Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher
February 5, 2004
Based on the independent comic book of the same name, Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher (2004) is a fun, highly entertaining animated short film by a group of students from New York University. It is a loving homage to those old pulp serials (like Doc Savage) from the 1930s and a playful satire of propaganda news reels from World War II. After making the rounds on the film festival circuit it is finally available on DVD.
The latest installment, entitled, “Chapter 13: The Bosom of Terror!” (great title, btw) finds our hero, Rex Steele (Blank) and his trusty sidekick, the plucky Miss Penny Thimble (Russell), flying into the heart of the Amazon where the Nazis have established a base at Mount Koyol Qui. A nasty storm forces their plane down and Rex must continue on foot while Penny attends to the plane. Soon, he discovers an Amazon Nazi temple ruled by the nefarious Eval Schnitzer (Blank) and his assistant, Greta Schultz (Shawany), and is quickly taken captive. The short film ends with a cliffhanger typical with the movie serial format.
One look at this short film and you would be hard pressed to tell that it was produced by students on a small budget. It has very professional looking production values on par with anything you’d see from the studios. One of the things that stands out is the great attention to detail. For example, the opening newsreel, which sets everything up, pays tribute to the same kind of prologue that begins Citizen Kane (1941).
The animation is a clever mix of hand drawn and computer animation reminiscent of the retro 2D look of The Iron Giant (1999) with a bit of the Fleischer brothers and a dash of John Kricfalusi thrown in for good measure. This results in a decidedly cartoonish look that suits the over-the-top tone perfectly. Rex is drawn in the large chested square-jawed hero mould while the women, like Greta, are rendered in proportions that would make Russ Meyer proud.
It is hard not to root for these guys. So much hard work went into what they’ve done that they deserve all the praise and awards that has been thrown at ‘em. Hell, they’ve even won the top award in the prestigious Student Academy Award Gold Animation Category.
The DVD is packed with more extras than you would normally expect for a short film that only runs ten minutes. There are three audio commentaries! The first is by director, animator and co-writer Alexander Woo. He talks about the influence of the Fleischer brothers’ Superman cartoons and the casting of the voice actors, most of whom he met at NYU. The second track is by co-creator/screenwriter Matt Peters who discusses how some of the scenes were animated and also describes Greta as “a pin-up model gone horribly wrong.” Finally, the last commentary is by co-creator/art director Bill Presing who goes into the more technical details of how the short was put together using computer programs like PhotoShop.
There is also the option to watch the short with the music on only (this allows one to hear Ryan Shore’s rousing score) or a sound effects only track.
“Making Rex Steele’ is a six-minute featurette that examines how the film came to be. Woo had to do a film for a class at NYU. He met Presing and asked him if he could take his comic book character and make it into a short film. Even though they worked on a limited budget, they enjoyed complete creative freedom.
“3D Production” briefly examines how some of the computer animation was used in the short. They often created 3D objects and applied textures to them to achieve a 2D look.
“Music” is a six-minute featurette that examines how the film’s composer, Ryan Shore, created the energetic score. He talks about how music helps shape and tell the story.
“Art of Rex Steele” shows the various stages the short went through, from animatics to 3D animation. Also included is a gallery of artwork: layouts, storyboards and background paintings.
There is also the trailer.
In a great touch, the film’s soundtrack is also included on a separate CD.
With the emergence of Pixar and the box office failure of the last few Disney animated films; hand-drawn animation has been declared officially dead. However, innovative animators like Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) and the presence of Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher, prove that both computer and hand-drawn animation can co-exist harmoniously. This is an auspicious debut and one hopes that Hollywood will take notice and let these guys expand what they’ve done into a feature film.
(NOTE: if you would like to purchase a copy of this DVD, go here: http://www.monkeysuit.com/)