“It’s not 1985 anymore; it’s 1986,” explains one of the many characters voiced by British writer/director Michael (Mike) Mort in his first feature-length stop-motion animation work Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires, the follow-up of sorts to his 2013 Chuck Steel short, Raging Balls of Steel Justice. Like the short, this film is a send-up of 1980s American action movies like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. But with Trampires, Mort adds a bevy of tributes to horror films of the decade as well, including very funny and graphic shouts out to the Evil Dead trilogy and John Carpenter’s The Thing, among others.

Mort’s screenplay and storyline don’t seem to have any issues crossing the politically incorrect line (also an ’80s staple), and the film feels all the more vital and exciting as a result. The story involves Steel and an elderly vampire hunter named Abraham Van Rental (both voiced by Mort, as is Steel’s too-old-for-this-shit captain, Jack Schitt) solving a series of mysterious disappearances of people leaving L.A. clubs and bars, which they eventually tie to a type of vampire — the trampire — that prefers blood with a high blood-alcohol content. Sporting a high production value, Trampires is a ridiculous, often tasteless romp that comes courtesy of the newly created British animation house Animortal Studio. The film is currently looking for a distributor after it finishes a series of film festival appearances.

/Film spoke with Mort (along with one of the film’s producers, Randhir Singh Heer) the morning after a triumphant North American premiere at Fantasia Festival in Montreal (read our review here). For stop-motion animation geeks and ’80s movie fanatics, Mike has a great deal to say about the detail-oriented, time-consuming nature of the production, the many action and horror movie references, and about where he goes after this labor of love.


Last night was the second screening ever of this film, and during the Q&A, people were skating around the issue of the film’s political incorrectness. Has that ever been a concern, especially in more recent months?

In more recent months yes, but when we were making it, no. This have changed fairly recently in terms of sensitivity around virtually everything. So the anti-PC jokes are making people a bit more nervous than when we started the film. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, even though I do think we’re taking ourselves a bit too seriously these days. I think a film that comes along and laughs at everyone is what we need.

You really don’t spare anyone, especially the misogynistic white male asshole at the center of your film.

Right. Exactly right.

Let’s back things up, you said yesterday you created this character when you were around 15. What was going on and influencing you at that age that birthed Chuck Steel?

Obviously, over the years, it’s been honed and refined into more of a story with more details and layers, but when I first drew him, he was a square-jawed action hero. I used to love monster movie and horror films, and Evil Dead 2 was a big influence on me and Ash as a character, there are a lot of similarities with Ash’s attitude. When I started as a doodle in my school book, it was just something I liked to draw in it, and then I started making a few short films.

And I do remember the original short, and there’s none of that in the feature, correct?

There’s one gag when the police are being emasculated by the psychologist in the montage. You see someone cross out “Most Wanted” on the poster and write “Most Misunderstood,” and all the criminals on the poster are the criminals from the short.

That’s great. You mentioned Evil Dead 2, but there a moment at the end where a creatures head is twisting that looks like it’s right out of The Thing.

Yeah, all those rubber head, stretchy effects, you’re meant to spot those references and say “This is from this, this is from that.” They aren’t necessarily direct homages to particular films; it’s more of a feel and a throwback to those types of films.

What’s interesting about those effects from those movies in particular is that they were originally stop-motion or otherwise practical effects.

We build rigs on those stretchy-head things so you could animate the stretch, but it was the some principle as a prosthetic rubber head. We’re just pushing something through and stretching it.

You also said that Animortal Studio was created to make this film. Talk about that part of the process.

The Chuck Steel character was something I’ve tried to get off the ground in a project over the years for quite a long time. And this script, I wrote it in 2001 and tried to get it off the ground then, and doors would open and then close. I just couldn’t move it forward, so I parked it on a shelf and moved on with work. I was frustrated that I wasn’t getting anywhere with it, so I decided to make the short film in my basement. So I started making the models and sets from things I’d collected over the years. I’d cannibalized old armatures and used those instead of making the models [from scratch], because I didn’t have any backing. It was also the first time I’d tried to do any voice work, so I did the voices on the short film.

Early on in the process of making that, I got introduced to my now business partners through a colleague. Rupert Lywood, who isn’t here and is the third partner with me and Rand here, he’s a big animation fan and he loved something I’d done years ago called Gogs, a film about a caveman family. He basically backed the short film, and when we finished that, he said “Let’s make a feature film.” And then it was just a matter of them getting the financing together. As of right now, it’s been about four years since we started production. The film took about two-and-a-half years; with setting up the studio, three years; and another year of wrapping everything up and getting to this point. We’ve not been the fastest [laughs].

I’ve interviewed folks from Laika and Aardman over the years, and I know they digitally print all of these different expressions and use face replacement to speed up the process, but you didn’t do that. You stuck to old-school molding each expression one frame at a time. Was that by necessity?

With the short film, I didn’t have any other choice. That’s what I knew how to do, and I knew how to make that that way. And I didn’t want the look of the feature to veer off wildly from the short, so we stuck with the same technique. For the next time, there are shortcuts that we need to take. The rapid-prototyping printed face thing, if you’ve got the budget and time, you can do that really well. If you don’t, that can be poppy and jerky, so I stuck with what I knew well.

It looks expensive, so congratulations on achieving what appears to be a high production value. How did you get it to look that way—big, widescreen, colorful, huge crowd shots, explosions?

We didn’t use any CGI characters; the only CGI in the film is the cityscape when we’re doing flying scenes. The fire has live-action element pumped in. There’s a lot of composite work and VFX work. One of the things we did was add a little bit of camera movement in post, so there’s a little bit of wobble, a bit of life, to things. We also have lens flares; big-budget films always have a bit of lens flare. Those are quite simple things that can help things look bigger. If you want to know, it cost $20 million to make this movie.

That’s incredible. I would never have asked.

That’s refreshing to hear you say that. Everyone wants to know. They want to compare you to all the other animation house budgets. I can tell you, we were less than all the others.

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