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Monday, 30 April 2007

Eva Bennett "The Love Train"

Ironical that today I determine on introducing Eva Bennett's "The Love Train" only to discover that she was a student at Southampton Solent University, featured here on Friday as having a superb website to attract undergraduates. Her award winning movie is delicately drawn by hand and animated in 2D. It tells the story of a lonely dragon on a train journey to find a partner. It is a difficult journey through snow and ice. Luckily the carriage is pulled by one of those fine old steam engines, complete with roaring furnace. There are one or two potential romantic partners on the train but of course in times of hardship one has to turn to the staff for help. Though the landscape is frozen, the dragon's heart is still warm. This is a feel-good movie set in a fantasy land but with a genuine story to tell for the real world. Some particularly fine music by Dez Kirkup complements the animation - the link takes you to his company website Sonisis. Here you can view and hear his impressive reel of his work. Eva's work can be viewed in its entirity at:
http://www.solent.ac.uk/courses/undergraduate/animation_ba/student_showcase3.aspx
or the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/hampshire/content/articles/2005/08/24/bigscreen_lovetrain_feature.shtml

One of the most touching movies I have seen in animation or film was Norah Twomey's animation about an Inuit fisherman and a drowned girl, From Darkness. We featured it as our Movie of the Week 32 last year. It is one of those movies that keeps the class in rapt attention and invites all sorts of comments about the meaning. It is therefore great news that Tom Robinson has obtained the promise of an interview and indeed, in characteristic fashion, sent Norah the questions by return. Tom himself is no mean animator and artist. Norah is busy with a major production at the moment but hopes to find time to reply mid-week.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Isaac Botkin

This is the seventh in our series of interviews with those animators whose work has particularly appealed to our students here at South Axholme. Each interview is available in a more colourful format, along with suitable illustrations, on our website. Lewis' will be posted there this week.

Lewis Allery interviews Isaac Botkin

Lewis: Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed by me. I hope the questions are neither too obvious or too many.
Isaac: No, no, these are excellent.

Lewis: How long have you been animating?
Isaac: Well, I started when I was 14, and I'm 26 now, but I've taken lots of time off from being an animator to be a video editor, or a cameraman, or other things, so I haven't been constantly animating for the last 12 years. I'd be much better if I had.

Lewis: In "Men O' War" what made you go for Lego as a sort of building block? Would you continue the use of Lego into you other animations?
Isaac: I picked Legos for many reasons. First, they are very simple, so they can be modeled, animated, and rendered very fast. Each man only has seven joints, and plastic is easier to simulate on the computer than other materials are. Also, my brothers and I love Legos and have spent probably way too much time building with Legos, and we had knew that several Lego animators would at the Film Academy where we premiered the film, so we thought it would be fun. And it was, but I think for future projects we will use characters that we have invented ourselves.

Lewis: What's the best aspect of animating for you?
Isaac: I like all aspects of production, but it's only when I'm animating that I get to be the cameraman, lighting engineer, set builder, set dresser, and to some extent, actor. The animator controls all the elements in his shot, and if he's making a short by himself, he has complete creative control over the whole thing. I like that because you have a better sense of your skills - nobody does anything for you, and the problems are all your fault. Plus it's just fun to make your own ideas come alive, especially if they are interesting characters.

Lewis: When you first start to animate, do you just get an idea in your head and go with it, or do plan in great detail before you start.
Isaac: I plan as much as I can. If I'm only charge of one shot, I try to draw little thumbnails of the action so I can get good poses and staging - unless it's very simple. If I'm directing the whole film, like I did with Men O' War, I storyboard the whole film and edit to the final dialogue before I do any animation. You can read more about that here (http://www.outside-hollywood.com/2006/10/men-o-war-pre-production/) and see my storyboards. Animation is very time consuming, and even though the planning can take a while, it means I don't have to go back and re-animate anything, so gives me a stronger result, faster.

