjoy the show - the choice is yours.