A young scholar, seeing the world anew...

Meet Ghal-Sur, one of the protagonists of the chapter titled “The Allsorrow.”

Ghal-Sur is an ambitious young man, hungry to learn all that the old scholar-priests of the Pantheon Ashurban keep locked away in their vast library, a temple dedicated to preserving all the information known to humanity.


He was taken in by Ashur priests as a child, and has risen from his first task - preparing game-fowl for the kitchen - to finally join the robed scholars as an adventuring Minor Aquisitioner - a coveted title, though his assignments have mostly been relegated to documenting local events of little importance. When we first him in the film, however, he’s arrived at the nascent city-fort of Pyr on a particularly noteworthy moment.

Ghal-Sur is portrayed by actor Jordan Smith, who brought an incredible level of depth to the character’s journey of self- discovery in a world he is only just beginning to truly comprehend.

We're going to take a few weeks off from updating, but when we return we'll be looking at some of the fantastical locations that the film's story will take us.


The Queen of the Swamp

This is Tzod. She is the queen of the tribal denizens of the great swamp Bastal, a dreaded and impenetrable northern bog that has spawned so many grim tales that the few travelers who return from its treacherous banks have come back to civilization calling it The Allsorrow. But to Tzod, adorned with her giant toad’s skull crown, it is home.

Each new moon, her tribe gathers to see the swamp’s dreaming mind turned to visions in the bonfire when Tzod ignites the sacred leaves that are entrusted to her, passed down from mother to daughter.


Now, however, her tribe grows small - heedless of the legends, an upstart from the distant Empire has settled on the swamp’s outskirts, and, as they harvest the swamp’s resources to build their settlement, Tzod’s tribe has tried to repel them and met with deadly opposition from the settlement’s hired mercenary forces.

What guidance will the swamp reveal to her to in flames? What forces will compel her to ascend the frozen peak?

In The Spine of Night, Tzod is portrayed by Sydney Matthews. She imbued the role with savage ferocity and stoic purpose, a woman burdened with responsibility not just for her tribe, or her home, but, perhaps, for all of life itself.

Next time on the blog: the scholar, Ghal-Sur.


Oh Sons And Daughters of Man...

This is The Guardian.

He is the same figure who took the great helm and sword at the end of Exordium. Since that time he has waited, alone and contemplative, on that mountain top, his only company the stars, the skull and the bloom itself. 

In The Spine of Night, The Guardian is portrayed by Alex Malcolm Mills. He gave the Guardian a subtle blend of menace and sadness, as if the character was burdened by a great weight but one he was willing to kill to defend. 

Alex played a good deal of roles, both on screen and off, for The Spine of Night. He was a constant asset and one of the key players in this whole affair.  

Next time on the blog: Queen of the Swamp.  

All Hail.

This is Syr. Legends say he was the first King of Men.

They say when the world was newly dreamed, he led mankind out of the wilderness. He forged weapons to hunt and to kill. He built himself a crown. They sing songs of his conquests, his sorrows, and his rage.

What drove him to such bloodlust is a thing much argued by scholars and mystics alike.

Syr is the lead character in a segment called The Road of Straw. It is the most psychedelic of the segments in the film. 

Despite being a lead, Syr has no lines of dialogue in the film. Instead, the role rests entirely on visual intensity, on a sense of barely contained rage. 

In our film, Syr is played by Crimson Al-Khemia. Crimson came in and gave us an audition that bristled with energy. He brought that same raw energy to the role, He was willing and eager to throw himself, sometimes literally, at any challenge we gave him, invariably with a grin on his face. 

Next time, a familiar figure: The Guardian. 

Twin Blades at Play on the Night Wind

This is Sparrowcrow. She is an expert assassin.

She and her two compatriots, Falconhawk and Kestrelwren, are the last remaining members of a guild known simply as The Aviary. For ages, it has been this guild’s role to uphold and interpret the intentions of the founder of their city: The Great King Uxon.

If any official of the city-state steps outside the bounds of those founding principles, it is up to this guild to bring them back into line, using whatever means they deem necessary. More often than not, that involves violence. 

They operate outside of but adjacent to the law and government of the city. They are respected and they are feared. They are the final arbiters of how Uxon is to be run. 


The Aviary self-selects its members. They tend to come from the city’s underclass. Once selected and trained, you are a member until death, forswearing your previous life and all that came with it.