Lewis: Could you tell me something about the software you use? We tend to use Flash here at school because it is quite practical to create a full movie in the limited time we have available.
Isaac: I used Lightwave 3D for all the 3D and After Effects for compositing and color grading. Flash is a great program for 2D animation and my younger brothers are pretty good at it. I prefer 3D animation because it offers me more flexibility, and because I can't draw very well (as you can see from my storyboard).

Lewis: Thinking in terms of time, how long did it take you to produce "Men O' War"?
Isaac: Just over five weeks, from the start to the end. The first week we wrote the script, made the storyboards, recorded the voices, and modeled the Lego men. Then I spent two weeks animating the characters, one week setting up the backgrounds, and one week compositing. Meanwhile, my siblings were composing the music and adding sound effects and building the props and sets.

Lewis: What comes first for an animator, ability as an artist, or technical ability?
Isaac: Artistic ability is the most important part, but I don't necessarily mean drawing ability. Being able to use animation software doesn't make someone an animator. Being able to tell a story or communicate an idea or capture a character through movement is the main thing. All artists are defined by the talents they've been given and the skills that they've worked to acquire, not by their tools.

Lewis: What has been the most rewarding aspect of animation for you?
Isaac: Probably discovering that a lot of the skills are transferable, as much as anything. For example, becoming a more patient animator has made me a more patient person. As I learn to plan my shots better I become a better planner in real life. And I'm a much better camera operator and DP as a result of all my camera and lighting work in animation. I also find the unlimited creative potential to be great fun.

Lewis: What animations are you working on now, or thinking of doing?
Isaac: Well, at the moment I'm actually working on a number of live-action projects, but I'm writing a few scripts for feature films and television shows that would benefit from animation. I'm afraid I don't really have any concrete plans for my next short.

Lewis: When you're creating an animation, what is the most important thing your animation has to do for you to consider it a success?
Isaac: Tell a story. Visual richness and snappy character animation are all good, but only if they serve a compelling story. Everything in the film needs to serve the story, so my goal is to tell a strong one. Even if I'm only working on one shot, it first and foremost needs to support the over-arching story, and have a little beginning, middle, and ending of its own.

Lewis: Do you have any hobbies apart from animation, and do they affect your animations?
Isaac: Well, I dabble in different kinds of art, and that often teaches me principles that help across the board. For example, in the last few years I've started painting, and the sky background in Men O' War is a fairly stylized painting that I did by hand to match the blocks and convey a mood. I think it adds something to the film that a sky photo or 3D procedural clouds would not have. I'm also a history buff, and an understanding of history is, I think, vital for any storyteller.

Lewis: Your animation is very much a family orientated adventure on the seas, and I can see from my research that you are a strong Christian. How much will your beliefs shape your future animation work?
Isaac: Great question. My beliefs shape everything I do, because this is true of all people. Because my beliefs are based in the Bible, I want my work to honor God and my parents, and to encourage and inspire anyone that sees it. I also want my characters and my stories to communicate the truths of the Bible, such as justice rather than revenge, or honor rather than selfishness. Not only it my duty to do so, but I think these principles make for stronger stories.

Lewis: Can you tell me something about the San Antonio Film Academy?
Isaac: It's one of the highlights of my year. I'm on the faculty with five or six other men who I greatly respect, including my father, and last year we had about 300 students and a number of guests. Panavision is one of our sponsors so we get some cameras for hands-on demonstrations, and we have some competitions where we give away copies of Final Draft to the winners, and for three solid days it's non-stop teaching and learning and interacting. It's a great place to learn from the pros, meet new friends, and find work or crew members for upcoming projects.

Lewis: There seem to be a lot of people working on your animation. Tell me something about the process this involves?
Isaac: Well, I'm the oldest of seven children, and we all sat down to write the script. Then I drew up the storyboards, and we all, with the help of our uncle, who is a professional voice actor, recorded our lines. Then my youngest brothers (11 and 13) built the ships using 3D Lego blocks. My next youngest brother and two sisters (17, 19, and 21) composed the music. My 23-year-old brother started worked on the sound effects and editing and I animated the men and composited everything together. Because we had a storyboard from the beginning we all had a similar goal in mind, and all the pieces came together well.

