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Friday, 31 August 2012

Jacob Stålhammar "The Cats of Mars Meet the Toy Car" (2010)

Back to earth. Or not. The Cats of Mars Meet the Toy Car is an unusual piece of work, indebted to the verse style of Dr Seuss, utilising public domain music from films as far back as 1937 but more usually in the 50's, and the vocal talents of Jeff Crackower for the English version and singer Freddie Wadling for the initial Swedish recording. The actual animation may not be state of the art but this is not the object of the exercise. What Jacob Stålhammar achieves is utterly charming. In a style from a different age of animation, and an era when space was the frontier that captured the public imagination, Jacob presents a whimsical tale of cats, residents of the planet Mars, who befriend a space robot on a voyage of exploration from Earth. After consuming fish and playing piggy-back they journey by magic carpet and beam back to Earth amazing footage of the planet. And all the while there is that often crackly but always exquisite soundtrack to add to the perfectly soft voice of the narrator. From what I can gather, Jacob designed his creations to match his rhymed couplets, learned to paint with gouache on cardboard, taught himself animation, and produced a novel film, already screened around his native Sweden. He includes amongst his talents stand up comedy. I'll bet the guy is also good at that.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

All good things ...

My extended vacation has sadly drawn to an end. Two days ago I commenced this walk only to be driven off the mountains by the heat! England is cold and wet for my return. Austria is the prettiest country I know. Back to work. No holidays in the diary now.

Friday, 3 August 2012

BBC Sport's Trailer for London 2012 Olympic Games

My country has been agonising over our preparations for the Olympic Games for years now, wanting to create an event to be proud of. From what I've seen in the past few days the tight organisation has been splendid with a spectacular opening ceremony, smooth operations, not to mention wonderful competition by the athletes. The British public is massively behind both its team and the visitors from over the seas. Which brings me to BBC Sport's Trailer for London 2012. All the drama is captured here to an accompanying soundtrack from Mercury Prize-winners Elbow that fits as stylishly as the snazzy tracksuits all nations seem to clad their athletes in these days. The animation has come under fire for too closely mirroring the acclaimed Lloyd's Bank series of animated ads, an entirely spurious claim in my opinion. We'd not be British if we weren't knocking ourselves but sometimes it can get a tad wearing. Made by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe (RKCR) the sixty second piece is typical of a classy coverage of the Games by the BBC.  A salutory reminder of what my country can do at a time when I have just returned from a region of Northern Europe (Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Finland Norway and Russia) where the people have won me over as convincingly as the British cyclists, rowers and sailors.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Baltic and Back

I've been on a three week vacation to the Baltic. St Petersburg welcomed me with its warm embrace, cheerful customs officials and expensive visa. Loved it. I'll be back tomorrow.

Friday, 13 July 2012

John Hubley "Flat Hatting" (1946)

Take cover, that dare-devil pilot Murphy's going to dive-bomb beauties sunbathing on the beach. Shrieks of terror. The trouble is Murphy is bored, bored to distraction. No city or farm is safe from his antics. And it was all predictable from early childbirth. Why, as a boy Murphy dangled from chandeliers holding cats, chased girls round the playground. He'll come to a sticky end in the US Navy. The great John Hubley's little known short from 1946 is still funny and apposite today. I've got one such terror in the house this very second. But I digress. Made to demonstrate the perils of flying for kicks, Flat Hatting is a great find. As I have remarked before, animations never age if they are well made and this one is. What is it? 66 years old and wonderful to behold. Confident, surprisingly modern artwork and animation, easy humour, some terrific aerial shots of the countryside and cities. And that feature of the times, a tendency to moralise, albeit tongue in cheek and commissioned by the military. Great work from the master, Hubley. Just one problem - I think I'd be more like Murphy having seen what one can get up to in an aeroplane.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

"Oben" Thierno Bah, Noé Giuliani, Pierre Ledain and David Martins da Silva (2012)

Commencing a movie in an emergency hospital with the patient in a critical condition and simultaneously reliving the circumstances that brought him to this point is not new. However Oben has a novel visual appeal that transcends a well worn scenario. The angular and at times semi-abstract artwork together with a stylish use of colour blocks ensure this is no run of the mill graduation film. EMCA's Thierno Bah, Noé Giuliani, Pierre Ledain and David Martins da Silva keep the tension going particularly given such a clever sound design as that from Prince N'Gouda Ba. It's refreshing to see such distinctive work.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Oerd van Cuijlenborg "An Abstract Day’ (2009)

