Yellow Cake is a new short film by Nick Cross, an Ottawa-based animator who has worked for everyone from Nickelodeon to Spumco over the course of his career. He calls Yellow Cake a “lamentable tragedy mixed full of pleasant mirth.” Animated in Flash, with digitally painted backgrounds, the fine-tuned muted color palette, retro-styled animation and the symphonic, almost saccharine, music all work to lure you into a tale of adorable blue creatures who spend all day baking and then eating their own delicious yellow cakes. But soon the tide turns, and Nick’s film explores a modern parable of terrorism and war, addressing our own attention span in a devastating way.
You will remember that way back in 2003, Yellow Cake Uranium was one of the Weapons of Mass Destruction that Iraq allegedly possessed. Watch the film first, then read on for more with Nick Cross.
1. Can you give us a brief run-down of your animation background, other shorts films you’ve done or commercial work that’s been notable in developing your own films?
A. I’ve been working in the commercial animation world since 1996, mostly working on children’s television programming. Since two of the things I enjoy the most is drawing and films, animation was a natural fit for me. However, since I never went to animation school, working in animation was a good education and grounding for making my own animated films later. I made my first film in 1998 just to sort of learn animation, and I’ve been making films ever since.
2. What was the specific inspiration for Yellow Cake?
A. In 2003, while I was working on my previous film, The Waif of Persephone, there was a lot of talk in the media about Iraq purchasing yellow cake uranium. It was talked about so much that it was eventually just referred to as yellow cake, which I thought was pretty funny since they were speaking in such ominous tones about a tasty dessert treat. I just kept thinking about it, forming the story in my head until I finished Waif of Persephone in 2006, and then I jumped right on to working on Yellow Cake.
3. I know that you’ve mentioned that you’ve worked on this film (off and on) for almost three years. Even then, at over 8 minutes, how did you ever find the time to make this all on your own?
A. Over the years, I’ve developed a pretty streamlined production method through trial-and-error. Working almost entirely digitally now saves me a lot of time; I draw right into Flash with a Cintiq tablet and paint all of the backgrounds in Photoshop. I think that I could have made the entire film in just a few months if I didn’t have to keep putting it on the shelf to do commercial jobs, but such is the life of an independent filmmaker.
4. Did you deliberately use a few visual cues from well-known photographs from history? We’re thinking of the famous Napalm Girl photo and the Orwellian / They Live references in the town… Are there any others we might have missed?
A. Yes, definitely. I think that photograph from the Vietnam War really encapsulates the horror of war, so I couldn’t help referencing it. Also, 1984 is my favorite book so I couldn’t help but put some Orwellian imagery in there. The only other overt reference that I put in the film is to the Disney short, The Brave Little Tailor. When all the cats are freaking out near to the end of the film is based off of the montage of the villagers yelling “Seven in one blow!”.
5. The ending of the film leaves the fate of the little blue guys a little bit up in the air, cutting right to cartoons, music, sports and a final test pattern before the film ends. Watching the film leaves the audience itself a bit complicit: we’re all cats, aren’t we? Is there a call to action there?
A. It’s not really a call to action, it’s just sort of my thoughts about how we as a society view war. We are interested up to a point and then, since it doesn’t really affect us in our everyday lives, we get distracted and kind of forget that there is even a war still going on.
Thanks, Nick! Good luck with the film on the festival circuit and with the release of a DVD collection of your work. We’re looking forward to that.
We should also mention that Nick is one of the creators of the pilot for Angora Napkin which premiered at the Ottawa International Animation Festival a few weeks ago.