In Pinched, a big city pickpocket travels through subway cars, across sidewalks and over rooftops in an action-packed, psychedelic adventure.
Although the flick is less than 12 minutes in length, the journey to get Pinched, available now through iTunes, out to the masses has been a long and complicated one. The story behind the short is filled with enough high-stakes action and heartbreak to become a movie of its own.
David Vandervoort had held onto the initial idea of a story about a pickpocket for more than five years before everything fell into place. There was a love story that he wanted to tell; subway scenes based on his time living in New York. Sometime in the first decade of the new century, maybe 2003 or 2004, he compiled all these different pieces of the story into a script, which he pitched to Chris Prynoski, who heads up Titmouse, the animation studio best known for shows like Metalocalypse, The Venture Bros. and Superjail!
Vandervoort and Prynoski had known each other for a while through MTV, where the former worked on the latter’s show MTV Downtown. At this point, though, Prynoski was in Los Angeles building Titmouse. He offered to produce the short if Vandervoort would come and work for the studio. The animator agreed and spent most of his days working on commercials inside the studio. One day a week, he got to work on the short. It took between nine months and a year just to do the storyboards.
If it sounds like this took an exceptionally long time to make, there’s a reason for that. “I wanted to do as much of it myself as I could, especially the animation,” says Vandervoort.
Pinched was made with a distinct purpose. “It was always a vehicle for me to show what I could and show my chops as an animator,” says Vandervoort. “The story and storyboard were all these hurdles to get over to get to the animation point, which is my real passion.”
The animator largely learned his trade on the job. He had initially applied to art school, but was rejected and ended up finding an animation job in Portland that helped kickstart his career. Pinched was a bit like doing a student film for Vandervoort. It was the intense project where he had his hands in every aspect of the production. The big difference however, is that Vandervoort took on this passion project with years of professional experience under his belt.
Still, Vandervoort was teaching himself new tricks as he went along with production. This includes learning how to animate with Flash on a Cyntiq in a way that looked more like traditional animation. “It was very labor intensive,” he says, but the effect is worth it. “It gave the animation a very lively look, I hope, and very handmade.”
By the time they got to animating the short, Vandervoort had moved back to his hometown of Portland. He “got all hermit-style,” working on nothing but the animation from a rented office. Meanwhile, two other people were working on the short from Titmouse’s L.A. studios. That took another nine months to complete. It was a long process, but a necessary one. “I knew that it would be a stepping stone and I wanted to get the film out of my system,” says Vandervoort.
After Pinched was done, the team began submitting the film to festivals. It was accepted to one event in Korea. “It basically bombed,” Vandervoort says candidly.
This was a disappointment for Vandervoort, but one that he took in stride. “Festivals have their own programming goals,” he says. “It could be a million reasons. I stopped trying to figure out that puzzle.”
All wasn’t lost, though. While Pinched didn’t capture the attention of the film festival circuit, it did attract viewers somewhere else.
Vandervoort uploaded the short to his own Vimeo page. For two years, hardly anyone clicked on it. Meanwhile, he had gotten a job at Laika, an animation studio in Oregon, where he worked on ParaNorman. Around the time that film was released, someone stumbled upon Pinched. The video made the rounds online, Cartoon Brew and io9 posted about it. The short scored about 50,000 views before he took the video offline. Pinched wasn’t completely gone though. Someone else snagged the video and posted it to YouTube. Vandervoort notes that this post of his film racked up about 150,000 hits in a two week period before the video came down.
This past summer, Pinched made it in front of an IRL audience, when Titmouse screened it at their Anime Expo panel. As of October 1, animation fanatics can get their own copy of the short through iTunes. It’s been a long road for Pinched but it just goes to show when something is good, it will find an audience somewhere.