Previous to the advent of online video, the only real distribution model for short films was the film festival circuit, perhaps being aired once or twice on TV or included in a VHS or DVD collection. However, the end game for non-feature-length projects is still an uncertain one in the digital age — creators throw time and money into crafting one perfect five-minute gem, but after they complete their festival tours, beyond being included in the YouTube Screening Room there isn’t a clear path towards monetization.
Making a short film and putting it online, however, is a great way to build some buzz, and that’s the goal of Rodrigo Blaas, an animator who’s worked for Pixar and Fox over the last ten years. The short film Alma, which Blaas wrote and directed, picked up awards this year at the Fantastic Fest, Siggraph, Animacor, Boca del Lobo, LA Shorts Fest and other festivals (a journey Blaas documented on the film’s official blog) — but only a short teaser was online until last week, when Blaas made the complete film available via Vimeo as a gesture of holiday cheer.
The Pixar influence is clear in Alma, from the silent-film storytelling to the high-quality 3D CGI rendering of its adorable protagonist. But despite Pixar’s tradition of screening original shorts prior to its feature releases, don’t expect to see this tale of a little girl investigating a mysterious doll shop playing before Toy Story 3 — the narrative is simple yet eerie, ending on a dark twist more evocative of Stephen King than Walt Disney. “The inspiration came from the life-like doll my aunt had at her home. That doll scared the hell out of me as a kid,” Blaas said via email.
While technically an independent production, Blaas teamed up with a talented collection of animators and designers to create visuals on the level of anything coming out of a major studio, and the score by Spanish composer Mastretta is a perfect companion, simple and evocative without overpowering the story. The whole film comes together with Tom Myers and David Hughes’ sound design, which is key in selling the final few moments of young Alma’s fate.
Alma will only be available online until December 31st, but Blaas and his team are considering distributing the film via iTunes or other sites, hoping that this initially free period will generate interest. “It’s still hard for the indie filmmaker to make a revenue,” Blaas said. And unless you can strike a deal with Sami Raimi or Peter Jackson, that goes double in the short film world.