Lewis: Are there any animations you love/hate or could recommend?
Isaac: The early Disney shorts and features, in my opinion, represent the best craftsmanship, and were really responsible for inventing the industry and technique from nothing. If you watch a few shorts from the 20s moving on to the 40s you can literally see the principles of animation being discovered and honed before your very eyes. I recommend that all animators read "The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation" by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas for more really fascinating information about that golden age of animation and film.

Lewis: I notice from my teacher's blog that you have set up your own company with your brothers. What inspired you to do it professionally and is it as tough as I imagine?
Isaac: I think we work best as a family and can do more together than apart, plus I like to be self-employed and have the freedom to pick and choose my own projects, to some extent. It is tough, both the find work and please the clients, but I think it's worth it. At the moment all we've really done are video documentaries and TV commercials, but feature films are our ultimate goal. Documentaries are a great stepping stone, though, because they have a short production schedule and small crew, but can pay pretty well and are usually very interesting to make. If working in film and television is your goal, look into the humble doco. I think you'd be good at making them, since you're such a good interviewer.

Lewis: Thank you for agreeing to let me interview you, I hope it's not to much trouble. It will be a great help for me on this course.
Isaac: No, thank you, Lewis. This has been fun, and I hope you're able to stick with animation and media work after you leave school.

Isaac Botkin’s site reference is: http://www.outside-hollywood.com/2006/10/men-o-war
His animation is featured on our animation
blog and is also 2007 movie of the week 17

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Pippa Leuchars "Global Warning"

We have just posted up several of our new animations on the website. Having spent time trailing around for animations worldwide I am quietly pleased with our progress. I chose to lead this post with a lovely piece, Global Warning, by Pippa Leuchars. It is, as the title just manages to suggest, a satire on global warming and beautifully composed. It's so refreshing when a student has this degree of poise and originality. Perhaps it is time to enter some of our work for competitions. See what you think of Mobius by Carl Drayton. Produced in 14 hours flat it takes some beating given the time. Some delicate drawing, sophisticated use of the library, and an underwhelming website description I fear. He's another of our talented students!
Tomorrow I shall be posting our interview with Isaac Botkin and this very day David Bokser, whose "The Old Man and the Fish" has so impressed us, has agreed to a Sam Rawson interview. Another talented student.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Consumer Test: Bradford, Bournemouth or Southampton Universities???

It's about time to visit a university to see what sort of courses are on offer for our own students. Browsing the university sites is not always the easiest of experiences. Bournemouth's showcase is accessed at: http://media.bournemouth.ac.uk/studentshowcase/studentwork.html. I viewed their MA collaborative piece "Shattered Memories" and was impressed by the 3D elements and the life-like quality of the product though the storyline about an explosion in a laboratory/reactor station was a tad melodramatic. There were other showcase examples but none particularly appropriate for my students. The University of Bradford has a showcase http://www.inf.brad.ac.uk/showcase/index.php but limits their viewable pieces to a brief showreel. However at last I chanced upon the Southampton Solent University (http://www.solent.ac.uk/courses/undergraduate/animation_ba/awards.aspx) and here is the sort of site to attract applicants. Their showcase features pieces by different students with some lovely work. Monica Healy for example has a delightfully drawn piece contrasting a ballet dancer with someone striken by arthritis, and Noel Bennett produces a light-hearted account of a thief in an art gallery after a huge ruby. Both were flash animations and consequently easy to view; when I attempted to view, on the school's broadband, Windows Media Player files the connection kept closing. Despite this technical hitch, the availability of biographical details of the students, their range of work on offer and the range of international awards their students have attained (with links) made my choice of a suitable university course, in this particular way (website), an easy one. It's a pity Southampton is so far from here.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Time, television and scenes

