The official synopsis reads: In a city where nature has been forbidden, a small crime by a simple man triggers a chain of unexpected consequences. But “The Peculiar Crime of Oddball Mr Jay” promises to be more of a dystopian allegory for our current time than maybe even its creators could have foreseen.

“Mr. Jay was born out of a short story by my good friend Manuel Ruas Moreira.” says director Bruno Caetano, of Portugal. “I was lucky enough to get invited to help out on the technical side of a children’s theatre adaptation of this original short story, and immediately fell in love with the universe and message presented.

“After the first shows he asked me if I would be at all interested In developing it as an animated short film, I immediately said ‘Sure, let’s do it.'” That was in December of 2012. Although proper funding didn’t happen overnight, the team never gave up, and finally premiered their title in November of 2019.

After the script was finished (there were a total of 12 drafts in order to tell the story in just 10 minutes), they started working on the visual and technical side. “Ana Bossa joined the team as art director,” Caetano told us, “her distinct aesthetic help shape this new universe and together we were able to go towards a city very similar to a not so distant dystopian Lisbon.”

The team incorporated “a bit of everything” for materials. “Sets were mainly made out of wood and bitumen (aquaplast), with whatever worked for the solution needed. Puppets were a mixture of wire and armatures, depending on the usage of the puppet, with stoneware heads, fabric for cloths, silicone hands and felt for hair. Regarding sets and props we used whatever made sense, stoneware, pvc, wood, polyurethane, etc…”

As for the team, Caetano told us that despite the difficulties of getting experienced team members in Portugal, he felt lucky to have been able to assemble such a solid group. “I was lucky enough to get some of my favorite animators on board. Rita Sampaio, Emanuel Nevado, Timon Dowdeswell and Claudi Sorribas, gave life to our little universe and did it with great passion and style. Couldn’t have asked for a better crew…everyone delivered and Mr. Jay is what it is because of those individual contributions.”

In addition to the initial team-building challenges, Caetano describes some technical bumps like, “The fluctuation of the electricity that gave us a fair amount of flicker, motion controls that didn’t quite made it thought the whole project with out some technical assistance by Vitor Estudante (DOP, Maquinist and Swiss Army Knife).”

Plus, of course, the budgeting challenges that so many stop motion teams face. “We had a few studios that were interested in doing a co-production,” he said, “but, at the end of the day, they all fell through. Even some of our favourite European stop motion studios were interested, that interest alone helped us go forward when the funding results were coming in negative.

“I believe it was mostly because this was my first project and no track record to support the craziness of the ideas at hand. Luckily Michael Proença, from Wild Stream (FR), decided to invest in the project, helping us out immensely at the end of production, when we needed to most.”

Up next from Caetano and Moreira is a short co-written by both, based on a short story that Caetano actually wrote originally. “It will be very different from Mr. Jay,” he said, “a mixture of different animation techniques, but always with a strong stop motion foundation.

“Hey, although it’s always quite the challenge to work in stop motion, it’s what I love. Will always do it if I get the chance.” We can relate.