Student Spotlight: WIZ KID by Alec Castillo

Two years ago, Alec Castillo —who you may know better as Castle— set out to make the type of film that he and his friends would enjoy. The result is an offbeat but heartwarming animated short that is nothing short of magical. WIZ KID has gone on to screen at the School of Communications 'Canes Film Festival as well as Miami Underground Film Festival where it won 'Best 2D Animated Film.' We caught up with Castle, a junior media management major here at UM, to talk about his inspirations and the process behind the project.

What inspired WIZ KID, are you secretly an 84 year old wizard?

I really wanted to make something that felt like the type of thing that me and my friends would watch on the AppleTV at 2 AM before going to IHOP. While different than that of a conventional film, there’s something about those experiences that feels communal and intimate. In turn, I’d hope that other people’s groups of pals are able to watch and share this together. And I’m actually only eleven years old.

Was animation something you taught yourself? Why did/do you choose animation as a medium for storytelling?

I feel like its something I’ve always done. I’d try to make cartoons when I was four by drawing on MSPaint and then putting the drawings on Powerpoint slides and making transitions. Then in the fourth grade, my mom brought home a CD with Macromedia Flash so I started making little stick figure fights on the computer. Once I got my own laptop for Christmas in middle school, I just exploded and started doing it nonstop. I’m not really sure if I can say why I chose animation as a medium because I don’t think I ever consciously made a choice. I’ve just always done it. Maybe animation chose me?

How long did the project take you?

In May of 2016, the image of a baby-faced wizard surrounded by a bunch of bearded old wizards popped into my head. It took over a year to get a solid script together. The challenge was to make something that was funny but personal, all the while keeping it concise at six pages long. The first draft was twenty-six pages and subsequent revisions took weird detours with subplots about a theme park or the character getting lost in the woods or a pet capybara. So it took a lot of cutting and re-writing to get it to the point where I was satisfied with it, but once it got there it was full steam ahead with production. Animating it was actually the easiest part ironically, and it was only a three-month process thanks to the ease of the digital pipeline. So it took two years.

There are a handful of different styles of animation in the film, from the soup-loving wizard to David Spade, was there any specific influence/inspiration behind this?

The last movie I made wore its influences on its sleeve, as it was an overt homage to the early hand-drawn animated Disney features. So on this one, I wanted to flip the switch, and I actively tried to steer clear from referencing other things. I wanted this to be a clean, mean godless machine devoid of inspiration. I really tried to just lean into my own instincts. Inevitably though, I’m sure a lot of own my interests and tastes bled into the DNA of this film. I do think that the UPA studio and Ward Kimball’s midcentury modern cartoons have definitely weaseled some form of stylistic influence on the production design of the film.

What was it like voice acting for you and working with other voice actors? Is it different from directing on-screen acting?

Directing voice acting is definitely easier than directing on-screen acting because you can do it basically anywhere and at your own pace which is not a commodity that you have when you’re on location and behind a camera. 

I never consciously wanted to do the voice of the main character but I just kinda ended up doing it out of convenience. It was far easier to just always record myself at my own pace as opposed to dragging an actor through my messy and rather inarticulate process of recording and re-recording. Meanwhile, recording the other actors was really just a matter of shoving the iPhone voice memos app into my friends’ faces and asking them to repeat some lines for me. I didn’t think much of that at the time, but when the film screened in a theater and I noticed that all the vocal credits were just a big list of all my friends there was something really gratifying about that. For the most part, I’ve always made these things alone but to see all my friends’ names up there too was real sweet.

Are you working on anything now? Is there a Wiz Kid sequel coming?

I’ve been working an internship at Adult Swim so that’s kept me busy for the summer. I think I’d like to do a second Wiz Kid, but I'd have to figure out how I’d do another.

WIZ KID is online today, check out the short above.