Screened at over 50 festivals worldwide, including Fantasia, Fantastic Fest, and Sitges, Waterborne is a short horror film with a distinctly Australian twist. Directed by Ryan Coonan, this 10-minute film combines horror and dark-comedy and utilises visual FX and puppetry to tap into that primordial fear we all have…the zombie kangaroo (or Zombieroo for short!).
“What’s more Australian than a zombie kangaroo?”
Waterborne’s writers (director Coonan and Richard Barcaricchio), had been working on a zombie feature film set in an Australian country town for some time when they agreed to make their short as a ‘proof of concept’ film. Deciding their feature should include not only humans being infected by the blood-thirsty virus, but local wildlife who also drank from the contaminated water supply, the pair knew if they wanted people to support the film, they would need some kind of proof that it’s going to work first. “We wanted to explore the world that Ryan and Richard had created in their feature film script”, says VFX Supervisor/Editor/Colourist Chris Tomkins, “and give the zombie genre a uniquely Australian twist, and what’s more Australian than a zombie kangaroo? For many Australians, encountering a stubborn kangaroo on a country road is a common experience and we wanted to put a genuinely creepy slant on this occurrence. And for the international audience, who already view Australia as a bit of a scary place, we wanted to further drive home the idea that our wildlife is terrifying! But from a practical standpoint, we also wanted to experiment with the combination of practical and visual effects to create our zombieroo, especially with the feature film in development”.
Having developed a love for the blood-soaked films of George A Romero, Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson as a teenager, it warms my heart to see practical FX still in use in a time when CGI is so readily available. Recent shorts from Ray Sullivan, Chris McInroy and Brian Lonano have showcased there’s still a passionate audience for these “gore” films and Waterborne not only taps into this market, but also the recent trend of tongue-in-the cheek thriller’s (Sharknado I’m looking at you!) featuring animals running rampage (although Waterborne’s blend of horror/dark-comedy feels more akin to Jonathan King’s Black Sheep than these aformentioned films).
“Many people ask which scenes use the puppet and which are digital”
With Waterborne’s main attraction its Zombieroo, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to quiz VFX Supervisor Tomkins about creating his murderous marsupial and how they went about bringing him/her to life. “It was definitely the most complex short we’ve ever made” says Tomkins, “filming overnight in freezing conditions and isolated locations, utilising special effects, visual effects, puppetry, guns, and explosions all at once! The most unusual aspect of the whole film was creating a zombie kangaroo combining both practical and visual effects. A good deal of the film features the zombieroo puppet, which was also augmented using VFX to blink, snarl, etc) but then we also had an entirely digital zombieroo (which was used in the wider shots or whenever you see the full body or bottom half, given our puppet is only waist-up). Trying to merge these elements to create a seamless creature was difficult, but we’ve had many people ask which scenes use the puppet and which are the digital roo, so hopefully we’ve achieved our goal!”
With the main focus of the Waterborne team currently looking into ways to ride the wave of festival success and transform their popular short into a feature film, Coonan and his team are exploring a few different avenues at the moment. “We’re definitely open to hearing from anyone who’s keen to get involved in the project”, says Tomkins, “the Australian film industry is quite small and tough to crack into, especially if you haven’t made a feature film before, but we’ve got a great team of passionate people behind us so we’re confident we’ll make it happen”.