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Film Festival: Animating old school
<i>Slum Noir</i> drawn in traditional 2D
A capture from <i>Slum Noir</i>

IT'S ONLY A few minutes long, but Jahmad Rollins’ hip-hop inflected student entry Slum Noir packs in a lot of action.

The young filmmaker, a Philadelphia native, spoke to us from his home in L.A.

So you drew all this yourself in traditional animation, without using digital techniques?

Jahmad Rollins: I handdraw everything, 24 frames per second, but then digitally scan everything into a computer.

And you did all that by yourself?

Jahmad Rollins: Yeah, depending on the level of work you can use a team, but sometimes you don’t need as many people. It depends on how big your project is that you’re actually drawing.

Why did you choose this traditional route?

Jahmad Rollins: It’s sort of an acquired taste. It’s like if you listen to pop music, and listen to old throwback ‘80s music when they were still making it in analog. It’s a particular flavor.

How much of this is still done?

Jahmad Rollins: There’s still a lot of 2D animation done in programs like Flash or Toon Boom or other web stuff. But actual 2D traditional animation is getting pretty rare.

What happens in Slum Noir?

Jahmad Rollins: In a nutshell, the story actually has a bunch of different characters, who are kids in slums wearing masks. What happens is a girl has a box, and these big kids are chasing the box, which keeps going from hand to hand throughout the film. The box is what connects you through the whole thing, though at the end the box is not really that important.

It’s mainly not a character piece, I don’t look at it like you’re supposed to feel something for that character. I want to introduce you to a world, more than go deep into a character’s psyche.

Some of the characters are African-American, which I guess is something of a rarity in animation. Did you do that for a deliberate reason?

Jahmad Rollins: I think it has elements of that, because I’m African American. But most of my inspiration came from growing up in Philadelphia and the type of stuff you get involved with there — not necessarily in gangs, but you’re always street-affiliated, running in different groups fighting over something.

And all the textures of the city are like that —the city’s like very old-looking, the buildings are organic looking. It kind of feels old school.

Is Slum Noir unusually short?

Jahmad Rollins: As far as animation five minutes is longer actually, most animation shorts run from two to five minutes. I just did that because I knew within a timespan what I could do. I am working on a larger story — in fact I was just putting together a pitch packet to get some investors.

Who’s your target market?

Jahmad Rollins: Young adults who watch anime, who are into action, and into urban hip-hop culture. I guess that 16-26 age group.

Would you call this a version of anime?

Jahmad Rollins: No, because anime’s got all different kinds of subject matter — if you go to Japan they’ve got some really violent stuff, some that’s even porn. I want the film to be something that’s more easily accessible, to be able to play at festivals.