Since 1999, Shane Acker has been fixated on a post-apocalyptic world inhabited only by stitchpunks (Acker’s term) and the robots that hunt them. While studying at UCLA, he began work on a short thesis film, which became an 11-minute animated piece entitled 9.

The short, about nine puppet-like creatures who inherit the earth after machines destroy humanity, was eventually nominated for an Oscar, won a Student Academy Award and now the big screen version lands in theaters with the voice talents of Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly and Christopher Plummer.

Wood says Acker’s extended tenure on the project was one of the most reassuring parts of a medium that is, by nature, extremely difficult to fully comprehend during production.

“We were in the hands of the person who created these characters,” Wood says. “He was able to describe things in a really detailed way and articulate what he wanted from the character both physically and emotionally.”

The actor explains that one of the most difficult parts of doing voice work for animated features is not being able to see or interact with the world you’re supposed to exist in.

“It’s very solitary,” Wood says. “You’re in this booth, imbuing the character with a sense of life in a stationary position and then those words get shipped to animators. At times there are 30 people working on your movements and face.”

“The hard thing in animation,” adds Acker, “is it’s not like you shoot a bunch of footage that you have a lot to make a movie out of. It’s an inverted process; you draw everything you want and then you have to make that specific thing.”

For Wood, the most challenging part was manipulating his voice to sound like it was experiencing something it wasn’t.

“You’re not running, you’re not jumping, you’re not falling, so you have to figure out how you do that vocally and be convincing.”

But that’s not where the difficulties end.

“Don’t go in too hungry!” Wood says, revealing the greatest voiceover hurdle most viewers might never think of. “You’ll have a lot of problems with stomach gurgles.”

The actors also had to be wary of dry mouth, too much water, odd teeth clicking noises and too much movement creating rustling noises with clothing.

“The mic picks up so much,” Wood sighs.

While Wood was involved in the project for almost three years, eons in actor years since most films barely shoot for three months, Acker has devoted a decade to 9. Though he says a feature length production of a world he created and has loved so dearly is a dream come true, Acker also admits, “There wasn’t a whole lot of downtime between the short and the feature. I’ve been running a marathon for quite some years now,” he chuckles.

His marathon was kicked into high gear after graduation from UCLA when he met with the king of dark, twisted animation, Tim Burton, who signed on as one of the film’s producers, ensuring 9 would come to fruition as a feature. The gravity of Burton’s involvement and the ease of securing financing were more than Acker could initially comprehend.

“I was inexperienced,” Acker says, smiling and shaking his head in disbelief, “coming from a point of not knowing, like ‘Setting up movies is easy, isn’t it?’ Then reality set in, and I knew that I had bitten off more than I could chew.”

He says it was fear of failure that propelled me through the production and, as opening weekend approaches and he’s able to drink in his moment in the limelight, he hopes his story can serve as a fairytale for film students and young cinephiles.

“I think it’s inspiring to young filmmakers. It can be done; a short in film school can lead to a feature film!”

9 releases in theaters Sept. 9.