KNOX: THE KLAYANIMATOR Image

Robert Benfer is raking in the moulah with his first feature film, “Klay World: Off the Table.” He sold over 2000 copies in the movie’s first month of release alone. For a filmmaker all of 17, and with price tag of $25 per DVD, that’s pretty sweet.

What’s even sweeter is this – all that money is pure gravy. Benfer spent literally nothing to make the film. He already owned a DV camera, a PC, and a copy of Adobe Premiere. All he needed to buy was some blue clay in order to construct his trademark “Klaymen” actors.

Benfer, who goes by the name of Knox to his fans, has been making comedy films and posting them online for the past couple of years (check www.newgrounds.com and search for films by Knox). This enabled him to hone his filmmaking skills and build up a fan base that would support him when he later sold his shorts in a collection (Knox in a Box sold 500 copies) and more recently with his first feature, the aforementioned “Klay World: Off the Table.”

Recently, I interviewed Knox about his “Klay World: OTT,
short movies on the internet, financial success, and his plans for the future:

What got you interested in clay animation? ^ I got into movies around the age of eight. Instead of being a “normal” kid and playing football in the street with my sister’s friends, I would be inside making movies with my toys. I would pretty much just stay inside and teach myself all kinds of tricks with the camera and stuff…I’m not sure what gave me the idea for klay animation, but I do know that “Celebrity Deathmatch” is what really got me into klay animation. I mean I had done klaymation before I saw it, but I never really got into it until I saw that show…I guess I was around 11 at that time.

And earlier this year, I found out that one of the people who made “Celebrity Deathmatch” liked my movies. That rocked.

What’s the production process on your short films? ^ It all starts with one joke. Like a funny thought just pops into my head and if it makes me laugh, I end up forming a story around that one joke, and that’s how the storylines for my movies are usually thought up. Then I try to come up with at least three jokes…if I cant come up with three jokes then I just say “screw it” and start over on a new movie, ha ha…if I don’t feel like it will make people laugh through the whole thing, its not worth it.

So then, without a script, I start animating the movie with “Stop Motion Pro 4″…which is actually the most boring thing about making my movies. I honestly hate doing claymation. Whenever people tell me how much fun they have when they’re animating, I always think they’re insane…I mean you’re taking pictures of clay!

So yeah, its the most boring process of my movies to me…plus now I have an animation lamp that sits next to the camera, and its really hot…and its right in my face when I bend over to move the klaymen…it’s hell. It usually takes about four days to complete a 4-minute movie. Then I export the movie with no sound and import it into “Adobe Premiere” where I add the voices. I usually get the whole movie done in about six different .wav files and that’s it!

I love coming up with jokes and I love doing the voice work…I just HATE doing claymation.

Do the bandwidth constraints of the internet limit your films? ^ The only thing that’s limited because of the internet are the stories. I have a hard time shoving stories into a 4-minute movie…so the only way I can really make it work is to just to kompletly retarded things in my movies, ha ha.

But yeah, I kan’t make my movies longer than four minutes or else the file size will be to large to fit on newgrounds.com, flash player and so on.

Your films and dialogue have a very improvised feel to them. How much of the story is improvised before animating, during animation, and after animation? ^ Well the movie changes in every stage it goes through. Like I’ll map out the movie in my head, but I won’t add too much detail to it. Then once I’m animating I fill in the gaps on the spot, without any pre-planning. Then when I’m doing the voice over for the movie, I like to change some lines around, maybe add something to the end of a sentence, or completely change an entire conversation.

So I never know what I’m gonna end up with until the movies done, that’s what makes it so fun…of course if it’s a bad movie, I won’t realize it until I’m already done with it, HA HA!

Do you think you benefited from posting all your films on an online community like newgrounds.com? ^ Yeah, I was never one of those movie makers that wanted to “change the world.” I just liked making movies. I never knew that so many people would be so inspired by me. A lot of film teachers have told me that they use my movies to teach their students about filmmaking or claymation, or to inspire them. One guy told me that he was thinking of committing suicide, but was inspired by my movies and now he’s trying to become a stand up comedian.

