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The Exquisite Corpse

The Exquisite Corpse is a film noir parody animation about a hard-boiled detective looking for colour in a black and white world. It's the first completed project from Million Monkey Animation, an international animation collective I co-started with a Canadian animator. Perhaps you are familiar with a game called exquisite corpse where you fold a some paper and draw part of a character, but you're only allowed to see a tiny piece of what the previous person did? What we've set out to do with Million Monkey Animation is that – but animated. Because we're idiots.

In the Beginning

About 500 years ago (okay it was 2017) I saw a Canadian animator looking for collaborators and though I know how time-consuming and painful animation is, the pitch was just too good: We would animate alternate scenes in a story. Without seeing each other's scenes. You might be asking yourself how and why? The latter I'm still trying to work out but the former is what I wanted to shed some light on here.

And if you want to collaborate on future similar nonsense, please go to to sign up. 

The first thing we did was pick a theme; a genre to parody. We went with film noir, detective films from the 40s and 50s with a distinct black-and-white style. We figured that using archetypes such as the hard-boiled detective and femme fatale would help the viewer identify the characters across scenes, even when the designs were different.

The finished product, appropriately named The Exquisite Corpse, is finally ready and available for you to watch!

Telling a Story

If you've seen it you can tell there's a story, a through-line – and you might be wondering how that's possible if it's true that we didn't know what the other people were animating.

Basically I took on the role of story architect and wrote a general outline with eight scenes to be split between the three participating animators. We didn't have a script but we had brief descriptions of what each scene should accomplish, and in particular of how each scene should start and end.

This was a mistake. In several ways, the main being that I got too interested in the story and the concept of alternating scenes like this, it isn't really built to deliver a story, it's far too experimental. The other problem was... Well, I mentioned three animators, right? One of them died. To us. He's dead to us. He is the reason it took 500 years to complete this project; without him it probably only would have taken 480 years or so.

Collaboration Issues

It was clear early on that 2 of us had more dedication than the third. Let's call him Greg. Now if Greg didn't have time to animate we were hardly going to beat him up - and not only because He lived really far away, we also weren't paying. We're doing this because we want to; this is like a band and if you're not showing up for practice, we're fine with finding another drummer.

The problem was this: our very concept relied on us not seeing each other's work, which meant that Greg could just keep telling us he was working on it. Without actually working on it. Even after our scenes are finished he's telling us he's almost done. But he's done nothing, I assume, because Greg starts taking longer and longer to respond, each time finally getting back with "yeah I'm almost done I still definitely want to do this!!"

Until he finally just  d i s a p p e a r s.

We've been creatively ghosted – this is like Tinder all over again, except this time we got fucked.

We've been waiting forever for his scenes and we just have to bite the bullet and animate them ourselves, prolonging things even further.

Lessons Learned

I'm really happy with the finished product but we also learned a lot from it and we've arrived at two rules for online collaboration:

1. Embrace the format. Which for me means, don't try to tell a story. Similar projects have shown that these collaborations work best when you let the absurdity flourish. So in our future animation projects there will be less of a structure.

2. Allow flakes to flake. People sometimes disappear. Life comes in the way (or death - Greg could literally be dead, we have no way of knowing). So for future projects we'll figure out a way to allow that, probably by having scenes that, apart from the beginning and end, work fine out of sequence. That way we could set a deadline and any scenes not finished by then can simply be dropped.

Or maybe there's no deadline, maybe the animation is posted in separate bits and it just keeps growing while there are people interested in going on this weird bizarre adventure with us, practising their animation and making friends along the way.

One thing I can tell you for sure is that getting on Skype and watching our finished film for the first time was one of the top moments of the year for me.

If you'd like to animate with us, please visit a sign up to find out about upcoming projects. And subscribe to Misanthropy Broth on YouTube; if you like anything I've ever made, I'm pretty sure you'll like his brand of bizarre comedy too.

Jakob Burrows

Text published March, 2021

Video published December, 2019