Josh Funk doesn’t want to contemplatethe number of hours he spent writing, producing and animating his new short fantasy film, 3 Keys. It took four months to create the puppets, animation and practical effects for a single scene, and his most ambitious project to date consumed most of his free time over the last three years.
“Counting the hours would just drive me crazy,” he said.
The local independent stop-motion animator makes his living by freelancing promotional videos, music videos and commercials for a variety of clients, and he works on personal projects like 3 Keys on the side. The roughly 15-minute film is the follow-up to Funk’s last major stop-motion project, Spaceman(2014).
“Spaceman was about this guy who builds a cardboard spaceship, goes to an alien planet and fights a monster, but there was no dialogue,” Funk said. “It was almost like a silent black-and-white film. When I was making [3 Keys], I really wanted to push myself in every aspect. I wanted it to look better and sound better and I wanted to work with new people.”
The story starts with a psychiatrist (local actor Robert Donnelly) and his patient (Funk’s sister-in-law, Brigette Funk), who has recurring nightmares. The dreams always start in a dark and spooky basement, where she finds three keys in front of a mysterious door. There’s an element of Alice in Wonderland as each key transports her to a different place.
“So, there are three different dreams I’m showing throughout the film,” Funk said, “and they all involve puppetry of some kind and sets and visual effects.”
3 Keys is set to premiere at the Museum of Northern California Art April 13 and 14. The event will include a short behind-the-scenes video, a Q&A session with Funk and the cast, and a display of puppets, miniatures and props from the film. A host of actors, artists and Chico State students (Funk teaches a course on animation) donated their time and talent to bring the project to life.
Funk has submitted 3 Keys to about 20 film festivals and contests, and it already won an Award of Excellence in FilmFreeway’s prestigious Best Shorts Competition.
The film incorporates elements of horror and suspense drawn from Funk’s own childhood fears, but it’s not at all gory, and falls comfortably into the category of a fantasy/thriller. He started writing the script in 2015, working mostly late at night while watching his sleeping newborn son, Jonah.
“I was thinking of childhood so much, and I started thinking about how I used to be scared to death of dolls,” he said. “I saw a clip of Chucky [from Child’s Play] on Entertainment Tonight and it just traumatized me. … I still have recurring nightmares about Chucky.”
He also borrowed from fairy tales, in which doors often serve as symbolic thresholds, and repetition of the number three also bears significance. As with any fairy tale, 3 Keysconcludes with a moral. Without giving away the ending, it’ll suffice to say the protagonist’s nightmares are rooted in her waking life.
“The main character is someone who refuses to admit that they do anything wrong,” he said. “Until they can admit their own faults, they’re not getting out.”