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This nightmarish animated short based on Stephen King's The Long Walk took five years to make

This nightmarish animated short based on Stephen King's The Long Walk took five years to make


Frank Darabont owns the rights to the novel, but this fan film beat him to the punch

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Adriano Gazza

There are a lot of short films out there based on Stephen King's short stories, largely because of King's "dollar babies" program, which permits film students to pay a buck for the rights to make a non-commercial adaptation of one of King's short stories. But short films based on his novels are much rarer, because the adaptation rights are largely owned by other people. That's certainly true of The Long Walk, King's 1979 novel about a dystopic future where a popular national sport consists of a hundred teenagers walking cross-country in a marathon that only one of them will survive. It's surprising that the book has never been adapted to film, given how perfectly suitable it is for the low-budget indie-horror treatment, and given how neatly it slots into the tragic-future young-adult-novel trend that's taken over cinemas since The Hunger Games. But longtime King fan Frank Darabont (director of the King adaptations The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist) has been hanging onto the movie rights to The Long Walk for years, saying he'll get around to the film eventually.

In the meantime, fans will have to be content with this recent fan adaptation, a striking, bloody animated short that adapts a monologue in the book, and draws on some of the story's ending. It functions as a perfect teaser for the novel, which is one of King's best.

The animator is Adriano Gazza, a 41-year-old British motion graphics designer who's made a series of music videos and other short side projects while working as an illustrator and graphic designer. This is his first short film. "I kept thinking it would make a brilliant film," he told The Verge. "It became an ongoing joke with my friends that I would make the film one day! But people kept encouraging me, and over the years, I got more into making videos and it became a more tangible proposition."

Gazza started work on the project five years ago, initially planning it as a live-action short. "I storyboarded elements and had the bones of a script," he says, "but there was so much material to condense that I eventually drifted away from it. Then I thought, ‘Let's make this by myself, as an animation, so I can control when I work on it, and don't have to wait on other people's schedules.'" One advantage to that approach: Gazza has two small children and not a lot of free time, so he was only really free to work on the project while he was commuting to work.

"I wrote a new script, then storyboarded it all on my iPad and phone. I spent a year testing animation styles — rotoscoping and 3D — using apps on my iPad. It's amazing what's out there. But nothing would give me the consistent look I was after. I finally found a great piece of software / resource on my Mac called Mixamo, which allows you to build 3D characters from its Fuse program, then upload to the site and add motion-capture data." Gazza used Cinema 4D for the 3D work, and added effects, overlays, and additional graphic elements (like that creepy "in his feet" text, drawn in veins) in After Effects, Photoshop, and Illustrator. "I love to play with textures and collage in my illustration and animation work," he says, "so I experimented a lot, too."

Gazza says the hard part of the film was figuring out how to condense the novel down to short-film length, but other parts were easier. The soundtrack came from his best friend, a Los Angeles-based musician who records as Small Magellanic Cloud. And the shifting animation and narrative styles emerged naturally out of King's book. "I wanted to make the film start off literally and set the scene, and then slowly feel like a descent into a hallucinogenic nightmare, to mirror the exhaustion of the walkers. This way, I could interweave fantasy elements and use visual devices to transition scenes, so the whole film felt cohesive. There are some great descriptive scenes in the book, including one where King describes the crowd turning into a giant spider, possibly due to the extreme fatigue of the participants. One of the great inspirations for me was the film of Pink Floyd's The Wall — specifically, Gerald Scarfe and team's outstanding, nightmarish animations. I would have loved to have had the spider scene in the film, but couldn't find a place for it. Maybe in my next film!"

Update December 5, 12:00PM ET: Gazza informs us that he's received a cease-and-desist letter from King's lawyers, and has had to remove his short from Vimeo, so it's no longer available online.