Animated Shorts: Palmiotti on Dead Space: Downfall

Animated Shorts: Palmiotti on Dead Space

The cover of the DVD is a good indicator. It shows a severed arm floating in outer space, wreckage and rubble nearby.

Gamers have a better idea about Dead Space: Downfall. They’ve been anticipating the survival horror/first person shooter space thriller created by EA Games on various consoles (and reading the comicfor the last few months. On October 28, Anchor Bay releases an animated prequel to the game, direct-to-DVD. The animation itself is by Film Roman (The Simpsons), with Chuck Tanner directing. The plot is by a couple of names familiar to both comic book and animation fans, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.

Palmiotti and Gray’s collective comic book resume is quite long and extensive, but last year they broke into animation with Animation Collective’s updated version of Speed Racer: The Next Generation. Dead Space: Downfall is Palmiotti and Gray’s second effort. It’s a very different kettle of raw meat. Definitely not for kids, it’s packed with savage aliens, more ways to kill people than a Rambo film and, believe it or not, some truly high quality cartooning.

As mentioned earlier, Downfall is a prequel to what happens in the game. Set on the space ship Ishimura, the DVD explains how the ship became the gruesome slaughterhouse gamers enter when they start playing. It shows how the ship’s crew became infested with the necromorphs, the purpose of mysterious artifact in the hold and, of course, why the ship is a carnal pit when Isaac Clarke arrives. Does it remind the experienced sci-fi/horror fan of the works of Peter Chung and the Alien franchise?

Palmiotti answers those questions and a few more. Here’s what he has to say:

Newsarama: Jimmy, how did you get involved in this project?

Jimmy Palmiotti: I was working on the Painkiller Jane show with the people at Starz. Two of the people working on the show, Matthew Carpenter and Stacey Smart understood that I was a bit frustrated with the direction with the show. Then the Dead Space deal was being made they thought I would be able to do something interesting with that they were putting together. I flew with Stacey and Matt to EA Games and met with Glen Schofield and his crew on the game and we began talking about what the big picture plan was with the property. When I got back I insisted to do the screenplay with Justin on board and they were totally into that. We went from there. Justin and I handed in out first draft not too long after.

NRAMA: It was presented to you before you started putting your story together? Did the character of Allyssa already exist, the artifact, etc?

JP: We were shown what EA games had in the works and it was a lot. Almost a whole floor of the building was devoted to this huge project and I was overwhelmed to say the least. There were blue prints of all the buildings and ships and suits the characters wore and then they previewed some of the game play and the coolest part, the actual monster designs and how they would be working visually. There was so much to take in and the comic book was already in the works.

The character of Allyssa and most of the characters with the exception of the doctor are all new characters we created for the movie. We wanted to make Allyssa’s story the spine of the film and at the same time see what was going on through her eyes. The other characters were especially fun to write, because in the end we knew where they had to wind up and what the needs of the game were. That dictated some of the natural action of the film and I have to say, its pretty seamless stuff.

We really were given a lot of space to craft something totally original.

NRAMA: Did you play the game at all before writing?

JP: Not so much play as watch a bunch of scenes of game play…like a good hours' worth…to get the feeling of movement, creepiness and the overall look of the game. I look forward to playing the game the same time as the rest of you, the day it comes out. we got what we needed from the demonstrations to go in and write the screenplay the right way.

NRAMA: What was it like working with Chuck Patton and the Film Roman crew?

JP: Well, my main contact was always Stacey and Matt, and in a perfect world I would work with those two on every project from now on. As far as chuck goes, I went up to the studio to look at the character drawings and met chuck and the designers and I couldn’t have been more pleased with what I was seeing. They nailed the look of the characters and especially the look of the ship and the aliens. A lot of animation, to me falls flat with lighting or extreme violence, but not in this case. Chuck and his crew really deliver such an intense visual experience that eventually you forget it’s animated and get totally submerged into the world they are delivering. I can’t tell you how pleased I am with all their hard work.

NRAMA: I noticed the following influences on the DVD. Is that so, and how did they influence you? Let’s start with Alien...

JP: How could anyone writing aliens in outer space not think of one of the best films made in this or any genre. I think the designs and worn look of some of the ship were inspired by alien, and for me…the feeling of helplessness and atmosphere of doom was something Justin and I were interested in getting across.

NRAMA: Peter Chung?

JP: That’s a better answer coming from Chuck’s crew but the proportions and movement had to be inspired by Pete’s work. The guy’s style is all over the place these days and I am happy for any of Pete’s magic to rub off.

NRAMA: Anything else I didn't notice?

JP: When writing something like this, at its heart it’s a drama piece and for Justin and I we had to have the viewer connect with the characters. Yes there is horror abound, but if you don’t care, why bother and we took what we know about creating characters for comics and applied this to the work presented. Look…dead space has familiar surroundings because it’s a space opera as well, but knowing that going in, we did our best to present interesting and original takes and did our best to try to scare the living shit out of the viewer. It’s a nice compliment that at a screening of the film a couple of people got really upset when an individual got killed. An actual “oh no!” was yelled. That’s really important to us…to feel for the characters.

NRAMA: Lots and lots of gore, blood and guts all over the place, but not much in the way of sex. Any reason?

JP: We actually wrote some nudity into the screenplay but honestly, an actual sex scene doesn’t make sense in the story. This is a total adrenaline ride of madness and we really didn’t see a gap or need to do that. Honestly though, the main character is seen post shower and dressing, and she is sexy as hell…and built for many kinds of action.

I am creeping myself out now.

NRAMA: What the heck is "unionism" and what does it play in the story?

JP: It’s a religion based somewhat on these markers found all over the universe. The actual religion is explored more in the comic and the game but understand that it’s the future and a new religion has been put into the mainstream way of the world and a lot of people believe in it and practice it. Half of the ship’s crew believe in it and when it’s brought up in the film, the iconography of it is easily understood right away.

NRAMA: How would you describe Alyssa?

JP: Tough, aggressive and an alpha female. We wrote all kinds of history for her that would never make it into the film, but we had to know all about her before writing page one. She is a soldier first and foremost and believes in doing her job, but isn’t dumb enough to follow orders blindly. We see most of the goings on through her eyes and the funny thing is when they did the designs and we saw them at first…my first reaction was “ it’s Painkiller Jane” in space. Though , past the visuals, her character is a bit different. me and red heads. Go figure.

NRAMA: Plans for a DVD sequel? If so, where would you go with it?

JP: Everything hinges on the success of how this DVD does in the market. If they wanted a sequel, we would write it to take place after the game is finished and explore the universe that is set up in the game. Honestly, nothing would be more fun that to have those evil bastards land on future earth and have a ball down there. There really are a million ways to go with this. That’s the beauty of the game.

NRAMA: Were there any scenes that didn’t make it into the film in your script.

JP: A few had to be scraped because of time and such, and some dialogue was trimmed here and there as well. On the DVD you can see the storyboards for a big battle towards the end that wasn’t done which was pretty cool for them to include on the disc. They had to keep this lean and mean and moving and they did an amazing job. Again, the animators and the whole crew involved blew us away with the end product.

Dead Space: Downfall is due in stores on October 28th.


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