One of the biggest challenges right now for fan films (and Hollywood itself) is the global pandemic. And while COVID-19 hasn’t completely stopped production of either fan films or the larger entertainment industry itself, it has made shooting such projects much more challenging, somewhat more limited in scope and flexibility, and in a number of cases, more expensive due to the need to provide PPD and sanitizer and other mitigations for infection among the actors and crew.
So what’s the alternative?
Well, the most obvious answer is to do an audio drama. After all, voice-actors don’t need to be together in one place; they can record their lines at home or in a studio sound booth one at a time. And indeed, there have been Star Trek audio dramas of varying quality for many, many years. But they typically appear on YouTube with either one or a slideshow of still images. They’re meant to be listened to, not watched. So what if you want to create something for fans to see as well as hear during the pandemic?
Beginning in the middle of last year, several resourceful Trekkers began producing what I’ve decided to call “fandemic” films. These were fan films showing characters mainly in single shots, so that the actors would not have to be close to each other. Many (but not all) of these stories featured Starfleet officers talking to each other via subspace—like cosmic Zoom or FaceTime calls—with footage the actors recorded in their own homes.
But now fan filmmaker MARK NACCARATO has come up with a new idea for socially-distanced fan films which he calls a “motion comic.” There have actually been a few “proto” motion comics released prior to this, most notably a series of AXANAR COMICS (like this one) from creator TREY McELWAIN, where still artwork of a comic that he wrote and had an artist illustrate are presented one panel at a time with pans and zooms along with a narrator reading the captions out loud, sound effects, and music.
But Mark has taken things a step further. Although Mark also has voice-over narration (performed by KYLE GEARY) plus sound FX and music, his comic artwork isn’t merely still images with pans and zooms. Mark brought in an animator to actually MOVE the artwork.
Granted, it isn’t full animation like Star Trek: Lower Decks because Mark doesn’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend. So the movement is simple, but still clever enough to provide a visually engaging viewing experience. Take a look…
The “Holocaust” comic book itself (without the animation) was initially published back in April of 2019 as the first of two such comics in Mark’s THE ROMULAN WAR: WAR STORIES anthology of tales with art by YUDHI SURYO and colors by ULULL AZM. You can read the original pure comic version of “Holocaust” here. And you can read the other comic, “Intruders,” here.
The War Stories anthology of tales from the Romulan War also includes a MUST SEE series of what Mark calls “enhanced” audio dramas, which are a type of fan film that typically features voice actors reading the log entries of various characters—admirals, MACOs, flight engineers, freighter pilots, planetary leaders—accompanied by simple 2D animations, short 3D visual FX sequences, and occasionally brief video clips. Not nearly as elaborate as a full-on video production, it is a significant step beyond a basic audio drama with only still images. You can view and listen to all of the War Stories releases on this YouTube playlist (including “First Flight,” which features the vocal “talents” of yours truly).
And of course, Mark is also currently working on the second half of his main THE ROMULAN WAR fan film. Shot in the “mock documentary” style of PRELUDE TO AXANAR, the Romulan War focuses on Earth’s other main interstellar adversary and the war that led to the founding of the United Federation of Planets. If you haven’t seen Part 1 yet, you should really take a look…
Right now, Mark is still trying to raise a final $605 more in an Indiegogo to be able to fund production of certain new scenes that hadn’t initially been planned for. But with the campaign surpassing the initial $10K, a stretch goal of $14K was set—and they are nearly there!
I was curious how this unique motion comic project came about, and so I contacted Mark…
JONATHAN – Very nice job on this motion comic of yours, Mark!
MARK – Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
JONATHAN – Absolutely! So I had no idea you were planning to release something like this. What’s the “origin story” behind this motion comic? And aren’t you supposed to be finishing up the main fan film? Why interrupt that to work on this?
MARK – I consider the Marvel Super Heroes cartoons from the 1960s (like this one) that I watched after school in the mid-70’s to be the first true motion comics, even if they weren’t called that. Those “limited animation” short stories retold many key classic Silver Age stories from Marvel’s mightiest heroes and were a godsend to young comic readers like me who lived in a world where collector shops and trade paperbacks didn’t exist yet.
I’d always planned on doing a motion comic for at least one of The Romulan War stories, and of the two comics we’d released up to that point, “Holocaust” lent itself to animation more than the other one.
As to why I did it when I was in the middle of producing Part 2 of the film and also running an Indiegogo fundraising campaign? Well, the world of low-budget filmmaking has starts and stops all through production. It’s not like a real Hollywood studio where big sums of money are on the line and you have people locked in for full work days for weeks or months at a time. There are lulls, and I used those to chip away at it—and from my perspective, producing “Holocaust” wasn’t a heavy lift. The hardest parts—the script and the completed art—had been already done.
JONATHAN – How did you find your voice actor and animator?
MARK – Hmmm, I wish there was some sexy story behind the production of “Holocaust,” but the truth is that I found the animator and the voice actor through Fiverr after a couple hours of research. Luckily, the animator (yes, he has his own small production company called Creative MQ) happened to be a Trek fan and gave me a cut in his normal rate. He was great to work with, though he still won’t tell me his real name…lol! And I’d worked with KYLE GEARY, our voice actor, before when he did the voice of this same character, Anderson Le, in the short we put out last year called “Hunting Grounds.”
JONATHAN – So what do you do when there’s a voice actor in another location reading lines that you wrote? Did you actively direct his performance over the phone or mostly leave him to do things his way?
MARK – For “Holocaust,” I gave Kyle some basic direction about Le’s background, how he might process the atrocities he sees, and where the character is headed emotionally. Kyle did a good job, I think, showing us how Anderson Le’s experiences in the Earth-Romulan War put him on a path of xenophobia and revenge, which is where we find him in the film Star Trek Beyond (Le was the former MACO who mutated into an alien called “Manas” while he was stranded on the planet Altimid). Kyle’s performance in this piece is, frankly, more a testament to his talent as a voice actor, not mine as a director. I wasn’t even there when he did his lines!
JONATHAN – Did anyone else work on this project, like a composer?
MARK – I did all the editing, titles, and sound effects, and the soundtrack came from a music library. Frankly, I’m surprised more fan film makers aren’t doing motion comics. The format allows you to tell an engaging, “big” story that you couldn’t afford to produce using “real” actors and locations. From a production standpoint, it is much easier to manage, too, since you’re really only dealing with a few people—comic artist(s), animator, and voice actor(s)—instead of the dozen or more you’d need even for a low-budget film shoot. Plus…motion comics are pandemic proof. No masks or testing required! Hey, there’s a quote for you right there!
JONATHAN – Yep, I actually led off the blog with it! So all told, how long did this motion comic take from the time you began working on it until you released it?
MARK – It’s hard to quantify how long this project took to produce. The script and art were done nearly two years ago. Once it got “greenlit” to go to animation, it only took about a week for Creative MQ to animate it, Kyle to record his tracks, and then probably another couple of days for me to edit everything, do the soundmix, and the rest of the post work.
The truth is that I sat on releasing it for a little while. I wanted to get past the main Indiegogo campaign and to make sure that our donors got to watch it first. It’s worth mentioning, by the way, that I fully intend to do at least one more “MoCo” before the end of this year. I love the format, and there are many more stories that take place during the Romulan War that I want to tell…and limited animation is as good a way as any.
If you want to try to help mark raise the final $605 to get to $14K for The Romulan War, Part 2, here’s the link for his current Indiegogo campaign: