Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 46° Partly Cloudy
News >  Features

Animated Success


Josh Staub sits with a frame of his animated short film
Josh Staub sits with a frame of his animated short film "The Mantis Parable" in his Spokane home. Staub produced the film for $4,500 and is gaining international recognition. (Brian Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

There’s a scene midway through the 1999 animated film “Toy Story 2” that never fails to affect Josh Staub.

It’s when the toy cowgirl Jessie (voice by Joan Cusack) explains to her cowboy counterpart, Woody (voice by Tom Hanks), how she ended up being cast aside by the girl who once loved her.

“Jessie is sitting up there in the window,” Staub says, “and she tells Woody her story about being left in the box.”

Staub pauses. Then he says, “That scene almost brings me to tears every time I see it.”

It might seem funny for a grown man to feel moved by a film that features talking toys. But Staub isn’t just any guy.

He’s a filmmaker himself, one who specializes in computer-enhanced visuals. But his main interest is storytelling, and it’s the blend of that interest with his various talents and interests that resulted in the eight-minute short film “The Mantis Parable.”

Let’s amend that to add the award-winning eight-minute short film “The Mantis Parable.”

And let’s add this, too: Staub created the film all by himself – visuals, sound, music, everything – at home, on his own time, on computer equipment that he set up in a studio above his garage.

Here’s the award-winning part: Not only was “The Mantis Parable” named the top Best Children’s Film at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, but it won the Best Animation award at the Winnipeg International Film Festival and was fourth runner-up at May’s Seattle International Film Festival (out of 111 that were screened).

And when the Animation Celebration program begins at 11:30 a.m. today at the Palm Springs International Festival of Short Films, Staub’s film will screen as the fifth of 10 shorts.

All of this shouldn’t come as an especially big surprise. Until the Spokane-based Cyan Worlds, creator of such computer games as Myst and Riven, laid off its staff on Sept. 2 (citing business setbacks), Staub – who is just 30 – had worked for the company for 12 years. For the last several years, he had carried the title of Artistic Director.

So, clearly, Staub had the skills needed to make a film by himself. And he had what he considered to be a good idea.

But what he had, too, was the dedication to keep working, alone, late into the night, as his wife Bonnie and their two children (Mia 5, Eli 2) slept.

“What happens with 99 percent of short films that animators start, is that they just die,” Staub says. “They lose motivation, they get too tired, they get bogged down in details, the scope of it gets too big, or something. I tried to set myself up for success.”

He did that by, at first, limiting his goals. His mantra became, he says, “I’ve got to keep the story simple.”

Which “The Mantis Parable” is. It takes place in what appears to be a bug-collector’s studio. When the film opens, we see a caterpillar in a glass jar. Realizing from the mounted specimens around him that he is doomed unless he can escape, the caterpillar tries in vain to climb out.

When a praying mantis clambers in through an open window, it urges the caterpillar to get away.

Then, just that quick, things turn. And from that point on, “The Mantis Parable” becomes a mystical venture combining equal parts irony, compassion and magical realism.

“There’s a simple kind of message in it,” Staub says, “and if I could get across that message and entertain people, or at best maybe kind of evoke some kind of response from people, I felt like I did my job.”

But that was hardly all the job entailed. Staub designed the look of the film, the shadings of color as the scenes would be seen in morning, evening and at night. Encouraged by one of his Cyan colleagues, Tim Larkin (who did sound design for the 2003 Best Animated Short Film Oscar winner, “The ChubbChubbs”), Staub taught himself how to do sound Foley (the intricate sound effects that make a film come alive).

He even wrote, and performed, the musical score.

To keep himself going those late nights when, tired and longing for bed, Staub wrote an online production journal (www.themantisparable.com). Throughout the project, which took about 18 months to complete, Staub was driven both by his own ambitions and the obligation that he felt to those who e-mailed him saying how interested they were in seeing the finished product.

“(I)t provided me with this constant source of motivation,” Staub says. “And it also made me think that I had an audience out there that I needed to satisfy.”

When he finished the final cut in February, Staub submitted “The Mantis Parable” to five specifically chosen festivals, hoping that the exercise would give him an indication of how good his film might be.

“I learned a lot early on that was sobering about the festival circuit,” he says. “One is that the acceptance rate of most filmmakers have is about 10 to 15 percent for a festival. … (A)fter all was said and done, of those first five festivals, I got into all five.”

To date, the film has been accepted by 16 out of 22 festivals, with some 40 more yet to decide.

Staub expects one of the high moments to be when he and Bonnie attend the Hollywood Film Festival (Oct. 12-18).

“I’m going to be at the awards gala with my wife,” he says. “You know, it’s like Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, the biggest of the big stars are there. And then there’s me with my little humble film. It’s just been a totally surreal experience.”

Just like something straight from the movies.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.