1. US computer-animated short film (2005). UCLA Animation Workshop. Directed and written by Shane Acker. 11 minutes. Colour.
Two small Robots scavenge in a Post-Holocaust landscape: one has a 5 on its back, the other 9. Called "stitchpunks" by Acker, they resemble sack dolls but their internal organs are mechanical. A predatory robot catches 5 and sucks out their soul using an electronic device: later we see it wearing the "skins" of its victims, with 5 and other numbers visible. 9 sets a trap, killing the beast. He discovers its device interlocks with one owned by 5; it activates – the glowing figures of several absorbed stitchpunks appear, walking off and fading; 5 acknowledges 9 before disappearing.
Much is left unexplained, but this is a memorable short piece of animation, particularly the designs and scenery. It was a nominee for the 2005 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film and impressed Tim Burton, who arranged funding for a full-length film (see 2 below).
2. US computer-animated film (2009). Focus Features. Produced by Timur Bekmambetov, Tim Burton, Dana Ginsburg and Jim Lemley. Directed by Shane Acker. Written by Shane Acker and Pamela Pettler. Voice cast includes Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau, Alan Oppenheimer, Christopher Plummer, John C Reilly and Elijah Wood. 79 minutes. Colour.
An expansion and reworking of the 2005 short (see 1 above). Stitchpunk 9 (Wood) wakes on a Ruined Earth, eventually meeting stitchpunk 2 (Landau), who is carried off by a cat-skulled Robot. Journeying to rescue him, 9 meets 1, 5, 6 and 8, who live in a Cathedral: 1 (Plummer), who wears a mitre, argues they should not get involved, but 5 (Reilly) joins 9. The cat-skulled robot attacks the pair, but they are saved by heroic 7 (Connelly); however 9's curiosity causes the activation of the Fabrication Machine, which absorbs 2's soul. 7 takes 9 and 5 to a library, introducing them to the scholars, 3 and 4. They return to the Cathedral where they are attacked by robots created by the Fabrication Machine: battle ensues – the robots are defeated and the Fabrication Machine trapped, but not before 1, 5, 6 and 8's souls are absorbed.
9 returns to where he'd first awoken, the study of a scientist (whose body lies on the floor): a mechanical box plays a message from him, which – along with 3 and 4's research – provides the backstory. It's a Alternate History where the industrial revolution never ended; in the 1930's the Chancellor of a fascist state persuaded the Scientist (Oppenheimer) to build the Fabrication Machine, then repurposed it to create war machines: but it turns on humanity, wiping out all life on Earth. Before he died the scientist created nine stitchpunks, with different character traits, imbuing them with the "pieces of my soul".
9 and the others destroy the Fabrication Machine, freeing the souls of 1, 2, 5, 6 and 8 – which ascend to the clouds, causing rainfall – in the droplets life can be seen. 7 wonders "What happens next?"; 9 replies "I'm not sure exactly, but this world is ours now, it's what we make it."
Though the story has Clichéd elements and the ending does not bear close examination, the whole hangs together reasonably well. In 1 the stitchpunks were mute with mannered movements; in the film all but 3 and 4 speak and their actions are more humanlike: a sense of otherness is lost and incongruity acquired. Despite these reservations this is an entertaining work, with Dieselpunk elements: the animation is very good – particularly the machines – and the grim landscape, littered with humanity's debris, intrigues. [SP]