In Which Sushi Chefs Battle Terrifying Sea Monsters

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Blending an environmental message with a B movie-style premise, Monster Roll explores what happens when the ocean strikes back and humans become snacks for "bigger mouths." Humans have broken an ancient pact: a promise to kill only what they eat. Now, they scarf sushi with little respect for where it came from, slathering it in soy sauce and spicy mayo. When enormous creatures of the deep show up to take revenge, all hell breaks loose. 

Director and visual effects pro Dan Blank drew inspiration from "strip mall sushi bars" and movies like Ghostbusters, putting together an eye-popping teaser for what he hopes will be a feature film one day. "It's a crazy idea, but one we just really wanted to see made. So, we made it," Blank says. The result is anything but B-movie; the effects are super polished and frankly, all too slimy. Blank discusses the making of Monster Roll in an interview below. Full credits for the film are available here.

The Atlantic: What was the inspiration for this short?

Dan Blank: I was watching a lot of nature documentaries and doodling sea monsters and sushi chefs together (being in Los Angeles, I was eating in strip mall sushi bars quite a bit). So, the combination of sea monsters, sushi, and samurai codes came together pretty quickly.

I grew up with movies like Ghostbusters and Big Trouble in Little China, which felt like the right tone for this film. Sci-fi and fantasy movies got very serious in recent years, and I really wanted to make sure the tone of Monster Roll was fun, but somewhat grounded. I kept telling the actors that we weren't making a comedy.

How did you create the monsters?

I work in animation and visual effects, so we planned everything very carefully leading up to the shoot. We did a storyboard reel, a video-matic (crudely shot in my apartment), and a final CG pre-visualization that matched the dimensions of the restaurant. It was a lot of preproduction, but it really helped us work quickly and efficiently on set.

During filming and post-production, a lot of very talented industry friends pitched in. My CG Supervisor, Henry Foster, and I spent many Saturdays rendering shots at Gentlemen Scholar, a terrific studio in Santa Monica we were both working at. But the majority of VFX work was done out of my house.

Watch the footage before and after the special effects were added.

What's next for the project?

I'm developing the feature, and we're talking with producers and financing companies to keep advancing the project forward, so hopefully we'll have some news to share soon!

For more videos by Dan Blank, visit http://www.danmation.com/.

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.
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