Acclaimed comic artist/writer/director Paul Hornschemeier (best known for creating the opening titles of Comedy Bang! Bang!) recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for his upcoming animated short Giant Sloth, starring Paul Giamatti as the curator of a museum with some most peculiar artifacts and exhibits. The campaign proved so popular that it eclipsed its goal in just a few days, prompting the talented creator to launch a stretch goal for a second, follow-up animated short — Benchley Mornings — and a host of new backer rewards. I sat down to chat with the Boston-based iconoclast to talk about the project, and he was kind enough to share some exclusive images from Giant Sloth, which can be viewed in full after the following interview.
Nerdist: How did the story for Giant Sloth begin?
Paul Hornschemeier: There actually is a prehistoric giant sloth on the campus of the college I went to, Ohio State. I think it was vandalized sometime in the last couple of years, but I think they repaired it since then. I can’t remember which school it’s a part of. I want to say it’s the geology school. Whatever museum it’s in, a lot of the signage and a lot of the exhibits kind of feel like these leftovers from the ’70s and ’80s. It just always felt a little out of step with modern times. It just kind of had this very particular vibe that really stuck with me. But I didn’t really have the idea for the actual story… There was always something about the giant sloth, just being this creature that its modern day equivalent is so puny and so inconsequential. It’s funny, when I mention the film to some people, they’re like, “Oh, that’s funny, like a giant sloth.” I’m like, “No, there really were giant sloths.” A lot of people aren’t even necessarily aware of them. They were these gigantic, huge, powerful things the size of bears. So there was always a metaphor there in the back of my head.
But the idea for the story probably came the better part of two years ago. I had just written a one-page treatment about this guy who works in a museum. But really the idea for the museum and the museum getting privatized and this guy sort of being thrust into the modern world, a lot of that was based on… My wife works in administration at museums. That combined with living in Chicago during a certain period where everything public was being privatized, and it kind of came out of going to museums around that time and thinking, “What if this whole damn thing was just sold off?” But it also came a little bit out of… I don’t know when they were discussing selling off the entire collection of Detroit’s Art Museum. That might have been a year ago. There were sort of just several things feeding into it when I was coming up with the story. But it was kind of on the back burner. It wasn’t something that was in the forefront of my mind – because I’m usually working on ten or fifteen different things at once. I started working with Paul Giamatti and his production company about other stuff. I don’t remember when we started, maybe about nine months ago. Sometime last year. Once Paul and I were working on other things together I was like, “Oh God. He would be perfect for this thing.” So I hadn’t written a script before that, but really when I was writing the script I was writing it for Paul. That’s sort of how everything evolved.
N: Having starred in adaptations of comics like Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor and Mike Mignola’s The Amazing Screw-On Head, Paul appears to have a great love of comics and graphic novels. Was that one of the things that connected the two of you?
PH: Honestly… The first mention of me to their production company might have been about three years ago or more. They were in New York and I was in Chicago. Now I’m in Boston, so I’m a lot closer. I was about to move out here for the first time. That’s when we met up for the first time and really started working together… I’m not really sure if it came out of that. Obviously they know I do graphic novels and that’s my background. They were one of the few production companies that I’ve started working with that treated me right out of the gate as a writer and an author. Which is kind of a welcome change for me. I think there’s a huge tendency with a lot of people that, when you have a comics background, they just dump you into the art thing. To some degree that’s just a human tendency – “Oh, you can draw pretty? Okay, that’s what you do.” “Wait, but I wrote this too… Oh, okay.” [Laughs] They’re awareness of me also came out of my agent. But honestly, I think my agent gave Paul a couple of pilots I’d written. I think he was aware of my art and had seen some of it. But I don’t think he knew me much as a graphic novelist. His love for graphic novels is inherent. But when we met for the first time we were more connecting on our love for just esoteric weird stuff. A lot of that is in Giant Sloth, certainly.
N: What is it about this story that makes it best suited for animation as opposed to comics?
PH: The thing about what’s happening in Giant Sloth that makes it so much better suited for animation… I see a pretty huge fluidity between graphic novels and animation and and live action. I often find that the subtle slow moments are so much more… There’s a lot more subtlety that I can get out of animation than with comics. Comics sort of inherently have a quietness about them. It’s very difficult to turn a comic up to ten. You can do your big Kirby splash pages or you can do a more modern Marvel comic and have every single page turned up to ten. I’m saying this to the wrong outlet, you’re like, “Shut up!” [Laughs]
But being able to introduce sound, being able to introduce a different kind of pacing. That’s something this story’s gonna benefit from. It’ll be interesting for me. Because while I’ve done a decent amount of animation, most of the films I’ve done have been live-action. In fact, with this campaign one of the [rewards] is a live-action short I did. When I think of motion I tend to think of live-action, which is getting back to the people who think, “Oh, you draw cartoons? You do this.”
For some reason I was upset with myself for launching this as a Kickstarter campaign, because I was like, “Now, everybody’s gonna think I only do animation.” [Laughs] I don’t know. Could the story have been a comic? Yes. But there’s a lot of playing with reality and scale and various things. Referring to Bunuel and Fellini, there’s a lot of hallucinatory dreamlike stuff that certainly you can do in comics, but I feel like there’s a whole different way you can do that with animation. The subtlety of it is a little more flexible with animation. So we’ll see.
N: What else are you working on right now?
PH: At least ten things now. I wish I could discuss more of them. I’m working on lots of comics. The next big thing is working on web comics. I’m hoping to make a leap into that sometime in the next few months. Giant Sloth has caused me to put comics on hold. But there’s several graphic novels that I’ve been working on for a while. At any point I’ll be working on at least a few books, in different stages of development. I’m developing shows with several different production companies. But who knows when any of that stuff will have happened. It probably won’t. Obviously I’m still working with the guys at Comedy Bang Bang on stuff. I just finished the script for the next live-action short film. Hopefully once Giant Sloth is done we’ll start shooting that in New York. So there’s a few things.
Above, says Hornschemeier, is some “concept art for one of the hallucination scenes in Giant Sloth. The skyline in the story is based primarily on Chicago, with the layout of the city (being divided onto several small islands) is loosely based on New York.”
And here is “a still from a Giant Sloth production test. In this scene Nina (voiced by Kate McKinnon) is encountering Gordon (voiced by Paul Giamatti) for the first time. Gordon is making a horrible mess of it and Nina’s not letting him off the hook.”