Gloria Gaynor. Green, karaoke-singing aliens. Deadly mirror balls. The stuff of legends? Not usually, unless you're speaking of the unlikely tale of San Francisco Bay Area artist Victor Navone, whose humble character animation test has become one of the biggest Internet video phenomenons since four potty-mouthed kids helped launch the entire "South Park" cottage industry.
For those who have managed to avoid it so far, Navone's "Alien Song" is an abbreviated version of Gaynor's disco anthem "I Will Survive" as performed by the three-fingered, one-eyed extraterrestrial, Blit Wizbot. Available at Navone's Web site, "Alien Song" intially spread through e-mail with the kind of proliferation usually reserved for the "ILOVEYOU" virus or Mahir. Eventually, Blit ended up in the pages of The London Times and Time magazine, and appeared on CNN and European television. Not bad, considering the short's humble beginnings.
"It was just a learning exercise," says Navone. "I was trying to teach myself character animation and needed something for Blit to lip-synch." While not a big disco fan, Navone decided to use "I Will Survive" after hearing it at his wife's Christmas party.
Although he hasn't spoken to Gaynor directly about the piece, the singer has included a link to it on her Web site and Navone says he has heard she is a fan of the work.
A devoted Mac afficionado, Navone used a G3 333 during much of the 250 hours it took to produce "Alien Song." In addition to compositing done in After Effects, most of the texturing work was done on the Mac to take advantage of his Wacom tablet. Navone used the Macintosh version of Hash's Animation Master software to create some of the actual animation, although he admits to being forced to use the PC version part of the time as well.
Since the release of "Alien Song," Navone has moved up the Mac ladder, purchasing a G4 450 on which he runs Animation Master, After Effects, Adobe Photoshop, and Electric Image. "I was trained in 3-D on the Mac," he said. "I like the design of the Mac interface both on a practical level and an aesthetic level. PCs always felt ugly."
The popularity of his work still has Navone puzzled. "It's hard to believe something you do just for fun can reach so many people," he said. "The whole piece was done as simply as possible. Blit has only one eye and three fingers because it's easier to set up and it ends with the disco ball so that I didn't have to animate the whole song. I look at it today and just see the things that aren't perfect and still need tweaking. But people send me e-mails saying they loved it and that it made their children laugh. That's very satisfying."
Blit's popularity brought some more tangible results as well. After training as a 2-D artist and starting his career doing design work for video games, "Alien Song" quickly landed him a job on the film Titan A.E. With that experience behind him, Navone has since moved on to Pixar Studios, home of Toy Story and a mecca for aspiring character animators.
"I love creating the illusion of life and generating an emotional response in people, but I just started character animation in 1998," he said. "I don't really consider myself an animator yet, I'm still an artist."
As for Blit himself, the future is a bit foggier. While he has received some interest from television and Internet production companies, Navone says there are no immediate plans to build a series around the character. "I don't have time to produce anything right now and Blit is my baby, I want to save him for myself," he said. If Blit does end up in a show of his own, don't expect "Alien Song 2: Wind Beneath My Wings." "Blit isn't really a soulful diva-type, that was just an act. He's more of the shy, awkward, underdog type."
Navone has signed one yet-to-be-disclosed licensing agreement that figures to keep Blit in the public eye, but the artist is still looking to strike the deal that interests him the most. "I want to make Blit Wizbot T-shirts. When people are walking down the street with your character on their chests, that's when you know you've made it."