Film, Interview

INTERVIEW: “Eyeballs in the Darkness” Director Albert Birney

The artist behind Tux and Fanny talks about their latest adventure


Earlier this month I spoke with Albert Birney, director of Eyeballs in the Darkness, the sequel to Tux and Fanny. His work spans multiple genres, animation styles, and formats – Eyeballs is no exception. We talk about Tux and Fanny’s origins, stop motion, making art for yourself, and of course, Tim Tooth.

BOSTON HASSLE: There’s so much going on in Eyeballs in the Darkness. I feel like I’m entrenched in Tux and Fanny’s world now. I just want to start from the beginning. Where did Tux and Fanny come from? What form did you work with them in originally?

ALBERT BIRNEY: They’re characters that have been living inside of me for a long time. Even before they were characters, they were the names of my childhood dog and cat. Fanny we got from a rescue, and Tux was hiding behind a dumpster in downtown Baltimore. That’s the original Tux and Fanny. That was when I was 10-11 years old. When I went off to college, I started a comic in the school newspaper. When I was thinking of a name, the dog and cat from my youth just popped into my head. Certain names you hear from an early age and they live deep inside of you. Those names have power. Tux, Fanny, specifically together. Separately Tux is a tuxedo and Fanny is a bottom, a bum. It’s something different in the UK, which I’ve learned.

BH: That must translate weird.

AB: We almost should have renamed it for the UK audience. At the time when I was making the comic I was inspired by Amy and Jordan by Mark Beyer. It was a comic that ran for years in New York, I came to it years later in a comic shop. It was just about two friends and their misadventures. When I started my own comic, I wanted there to be two people, and landed on Tux and Fanny as the names. I made about twenty comics before I graduated and didn’t think about it again. But then, over the years when I was thinking about what film project I should do next, I kept thinking back to the comic. I thought I could animate it, or do a live action film. I actually had plans to do it live action in 2006. That would have been serialized shorts. Around 2014, I started building sets for a stop-motion version. They kept sticking with me. It wasn’t until about 2018 when I landed on the 8-bit pixel style. That’s when it all came together. It was the perfect look for the story and I could animate it very quickly. That was the beginning. That’s a long answer to say they’ve been with me for a long time, and it took many years to find the right way to get them out.

BH: And in this movie and the video game, you do use different animation styles. It’s not just 8-bit. There’s stop motion, 3D models, FMV stuff, some live action too.

AB: Even though the majority is 8-bit, I just love to experiment and try new styles. Sometimes it works its way into the story, sometimes it doesn’t. I think my brain gets bored with the look.


BH: Anything can happen in Tux and Fanny and it does. It’s cool to see different styles fit different moods. Besides 8-bit, what do you think your favorite animation style to work in is? Not the easiest, what do you think turns out the coolest?

AB: I love stop motion. Originally Eyeballs in the Darkness was going to be entirely stop motion. I would build little miniatures and sets. I thought that somehow it would be easier, but then I remembered, with 8-bit I could come up with anything and instantly draw it. With stop motion I’d have to build things, wait for things to dry, all the hassles of actually working with your hands. But I love all that stuff. So besides 8-bit I’d say miniatures animated with stop motion are my favorite. I love them all. I love determining which is best and trying new things. And if it fails, at least I did one episode and that’s enough.

BH: It’s just cool to watch. Like I said, anything can happen. Tux has a hole in his chest that he can put things in and pull things out, like an inventory. For these shorts, were you working on them here and there and then compiling them? Because they come together well; there is a full story here.

AB: The first film took eleven months from the first episode to the 79th episode. Compiled, that’s an 82 minute film. I was working very fast. The animation was very new and exciting. I was putting up two a week online. The animation was also simple. With the second film, I started animating in March of 2020, when the world was locked down, of course. I thought this was a great time to start animating. In May of 2020, I started making the video game with Gabriel Koenig. That ended up taking about a year and a half. So instead of two episodes a week, I was posting one a month. It really slowed down. Also, I was editing Strawberry Mansion with Kentucker (Audley), so I was spread pretty thin most of that year. Working on a lot of projects but nothing was really finished yet. 

It took about three years. Once we finished the video game, I got back into the animation, one or two a week. For the first film I was animating within a 100×100 pixel square, like an 8-bit Nintendo. About twenty episodes into the sequel, right about when Tux and Fanny find the cabin, I switched to 200×200. I liken it to the jump from 8-bit to 16-bit. There’s more detail.

