Jack Wedge is a New York based animator working with digital animation. His films feature a paired down, even crude, style that very clearly embraces the stock aesthetics of software like Adobe Flash. This aesthetic choice places him in a lineage of early-internet indie animators operating on sites like newgrounds.com. There’s a joy in watching his films because they feel unconstrained by outside influence as if we’re getting a glimpse directly into Wedge’s mind. He has a knack for creating engrossing worlds that feel somehow much larger than their simply drawn two-dimensional lines and flat color. Putting his characteristic style aside, it’s clear that Wedge is very interested in developing characters and telling stories. This aspect sets him apart from many animators working in similarly lo-fi aesthetics. Beyond short films, he created a video game called “Brain” and has done work for Adult Swim. Jack is currently in production on a 3D animated film while finishing up his degree at NYU.
Mostly Moving: There’s not a lot of info about you online. Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you got into making art and animation?
Jack Wedge: I grew up about an hour outside of NY in a beautiful little town that was a haven for childhood adventures. I’ve been making animation since I was about 15 years old. I remember my first movie was made with a window and a lamp. It was only about a year and a half ago though that I discovered 3D animation. It reminded me of playing with action figure toys in my mom’s garden. All of a sudden the plants were huge and foreign. The world shrunk down to a distant, mystical place of imagination, and I swear to god my movies now tell the same stories that I was acting out with my toys when I was little. I remember making up twisted complex stuff about kidnappings and armies. I would watch a movie with my dad like Lord of the Rings and then go play with those characters in that borrowed world. That’s what drove me to make animation I think. I’ve just replaced the plastic figures with computer models. I loved epic stories when I was a kid. I loved anti heros. I love Gladiator, Jason and the Argonauts, The Sting, High Noon.
MM: Your films have a raw, energetic, and lo-fi style. Can you talk about how you approach the visuals in your work and how your personal art style has developed?
JW: My work has changed dramatically over the past 2 years. When I started off with hand-drawn animation I was much more interested in conveying a message and I guess that developed into a crude style. Now I am still focused on messages and storytelling but also I’m fascinated by lighting and focal length, and constantly moving and changing landscapes. I have been playing with these tools a lot in my new movie. I’m really excited about our new project because it is much more cinematic and composed than anything we’ve done before.
I’m really inspired by magical surrealists. I aspire to be a magical surrealist because I think it is the best way to comment on the reality of the world’s current events. For we live in a magical and surreal world do we not!? Sometimes I can’t believe how fucked up this place is, and at the same time I am constantly amazed at its magicalness. I’m really inspired by painters as well. I love German Expressionism. I love Max Beckman, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Henry Taylor.
MM: Your films wear the limitations and stock aesthetics of software like Flash as a badge of honor. Is this a practical choice or purely an aesthetic one? (or both?)
JW: It’s both. I don’t think I will ever make a flash movie again… but it’s a great software. I remember my brother in law told me about it and downloaded it for me on my laptop when I was in high school. I remember saying “oh you can do layers of drawings?!”
MM: It often feels that your characters have a larger story and that we’re only seeing a small part of it. What role does world and myth-building play in your work?
JW: They do. All of my characters have backstories. Everything takes place in the same world and they’re always overlapping. There are also a lot of secret messages hidden in the scenery. I’ve been thinking about this a lot today actually. It’s flattering that you notice this about my stuff. I think a lot about it. Thank you!
MM: The inner-workings of the body make an appearance in almost all of your films. Where does this fascination come from?
JW: I believe this originated from AP Psychology. I have always been fascinated by how bodies work specifically the brain, however I have some condition where I pass out if you talk to me about heart attacks or strokes, or getting blood taken. I’m mostly interested in the difference between the mind and the brain. How are non human animal brains different from humans? Does our soul exist on a different plain of existence? Is it made of a substance? If so can it be created from silicon? Can a robot soul be created? What freedoms and rights should we grant these mechanical souls? What liberties and freedoms will they give us?
MM: While your visual style has evolved and developed into new and often more abstract directions, storytelling seems to be at the root of your films. Can you speak to that?
JW: The best movies in my opinion are movies where there is something much larger going on in that world, be it a political election or revolution, a natural disaster or serial killer on the loose. In these stories we watch as a character works to somehow include themselves in this bigger thing. Usually we fall in love with them and relate to the problems they face as they strive to reach what they think they need- and in the end this bigger thing usually takes over no matter what.
My favorite stories are the super weird ones that have things that you’ve never seen before, but still hold onto a solid plot. A story that is surprising meaningful and ultimately positive in some way Movies like Totoro, Mulholland Drive, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. All these movies are built with their own logic and distorted rules, but at the same time they have stories with a character and a goal, which is relatable and entertaining. You see someone or something dealing with emotions that you have felt before. They are strange and surreal as much as they are grounded and intuitive.
MM: Your work feels like the product of unconstrained creativity. How has attending an artistic institution affected your personal vision of filmmaking?
JW: I’m about to finish at NYU. Lately it has felt much more like a studio for me lately than a school because I’ve been working on my thesis project. I’m extremely grateful that I was able to go to a film school and meet everyone that I’ve met. NYU has amazing professors and facilities. Jeff Scher and Darrell Wilson have been amazing mentors and I owe them a lot. The biggest impact school has had on me is the art that I was exposed to by professors showing it in class.
I recently was talking with my friend about where creative drive comes from. He said that for him it’s a push and pull. Pushing him from the back is a sense of despair, that he would go crazy or something if he didn’t work on anything. That’s the reason he’s alive and if he didn’t make stuff he would have no meaning. At the same time there’s something pulling on you. You’re forever chasing the euphoria of making something you really fucking love.
MM: Do you have a preferred viewing platform? Your films feel more like unique YouTube gems rather than Staff-Pick-hungry Vimeo uploads.
JW: In the past, I haven’t paid any attention to viewing platforms. I just put what I make on the internet. I have a website which is where all my stuff is. That being said my movies make no money! I don’t think this is because there is no audience. It is because there is no convenient and easy way to assemble one at the moment.
MM: There’s a lot going on in your films. What does your research and writing process look like that facilitates such content & visually heavy work?
JW: It’s arduous and overcomplicated. I have never had something come out how I intended it to come out. There’s always a point where it becomes “a thing” — something that I did not intend it to be. I keep making big changes up until the last couple of days that I’m working on a project. There’s usually a weekend that it all comes together. My friend Will who makes all the music sit together and just fit everything together. I listen to music a lot for inspiration, specifically emotionally.
MM: It looks like you’ve made a pivot away from 2D animation recently. What prompted that change, and do you plan on working this way going forward?
JW: I started making animation because I loved movies. 3D animation gave me a moving camera and lighting: tools which I have fallen in love with. I feel sort of like a stage magician, performing tricks that only work from one perspective. All of my sets look good only from the camera’s perspective. If you look at them from any other angle they are totally crazy looking. I almost want to make a whole project just about how strange my sets look. It’s like a constellation. The stars appear to be flat but in reality, they are light-years away.