Over the years, clay animation, or claymation, has been used for many childrens’ films and cult classic shows. The style is a painstakingly long process, but the outcome is usually worth it, creating a piece of animation that most people dare not even attempt. The British “Wallace and Gromit,” series gained worldwide acclaim, particularly in Europe and Japan, for its fun humor and loveable characters. Another definitive claymation success is Neil Gaiman’s horror book, “Coraline,” adapted into a claymation film in 2009, blurring the lines between a children’s movie and a PG-rated horror flick. Many might even remember MTV’s “Celebrity Deathmatch,” which put celebrities into over-the-top violent wrestling matches to the death.
Aside from “Deathmatch” though, there hasn’t been much violence in claymation. And as for horror, “Coraline,” was only remotely scary in film. But YouTube star and claymation anti-hero Lee Hardcastle wants to change that with his Kickstarter campaign for a film simply called “Spook Train 3D.”
Hardcastle has been animating claymation films for a number of years now, posting them strictly on YouTube. And since joining in 2006, he’s racked up 40,000,000+ collective views on his videos — all of which depict some type of violent, gory, insane horror/sci-fi type imagery. Because of his huge following online, he’s managed to put in work for artists like Portugal. The Man and Love Automatic, while also having a part in the horror movie anthology, “The ABCs of Death,” with his gross short, “T is for Toilet.”
He’s also just one man. Claymation is one of the longest processes anyone in animation can undertake. Hardcastle handles all claymation himself at his home studio, sacrificing his personal time to perfect his craft. One second of footage in his videos is equal to 24 frames of stop-motion photos of his clay. One minute of footage is obviously a lot of time for Hardcastle.
This is where Kickstarter comes in. Hardcastle hasn’t had a budget to create a full-length film yet, and he’s asking all of his YouTube viewers, as well as claymation and horror movie fanatics, to pitch in to help him achieve that goal of “Spook Train 3D.” The movie promises to be an extremely surprising and unexpected horror anthology, revolving around three teens who get lost in the haunted house “Spook Train” that takes them through 10 different rooms of scares, horror shorts, and gore. He’s asking for £40,000, which is roughly close to $65,000.
Mass Appeal had a chance to speak with Lee Hardcastle about the “Spook Train 3D” project, as well as his creative style, work ethic, and the daily sacrifices he makes for his claymation love.
Mass Appeal: You describe “Spook Train 3D” as a “spook-ride-of-a-movie.” How exactly does “Spook Train” emphasize that?
Lee Hardcastle: The whole idea of a “spook ride” or “dark ride” is that it offers an experience — a journey, even — through a void of bizarre fun. It’s totally self-aware and its intent is to achieve one thing and one thing alone: to give the customer something to scream and laugh about. I’ve experienced many movies like this as well, but “Spook Train,” is literally a spook ride translated onto the silver screen.
MA: Is there anything you’re trying to film in “Spook Train” that you think horror doesn’t have already? Any new grounds you’re breaking into with the film?
LH: As an anthology, for sure. I’ve never seen a horror anthology that led you into the dark so much so that you were completely unaware of what was in store. I mean, the ones I’ve experienced are always the same. The same length in duration, and you kinda know what to expect next and when the next story is gonna begin and when it ends. This will be full of surprises, purposely keeping the audience in the dark until they reach the next corner.
For the short tales within, telling you anything would ruin the experience.
MA: Why use claymation as a style for film? Why use claymation for horror?
LH: I started using claymation to make the sort of films I would like to see as a cheap solution to filmmaking. The Internet really liked it, so I built a career out of making clay animated films that were aimed at a more mature audience. And it’s not something you see very often, I just think it would be insane to go into the cinema and watch some proper splatter horror recreated in clay. It’s like, how much fun would that be?
MA: I’ve heard the term “claysploitation” used to describe your style of film. How do you feel about being a forerunner of this style?
LH: It’s an honor, who wouldn’t wanna be the pioneer of something like “claysplotation”? I think it’s a perfect description. I am very focused on being a serious director and a writer, telling a story through film. I’m inventive with practical special effects, so it’s only natural that I’m drawn to the genre.
MA: You’re going to be sacrificing two years of your time to film “Spook Train 3D”; that’s passion. A lot of people can’t sacrifice their personal time in regards to their art, let alone a couple of months. How important is sacrificing your own time to accomplish this film?
LH: Well to be honest, it’s work. It’s a day job. My day job at the moment is doing the same sort of stuff. The difference is, people see me as an “animator,” who can make clay animated films for them, and that shit pays big! It’s what keeps me going. But the problem there is, I see myself as a proper writer/director, I just so happen to be able to make films by using a bunch of my knowledge and talents combined into one that doesn’t require expensive actors and crews. I don’t wanna make stuff for other people, I wanna make my own stupid crap. There’s a huge difference, but at end of the day, whatever pays the bills — you gotta find that balance and lifestyle that allows you to head towards your dreams and goals.
MA: How much of your time is spent on your YouTube channel? Is work all you do?
LH: Yep, I am a work-a-holic. Totally. Basically, I’m a young guy approaching 30, I make little money, I have a long-term girlfriend and everything is becoming about commitments and future plans. I’m doing everything I can right now while I’m free and in good health. Two years from now you might find me in another line of work supporting a family, but at least I can say I did the work and tried my best.
MA: Do you feel as if your style is more comedic than scary or do you try to convey a more horror aspect to your craft? Or is it a balance? I feel with claymation, you literally make the bloodiest scenes you possibly could, but it’s almost funny. Since, you know, it’s clay. You can be as gruesome as possible and it’s still a bit funny.
LH: Well, the thing is, I’ve made like literally 50 – 80 claymation films. I’ve lost count. About 90% of them have a bit of gore or something gross happening. I’ve been doing this for almost 10 years now! And it really depends on the production, and more importantly, the scene. I’d say about 80% of the gory stuff I’ve animated has been for laughs, gore slapstick, or comic gore action. Then there’s some very rare occasions where the violence has been animated for a different purpose of storytelling, done for elegance and emotion.
I think a nice example of this is my short “T is for Toilet.” During the dream sequence, the gore is out and the set is painted completely red by the end. Then it cuts to the final scene, which is not a dream, and I play it very differently with a ‘less is more,’ type of approach. That can get a more powerful response sometimes and it really works in “T is for Toilet.” I’ve seen it about four times with a cinema audience and it’s such an insane reaction during that final scene.
To me, each scene or shot of violence in cinema is a performance. So much story shines through it’s almost a second language to me now. But do I think it’s scary or funny? That’s the beauty, it’s all down to the viewer and how they react.
MA: What happens if this Kickstarter doesn’t work out? Will you still attempt “Spook Train”?
LH: It’s been a weird ride so far, reactions and support have been overwhelming, yet the sales have been underwhelming. Initially I was a bit bummed out and preparing for the worst, but the other reason for using Kickstarter was to pitch my film to anyone who wanted to listen. I don’t know who the hell to contact or approach with a film idea — don’t forget, I’m just a YouTuber. So, the good news is, since the Kickstarter launched, I have been approached with some serious interest. So you never know, “Spook Train” could still be on the cards even if the Kickstarter is a bust.