Scarygirl’s 21-Year Journey From Toys to Aussie Animated Feature Film

Scarygirl’s 21-Year Journey From Toys to Aussie Animated Feature Film

October is typically spooky movie release season, but if the likes of Saw X or Five Nights at Freddy’s are too frightening for you we’d like to direct your attention to another equally worthy film, Scarygirl. The new movie is a rare example of an Australian original animated feature film and it’s based on a beloved property that dates back decades.

Bringing Scarygirl to the big screen

Image: Madman

Set in a fantastical world that blends nature with sci-fi-esque technology, Scarygirl follows Arkie, a young girl with a tentacle arm who is raised by her father Blister, a rare Giant Octopus with magical regenerative powers. When her father is kidnapped and their world is threatened by a loss of sunlight, Arkie travels to the City of Light to save him, and uncovers secrets about herself in the process.

Speaking to Gizmodo Australia from his home in Adelaide, Nathan Jurevicius explained the origins of his creative brainchild, Scarygirl.

“I developed it 21 years ago. And that concept has sort of slowly evolved over those 21 years,” he explained.

The Scarygirl IP has seen numerous different iterations, starting as an online interactive concept, before eventually expanding into toys, books, comics and games. But it was the online flash game in 2009 that really made a difference.

“That actually was probably for us a really big changing point because it was a really successful game and we ended up with, I think, about 1.5 million players on this game, and it was all done mostly through screen funding from Victoria,” Jurevicius said.

Despite its online success, it’s been a long road for Scarygirl to make it to the big screen. Jurevicius said he and his producing partner, Sophie Byrne, initially aimed to make it a TV series with the ABC back in 2003, but thought the story deserved more scope.

“We were just looking at it as a TV series, and then we thought, actually, we think that the story could be a bit more epic,” he explained. “We had this really lovely, really indie, very popular toy brand, and we had this cool comic and graphic novel, but I just think we weren’t prepared at the time for kind of the Hollywood system, so to speak… we had a lot of those Hollywood moments where we were like getting taken advantage of or just dodgy deals and stuff. So we used up a lot of time on those moments.”

scarygirl movie
Image: Madman

In the end, the team turned away from Hollywood, choosing to focus on making an Australian property into a very Australian film.

“I think looking into it, it probably makes sense. It’s an Australian-originated property; why not make it the most Australian you could? Australian voices, all produced in Australia. There was no outsourcing [of] companies or co-productions elsewhere.”

Queensland’s Like a Photon jumped on board, and from there, it was all systems go for Scarygirl. But choosing the Australian path meant the team also had to deal with the challenges that come with our local film industry.

“We were on a smaller budget. A very tiny Australian budget, which had its limitations,” Jurevicius said. “But also, I think it made you think a bit more creatively about how you could develop the look and feel. We had a very tight, small team and a budget that would be one-tenth of a normal animation budget. But the feedback’s always been that we’ve kind of punched above our weight on a visual level.”

Animation inspirations

scarygirl movie
Image: Madman

The look and feel of Scarygirl’s visuals feel quite distinctive from typical 3D animation styles. Similar to recent hits like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and The Bad Guys, Scarygirl wasn’t afraid to lean into its own style.

“I think stop motion was a big influence on the technique for me,” Jurevicius explained. “That sort of limited movement, as well, so having characters move in a particular way that’s actually designed for their materials. So if a material doesn’t stretch, then we’re not going to make it move like it stretches.”

Jurevicius added that he wanted to keep the “toy aesthetic” of the IP in the animation style. Further, he was inspired by the likes of James and the Giant Peach and The Nightmare Before Christmas, of which Deane Taylore, the art director of the latter, happened to also be a friend.

Along with its animation style, Scarygirl is set in a uniquely distinctive world that blends fantasy and sci-fi. On this point, it was the kid’s books from Latvia that he grew up reading that really had an impact on Jurevicius. He explained that the characters in these stories were “a little bit off, but endearing.”

As production designer on Scarygirl, Jurevicius had oversight over the design of the film’s visuals, and having him onboard the project meant the transition was a lot smoother.

“Before the film started, I had many years of stuff that I’d created in the past. So I gathered together an inspiration book for the team,” he explained. “Before [filming] started, I also did a series of 50 black and white sketches, and I created like a little little journal. And that was based on the script.”

Giving Scarygirl a voice

scarygirl movie
Image: Madman

For Jurevicius, an animated feature also came with its own challenges in that it was the first time any of the characters had spoken on-screen.

“This is the very first time that you’ve heard anyone speak from the world. It was such an interesting thing,” he said.

Luckily, Australian talent flocked to the film, resulting in a voice cast that includes Jillian Nguyen as Arkie, with Sam Neill, Anna Torv, Liv Hewson, Tim Minchin, Remy Hii and Dylan Alcott filling out the ensemble.

“The Australian industry, we don’t have a lot of feature animated feature films that happen… it’s a really hard thing to do,” he said. “We had a bit of pushback because there has been this idea that Australian accents have always been a little bit like, ‘will people get it?’ You know, will the American audience like it? But I think it’s been shifting a bit where the Australian accents are becoming cooler now.”

Landing an outstanding cast and an incredible visual style aren’t Scarygirl’s only achievements. The film has already been nominated for an Asia Pacific screen award, even prior to its theatrical release, indicating a bright future ahead.

Scarygirl is in cinemas nationally on October 26, 2023.

Image: Madman

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