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Sundance Film Festival 2021
Interview

Joe Cappa 
Ghost Dog

joecappa.com

A family's new rescue pup is terrorised by deceased pets in this mind-bending horror.

Hi Joe thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

I’ve been doing pretty well, thanks.  I’m an animator so my life consists of hanging indoors all the time, anyway.  Work has been consistent too since clients have been pivoting to animation because of the pandemic.

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

 

I thought it would, but no it hasn’t really.  I guess I do need to go outside and hang with other people to get inspired.

Congratulations on having Ghost Dogs selected in the Animation section at Sundance 2021, what does it mean to be part of such an amazing line up fo short films?

Thanks!  I can probably answer for everyone by just saying we all needed this!  Ghost Dogs was a 2 year long process.  So it’s an amazing feeling to know all this hard work paid off in a big way.  To be among some of the most talented filmmakers from around the world is the greatest form of validation I can think of.

Your US Premiere was held at Fantastic Fest what was this experience like for you sharing Ghost Dogs at the largest genre film festival in the US?

Yeah, Fantastic Fest was an amazing way to launch the animation.  I used to be more of a cinematographer.  A few years ago I shot my friend’s movie which premiered at Fantastic Fest in Austin, and I was able to attend the festival in person.  It was interesting this year to do it all online.  Definitely a different experience, but I was honoured nonetheless.

 

What has it meant to you to have gotten such an amazingly positive reaction to your film?

Haha.  Most of my friends I’ve shown the movie to didn’t get it.  So I still don’t know what to think of the reactions, honestly.  Maybe ‘Ghost Dogs’ is a filmmaker's movie?  I hope it gets a great reception at Sundance.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  I personally love ‘Ghost Dogs!’  It’s everything I want in an animation

What is the best way you would describe Ghost Dogs to someone?

People say it’s a rollercoaster to watch which is probably the best compliment a filmmaker could receive.  I really tried to play with the audience.  But it’s really all about tone for me.  Ghost Dogs is a love letter to Amblin Entertainment.  It’s like Poltergeist meets Gremlins, but not trying to be too on the nose about it.  Like I hesitate giving credit to Amblin, because now it sounds like I’m a Stranger Things fan boy or something.   I’m just saying ‘Ghost Dogs’ has that interesting mixture of warmth, magic, humour and terror that I feel Amblin did well.  But I really do think Ghost Dogs is something Spielberg would be proud of haha.  Do you hate me yet?

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"As a first timer, I spent a lot of time animating scenes just to find out it didn’t work."

Where did your inspiration for Ghost Dogs come from?

I used to watercolour these ghost dog characters with human legs and arms for years.  They just seemed creepy and funny to me.  Adjacently, I’ve had recurring dreams for my entire life where I’m stuck in a haunted house.  The short animation kind of lumps these two ideas together.  There are few ideas in this world that just write themselves and Ghost Dogs is one of them.  What if a dog was being haunted by deceased pets?  It was very fun to think it through and I knew if I didn’t make it, and do it justice, someone else would.

With animation how flexible are you with your script, do you prefer to stick to what was planed or do you allow yourself to go in surprising or new directions?

Ghost Dogs started with a storyboard because there’s very little dialogue.  I had about a minute of roughly animated stuff when I decided to edit those shots together to see what I had.  My producer thought it needed more suspense in the beginning so we rearranged shots, deleted the rest, and added a few more.  I also changed the ending when I got to that point as well.  So to answer your question, animation is flexible if you’re willing to scrap stuff you spent weeks on.  As a first timer, I spent a lot of time animating scenes just to find out it didn’t work.  It sucks, but you have to do what’s best for the story.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently on Ghost Dogs?

 

I started with a completely different storyboard when I first began brainstorming ‘Ghost Dogs’.  It’s roughly a similar premise as the short I ended up making, but it involved three dog protagonists versus the one puppy.  In my mind, I wanted the dogs to feel more animal and less like a person with human emotions, if that makes sense.  So, I probably would have designed the puppy differently if I could do it all over again.  I think that detail was lost when I changed the story around.

What was the biggest challenge you faced making this film?

I literally was teaching myself frame by frame cel animation the first day I started drawing Ghost Dogs.  So I’d say animating was the biggest challenge haha.  Drawing a puppy moving around in a three dimensional space was all a guessing game until I got it right (or at least close enough).  I also wish I spent more time in the character development phase.  Originally I gave all the Ghost Dogs eyes that I ended up hating.  So I went back and redrew all of their eyes.  And then later I didn’t like THOSE eyes either, so I went back for a third time and redrew their eyes all over again.  So stupid.

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You poster for Ghost Dogs is stunning, where did the inspiration come from for your film poster?
 

Thanks!  There’s a segment in the actual cartoon that gave me inspiration for the poster.  I think it conveys a lot about the tone and premise of the movie with a simple icon.  I also wanted it to feel like some movie from the 80’s with that glossy lipstick-red blood.
 

Do you think animation should continue to push the boundaries?

Yes!  I, personally, don’t enjoy the animation medium.  I don’t seek out animated shows.  It usually takes five separate people to tell me an animated show is good before I try watching it.  And 9 times out of 10 I won’t enjoy it haha.  The style has to be truly unique for a cartoon to catch my interest.  And usually when the style is unique it means the creator also has an interesting perspective on storytelling which is really all I’m after.

Have you always had a passion for animation?

I started animating about 7 years ago.  I was doing a lot of stop-motion animation with construction paper. I was just trying to make stuff feel like MTV’s Liquid Television from back in the day.  I love that texture and sensibility.

How much has your style and your approach to your work changed since your debut?

I do a lot of work on a WACOM tablet now which I have mixed feelings about.  A lot of my personal identity is lost when I draw straight to the computer.  So, now I’m just trying to figure out how to create my own style within a digital medium.

Are there any wise words or advice you would offer an emerging animator?

Watch Beavis & Butthead and King of the Hill.  I want to see more shows like that, please.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Ghost Dogs?
 

I just hope people appreciate my intentions.  I want them to feel uncomfortable and laugh at the same time.  There is no better emotion in the world.