Sparrowcrow loves her work with guild. She is a fiery member of the Aviary. Quick to anger and nearly as quick to strike. Her signature weapons are twin knives. Nothing gives her more pleasure than bloodying them. Passionate and dedicated to both her city and her guild, Sparrowcrow is a force to be reckoned with. 

Recently, Sparrowcrow and her compatriots lost their mentor, Jay. That loss left them reeling. Jay picked all three of them, trained all three of them, guided all three of them. 

Since Jay’s death, they have been unable to select a new member….

… because the city of Uxon is under siege a siege so terrible its very walls threaten to give way any moment.


In our film, Sparrowcrow is played by actress and model Christine Cilano.

Christine brought the perfect physicality to a role in which actions speak far louder than words. She was game for anything, throwing herself as fully into choreographing her own fights and as she did spreading the wings we made for her and pretending to fly while lying on a yoga ball. She made Sparrowcrow into a fierce character.

Next week, we discuss the mysterious Syr, first king of men. 


This is Mongrel.

Mongrel is a warrior and wanderer, most recently hailing from the desert empire known as Ul’imir. He’s a savage fighter, a marauder extraordinaire, and a man well acquainted with slaughter.

Mongrel has both cut and connived his way through many tight spots. At one point, before our current tale, he even went toe to snout with the mysterious Ape King.

Mongrel's current plight is seemingly far less strange. 

He’s attached himself to the service of one Lord Pyrantin, ruler of an upstart settlement located along the banks of a deep and dark swamp. The name of this settlement is Pyr, pronounced such that it rhymes with "fire." It is the key location of our entire film. 

Much more on Lord Pyrantin later but suffice to say here that he is a petty ruler, sadistic and foolish, driven by dreams of conquest and ruled by his baser emotions. 

Mongrel is never one to take an assignment from, or serve at the feet of, stupidity without an angle. In Pyr, Mongrel is waiting to spring a trap. He has a score to settle with Pyrantin’s father, a truly great ruler, by the name of Uxon. 

By playing nice with Pyrantin, Mongrel’s biding his time. Waiting for opportunity to strike at the real power. 

The moment will come, Mongrel’s sure of it. And if it ends up being not the exact moment he’s envisioned, then he’ll make do with the moment that comes. Mongrel is ever the opportunist.


To the right is the original concept art for Mongrel. Mongrel has been played by a few different actors. In the Ape King short, he's portrayed by Mac Ridge. 

In The Spine of Night, Mongrel is played by Andrea Petrosinelli. Andrea is lead of Providence metal act, Sangus. 

Get a taste of Andrea in action with Sangus here. Check out their facebook page here.

Andrea brought an unbridled intensity to Mongrel. He growls his lines and sneers his emotions. He keeps his physicality on edge, always threatening. He is, in short, a consummate and perfect barbarian. 

Mongrel is a character Morgan has been writing and thinking about for a long time. You’ll probably be hearing more about him later.

Next week we learn of the assassin named Sparrowcrow.

A Scholar in Search of Knowledge, Lost…

Meet Phae-Agura, hero of the segment “In Doom, I Am Reborn.”

Towards the end of the reign of King Mongrel, Phae was the Pantheon Ashurban’s greatest Field Acquisitionor. As such, it was her role to travel the continent in search of rare tomes and lost knowledge, meting out the wisdom of the Ashur to those in need as she went.

Her most recent excursion, based on years of research by Uruq Il-Irin, Grand High Inquisitor of the Ashur, has taken her far from the mess halls of the Pantheon, through lands fraught with danger and finally into the flooded ruins of a city long forgotten by the average man but known to scholars as Ka-Mul.

There, deep inside statues and shrines dedicated to strange gods, she is searching for a text said to hold the key to ancient mysteries, both terrible and powerful. 

Phae is an adventurer, a scholar and a swordswoman. She’s The Spine of Night's answer to Indiana Jones.

Phae is portrayed by actress Betty Gabriel

male phae.jpg

As seen in the concept art to the right, Phae was originally written and designed as a male character. 

When Betty came to us via producer Jean Rattle, we had her read for two roles. The first role was a female role the second one was Phae. She knocked the Phae reading out of the park.  She so embodied the spirit of Phae, that we couldn’t cast it any other way.

And so Phae the final version of Phae-Agura, scholar of the Pantheon Ashurban, was born.

Next week... we tell the legend of the raider, the marauder, the man known as Mongrel. 

Tales from the past...