Time to update on what our students are currently engaged in. Year 11 are now complete with their coursework and it's time for projects. Two may be of interest. Mark Bennicke has created a calendar and timepiece that gives you the time providing what you have on your computer is correct. Jonathan Scott is working on an interactive television set we intend to place on our site. The channels will be year 9 scenes that impress us. Channels 1 and 2 have scenes added just to try it out. Jonathan's working on a preloader as I type this. Both these projects are sophisticated uses of Flash. Year 10s continue to impress. Here are a few scenes individuals were working on this morning. Lewiss Needham has a nice city scene with rain and motorcyclist, Michael Bramhald has his workers beavering away in the bowels of something or other, Nicola Bland enjoys sweets so much she animates them, Patrick McArthur and Frankie Newton are hunting, Sam Rawson's gate opens all by itself, Jack Whitmore's Egptian is out of breath, Connor Adams' hero has developed something of a split personality, Alec Brown's laboratory is pumping away and, finally, Liam Oades is having a technical problem with his planet as too many technical effects make the swf file slow down. Work in progress but I'm very proud of all my students at the moment.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Francine Desbiens

Produced before her retirement Francine Desbien's My Child, My Land/Mon enfant, ma terre is well described in the National Fim Board of Canada's remarkable Focus on Animation.
The film commences with a happy family man drawing a shape that develops into the blueprint for a landmine. His cushioned existence is then contrasted with an equally happy if rather less well off family in Asia. The fertile land on which their children play also allows soldiers to plant bombs. The results are somewhat inevitable. In a harrowing final scene there is a a further contrast between different worlds. Animations rarely get more incisive than this.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Jakub Dvorsky

Jakub Dvorsky was highlighted on our website for “Plantage”, a beautiful conjunction of photography and animation.I suppose I expected more of the same from his website amanitadesign.com. Instead there is a variety of animations including na tu svatbu, a whacky musical video for the Czech band Kamil Jasmin. The music has the sort of appeal Tyrolean oompa oompa bands have on holiday. The lively animation celebrates drinking I think, certainly there is a lot of it. Psyride is more electronic and the music, if not necessarily the visuals, are more to my taste. The movie progresses with a strident beat, traffic lights and geometric shapes. What I enjoyed most is the shortest piece, Nusle, that seems to celebrate a crime spree in the middle of the city. I like the drawing style here very much. Jakub and his partner Vladav Blin create some wonderful games of which Samarost2 is addictive and well crafted with a great soundtrack. It has won awards. The company designs websites and their creation for Blanka Sperkova is tastefully done. Do give Plantage a view though; it is something special.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Alexander Salsberg

This is the sixth in our series of interviews with those animators whose work has particularly appealed to our students here at South Axholme. Each interview is available in a more colourful format, along with suitable illustrations, on our website. Jonathan's will be posted there this week.

Jonathan Wren interviews Alexander Salsberg

Alex: Hi Jonathan, I've answered your questions below. Thank you for choosing me for the interview!

Jon: What interests you about animation and what inspired you to start? In particular was it a desire to draw, tell stories or an interest intechnology?
Alex: I loved cartoons in television and movies when I was a kid, and as far back as I can remember I was drawing my own comics, and writing stories. I always wanted to make pictures and stories that moved, and I sort of had to get interested in technology, so that I could support my other interests.

Jon: Which one of your animations is your favourite?
Alex: My all time favorite is actually not online yet. It is called “Not YourMom,” and it is a ten minute comedy about a teenager who is afraid of meeting a girl who is just like his crazy mother. Of the cartoons I’ve released online, I’d say that my favorite is “Smell Check.” I think it has some of my most polished drawing, and I think it has some really funny jokes in it that I’m proud of.

Jon: I'm guessing from your animations that you're a big fan of comedy in animation. Do you find funny animations easy to think of and make?
Alex: I think animation and comedy go hand in hand very well. It actually can be very difficult at times to write good humor, because you need just the right mix of timing and wit. On the other hand, there are times when a funny idea can just write itself. The trick is to start with what you find funny, and then go from there.

Jon: What do you think a good animation should do? Make you laugh or make you think?
Alex: I think that a good animation doesn’t have to do either of those things, but it should make you feel something. I like to make animations that make people laugh, but that’s not the only thing animation can do. Any animation that does something original and interesting with its medium is good in my book.

