With a story inspired by the likes of Indiana Jones and Tintin, Eye of Mubala is a short animated film that is currently in production. The film is written and directed by Nas Pasha and Matt Bakerdjian, and is being animated by them along with a collection of friends comprising Studio Crazy Horse. It is about a reckless anthropology professor who snatches a forbidden relic, awakening a terrifying guardian named Mubala, and his plucky research assistant Pema, who has to keep her senior’s ass out of the fire. The trailer Studio Crazy Horse released for the Toronto Animation Arts Festival showcases the film’s three primary characters and its use of traditional hand-drawn animation:

The characters, although silent, demonstrate abundant personality in their animated expression. You really get a sense of The Professor’s roguish nature in his treasure hoarding, and the cowardice on his face when he’s chased by Mubala. Pema, on the other hand, gives off an air of heroism and determination, and perhaps also her frustration with always having to save The Professor. The use of traditional animation really lends itself well to this story, giving it a somewhat gritty aspect that really appeals to the relic-hunting genre. The environments this team have created are gorgeous, with lush backgrounds and realistic lighting. I caught up with one of the co-directors Nas to ask him about his process on the film and its influences:

Tell us a little bit more about your film and Studio Crazy Horse. How did they come about?

We’re a group of likeminded animators, and the film is really just a codified way for us “Crazy Horses” to have some fun. We all love animation, and are pretty unhappy with the state of the industry today. Eye of Mubala is our attempt at taking an idea that we’re in love with and sharing it for the only reason that should matter, so that people can enjoy quality hand-drawn animation uninfluenced by money.

In this short trailer I really get a good feel for the character of both The Professor and Pema. How did you first come up with these characters?

It’s a funny story! In short, both Matt and I individually came up with two similar stories of a foolish character who steals a gem of sorts from a temple and is chased by a beast. We were dumbfounded that our stories were so similar. As we talked with the team members, we came to agree that there should be two characters in order to express both the desperation and determination of stealing a jewel so precious. So in essence, we have a Jack Sparrow-esque fellow who isn’t stupid, but does seem to get himself into terrible situations, and his research assistant Pema, who is the actual brains behind the madness and bails him out of these sticky scenarios.

You have stated that Indiana Jones is a major influence for Eye of Mubala. Are you a big fan of the action-adventure genre? What other stories helped inspire the plot?

Definitely a lifelong fan of Indiana Jones, though I haven’t seen the new one with the aliens in it. I love the idea of mysterious tombs and ancient curses, so along with Indiana Jones other influences include Tarzan, Uncharted (the PS3 game), Tomb Raider (though I haven’t ever played it), and Mission Impossible. In terms of our film’s plot, though there are probably similarities to other stories (since the treasure hunting genre can only be so varied), Matt and I weren’t really influenced by any particular source. We just thought it’d be neat to create a treasure chase movie.

I see in your work a combination of both Eastern and Western influences. On your website you have lots of anime-inspired art, but the animation style of Mubala reminds me a lot of the work of Belgian and French comic artists, such as Hergé or Fabien Mense. Which artists and animators would you say most inspire your style and that of the film?

May I first answer this question with a big “Thank you” for regarding my name and that of Fabien Mense in the same sentence. Collectively our team is classically trained and therefore we almost all love the classic Disney animated films, and even though Disney hasn’t done anything 2D in a long time, they’re definitely in our DNA. That being said, Studio 4C, Ghibli, Bones, and Les Goblins are all major influences. Personally, the works of Fabien Mense, Joel27, BAHI JD, LeSean Thomas, Ki Hyun Ryu, Inseung Choi, and Yutaka Nakamura inspire me in my style of animation. Very snappy, so to speak.

Why did you choose to use traditional hand-drawn animation for Eye of Mubala over computer-aided animation?

Because I like it more, and though unfortunate, many animators these days don’t even carry a sketch book – and I’m obsessed with drawing! We have a joke, among us: 3D animation makes all the hard things easy, and all the easy things hard. The skill involved in 2D hand-drawn animation is unmatched and timeless. Classic animation made decades ago still holds up today, The Jungle book is a perfect example.

Who makes up the rest of Studio Crazy Horse, and what are their roles in the film?

We’re a team of 11! Here they are:

Animation:
Mark Conmigo, Matt Bakerdjian, Naseer Pasha

Layout:
Giuseppe Arabia, Dale Watson, Tenzin Chime, Mark Conmigo

Character Design:
Chris Morin, Dale Watson

BG Paint:
Mike Chung, Julien Nema

Cel Colour: Joseph Ng, John Chan, Matt Bakerdjian, Dale Watson, Naseer Pasha, John Chan, Giuseppe Arabia, Tenzin Chime, Chris Morin

Any idea when we might be able to see the completed product?

This is our first time making something so big from scratch together, so I don’t want to speak too ambitiously, but we’re hoping to finish it by the end of the year, or early in January.

Anything else you’d like to promote?

I’d like this time to thank my personal mentor, Bruce Lee, for all his – hah! Not really. I guess maybe to let anyone who’s interested to check out the studio website, as we will constantly be putting up art, pencil tests, and all sorts of other goodies. Also, you can find me and my buddy Chris at FanExpo 2014, where I’ll be selling my graphic novel series, Two Mistakes Two Many. You can find it in print at the show, or online for free on my website.

Thank you for your time!

The pleasure is definitely on this end. I speak on behalf of all the enthusiastic members of Studio Crazy Horse when I say thank you for taking an interest in our independently-produced 2D animation. Expect weird, wild things in the future!