Today, we’re talking about some of the anthology films we love.

Let's start with the obvious one. The big one:


HEAVY METAL is weird. It’s violent. It’s juvenile on almost profound level. And it's utterly awesome. It crosses genres and art styles. It feels underground and beautifully strange. It is a one of a kind movie. 

Often, when describing The Spine of Night, Heavy Metal gets referenced as its key forebear. The anxiety of its influence is something our film is constantly grappling with. Our hope is to fulfill the promise made by Heavy Metal: that an adult themed animated anthology can be as mature in its storytelling as it is in its content.

When, I asked Morgan to pick another anthology for this post, he chose DUNGEON MASTER. Or, as he points out, “ungeon Maste” if you’re watching the improperly cropped 4:3 version. 

Check out the trailer to that masterpiece:

Not really an influence on The Spine of Night. But, possibly, the only other fantasy anthology film out there. 

On the horror end of the anthology spectrum, I have a soft spot for Ealing Studio's 1945 film THE DEAD OF NIGHT.

A very early entry into the anthology sub-genre, it's notable for the fine craftsmanship in each of its segments. These are short films made by British studio masters, including Charles Crichton who would go on to a great career directing comedies, including the TV series The Avengers, THE LAVENDER HILL MOB  and A FISH CALLED WANDA.

The tone of the film is impeccable. It's unsettling, eerie. Horrific in a polite, classic way. A very British brand of surreal. Its wraparound story captures a dream-like feeling that unsettles even in those spaces between its segments. 

Another favorite of mine is The League of Gentlemen's Christmas Special. The League of Gentlemen is a comedy troupe from England that specializes in blending the utterly macabre into their comedy sketches. At times, the comedy disappears entirely, and it becomes purely dark drama.  It's not to everyone's taste, but it's definitely worth giving it a try.

Their Christmas Special is an homage to the Amicus studio horror anthologies of the 1960s & 1970s. Movies like TORTURE GARDEN, TALES FROM THE CRYPT and, their best, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE.

The special features tales about voodoo, vampires and curses. It's wrap around segment has an evil gypsy Santa Claus. What's not to love? 


And then, there's NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR, which I feel I have to mention. It's an exemplary case of just how crazy an anthology film can get if no one is manning the steering wheel.

It is not a good movie. No sir. But it's worth watching once just so you can say you did it. You have the devil and God playing chess, you have '80s jazzercise music for some reason, you have a first segment that was clearly a feature-length, instead hacked down to a weird, inscrutable and arty(?) 30 minutes.

NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR is the horrible, raging, malformed id hiding under every other anthology film's veneer. But for the grace of the narrative gods, we'd all end up on that night train, riding towards madness. 

One final thing. Check out this great, mini-documentary for more on the history of horror anthology films:

Next week: we introduce one of our lead characters!



Woven of many fibers, stitched of many strands...

Anthology films. Some people love them. Some people hate them. Some people eye them with a raised eyebrow and skepticism in their hearts. 

They tend to be mixed bags, each comprised of a few standout entries, a few filler entries and a few outright duds.

For some reason, almost every anthology I know of is a horror anthology. Seems strange, right? There is something about the horror story being suite for the short form, I suppose. It feels like there’s plenty of room in the world for at least one Western anthology film. 

I sure hope there’s room for a fantasy anthology film, because that’s what we’re making over here.

The Spine of Night is compromised of 5 individual stories and 1 wrap-around story that unites them and contextualizes them.

With the film we're trying very hard to match the gold standard set by the best of the anthology form and also advance it, push it and expand it. 

Each segment in The Spine of Night tells a self-contained tale about an individual character and their journey. 

But the mega-story of the film is a tapestry showing the history of this strange fantasy world.

Each segment of our film takes place in a decidedly different moment in this world’s development. The effect of watching the film in its entirety will be propulsive, taking the viewer from the primitive swamps and frontier shanty towns all the way through to a mechanized, almost robotic future.

The astute viewer will be able to pick up on how the flow of history has taken certain aspects from the first segments all the way through to the last. Anthology film as world-building tool. 

I’ve never seen an anthology film that worked that way before. It feels like a great way to push at the boundaries of what anthology films, and film in general, can do. Here’s hoping we can pull it off.

And now, without further ado, I give you the titles of our five segments:

The Allsorrow

In Doom, I am Reborn

What Remains

The Road of Straw


And the sixth, the wrap around segment that introduces each of the others and connects them all on a lonely mountain top, rife with mystery and magic:


Much more on each of those in the coming weeks.