Before I submitted my movies to Newgrounds.com, claymation wasn’t big on that site, there were a couple of them, but they usually didn’t have any sound and never had a story. But now there are all kinds of clay animators on not just newgrounds.com, but all over the internet…so my movies have made a pretty big difference, and hopefully inspired future famous movie makers. 🙂

What do you think of films on the internet in general? ^ Honestly, I actually don’t watch that many online movies anymore. Its mostly just video game parodies, anime krap, and artsy bull krap…when I first started watching online movies, they seemed more fun and no one was afraid to just do something completely stupid, but now people treat it like a mini-Hollywood…where only “movies that mean something” or “movies with pretty graphics” are worth seeing…either that or it has to be some krappy video game parody…..not that many original internet movies anymore.

What other filmmakers currently displaying their films online do you admire? ^ Not that many…the ones I do like, no one probably knows about since they’re so underrated. Like alanthebox, secretagentbob (jason steele), Freemont, Gobi, Dan Paladin(synj), toxic bomb, and a couple of others.

What made you want to attempt a feature film? ^ Its just something I’ve always wanted to do….it’s always been my dream, and I figured “Hey! I finally have the audience…I can make a full feature now!”. I think I’m a better full feature writer/director than I am a short movie writer/director…its actually much easier for me to make a story that’s 90 minutes long, instead of having to squeeze a bunch of nonsense into a 4-minute movie.

Was writing a feature very different for you than writing the shorts, in terms of structure, etc? ^ Yes, I knew that if I did a feature with the blue blob klaymen, I would have to make characters that are unique from each other (Mr. Black wears a tie, Chip has a chip on his head, Marv wears a yellow hat, etc).

So one big difference is that I actually had character development for each character, instead of having a bunch of random blue guys yell krap at each other for 90 minutes.

Also my short movies are usually just a bunch of random jokes, but in order to make this full feature work, I had to make sure it had some kind of storyline in it…a stupid one that is.

But I think it made my humor work better actually…because I had more time to do stuff, I didn’t have to rush anything into 4 minutes…and that’s why I prefer doing full feature movies…you have no limit.

How was production on the feature different from the internet shorts? ^ It was pretty much the same, I think up something, I animate it, then I go on to the next scene…I had each scene divided into 13 project files…then when I had all the scenes finished, I combined all the scenes and went “WOW, 94 MINUTES?!”

Of course there’s the outside scenes, which I have never done in a Knox movie before. All the outside scenes were filmed pretty much around my neighborhood, because I don’t have a car yet. So me and my sister, Nikki would walk around and film about 3 minutes worth, go home, and I would go back to animating the stuff on the table, then go back out a couple of days later.

It was hell though because, out of all the months we could’ve been making this movie, it was summer. And I live in Texas, so it was always hot…which is why there’s not as many outside scenes in the movie as I originally wished.

How has the reaction been to your first feature film? ^ It’s been good so far, people say it’s my best work.

My friend, Sammie Penrod (who plays Vince in the movie) showed the movie to about seven of his friends, and they were all different…one was an Emo, one was like a jock, one was a pothead, etc, and they all liked it…he says they were all laughing the whole time!

So it’s nice to know that my movies can be enjoyed by all kinds of people, and to not be categorized into any demographic. (Though, the pothead one doesn’t surprise me.)

With the success of your first feature film, do you see life as full-time independent filmmaker as a viable option? ^ I’ve always wanted to be a full-time independent filmmaker…and with the money I made off the first one, it’s looking very promising!

What’s the next project? ^ Well I can’t list any short internet movies, seeing how there’s gonna be a million of those.

But as far as full-features go…I’m already in pre-production for a klaymation kalled “Villain”. This wont be like any movie I’ve ever done…the klay figures will look like real people (Marc Spess, animateclay.com is making the klay figures for this movie), and there will be sets and backgrounds in this one.

It’s about a super villain named “Koil” that gives up his life of krime and tries to become a normal person.

I also wanna do some Live Action full-feature movies when I have enough people and money to help make one. My friend Brad Borne (drnerocf on newgrounds) was talking about flying down to Texas with his friends and helping me film a live action feature movie next year….dunno what the chances of that are though.

I REALLY wanna get into live action someday, I think it’s where I belong in movies.

I’m also working on a video game based on my blue klaymen, it wont be out for a year though.

Any advice you want give to other young filmmakers out there? ^ If you wanna make it, be prepared to put up with A LOT of krap. Being “famous” doesn’t just mean that a lot of people like you, it also means that the very few people who don’t like you…HATE YOU. A lot of people wanna bring you down in this type of business, don’t let it get to you though…they’re just jealous!

Visit Knox at his official website.

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