Exclusive: Interview with THE ROCKETEER animated fan film creator John Banana – and behind-the-scenes pics/videos!

Exclusive: Interview with THE ROCKETEER animated fan film creator John Banana – and behind-the-scenes pics/videos!

If you didn’t see THE ROCKETEER animated fan film we posted, you should definitely watch that now before reading further.  If you’re a fan of Dave Stevens’ creation like me, you can absolutely appreciate and perhaps even adore the work of John Banana with his 2-minute animated fan film – hitting the web just in time for the 20th Anniversary of the Disney live action adaptation.  I had the pleasure of interviewing the fan film creator, John Banana, who provided some insight on the making of this fantastic project, and even gave me some exclusive behind-the-scenes pics and video to show you all.  I’ve integrated some of the images below.  To access the exclusive videos, you’ll need to use the password “bigfanboy

Check out John’s original 2004 tests for a Rocketeer fan film here – http://vimeo.com/25727698

And here’s a little look at the making of the new fan film – http://vimeo.com/25723375

Remember, you have to use the password bigfanboy to access those vids!  And now, on with the interview!

Mark: Hey John, thanks for talking to us. So being a huge Rocketeer fan myself, I was very excited to see your fan film. Obviously you have a strong love of the character. Can you start by telling me about how you were introduced to the comics?

John: Hi yourself, Mark, and thanks for the interview. I discovered Rocketeer, I can’t hide this, with the Disney movie. I fell in love with it, and it’s one of the old movies I still watch very often on DVD with The Untouchables, Star Wars, etc… I think it’s still very good, the actors, the music… I love pretty much everything about it, and I don’t really understand why it failed at the box office. It’s pure 1930’s Indiana Jones fun. I discovered the comics much later, and found out there were very few stories with the character, and that it was not so old (I thought first it was based on a very old comics). I discovered that Dave was a contemporary artist, and found out about him and all his work…

Mark: Tell people a bit about who you are, where you live, what your day-to-day life is. Give us an idea of what John Banana’s life is like.

John: I’m a computer graphic artist (not so much anymore), director, and very small producer. You might know me or my work from the Raving Rabbids character… they owe me their “crazyness attitude”, some of their important design characteristics, and their universe. I wrote and directed many videos during 2 years that inspired the game and its sequels:
…my everyday job is directing cartoon commercials and TV shows pilots with my partner Elton Banana, who is our main character artist. Recently we helped bring back from the 80’s characters like Maya the bee, Vick the Viking, or Heidi for studio100, popular in Europe probably not in the states. You can see some of our work on www.digitalbananastudio.com – we are based in Paris and Sweden. And my everyday life is trying to do nice things, with the usually small budgets we are given.

Mark: Unbelievable, I love those Raving Rabbids!  No idea that was you, but that just makes this interview even more awesome.  Okay, so when did you make the decision to produce a Rocketeer fan film, and when exactly did the process start?

John: After searching my archives, it all started in 2004. I decided to model a cartoony Rocketeer for fun (see the 2004 video link above). I sent it to Dave through the contact I had, I’ll never know if he got it, and started some little animation test with it. As far as I can recall, this little teaser was already in my mind – something simple where he would save a kid and kick Lothar’s ass. Then I let it aside for a while. In 2008 when I heard Dave passed away, I decided to stop thinking too much and just do it. My dad died around the same time and I needed something creative and motivating to keep my mind busy, as it was a really hard time. So we put aside our short film in progress and concentrated our energy on the tribute.

Mark: Was your intention always to make it the way it came out, or was the original idea different in any way?

John: It was pretty close. The first version of the character was slightly more exaggerated, but since the begining it was something like this I wanted to try. This character has such a great potential visually, I thought the animated style would match perfectly. In the first version I tried something silly. The helmet was animated to give him expressions (angry/sad etc)… I though it was cool as especially he would have the helmet on a lot, but I forgot about this idea in the final version. Elton Banana, our amazing character modeler, took it and brought it to a slightly different but very nice and stylized direction. We did the same on the other characters. One big difference though is when we started the tribute we planned to create/model everything, but when Fabrice Ascione came onboard, an amazing art director, I decided to use directly his 2D research as backgrounds, and soon after as textures for environments, barns etc… that’s why we have this 2D/3D mix that fits perfectly. And last but not least, in my first version I planned to use the original Rocketeer soundtrack, as it’s one of James Horner’s best soundtracks in my opinion, but I got a bit scared of using it, and asked my good friend Squid, from Squid and the Stereo band (http://www.myspace.com/squidandthestereo) to produce an original theme. I wish we had a little bit more budget to record with an orchestra, but, well… it’s a fan film.

