FORTITUDE: Jared Hobbs | Smashing Pumpkins, uncanny valleys and other monkey business
After all my years in the film biz, I’m no longer surprised to meet a filmmaker who also happens to be a musician. I know a DP who plays drums, a Director who plays trombone, more than one Producer who plays bass, a voice talent who doubles as a singer-songwriter, a score of folks who play guitar — the list goes on. Most of them, if not all, were in bands or still are. Most are rock‘n’rollers, of course. A few play country, fewer still, jazz, and the rare one, classical. (Full disclosure, for me, it’s keyboards, and mostly jazz-funk-blues-Latin).
And so it was, meeting Jared Hobbs on Zoom a couple of weeks back. If you don’t know Jared, he’s the mastermind* behind Deep Sky, a Portland-based Emmy-winning animation and live action studio with a mile-long client list.
* The word “mastermind” is my choice, which I’m sure Jared will say he’s not, but is instead a member of a team of brilliant collaborators, which he is.
That list more recently includes The Smashing Pumpkins, and so Jared and I were talking about the five-part animated series for the Pumpkins that Deep Sky had been producing over the summer. When we finished, I asked him, “So, do you play?” — knowing full well what the answer would be. He said, “Guitar, keyboards. But I had to decide between fine art, music or animation…” and he trailed off. “Right. At some point you have to buckle up and make a living,” I said, remembering how little money we made during my own time on the road back in the day. “Something like that,” Jared said.
I know, reading this, you’re like, “David! Will you pu-leeez get on with it?! Stop with the old news! What’s with the The Smashing Pumpkins!?”
THE SMASHING PUMPKINS
Okay, already. Just know that I’m dilly-dallying because we had to delay this article until now, since Jared — despite having worked on it for many moons during what I’ve come to call “the COVID time-warp” — had to keep the project’s details under wraps until it was officially released. That official date was September 25, so now we can talk:
Written and created by the Pumpkins’ William Patrick Corgan, IN ASHES is a 5-part animated series set in a dystopian reality in which a pair of travelers face a gang of troublemakers as a widespread blackout shuts down everything electrical. Ak! What a concept. Imagine if WE were cut off like that now, during COVID?! No distractions. No binging Netflix. No TikTok. No texting. Double ak!
Still, IN ASHES is pretty damn cool. Dark. Moody. Timely. Scary. And a metaphor for our time. The animation is stellar. And the music, captivating. Watch Episode 1 below, and keep an eye on the IN ASHES playlist for future releases.
“It’s been an honor to work with such a massively influential band and to collaborate directly with Billy,” Jared told me. “Translating his narrative vision into cinematic form has been a fun challenge for our team.”
Here’s what Billy Corgan says about his creation: “The original story is something I’ve written and although it’s (mostly) lighthearted, ‘IN ASHES’ does address many things we face each day. That is… if… we live in dystopia, or paradise, or both. The choice, some say, is yours; and could even be a quantum issue.”
According to Jared, there’s a lot of nuance in Corgan’s story, so Deep Sky decided to leverage traditional techniques of aquatint and ink washes, with line-boil that creates a rough and energetic look which complimented the dark futurist-Goth art style. “There is a living line quality to each character,” he said. “It’s very raw. You feel the artist’s stroke on every frame.”
Animation by Deep Sky for new album IN ASHES by The Smashing Pumpkins.
Jared told me that Deep Sky took on the ambitious project knowing the creative and artistic commitment it would require. “Our artists really crushed it,” he said. “There’s a lot of love and thoughtfulness in the approach. It was incredible to witness what the team pulled off on a daily basis.”
But wait, there’s more. There’s also a little monkey business…
It’s not like Jared and his team had nothing else to do while producing IN ASHES. With the downturn and the lockdown, Deep Sky’s business slowed like everybody else’s — despite the fact that they were particularly busy in January and February. But since then, shifting gears from live action to animation, their pace has been breathtaking. They’ve had to staff up, hiring a number of freelance and staff animators over the last few months. On top of the Pumpkins project, they have six other animated projects, a couple of 3D Visualization projects, and dozens of Amazon videos — all in production simultaneously. And did I mention they also worked on new Trunk Monkey spots for R\West?
Now there’s an interesting twist. All those Trunk Monkey spots? Not real chimps anymore. It’s not copasetic from an animal rights perspective, Jared told me. So, it’s mo-cap and CGI all the way. But that may not be as easy as working with real chimps, I thought. And I was right: “You really need talented actors,” Jared said. “You can’t just jump around like a chimp, you really have to know how the animals move, or it comes off as uncanny.” “What do you mean, ‘uncanny’ —something strange or mysterious, like the dictionary says?” I asked.
That’s when Jared patiently explained to me that “uncanny” is an animation term having to do with unrealistic, uncomfortable portrayals of human-like activity. I Googled it. You can too. Start with “uncanny valley.” You learn something new every day, thank god.
Pushing creative boundaries isn’t new for Jared and his team, so Deep Sky’s growth isn’t stopping with The Smashing Pumpkins. The studio has already begun production on even more high-profile projects, including a short film and global brand campaigns, scheduled to be released later this year and in 2021.
In the end, I asked Jared what turns him on about his work. “I guess, the challenges,” he said. “Budgets are bigger, expectations are higher. But the real challenge is creating something new, doing something different. That’s the thing with visual effects and animation, there’s always something new to do.”
FORTITUDE is OMPA’s column about the trials, tribulations, successes and victories of our members during these strange times — stories of true grit, creativity and resilience, written by David Poulshock and contributing guest writers.
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