Jon: We all enjoyed "A Men's Room Monologue". It was shown in class and appeared as one of our "movies of the week". It was funny without being too rude. Did you intend it as being fit for "family viewing"?
Alex: I never have an age group in mind when I work, but my sense of humor tends to be pretty clean. I’m more entertained by observational humor than poop jokes. I do like to do edgy humor but only if it’s funny and relevant. I will never do something edgy just for the sake of being edgy.

Jon: "Doctor Tooth" was drawn rather than being computer generated. This seems to
me a very time-consuming process. What do you think the benefits are of this process?

Alex: Both the drawn and the digital animation can be very time consuming indifferent ways. For “Dr. Tooth” I was trying out a program called “AfterEffects” to put together my scanned drawings and I found it to be a lot more cumbersome than Flash. I did like drawing on paper though. It made me feel a little bit more connected to what I was doing.

Jon: You produce your own music for your animations. What program or instrument do you use?
Alex: It is actually my brother, Adam Salsberg, who does the music. He records various instruments including piano, bass, guitar, xylophone, and then mixes them all together in his computer somehow. He’s a brilliant musician and I have no idea how he does it.

Jon: "The Ladies Room Monologues" maybe took you outside your comfort zone. How much help, other than with the voices, did you actually have?
Alex: I had a group of seven of my female friends help me out in writing the script, because I have no idea what goes on in the ladies room. Even with the help, I don’t think it was as funny as it could have been, just because I didn’t relate to it.

Jon: "That's what you think" shows you were animating at a very early age?" Was this you alone or were you working with a group of friends?
Alex: My friend Ellery helped me out on it. I still work with him on a lot of projects. I’m an artist who’s not that good with computers, and he’s a computer wiz who’s not that good with art, so we work well together.

Jon: You use a lot of different voices in your animations. Are these friends or course members (or both?)
Alex: Most of the voices are done by friends and classmates. I do a bunch of the voices too. The dentist who speaks at the end of “Dr. Tooth” was voiced by a goofy professor with a German accent.

Jon: Are there any animators you look up to or are inspired by?
Alex: I love the guys from back in the day, Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Hanna and Barbara, all those guys. I like some independent animators like Bill Plympton, and also some of the guys in the business right now, like Matt Groening, Jon Lasseter and Brad Bird.

Jon: All your animations on "Poke and Gravy" are 2D. Have you experimented with or plan to use 3D software?
Alex: I have a tiny bit of training in 3d software, but 2D is where most of my skill lies. I am currently a writer/storyboarder on a 3d project about an alligator.

Jon: What advice would you give to anyone who has just started animation or is thinking about starting animation?
Alex: Be original and be you. Don’t copy anything you’ve seen before. That doesn’t mean you can’t take inspiration from different styles you’ve seen, but make sure that everything you do is new, and comes from your unique point of view. Basically, find your voice.

Jon: Have you won any awards for animation?
Alex: I’ve won a few online awards, including awards from Newgrounds and Grab.com.

Jon: There are several forms of expressive art on your website (ie animation,short stories, art) but which one is your favourite and why?
Alex: My favorite is animation, but I really enjoy all kinds of creative ventures. I find that a lot of the stories and comics that I write end up giving me ideas that I want to adapt to animation.

Jon: You are presently studying at RIT. What exactly is this, where is it, and what does your really interesting course consist of?
Alex: RIT is the Rochester Institute of Technology, a really big university in New York. I am in the animation program there, and I take classes that teach me software, art technique, sound recording, scriptwriting, all kinds of cool stuff.

Jon: You have produced some spoof commercials for your site. This suggests that advertising is a possible career. But what are your intentions for the future?
Alex: My ultimate dream would be to have my own studio, but that takes time. There’s a chance I might try some commercial work, but really any job where I can be creative and use my skills is one for me.

Jon: Thank you Alex for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you have the best of success in your animation career. One day I'm looking forward to saying I interviewed a star!

