Recursion – 2016

View Trailer Here

A marooned astronaut and his bestial companion wander a strange land until one day they come across something truly mysterious that could forever put a rift in their friendship.

Directed, Animated, Scored by Joel Benjamin.
Voice: Douglas Bean

Companion designed by Shelley Dodson.

Additional Sound and Rerecording Mix by Bryen Hensley at Resolution Productions Group.

Technique: 3D animation, After Effects cutout


Athens ANIMFEST, Athens, Greece
Middlecoast Film Fest, Bloomington, IN

Several things were on my mind when coming up with this story. First, one of my favorite films of all time is Jeremiah Johnson, starring Robert Redford. He’s a man who decides he’s had enough with the lifestyle of towns and being surrounded by people and moves west to become a trapper in the mid to late 1800s. He grows a beard. That seemed key.


I love the idea of the lone survivor and there aren’t many places with more potential for danger and struggle than an alien planet!

I also love the idea of being connected with animals more than just emotionally, and wanted to show that communication in a slightly different way; something that was simpler and more pure than spoken language.

Finally, I was thinking about replication and recursive geometry. I stumbled across some mandlebulb art and became a bit obsessed.


Shapes and forms generated from math! But it was also something replication without intent. Just whatever happened, based on a formula. Probably something in there about being terrified of having kids in there, too…

Put those main ideas together and it became Recursion.

A character who’s struggling but getting by, has an intense friendship/relationship with a being with whom he can only primitively communicate, and then they end up in this chamber where something more divine (or perhaps mathematical) rules.



Some making of stuff

I am pretty bad at keeping track of pre production stuff. Here were a couple style and technique tests.


Fire sparker, water puller
Fire sparker, water puller

Sometimes I had to work really quickly to get a given shot finished, so sometimes my designs were fast sketches on whatever scrap paper was nearby that I’d photograph with my phone an email to myself. Above are some designs for a sparker, and then the water pump gun that the Man uses to suck up water. Here’s a quick motion test of that finished water puller prop:



Above are some ridiculously fast sketches for a flying creature shown in a couple shots. The bottom right was the final version.

Below – a dump of sketches for the beast design. I quickly realized I needed some help with that.

BeastA BeastB BeastC BeastD

So I got my dear friend and extremely talented animator/artist, Shelley Dodson, to help me out (in exchange for some After Effects rigging tips!). She did several rounds of sketches. Here’s one of the passes with my silly notes scribbled over top:


Felt like that was getting closer. Started doing some thumbs for their relationship.

FriendsB caveEntranceB FriendsA

Above is a quick test for the main character, Jack (after my paternal grandfather). All built in After Effects with layers offset in 3D space.

Here’s a breakdown of a shot.

Most of the shots only had 3-5 Maya passes and all of the compositing was done in After Effects.