For filmmaker Joey Schenkenberg, a clever Kickstarter pitch led to a PBS Web series and beyond.
For 30-year-old North Carolina-based filmmaker Joey Schenkenberg, using Kickstarter to raise a little cash for his imaginative animated short, Sci-Fly, proved to be a bigger boost to his career than he could have ever hoped. Not only did he bring in more than $10,000 in crowd-sourced contributions to help complete his project — which premiered at the recent Slamdance Film Festival and screened at SXSW — he also garnered the attention of PBS Digital Studios. “Someone there saw my Kickstarter campaign and contacted me,” says Schenkenberg, who started making short films in high school. “They liked the behind-the-scenes and making-of pieces I’d made [while filming Sci-Fly and other shorts] and approached me about doing an instructional series, which turned into Shanks FX.”
Produced through PBS Digital Studios, the YouTube series Shanks FX consists of 18 episodes (as of presstime), offering instruction on decidedly low-tech, analog visual effects methodology as Schenkenberg creates a gaseous planet with dry ice bubbles, rocket nozzle effects with a propane torch and space “warp” imagery with little more than LED lights and an old electric fan. He shoots and edits each episode, with PBS Digital Studios “using their name to really get it out there, which has been incredible. They give me a lot of feedback and suggestions, which results in a much better show.”
Schenkenberg’s interest in creating effects began well after he first picked up a video camera. “I mostly did live-action stuff and never bothered finding actors or anything; my buddies and I were just trying to have fun,” he says. “It wasn’t until I got a Canon 60D HD DSLR camera that I started messing around with effects work, time-lapse photography and stop-motion, as you have much more control and better lenses than you do with the consumer-type video cameras I was using. So I didn’t need actors at all, and I could just do things on my own. The DSLR cameras are also small and can really allow you to manipulate things to create cool effects from unique angles.” Schenkenberg has since upgraded to the Canon 5D Mk II, using the 60D to cover the behind-the-scenes action for Shanks FX.
One of Schenkenberg’s favorite old-school effects tools is his “cloud tank” a novel approach to creating atmospheric visuals by squirting tinted liquids into a large aquarium filled with a saline solution. The technique was used to great effect in such pre-digital 1980s films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark. “I’ve always had a love for in-camera effects,” Schenkenberg says. “Digital effects may look more crisp and clean, but they’re less real.
There’s also a craftsmanship and artistry in traditional photographic effects that I really love. One of my favorite childhood movies was The NeverEnding Story and the title sequence is this amazing series of cloud-tank effects. I thought that was the coolest thing ever. Re-creating that was a lot of trial and error, and learning from my experiments is kind of what Shanks FX is all about.”