Alexander’s ’s website is http://www.pokegravy.com/
His work is previewed on our
website

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Mike Blum "The Zit"

The Zit by Mike Blum has been seen no less than 62,00 times at Atom Fims. Since its release in 2005 it has also won a stack of awards. If you have ever laid a carpet you will now about the mysterious bubble that appears and no matter where you press it pops up elsewhere. Well the young man has invited his sweetheart to the school dance when he notices the spot on his face. Squeezing it just makes the situation worse. I actually laughed aloud it's so funny. A treat for Sunday.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Mike Lansdell "The Boy With The Hole In His Head"

The Boy With The Hole In His Head is a powerful and stylish 2D animated film made by Mike Lansdell in 2004. He is 24 years of age and from Bristol. The 3 minute movie commences with the birth of a child, quickly discarded due to a problem explained in the title, but rescued by a furry friend and then made whole again in an unexpected way. It is artistically drawn in shades of grey. Mike has won several awards for this animation and one can see why he has been recruited by Sumo Dojo Productions. His movie can be viewed via the website in the 2D section of the portfolio. This will certainly be one of our next movies of the week because we can learn so much from it.
Today I received Jonathan Wren's interview with the very talented and funny Alex Salsberg. It is so rewarding to read such articulate and honest replies to our questions. We will publish the interview both here and on our website.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Jonathan Wood "Hurry Home"


"Hurry Home" is a spectacular evocation of the 1940s and 50s shown on the website for London based Sumo Dojo Productions. The company showcases excellent work for Anchor Butter and McVities, as well as promo's for Big Brother. However what most catches my attention is a glorious four minute extravaganza starting and finishing in New York. You get a whole series of emblematic images of the time, particularly in America with the San Francisco bridge, an elevator and the US Mail van, but it also embraces the Trans-Siberian railway, ocean liners and a little Italian scooter. This last image emerges towards a finale racing against train, aeroplane, van and liner. The colours are a kind of sunset orange with black that is redolent of the age. The music is fabulous too featuring the creator Jonathan Wood, together with original music from Katz Kiely & The Brothers Devout. The BBC film network provide some information about Jonathan here. I am delighted that Jonathan comes from my home county, Cumbria. In fact his animation won the Best Student Animation North East & The Border Centre, RTS AWARDS 2005. You can see Jonathan's animation in full at the Sumo Dojo site in their 3D portfolio.
Tomorrow I will focus on another in the Sumo Dojo stable, Mike Lansdell and a lovely 2D animation.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Gobelins

Further to yesterday's post, GOBELINS, l’école de l’image, produces some exquisite work. I have had time to enjoy some more of their presentations for Annecy. Browsing their gallery is a treat: http://www.gobelins.fr/galerie/animation/.
They all repay viewing and it's impossible to pick out the best because they are all superb. Such talent. Two instances: look at the atmospheric setting for the train that falls to the ground in Traintamarre by Béatrice Bourloton, Sébastien Piquete. Eléa Gobbe Mevellec and Benjamin L'Hoste; Burning Safari by Vincent Aupetit, Florent de LaTaille, Jeanne Irzenski, Maxime Maleo, Aurélien Predal and Claude-William Trebutien is the most fantastic short about a robot attacking, or is it being attacked, by a chimpanzee. These animations exude life and vitality.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

"Cocotte-Minute"

"Cocotte-Minute" is a riotously funny movie for all except for those, such as some prominent individuals in my own family, who do not eat meat. The chefs are ready, sharpening their knives, the salt and pepper is added to the cooking pots, and the two chickens are in the cages preparing for lunch. They just need to be let out of the cages in their frantic race for the chopping block. Outside it is wondrously sunny and colourful. It is poignant that on such a day they are on the menu for tonight. Six students from Gobelins, l'école de l'image, in Paris took six months to prepare this supreme dish. No wonder it was chosen as one of the opening shorts for Annecy 2006.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Hokie Memorial Fund

