by GREG SIERING
Thomas DeCarlo knows what he wants to see in an animated film—sci-fi and fantasy stories with adult characters who tackle complex social issues, but something that is still is enjoyable for the whole family. Not seeing what he wanted from big studios like Disney and Pixar, he decided to make those films himself.
DeCarlo, 38, began his work in film with live action, but he started to develop an interest in animation because of its potential for the kinds of stories he wanted to tell. “I struggled with what you can actually accomplish on set with few people and resources,” he says, “And that’s when I started considering animation as a place where it would all be virtual. I could build literally whatever I wanted.”
And given his love of science fiction, animation could provide him with easier and more affordable options for his stories.
Since his college education in filmmaking at Denison University didn’t include opportunities to study animation, DeCarlo decided to teach himself the craft. He spent a decade learning computer animation through experimentation, leading to his first animated short, The Encounter, a story about a dedicated but hapless alien hunter who finally gets to meet an extraterrestrial. The 2018 film took two years to complete, in part because he was still teaching himself animation techniques along the way.
The Encounter won awards at film festivals across the country, and DeCarlo is currently adapting it to a full-length feature film. Moving from a solo effort to an eventual team of 12 artists is a big shift in his workstyle, but it’s still a tiny team compared to the big animation studios.
“I describe us as indie filmmaking–style meets computer animation,” he says.
DeCarlo is working to involve Indiana artists in his film, in part because he wants to resist the brain drain and keep Indiana talent in the state. He says, “I have no interest in going out to the industry in LA. I want to be here, and that means having to help build an industry here, where people can have full-time careers.”
DeCarlo’s new movie is scheduled for a 2023 release date, and in the meantime, he mirrors his characters by looking to the stars while he keeps his feet planted firmly on the midwestern earth.