Written by Travis Souders - January 31, 2019

Chico State Today

Josh Funk with Puppet - Photo by  Jessica Bartlett/University Photographer

Cradling his newborn son, Josh Funk found himself entranced by the colors dancing on the wall.

Splatters of refracted light, streaming from a prism—a gift for his baby boy—fluttered and hopped about the room as sunshine glanced across the trinket. The images wriggled their way into Funk’s exhausted consciousness, where they would soon manifest as illuminated floating fairies in his award-winning short film, 3 Keys.

As both an educator and a filmmaker, Funk has made a career out of trying to capture those flashes of light—to harness inspiration when he sees it, and to make the most of it. He hopes to drive his students to do the same. 

Deriving purpose from passion has been a form of art in itself for Funk, a lecturer in the art and art history department at Chico State. He teaches three digital media courses within the subject of animation and illustration.

Funk (Art Studio, ’07) has nurtured an affinity for the arts since childhood, but he fell in love with teaching 10 years after he completed his undergraduate work—and the timing couldn’t have been better. Unsure of his life’s direction as he neared completion on his first short film, “The Spaceman,” he was asked to fill in for a former instructor, Nanette Wylde, who was going on sabbatical. He immediately found that teaching called to him, as he saw an opportunity to relate his own young filmmaker’s perspective to students interested in the art and the industry. After Wylde’s retirement last year, Funk stayed on as a lecturer.

“Teaching at Chico State makes me a better artist, a more empathetic person, and closer to my community,” he said. “It forces me to not only keep up technically, but to also reevaluate what was effective or not during my time as a student.”

Now, having captured a cache of film festival awards for 3 Keys—Best Digital Effects at HorrorHaus, second place for Judges’ Choice and Best Animation at Shortz!, Most Original Concept at Videoscream, a Gold Award for Best Horror Film at the Mindfield Film Festival, and the Award of Excellence for Film Short in the Best Shorts International Film Competition—Funk can relay his journey to film success to his students.

“Everything I learned happened after I graduated, so I am able to come from the approach of, ‘I wish I had known this sooner,’” Funk explained. “I would have wanted to know more about real-world problems for artists, how to make money, how to promote yourself, and mostly how to find what you’re passionate about and turn it into something that can sustain you.”

Drawing upon inspiration, he said, is the easy part. It’s identifying where it comes from that can be difficult, and it is that skill he wishes to impart above all else. He takes a grand view of his muses, also considering their own influences to understand what specifically he enjoys about a certain aspect of an art style or technique.

Josh Funk with Marionette Puppet - Photo by  Jessica Bartlett/University Photographer

Ever an ’80s kid, Funk cherishes the nostalgia of films like GremlinsBeetlejuice, and, later, The Nightmare Before Christmas—unsettling yet still charming in their animation styles, mixing puppets and marionettes with live actors or simply bringing the inanimate to life. He remembers being simultaneously “fascinated—and traumatized—by Chucky” after seeing the murderous doll on an Entertainment Tonight clip. His eyes light up when 3 Keys’ style is mentioned in the same conversation as Tim Burton (an obvious Funk favorite, along with Jim Henson) or Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, a masterpiece of surreal animation in its own right.

Whether it was Muppet-inspired delight or porcelain doll-inflicted terror, it struck Funk as immediately important to hold on to those feelings of fascination—and to keep them alive for as long as he could. Staying true to his passion enabled Funk’s vision to come to life on film, said 3 Keys co-producer and director of photography Joe Batt. 

“He really had a clear vision of what he was going to do with it, and the sets really showed it,” said Batt, a longtime friend of Funk’s. “He’s so detail-oriented—there are a ton of tiny little touches in the film that you don’t really notice at first, but they add up in how the whole thing feels. And that’s all based on the vision that he had from the beginning.”

In the 15-minute film, a young woman experiences recurring nightmares, as described to a psychiatrist. Each features a mysterious door and three keys that unlock different scenes, each memorably haunting in its own right.

Funk wants to continue to hone his skills and keep using “old-school” animation styles. He is concurrently attending online graduate school at Lesley University, based in Massachusetts, and expects to earn his master’s in fine arts by 2020. He wants to keep making films, striving to one day produce a feature-length project, and he also sees himself teaching for years to come.

The key, Funk said, will always be catching those moments of inspiration when they appear.

“I want to keep making films, and I want them to be more personal and less influenced by what’s popular than what I believe in,” he said. “And the same goes for my teaching. I want to help people find their authentic voice and direction—once you find that, doors open up for you.” 

Scary tale : Local animator’s new short film is the stuff of nightmares

By Howard Hardee 

This article was published on 04.05.18.


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.”

 Keys premiere, two showings, Friday-Saturday, April 13-14, 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $5
Museum of Northern California Art
900 Esplanade


Josh Funk Wins Award

On September 18th, Film Director and Animator Josh Funk won Best Brief Film: Judges Choice at Shortz! Film Festival. The award was given for Funk’s vibrant stop-motion music video ‘Diggin’ On’ created for the band Michelin Embers. 

‘Diggin’ On’ features stop-motion puppets, 3D printed and found objects, as well as live-footage of the band playing on a miniature drive-in movie screen. The music video was a collaboration between Funk, the band, and inspired by the album artwork of artist Rickie Barnett.

“This award was very unexpected and I’m thrilled to be a part of this years Shortz! Film Festival. I’m even more excited for the opportunity to share the music of Michelin Embers,” said Funk.

The Shortz! Film Festival is an annual international short film festival, which showcases the best and brightest short films from around the globe, with many traveling to see their films at the historic El Rey Theatre in downtown Chico each year. 

Watch the video now!