Palm Rot

The Delightful Animated Short that’s Sweeping up Awards

LA-based animator Ryan Gillis gives a nod back to his Florida roots in his barnstorming animated short, Palm Rot. “I was really struggling to write my thesis when the time came,” recalls Ryan. “All I knew was that I wanted it to be set in my home-state of Florida, and I wanted it to have all of Florida’s hot, trashy beauty.”

The charming animation builds with a fiendish sense of tension, the narrative steeped in mystery and with imagery that’s out of this world. The whole process took more than a year and half to complete, and paradoxically, it began at the ending.

“Ever since I moved to California I was sort of fixated on these palm trees that shed their fronds like coats around the trunk. It gives them a really distinctive silhouette, and they always looked like rockets to me,” explains Ryan. “Now I had the final shot of the film – a palm farm lifting off the ground, flying towards the moon – and the rest of the story fell into place.”

Palm Rot has since been nominated for host of awards, including in the Official Selection for Sundance 2015 and winner of the ‘Animated Grit’ award at the Indie Grits.

We spoke to Ryan about this hugely successful project:

The Plus: Is Bill (the main character) based on anyone?
Ryan Gillis:
He’s an amalgamation of people I’ve heard stories about back home. Mostly, he’s based on the actual guys who’ve taken me on airboat tours. Leathery and cigarette smoking, they’ve always reminded me of swamp cowboys.

TP: The film is up for a lot of awards, how has that made you feel?
Honestly, I never thought about awards. Not until I was at the actual ceremony. Before Palm Rot I’d had never really been accepted into a film festival. So just being accepted and seeing people’s response to the film in a crowd is more than I ever imagined.

TP: What inspired you stylistically?
When I storyboarded Palm Rot I was taking a class with Peter Chung, the creator of Aeon Flux. Thanks to him I tried to push my angles and animated camera work. I didn’t notice how much he influenced me, but a lot of people have been saying that Palm Rot reminds them of Liquid TV. Artists I was more consciously pulling from were Bruce Conner, Kahn & Selesnick, and Mike Mignola, to name a few.

TP: Does the film have an underlying theme or take-home message?
My hope was to leave the narrative vague but still entertaining. By not defining everything, it could mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. I’m not sure if I achieved that – but that was my goal.

TP: What do you like about the format of short films compared to their longer cousins?
I think because short films are less expensive to make, you can take more risks. You’ll never look quite as polished as features – but you don’t need as many hands, and you don’t need as many meetings and checkpoints. Short films are allowed the freedom to feel like someone’s unique vision.

TP: Will there be a sequel spiritual or otherwise?
There may be a spiritual sequel, as I’d love to work with the composer, Waylon Thornton, again and I’m sure I’ll set another film in Florida. But as for the story of the Palms, no there won’t be a direct sequel.