Fans of Anthony Lucas’ Oscar-nominated short film The Mysterious Geographic Exploration of Jasper Morello can look forward to second and third installments of the animated gothic science-fiction saga. We spoke with the Australian filmmaker and exec producer Susie Campbell at MIPTV at the end of a busy week of pitching the project to prospective co-producers and broadcasters. Through their 3-D Films banner, they hope to release the production as a three-part miniseries or a 75-minute telepic titled The Three Voyages of Jasper Morello.
With Lucas’ Silhouette animation style, Jasper Morello has drawn comparisons to Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 feature film The Adventures of Prince Achmed. And while he recalls watching that film in high school, Lucas says the unique look of Jasper owes more to shoddy animation equipment than anything else. He initially began working in stop-motion using crudely constructed characters on an old animation table. ‘These things had these dodgy lights and one of them went out while I had models on there and what happened is they went to silhouette,’ he says. ‘It was all very serendipitous.’
Lucas made a few short films using his stumbled-upon style but the first Jasper flick proved too epic in scope to be done cost-effectively in stop-motion, so he turned to CG animation software to create his fantastical world where iron, steam-powered airships rule the skies and lead a new breed of explorers to imaginative and horrific adventures. The second and third episodes will take about a year to finish, but Lucas won’t be alone in the endeavor. In addition to Campbell, he’ll be leaning heavily on writer Mark Shirrefs (Spellbinder, The Girl From Tomorrow) and his fellow producer and wife Julia Lucas, among others. ‘Jasper is a family,’ says Campbell. ‘It takes a lot of us to make Anthony Anthony.’
Another big part of that family is Australian broadcaster SBS, an ad-supported public television entity that helped fund both Jasper Morello and the Oscar-winning short film Harvie Krumpet from fellow Aussie filmmaker Adam Eliot. ‘They’ve been incredibly supportive and want to help make stuff that has artistic vision,’ Lucas notes, adding that the broadcaster helped finance the scripts for the next Jasper expeditions.
The second voyage of the aeronaut of the Third Royal Cartographers will be titled Jasper Morello and the Return of Claude Belgon. Racked with guilt over the death of his wife, Amelia, Jasper is saved from self-destruction when he is ordered to transport the Royal Executioner to the outpost city of Grumbath. There, our hero runs into his old adversary, Doctor Claude Belgon, who has miraculously returned from the grave and promises that he can bring Amelia back to life through a secret buried in the lost city of Alto Mea.
The story will continue in the third adventure, Jasper Morello and the Ghosts of Alto Mea. Here, Jasper must choose between having his beloved Amelia returned or saving his homeland from destruction at the hands of the crazed Horizontalists, an anti-technology cult that wants to revive its fanatical and dangerous leader.
‘I’ve always wanted to put three things in these films: a funeral, a duel and a foxhunt,’ Lucas tells us. ‘So far I’ve gotten two of the three in and I’m working on the fox hunt. They’re actually going to be fox frogs.’
Since winning the Grand Prix at the Annecy Int’l Animation Festival and getting his Oscar nomination, Lucas has signed with the prestigious William Morris Agency and has been receiving a number of live-action scripts to consider directing. He also served as a third-unit director on Spike Jones’ upcoming live-action adaptation of the Maurice Sendak children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, which will employ actors in suits augmented by digital animation. Right now, his passion is still finishing the story of Jasper Morello, which will hopefully continue beyond the planned trilogy. At any rate, we’re eager to see what the talented filmmaker, family man and self-proclaimed sci-fi geek will do next.
‘My kids and I are going to make a home movie,’ Lucas reveals with glint in his eye. ‘It’s a little horror film about my son Henry’s rabbit, who goes bad.’