A scrap-metal boy with a loyal following

The film 'Rustboy' doesn't exist yet, but the character is gaining popularity online.

Meet Rustboy.

This appealing, rather vulnerable character, made of scraps of metal, is the invention of computer animator Brian Taylor.

Mr. Taylor calls Rustboy a cross between Frankenstein and Pinocchio. Stir in a smidgen of E.T. and a soupçon of newborn baby and you might get even closer.

You can't see or buy the film "Rustboy" because it doesn't exist – yet. But Taylor's website (www.rustboy.com) presents glimpses of "work in progress." Included are stills, movie clips, a diary, and sections labeled "concept art," "storyboards," "making of," and a chat room.

Why "Rustboy"?

"Basically because he is a boy and he's rusty," chuckles the slightly laconic Scot. "I can't think of a more intellectual answer."

Taylor and his Rustboy have something in common. Both seem to be loners. Rustboy is the only "person" in the film – unless you count "a grasshopper he thinks is his friend and an imaginary 'Rustgirl.' She doesn't actually exist," he says. "She's just in his mind."

Taylor reckons Rustboy is about 3 feet high. He is constructed out of metal – plates, rods, screws, ball bearings. He has a potato-shaped head a little heavy for his very thin neck. His eyes, deep socketed, seem one moment wary or scared, the next plaintive or curious. He appears bewildered in a shadowy, unfamiliar, and gothic world. This is because "he's got no reference point," Taylor explains.

The root of Taylor's message: Let the work speak for itself. "I like the fact people don't know who I am...." he says. "All they see is purely the work."

This attitude is partly a reaction against years as a designer for advertising where "there's an awful lot of 'knowing the right people.' " All the same, he is not against "just the right sort of exposure."

From the start, his website attracted a vast audience, now numbering about 2,000 hits a day. "The Thursday before the Sunday night launch, I e-mailed about 13 design sites that had a lot of traffic, saying, 'You might possibly be interested.' "

Making this 30-minute film is Taylor's realization of a lifelong ambition. A hobby, now with private funding, that has become his job. Taylor works in his bedroom, his computer padlocked to a massively heavy desk, in the city of Dundee, on the east coast of Scotland.

He finds it hard to explain the Rustboy site's popularity. "It may be partly because it's not being made by some major animation company employing hundreds. Also I am using only a mid-range computer," he says (and software that is, by chance, no longer manufactured.)

"But I think it's probably that there aren't very many people doing this – saying 'Right, I'm going to document it online from Day 1.' I think no one else has done it, really." Taylor's concept of documenting the animation process, though, is now "cropping up here and there" online.

Taylor's film will be on DVD and also on television. Three TV companies have shown an interest, in Europe, the US, and Australia. But he hasn't signed with anyone yet. He reckons the end of 2003 is the earliest possible completion date.

Over a sandwich at Dundee's Repertory Theatre recently, he said that he started "drawing before he could walk." Cartoons and "fantasy things of some sort."

He later tried "stop/motion" animation, but was never satisfied. He also came up with the first version of "Rustboy," a 2-D idea for a book illustration. Nothing came of it. Today's 3-D "Rustboy" is entirely different.

Taylor calls his film – which uses no speech, but music by New York composer Erik Nickerson – "a dark fairy tale."

"It's a very simple story. Mainly tiny little incidents that happen along the way. It's about the same kind of questions we all asks ourselves: Why am I here? Where have I come from?"

Rustboy is first brought to life by a lightning bolt. Once "born," he finds himself alone. His "maker" is dead. At one point, Taylor says, he actually comes across his maker. "But he doesn't even know it, and brushes it aside. He just thinks that if there is anything else, it's only going to be people like him."

The movie clips on the site, with Taylor's brief explanations, act as enticing fragments, incidents still unconnected.

For the present, Taylor is "building the sets." When the interiors and landscapes are finished, then he can start pasting Rustboy into them and "shooting" the film. It's a virtual world, almost monochrome, simply modeled, but filled with shafts of light, weird shadows, and suggestive atmospheres.

Apart from his admiration for "the painted look" of early Disney – "that's one of my influences" – he is also keen on German Expressionism – "its simple, angular shapes, like 'The Cabinet of Dr. Calligari.' I love that stuff."

The wide interest in his site (not to mention being featured on Entertainment Weekly's "It List") seems to guarantee a large, eager audience of all ages for the final film.

"Unless people get fed up with it before I finish it," he says. And quickly adds, with all due Scottish modesty: "But I don't think that is going to be the case."

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