Next week, we'll delve a bit into our favorite anthology films. 

In parting, here's Death, rimmed in red and stitched in white on a medieval tapestry:

Carefully timed swings of the blade...

Pre-production starts. Costumes are being constructed. Weapons are being forged in that particular rotoscope way. Actors are being cast. Storyboards are being drawn. Things are moving and becoming real.

But the script is still there.

And it ends up reading and re-read constantly throughout pre-production. It gets assessed  in new lights, from just about every angle possible. Because of this constant reappraisal, ideas for further script changes begin to occur

This is a process every film goes through. If a script is structurally solid, these ideas aren’t huge ones. No one says “Hey! We should probably completely change the middle act of the film.”

Mostly these ideas are small. Some of them absurdly small. Little dialogue tweaks. Further details of action that can help clarify intention. Small moments that you hope might end up being the most special moments in the thing.

The polishes on Spine of Night were largely of this nature. Things so small that perhaps the audience won’t catch them, but if they do they’ll be rewarded with further insight into the world being presented.

An example: Late in our film a religion is presented to the audience as motivation for an entire nation’s action. The idea occurred in pre-production that that religion's underpinnings should be setup much earlier in the film and they should be introduced as a kind of myth that would only later acquire the force of religion. 

So we found the space inside an existing conversation for a brief mention of it. Just a small kernel, that, one hopes, a careful viewer will notice.  

Another of our polishes involved whittling back a scene. 

How long can a necromancer, blood drunk and raging, stand on a cathedral tower cursing the world? I’d like think “forever” but the answer is actually more like “for about five lines of dialogue otherwise it starts to feel ridiculous.”

Sometimes polishes involve a bit of fear and handwringing. The biggest polish decision involved re-writing the very first dialogue exchange in the film so that it more directly referenced events at the very end of the film. Things in the world of The Spine of Night are often cyclical. 

This was the most delicate polish as it involved subtly exploring the central magical element in the story. We’ll talk more about magic in the film later, but suffice it to say we wanted to treat it in a certain way.

This polish also occurred the night before shooting. Not a lot of time to make sure it was just right and not bringing unwanted implications with it.

... there was also the little matter of the lead character who was killed in earlier drafts but, because of how the casting process worked out, ended up living in the film. 

Mostly pretty small stuff but in the best films small stuff matters as much as the big stuff. 

And then, of course, the polishing continues as you’re shooting, as you’re cutting, and, for this film, as you’re animating.

The polishing never ends, basically, until a film is out. And even then, some people keep polishing, for better or worse (… looking at you, Lucas).

Next week! This film’s an anthology film. What’s the deal with that?


The tome is written...

Going from an outline to a script is an arduous process.  It involves taking story beats out of the general (“An awesome scene goes here!”) and into the specific (“What the hell does 'awesome' mean here?!”)

It also means dragging characters who were merely archetypes in the outline out of the ether and down to earth. Each one has to speak with a distinctive, specific voice. Each one has to act with emotional logic. Each one has to feel alive and true. 

The best films hum with a kind of precious narrative life. A solid script is a first exhalation of that breath.

Scripting’s a bit like constructing a golem. You understand the form of what you're after, but getting the construction right is a delicate and mysterious process. Patch it together wrong, best case scenario nobody can stand to look at it without getting sick, worst cast scenario it comes to life, tries to rip you apart and you end up haunted by it till the end of your days. 

Many times in developing a script, a screenwriter is performing this delicate act of alchemy alone. For The Spine of Night, Morgan and I worked together.

Some writing teams will sit in the same room and throttle a story together till it's beautifully dead and done.

For us, the process involved smacking drafts of the script back and forth till it was thoroughly beaten and bloodied and no longer able to get up and try to escape.

Yes, writing is, in my view, a violent process.

All total, the script underwent four full drafts. That's a very small number as far as screenwriting goes. We owe a lot of that to the strength of the underlying structure of the thing. More on that some other time. 

The draft progression went roughly like this:

Draft One: A skeleton, roughy lashed together.

Dialogue raw. Action raw. Everything raw. Mega-structure is working, but sequence by sequence structure isn't quite there. Characters are sketches, mostly only functional. The world's missing flavor. 

The bones are there, there's some muscle there but we're missing much sinew. 

Draft two: Bulking it up with flesh and organs.

