software / animation, 66 mins

Watch the short festival version

Watch the extended version

Fire Underground is an animated fantasy inspired by the industrial history of Appalachia, which pitches myths of forgotten forests, crawling proto-reptiles, and chthonic infernos against labor history, natural history, and folk culture.

The project has been exhibited as realtime software, as a multichannel video installation, and as a feature-length film. I am currently adapting it to be a standalone executable with light interactivity for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS.

Fire Underground was made with a game engine, and several scenes were built with game-like logic, featuring semi-autonomous non-player characters, ragdoll physics, and deterministic, clock-like simulation. Drawing from craft traditions like model railroading and miniature wargaming, most characters and props were made out of physical materials like clay, cardboard, aluminum foil, and insulation foam, and captured with photogrammetry.

The project features original music by Sarah Louise Henson, as well as:
  • “Rime,” performed by Sarah Louise, courtesy Thrill Jockey Records,
  • “Thirty Inch Coal,” recorded by Men of the Deeps, with permission. 

This project was made possible with support from the Carnegie Mellon School of Art, the Frank-Ratchye Fund for Art at the Frontier, and a Carnegie Mellon Graduate Education GuSH Research Grant.

This project also would not have been possible without kind support and advice from Matteo Bittanti, Peter Burr, Erin Cosgrove, Jim Duesing, Jamison Edgar, Steve Gurysh, Sarah Louise Henson, Shohei Katayama, Golan Levin, Erin Mallea, Michael Neumann, Tom Hughes, Tyler Stefanich, Rich Pell, Joy Poulard-Cruz, Eddo Stern, Shaun Slifer, Angela Washko, and the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum.