We recently met some super producers from Chicago just returning from ComicCon in NYC with a very interesting animated heroine we fell in love with. Now they are working to raise some funds for their 15-minute short featuring their lead character X-Key, a renegade woman of color trying to make it in a dystopian universe. We caught up with director Jonathan Chatonda who shared some project history with us!
Where did the idea for X-Key come from?
My friend Chloe Johnson-Vinion originally approached me about the idea of having Team X work on X-Key. When she told me the name I asked if it was about us (Team X) and she said, “No”. Chloe’s mother passed away years earlier during a fire that they were both caught in. During the court case that followed the fire she was forced to provide tons of legal documents. It was at this time that the ‘X’ key on her laptop’s keyboard broke. She was stressing out over both the case and the computer, but eventually came up with a work around that allowed her to write the letter without the missing key. She said there was something freeing about just not worrying about it and letting it go. The name X-Key became a symbol of that and thus she named her story X-Key. Sadly, a few year later, Chloe passed away, and I have been working to make this story a reality since that time.
What is the most attractive reason your audience would want to be immersed in X-Key’s world?
X-Key takes place in a future world that can be cold and brutal, but also contains beauty. It is a world bursting with very stark contradictions that we get to readily embrace and explore. Seeing that world roll out before us over the course of the story has incredible potential to be immersive and exciting in a visceral sense, but also provide an emotionally powerful journey. I think its an element that has potential to grab the attention of those who may not even have an immediate interest in animation.
Why are there not more animators of color?
I think there are a number of reasons for that, one reason is that there are not many animators in America doing hand drawn animation. Another reason is the very high entry price of animation. It requires time, money, and talent in addition to many other resources. This creates a situation where despite the number of talented artists of color, the right mix that allows them to pursue their work often doesn’t come together. If you look closely at the animation industry there are still prominent animators of color despite these hurdles. Yet, specifically in the African-American community, it is very rare that these animators are allowed to become directors, and produce and market their own work. We are hoping that our work, along with the work of many others, can be part of an upturn that will result in a visible elevation of diversity both on the screen and behind the scenes.
Is there something special/unique about your animation techniques?
I would say so. Our animation aims to blend techniques used in both Japanese and Western animation, along with traditional and digital techniques. The short film titled X-Key: Our Voices Are One will be used as a sort of proving ground for these techniques. We start out by drawing each frame by hand at eight frames per second, then we digitally tween the frames according to the sequence. This allows us to maintain a frame rate of twenty-four frames per second with a small team of animators, and also have detailed animations and character models. It is a method that when fully realized, can create stunning 2D animation that is vibrant and also detailed, and fully demonstrating this method in action is a big motivating factor for our work on this project.
What would it mean for you to reach your crowd-funding goal?
Reaching our goal would mean so much to us, with the most obvious being a chance to make our first film. It is also a way to honor our friend’s legacy by bringing her creative vision to life. For the greater community of African-American media and media producers, it is a chance to show a different take on stories created by people of color. A small animation team accomplishing something so large would be very significant for the animation industry. Reaching our goal would be a small step forward in further promoting 2D animation in America with fresh stories, new techniques, and unique ideas.