BH: That’s when the ghost comes in, right?

AB: That’s right. In retrospect I maybe should have kept it more simple, but it felt like a good time to expand the world.

BH: The ambition really comes through. I feel like you’re a one man marketing machine, which goes back to Sylvio. Do you just post and know people will come? 

AB: When I started I was just posting them on my personal Instagram account. I got a lot of responses and a friend eventually suggested I post them on a separate account and make it just Tux and Fanny. When I did that, it grew a little bit. But I was posting the second film so sporadically, there wasn’t as much engagement, but I didn’t care. I’m not making these to get a million followers, I’m making them for my own enjoyment. If anyone else enjoys them, that’s great. Knowing that it was all going to be one film at the end helped too. They were no longer just one-off things, they’re supposed to be viewed as Eyeballs in the Darkness, a 106 minute feature. A story began to emerge over time for the first film, the second one I had way more of a story in mind at the beginning of the journey. 

BH: You just have to do it. The video game was an advertisement for the movies too, in that way. And that was worth it for ‘Tim Tooth’ alone.

AB: I’m glad you liked it, some people didn’t quite understand Tim Tooth.

BH: It took me a long time to beat it at first, but now I’ve come back to it and found it relaxing. 

AB: When Gabriel and I were making the game and I was testing it every week, there were definitely just hours and hours of us playing Tim Tooth and trying to beat each other’s high scores. The video game is also a prequel to the first film, but since I was making it at the same time as Eyeballs there’s definitely an overlap of certain images and themes. Ideally someone would watch the first film, then play the game, then watch the second film. Or maybe the video game leads them to the films. But it’s all connected. 

BH: I saw the first movie, played the game, then watched this so that worked out. Do you think there’s anything you learned specifically from making the game that you brought to the development of Eyeballs?

AB: The original Tux and Fanny was inspired by my love of the video games I had growing up, the look of the world. Maybe the concept of collecting items? In Eyeballs there’s definitely a lot of items they use. I love that kind of Zelda-esque inventory.

BH: Tux and Fanny do feel distinct, like they’re not the exact same as each other.

AB: Every once in a while I’d have to remind myself that they’re not interchangeable. Tux has a way of speaking and Fanny has a way of speaking, so sometimes I’d have to switch the dialogue to keep things in character. 

BH: You can get to a point where you’re like “Well, Fanny wouldn’t do that.” That’s the best part of recurring characters. I’m just continually impressed.

AB: It’s fun to know that people can connect with it. You’ve consumed all three of the Tux and Fanny projects. You’re the ideal demographic.

BH: I weirdly am, since I saw all of your Spinto Band videos when I was in college. It felt weirdly cosmic when I discovered that before Strawberry Mansion.

AB: Sometimes you make things and they go out into the void and you never hear if anyone has seen them. So that’s nice to hear. One of those early Spinto Band videos I was doing pixel images.

BH: Amy + Jen was very computery too.

AB: Those videos were leading me to Tux and Fanny. It’s good to finally have arrived.

BH: That’s what Amy + Jen is about, two people making something they’re proud of and getting to be impressed by your friends. The best feeling in the world.

Tux and Fanny on Steam

BH: Do you have any plans for a video game sequel, or will you just focus on the third film, When We Become Wind?

AB: I would love to make a sequel to Tux and Fanny or another video game idea I’ve had. Gabriel and I want to let this game breathe a little bit. You spend a year or two on it and you want it to find its way into the world. If this game continues to be found, that would help us. Knowing there’s a demand for another one. Right now it’s more of a cult game. The biggest hurdle has been trying to convince people who don’t know Tux and Fanny to try it. On the surface it looks so simple. Those who try without knowing are pleasantly surprised at how quickly the world opens up and how it shows you its secrets.

BH: Anything else we should know about Eyeballs?

AB: It will appear on at the end of January. The first film also lives there. I’ve sent it away to the Blu-Ray factory so those are being made as well. Those will be available on my website. There will be a commentary track too. Once inspiration strikes, I’ll get back to the next one. I have a loose idea. It’s nice to take a little break but I know inevitably the itch will come back and I’ll want to get on that sailboat with Tux and Fanny to see where they’re going.

BH: They’ll be there waiting for you, I’m sure.

Albert’s latest film Eyeballs in the Darkness premieres on on January 30th with a blu-ray release soon to follow. You can watch Tux and Fanny there as well!

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