Mark: How long did it take to complete this project, or I guess I should ask how much total time do you think you spent putting it together?

John: As we did it as a side project, meaning when we were getting work we would stop it, it took around 1 year to really complete it… maybe it was a total of 4 full months of work, maybe a bit less or a bit more, I’m not really sure. Some people would come on board for 3 days, some for 2 months. We had from everything from very experienced animators to very motivated juniors. I think this project was motivating for everybody.

Mark: Just as a casual viewer who knows a little about animation, I see some influences in there. Are you a fan of Aardman Animation, or the Pixar movies? What are some of your artistic inspirations?

John: Well you just names my 2 favorite studios, Aardman and PIXAR – the first one because of the life they bring to their characters and their humor, and the amazing work they do with eye animation in general. Gromit doesnt speak, but you always know what he thinks. Pixar for their storytelling mainly and the amazing worlds they create. You can feel they spend time in making sure that everything looks beautiful, not every big studio does that. I read Cars 2 is bad… I can’t believe it, I have to see it by myself. Many artists inspire us at Banana, from friends like Arthur de Pins, Bill Presing, Ahmed Guerrouache, people like Kei Acedara, Bobby Chiu, Pascal Campion (amazing), we have a bunch of very good frenchies from Cafe Sale. I was amazed with Tangled lately…and french film le chat du rabbin, totally different styles but all very inspiring.

Click to enlarge - see the detail within the animation, it's beautiful.

Mark: Outside of posting this on the net, have you submitted it to any big companies? I would think Disney would love this.

John: Ha-ha… so after a while, when we were making this we though that it would make a really great TV series, as especially we were trying to make it with cost saving techniques not to get myself ruined, so we tried to do everything in term of content in that direction, avoiding all the nazi elements from the movie, the sex elements from the comics, etc… trying to make something that kids would like to follow every week on TV, to get a whole new generation to discover this great character. So I tried to find out who owned the rights. We finished this in 2009 and decided to show it for the 20th anniversary, but since 2009 I was trying to find who was owning the rights before making it public. I found out about The Rocketeer trust, the family of Dave, and sent it recently, and even more recently I heard Disney still owned the TV/movie rights. I tried to contact them last year to get this info, but no one was able to really answer me. I hope that with this little buzz the tribute is making, they will think about it, and maybe call me, but this was really not my initial intention. And if this little tribute stays as a tribute, that’s great. If it gives ideas to others, that’s great too, but it’s a world I’d sure like to develop.

Mark: Obviously there’s still a lot of potential with a character like The Rocketeer. Do you think an animated movie would be a smart way to go at this point, or do you see it working better as a live action reboot?

John: Both… I read The Rocketeer was a planned trilogy, I would love to see what they had planned for him. I would love to see Joe Johnston give it a second try, and I could see an animated feature that would lead to a TV serial. The question is, do kids these days love the 30-40’s era ?! I’m sure they would if they were given the opportunity to discover it with a great action/comedy show like this. Everything is cool, the costumes, the vehicles, and above all this The Rocketeer… a fellow who is not a superhero, with his weaknesses and faults, but will try anything for his beloved. At one point, I though this could be Rocketeer Grandson, but forget about it to stay true to the comics era.

How cool is this? Banana-style Rocketeer action figure designs! Click to enlarge

Mark: Would you be willing to do another Rocketeer fan film like this? Maybe turn in one a year, or do you have something else in mind?

John: At the moment, I’m trying to send my short film “Orange Ô desespoir” (an orange who wants to be a pineapple) around the world in festivals, and that takes time. We finished it last month, and we are starting a new one that will take us another several months probably. But if someone from the studios was to approach me about a Rocketeer TV show, I would think about it sure… as it’s my job too. I started to write a little treatment at one point of what could a Rocketeer TV series be, but… well, it’s not up to me.

Mark: Okay, last but not least, where can people see more of your work, and is there anything else you want to plug?

John: Well be sure to check www.digitalbananastudio.com for more work from my great little team… and as a new VIMEO user, I’ll try to upload our best stuff there, including our short film. For now it’s only in festivals. There is a little teaser here… (I’ve attached it below)

Mark: Thanks so much, John. You did a phenomenal job, and please keep up the great work.

See more at www.digitalbananastudio.com


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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.