If the infographic age is teaching us anything, it’s that people want their information as direct and to the point as possible. It’s enough to make one wonder if we’re heading toward a future in which people watch CliffsNotes versions of movies to save time. If so, the vehicle that may take us there has already arrived.
The Speedrun series is a feature on entertainment website Mondo in which very popular movies like Star Wars and Blade Runner get the animated “sweded” treatment. In keeping with the title of the series, though, and raising the stakes significantly, these cover versions are each only 60 seconds long. That’s a short amount of space to cram so much fast-forwarded, stick-figured, squeaky-voiced plot, but the gang at 1A4 Studio pulls it off with charm to spare.
The series began when beverage distributor Pernod Ricard Rouss asked 1A4 Studio to support the Jameson Empire Awards’ "Done in 60 seconds" campaign with some one-minute movies. After the first three initial episodes, however, the crew at the studio loved the idea of condensed movies so much that they decided to continue the series.
“Since most of us were born in USSR, we were introduced to Hollywood films around 1985 when VHS tapes started spreading all over the world,” says Vassily Chagin, one of the animators at 1A4. “Back in 1985, a single VCR could be traded for a whole car or an apartment. Eventually the whole country started to learn the Hollywood classics, as well as 1980s hits. These movies come right from our Soviet childhood.”
Making these clips with director Fill’s unique animation style takes about 21 days. Previously, Fill attempted to work using the traditional animation process—with carefully devised layouts, storyboards, and other helpful ways to visualize the whole story beforehand. Mostly, though, he keeps to what he calls 'straight-ahead’ animation, wherein he knows not what exactly will happen in the next frame. Rather, he simply re-watches the movie and starts drawing.
If you were to slow down a Speedrun video to see how it plays when not fast-forwarded, you’d notice that the lipsyncing does not quite match. The reason for that is because Fill does not understand what characters are actually saying when they speak in English. The translation is instead left up to composer Vadim Nekrasov, who produces all the voices in the series. It’s an agreeably slapdash touch that has the odd effect of making the images seem to fly by even faster.
“We decided to leave the lipsync unsynchronized, pretending like it’s not a bug, it’s a feature!” Chagin says. “For me, personally, I hate un-synced lips, but I can’t concentrate on that due to the insanity happening in each Speedrun installment.”
Episodes are produced at 25 frames per second, with unique drawings on each frame. In the latest clip, a tiny version of The Big Lebowski, the action flies by even faster than usual.
“Fill went over about 1000+ frames when we were making [Lebowski],” Chagin says. Considering that a whole one-minute movie is about 1,500 frames, that means he made almost twice as long a cartoon just because he got carried away. Since Speedruns are strictly 60 seconds long, though, The Big Lebowski was made at 40 or 50 fps.”
Here’s hoping the studio eventually tackles the Fast and the Furious series, so we can see what something already fast looks like when fast-forwarded.
Watch more of these videos in the slides above.