Spotlight: Brutus the Bound: Infinite Gladiator

Today, we’re rolling out a new feature on Animation where we showcase various shorts and content. If you’d like your content to be showcased contact Mike Milo at

Check out this cool sizzle piece from Chris Burns and his buddies at Exit 73 studios! Very reminiscent of Samurai Jack but in a good way! Supposedly there’s a web series coming this Winter.

Designer and Animator: Chris Burns
Compositing and SFX: Bob Fox
Concept and Story outline: Joe Croson

Incidentally we interviewed Chris Burns and Joe Croson  back in July.

We sat down with Chris for a second to delve a bit more on how this piece was made.
AI: So tell us about your short. What’s it about and who is this angry fella killing everybody?
Chris: Brutus is a Gladiator that is ripped from his village and family, to fight for sport in the future under a dark over-lord.  Each battle won will get him closer to seeing his family but once the fabric of time is altered, we get to see a mesh of historic figures, mixed with Sci-fi.  There’s a shot in the short of a robotic Dinosaur, that alludes to this time alteration.   It’s a great excuse to juxtapose all the things we love.  Once Joe brought down the idea to us, my mind started to race, what if a Gladiator got his hands on a modern weapon? What if Genghis Khan was alive during the internet age? etc…
AI: How was the film made?
Chris: I like to think we do shape an idea organically and malleable. Joe is a great Idea man, he always has a bunch of series ideas floating around, so once he mentioned Brutus and the concept, we came out of the gates swinging.  I had a vision for Brutus almost instantly, I wanted to mesh a viking persona within a Gladiators sensibility.  The first design he was a little to cartoony, so we toned down the inflated muscles, gave him more of an anatomical makeover, and Brutus was born.  We then had the idea that his chest piece would also be the artifact that enslaves him, and keeps him Captive under the Over-Lord.
From there, Bob started making the music for the short. We liked the trailer format, because it has a natural flow, and you can showcase action, without it feeling contrived.  He made a bad-ass beat, threw in some awesome breakdowns, and we all the sudden had the timing framework for the short.  I love working this way, because with the timing somewhat established, and a beat that you can time your shots to, all that is left is filling it in with visuals, much like one would when doing a music video.
AI: Interesting so you boarded to the music? I can see that being helpful for sure!
Chris: Yeah.  and boarding came pretty natural afterwords, we had him cut a monster in half here, a robot smash through a city there, etc… After That we jumped straight into animation and compositing, we bypassed layout.  We had a short amount of time to get all this art work done between 2 people (roughly a month)  that makes you have to think on your toes.  I would do all the bgs and character animation in flash, pass it over to Bob, who would than make a png of the Backgrounds, polish in some detail in photoshop and through it in AfterFX.  By the time he finished that, I would have the next shot, and on and on we would feed each other that work.  Once all the animation was finished in Flash, Bob worked in some serious magic as far as environmental effects, and atmospheric conditions.  When the yeti gets stabbed with ice spear, there’s this gorgeous point when you see fog coming out his mouth, it’s touches like that that really set the mood and I like to think it makes for some to want to re-watch it.
AI: You had mentioned that it’s just a few of you at Exit 73 Studios?
Chris: Yeah… my favorite part of being a small studio, is that we have to use what we have as resources, and within those limitation, you have the chance to think outside the box.  For example a big studio will likely have a character designer, prop designer, colorist, Bg supervisor, and the list goes on, and on and on, until it feels like your assembling a car rather than a film.  We are subjected to do all those things, on a shoe string budget, with very limited manpower. Our solution is use the Character design as suggestion, to help make the shot most pleasing to the eye.   Too often composition takes a back seat to these strict designs that are made by someone a few weeks back…. My question is why? We are blessed enough to be working in a medium that we can literally draw whats in our imagination, and than we stifle that urge because of these rules that we created, for reasons that escape me.  There are 27 shots in Brutus the Bound, that’s roughly 3 seconds a shot on average, and all of them have a varied design of Brutus.  In close ups we have a lot of detail in his face,  Far shots we lost the face all together.   My philosophy is make the shot exciting and people will want to see more.  You tell a coherent story with surprisingly little character reference.
AI: Well thanks for telling us about your short Brutus the Bound! I guess we can also look for it this Winter?
Chris: Our audience can absolutely expect more content this winter, but exact date hasn’t been set yet as we’re working on what we will be making whether it be pilot sized first episode, or a series of shorts. There’s even some talk of making the concept suited for a game!

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Software: 2D Animation


Since the dawn of the digital 2D revolution, there’s been much heated debate on which software is more user friendly, produces better quality work, and has a better price.  While some brands offer more functions and features, they come a pretty high cost and you might not use all of the application’s resources.  Then there are some brands that offer a very intuitive experience while chiming in at a very low price tag.
Let’s take a look at a few:

1. Toon Boom Animate Pro is currently the most popular app with endorsements by Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Disney Toon Studio and FOX.  Hailed by independent animators like Nick Cross, John K and Adam Phillips; Animate Pro offers a total production and post production package for the indie filmmaker.  Though drawing is somewhat pleasant and the rotary function smart, the interface is cumbersome, you’re constantly in preview mode (unless you have Harmony), and the backwards compatibility is not friendly with users who have different versions.  Price sets at $1,199 per seat. (
2. Adobe Flash (previously Macromedia Flash and formerly Future Splash Animator) is/was the leader of the digital 2D revolution.  Flash is still used in many of today’s television and film productions by studios large and small worldwide.  In its newest form (CS6), the interface and pre-set tools are straightforward and user-friendly, but also suffers from being non-backwards compatible.  You can create custom Command triggers that’ll help increase speed and productivity, and because of the straightforwardness of the app, you can manipulate each frame as needed.  There are also many plugins to help speed up your workflow and expand Flash’s capabilities. You can buy CS6 and earlier versions starting at $700 or $50 through a Creative Cloud subscription.  (
3. Toon Boom Studio is another all-in-one animation package geared towards animation fans, students, teachers and hobbyists.  At $190 per seat, you’ll get access to tech support and other “member” features, which makes it a pretty good entry level piece of software. 
4. Toon Boom Animate is the watered down version of Animate Pro.  Again, the drawing aspect and rotary disk functions are pretty smooth but the difference between Animate Pro and Animate are hardly noticeable other than the word “Pro.”  For $499 you can’t really complain much for this all-in-one. (
5. TV Paint Professional is an exceptionally well tailored suit on the 2D scene.  The interface is a bit bloated, but straightforward and customizable.  TVP’s drawing tools work with both vector AND bitmap and the entire program feels as if it was created by artists for artists in this all-in-one package priced at $650 USD.  Per seat of course. (
6. Adobe After Effects.  Now, while you can’t exactly draw in the program itself, After Effects is a serious animation tool aside from being a standard-bearer for post production.  A superior 3D camera, a militant bone rigging setup, and you can work with just about ANY style of artwork you can imagine, After Effects is top notch when it comes to “puppet” style animation.  It’s priced around the $600 range, but again that may differ with a Creative Cloud subscription.  (
7. Anime Studio Pro.  I haven’t had a chance to use this personally, but from some of the work I’ve seen being produced with it; I’d say it’s one app that shouldn’t be overlooked.  The interface is structured off of Manga Studio and a little bit of Flash but handles symbol animation pretty crudely.  At $299 per seat, it’s a fairly priced piece of software.  (
8. Pencil is a free bitmap animation tool.  It has a simplified interface similar to Flash but its drawing aspect is a little rough around the edges.  If you’re a hobbyist or fan of animation and just want to get your feet wet, this is a great introductory app that doesn’t affect your wallet.  (
9. Vectorian, Flash’s doppelgänger if there ever was one.  The interface and usability is almost as intuitive as Flash minus the action scripting, though most animators hardly use AS unless its site and app building.  For being a free app, it’s mostly geared towards motion graphics rather than traditional 2D animation.  It can handle it, but its a bit on the slow side.  (
10. Adobe Photoshop.  That’s right.  Before the Creative Suite era, you would scan in your animation frames and prep them for clean up or coloring, then you’d bring it to After Effects or whichever app you were going to animate in.  CS introduced the Animation Timeline which then allowed you to create complete animated works in just Photoshop alone.  You can snag older versions of it online for around $350 while the newest version CS6 goes for $670 online or for $50 per month through Creative Cloud. (
11. Retas Studio. With the growing trend of all-in-one apps, CelSYS introduced Retas Studio as a self-contained animation package.  For those of you unfamiliar with Retas!; it’s the standard tool of use by some of the most famous Japanese and Korean studios and dominates the Eastern animation scene.  The interface is pretty complicated but its incredibly powerful tool.  The cost comes in at $980 USD. (
12. Toonz is the long time software of choice by Studio Ghibli and maybe a few smaller studios throughout the globe.  From what’s available online, it’s user interface lives in the same cumbersome space as Toon Boom only a simpler and easier on the eyes.  It offers an abundance a feature called “scripts,” that are similar to Flash’s Commands and Photoshop Actions, where with a push of a key will take care of repetitive tasks like applying a similar effect on several scenes, etc.  Without being able to buy the program out-right, it’s hard to really say how useful this app is.  And then there’s the mystery price; it’s not listed on their website.  You have to contact them and get a quote. (

Although some of these apps have some big names behind them, that doesn’t always mean that it’s the right tool for you.  The phrase; “TV show and Feature Films are made with them…” is really just a marketing ploy to get artists and animators to break out the plastic.  
What does a good tool feel like?  Well, it depends.  Personally speaking, I like using software that allows me to focus on what’s in front of me without having to constantly reach for a hotkey or move a bunch of panels around just to get some more screen real estate.  Even though many applications say their an all-in-one, you have to raise the question on whether you really need all those features and how often are you going to use them.  In a studio setting, you’ll only be using the app for one purpose and the rest gets sent to another person or department.  
The pros know that having good tools will help you produce good work, but they won’t do the work for you.  
For your consideration: The software and hardware you buy for your business is an investment which should pay itself off.  Now, that doesn’t give you a license to spend carelessly.  You really need to consider if the amount of work you’re bringing in can justify the hefty spending on name-endorsed products.  If you can, go for it.  But if you can’t, try to see if you can make do without for a while.  Most clients don’t care what you do the work in so long as the work is done and you keep them happy.

Esteban Valdez is the founder of Echo Bridge Pictures, a 2D animation production company, in St Petersburg, Florida.  @echobridge

Billy Burger

What is your name and your current occupation?
Billy Burger _ Assistant Director – Media Arts and Animation – AiCAsf

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation? 
Neon Artist … Photographer … Bartender … Dad!

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of? 
James and The Giant Peach … I wish Henry Selcik had gotten to do Toots and the Upside down house like we were all hoping for.

How did you become interested in animation? 
In 1965 my folks bought a Continue…