An Abstract Day might well be misinterpreted by the family should they just overhear the sexually explicit soundtrack. Dutch animator Oerd van Cuijlenborg's film is described as semi-abstract which, sadly, is a turn-off for some but this is a class piece and sustains interest for its entire five minutes. It follows a day in the life of a couple from awakening to the sound of traffic and kites shrieking past their apartment to the heat of a city, escape to the countryside, thunder storm and evening peace. The director's ability to capture the various moods and locations with shape, colour and the most delicate of brush strokes is remarkable: the rural and urban scenes, the heat and the passion. In fact the screenshot is rather less abstract than the general film but, artist that I am, I felt it suited the design of my blog more than naked flesh with pulses of light and life bouncing about. Unlike some critics, I liked the soundtrack. And I should note that I've entered the summer vacation period where exotic lands beckon so the posts will be sparse.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

"Slug Invasion" The Animation Workshop (2012)

The wettest summer in the UK, certainly in my lifetime, and slugs are on the rise in the gardens. In a parody of every Hollywood GI buddy movie that you should really have missed, The Animation Workshop comes up with the very funny Slug Invasion. So you get the timid recruits, the full of manure sergeant, some ghastly dialogue (as spoken by many a celluloid hero) and the sort of scenarios that sadly are taken from real life folks. Set in a little old lady's suburban garden, the slimy invaders have to fight hard to stay alive. There's much goo, and red goo at that, in glorious viscid 3D action. All might be termed predicable once the slaughter commences in earnest but it's great fun seeing the spike plonking down from above and our heroes looking up at the giant in her sunhat as the gore count rises inexorably higher. Or is it inexorable? Extremely well made in a manner that is becoming a trademark of this marvellous animation school, the honours go to Morten Helgeland, Casper Wermuth, Lasse Rasmussen, Carina Løvgreen, Kirsten Bay Nielsen, Polina Bokhan, Peter Egeberg, Magnus Myrälf and Maria B. Kreutzmann.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Heliofant "I, pet goat II" (2012)

I, pet goat II commences with a parody of George W Bush that I felt did not quite live up to the remarkable degree of praise from Vimeo (and other) viewers. However I quickly realised what the buzz was about. Set in a surreal landscape (the screenshot is typical) the seven minute short explores a decade of suffering, offering topical, media, political, environmental, Islamic and Christian references in its exposition. Sequences move pretty quickly. To take one: Obama, stunned and helpless in a polar White House, from which we pan out to witness an iced representation of the twin towers collapsing, to follow a boat bearing Osama bin Laden in a manner reminiscent of Kate Winslet on her doomed ship, distant oil platforms and maybe genetic research. And throughout we are carried along with a regal soundtrack from the Tanuki Project. We are informed that the team utilised "dancers, musicians, visual artists and 3d animators" and, in truth, the piece has all the ambition of a mammoth stage production, firmly placing the newly created Canadian Heliofant on the map. And some. A burning Christ heads out to sea, towards the horizon, ice-caps melting blended spectacularly with the dreadful echoes of the twin towers crumbling, shards of our ice civilisation crumbling into the ocean. All brilliantly lit, with vibrant colours of ruby red, turquoise blue, purple, green, yellow ochre. It is truly one of the most remarkable shorts of the year, or indeed a decade. Of pain.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Caroline Torres "21 Years in 7 Minutes" (2012)

The best animation website launches its third annual Cartoon Brew Student Animation Festival and it's off with a lovely Flash film. Caroline Torres does what a good animator does best, mastering the drawing tablet with the hand sketched look of her 21 Years in 7 Minutes. Take that moment when a child realises that chicken is indeed chicken, that boys aren't all rough, add the expanding chest measurement, smoking on top of a hill, more boys; anyway our girl goes to arts school and meets lots of other boys, girls, passes through the mandatory psychedelia phase and falls for the redhead in the beard.  A student at Rhode Island School of Design, Caroline's film reminds me that things have not changed that much since my day. It also squashes a lot of incident into a short time-frame, briskly encompassing a range of emotions, funny and not so funny, all imaginatively encapsulated.