New connective scenes are added, these involves both character moments and plot clarifications. The world is given room to breath. We start to see into the shadows of this place as well as into the everyday of it.

Characters are talking to each other more. Action is bolstered and explored. The skeleton suddenly has a lot of meat on its bones and the organs are all feeling connected.

BUT some parts are feeling just wrong. Everything has gotten a little bloated. There are errors in the way segments are panning out. Some action beats are unclear. Some characters' backstories are ungainly, there dialogue overgrown. The innards and organs are unnecessarily tangled


Draft three: Blades are sharpened and taken to the body of the thing.

Narrative tumors are removed before they can grow; non-essential organs are removed and tossed to the cold ground to be swept away or kept for later reconsideration. A harsh eye is taken to most everything going into this cadaver. 

Then it’s sewn back up with only the best parts still inside. 

At this point, it is very much what we are going to try to shoot. Everything is in the right place. Veins are pumping with blood. It might even be able to walk.

Everyone stands back to admire it.  There’s a moment where it feels like this might be the draft.

But a few days later, questions begin to gnaw at the edges of everyone’s mind. Are we sure? What if it's not quite there yet?

...Could it be better?

Draft four: Skin and details.

We do a read-through of the script. Small things stand out that could be better. Opportunities for improvement are noted and discussed at some length.

This is draft looks hard at every line of dialogue, at every setup and payoff. It's the skin around the thing. The pretty package.  

This is the draft that we walk with into pre-production. Everything in this draft is something that ends up being shot. The golem lives. It doesn't kill anyone. And most people can stand to look hard at it without feeling nauseous. 

But the process wasn’t yet done. Oh no. Because with screenplays and golems, alike, there is always time and room for tinkering. 

Next time! The pains & pleasure of the script polish. 

In this scrawl, a guide forward...

The Spine of Night’s script runs 95 pages. It’s divided into 6 chapters and features roughly 17 speaking roles. Included in its run time are riots, armies,  lovers in peril, assassins, airships, sorcery, cosmic forces and many other surprises. 

So, how does one go about developing a script with that massive a scope? 

For us, it started with Morgan’s outline – The Xord Megascript

This first outline used various ideas, story kernels and images that had been floating around in his mind for some time. Characters sketched and designed years previous were included, locales and ideas from Exordium were brought into play.

He then bolted those together into a rough sketch of what the 6 chapters of this film would be.  A philosophy of the film, in fledgling state, began to emerge. The stream of its narrative began to flow.

From that outline, we started building the thing into a producible screenplay.  An arduous process on any project, more so by the nature of this one. 

More on that process next time!

For now, here are some sample lines from the Xord Megascript outline:

- ... they discuss the limits of death when filtered through the dreams of gods...

- The decapitated head of the god falls through the cosmos...

- … amply psychedelic, but also a terrifying journey from death…

- Beneath the massive library/cathedral is a hidden dungeon that holds him - haggard and aged, nude and mad...

Nude. Mad. 

How-to Rotoscope the Gorgonaut way...

The Spine of Night is a rotoscope animated feature. This means that before animation began, a live action version of the film had to be shot. That footage then is animated over to create the final effect. 

This is an old animation process, and we'll delve further into it on the blog later. 

Does this mean that a full, live-action cut of The Spine of Night exists? Yep. That's exactly what it means. We'll be sharing some video from that on the blog in the coming months.

But for now... here's a behind-the-scenes video showing how the process works for our animators.  

This workflow & process was developed by Gorgonaut lead animator Morgan Galen King.

Featured in the video is actor Jordan Smith portraying a character named Ghal-Sur. More about both of them on the blog soon. 

Music is by the astounding Ice Dragon

Greetings, sons and daughters of man...

Welcome to the production blog for THE SPINE OF NIGHT, a feature-length fantasy film being animated in a classic, rotoscope style.

This is our making-of blog. On it we'll be featuring concept art, lore and mythology, behind-the-scenes videos, sneak peaks of characters and moments, meditations on the philosophy of fantasy and loads more.  

The film is currently being animated, art directed, sound designed, fussed over and generally constructed. We're looking at a completion date in 2017.

THE SPINE OF NIGHT will deepen the mythology and expand the world first presented in the short film EXORDIUM. New characters, new locations, new wonders. A whole world to explore.

If you haven't seen the short, check that out here:


Come back often. We'll be here with our hoard of secrets and treasures.