Virginia Tech has created a memorial fund to remember their dead and support the living. We here at South Axholme have our own valued links with Virginia and we have prayed for all those affected by this awful calamity.
http://www.vt.edu/tragedy/memorial_fund.php

Monday, 16 April 2007

Isaac Botkin "Men O’ War"

There do seem a lot of Botkins involved in the production of Men O’ War. It is very much a family affair with sisters and brothers enlisted for the production to great effect. This is a jolly tale of pirates on the high seas with lashings of sound effects of cutlasses, tide and seagulls. It's all very dashing and enjoyable. The visual effects of the sea and sun are particularly impressive. But an interesting element of the affair is the unofficial use of lego bricks for everything from ship to island. Personally I can't see why Lego did not make the whole affair official because it certainly advertises their iconic product. The movie certainly impressed the company NewTek whose own product Lightwave 3D is used by Isaac to such good effect. The company published a very detailed and liberally illustrated profile of Isaac in February of this year - http://www.newtek.com/lightwave/profiles/IsaacBotkin/.
In the interview we learn that Isaac has set up a production company with his brothers. This is a fun animation, beautifully produced. I have shown it to my classes in the past and it has been well received. Isaac also publishes an informative blog: http://www.outside-hollywood.com.
It has lots of links to other sites that have attracted Isaac's lively interest. And praise too for the highly informative information about the making of the movie that Isaac has posted on his website.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Cecilia Aranovich "Bignose"

As the owner of a not inconsiderable nose myself I am qualified to recommend Bignose by Cecilia Aranovich. This is an animation about the champion of all noses based on a poem by Francisco Quevedo:
To a man with a big nose
Once there was a man stuck to a nose,/it was a nose more marvellous than weird,/it was a nearly living web of tubes,/it was a swordfish with an awful beard,/it was a sundial doomed to face the shade,/an elephant that looked up to the sky,/it was a nose of hangman and of scribe,/Ovidius Naso nostrilled all awry,/it was the bowsprit of a mighty ship,/like Egypt's pyramid it pierced the sky,/it was of noses all of the twelve tribes;/it was in noseness truly infinite,/an archnose shudder, and a frightening mask,/a monstrous chilblain, purpley and fried./
[Francisco de Quevedo (1580-1645)]
Given the range and diversity of images, you can see the scope for Cecilia to develop her movie. She places her nose in a variety of exotic locations with art, humour and skill. The original music by Victor Alexeeff and a delightful narration by David Hunt perfectly complement the piece. No wonder it has done so very well in festivals and screenings. Cecilia is, or was, a student of Academy of Entertainment and Technology at Santa Monica College. They have an interesting showcase of their latest work here: http://academy.smc.edu/showcase/images.html

Friday, 13 April 2007

Kurt Vonnegut & Peter Brookes

Kurt Vonnegut’s orbituary was in The Times today. There is also a moving picture of an empty cage replacing his normal website: http://www.vonnegut.com/. I read his novels as a youngster. At a time when I read everything science fictionish I thought Cat's Cradle was so clever.

Peter Brookes has featured before in this blog and the animation coursework. He is a brilliant artist and a magician when it comes to lampooning politicians. In The Times own words:
"Peter Brookes is the British Press Awards Cartoonist of the Year and Political Cartoonist of the Year with a body of work puncturing the pomposity of politicians." Today's cartoon is a case in point. Mr Bean and David Milliband. Who else would have made the connection? Actually the latter visited the school a year or so ago, was utterly charming and interested in our work, and was much taller than Rowan Atkinson. And for those whose knowledge of British politics is a bit sparse, I need to point out that David Milliband is a government minister whom many consider to be a future prime minister though some would have him attain the position rather earlier than he himself is presently inclined to do.

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Chris Watson (Lab Carpet)

In the practical examination students have 14 hours in which to complete an animation based on a given theme. Chris Watson chose "Persion Carpet" and came up with this novel means of connecting the scientist, mad or otherwise, with the rug. Many of our students opted to make their carpet quite magical but Chris takes an alternative view. His carpet is quite sane, insentient, it's just a rug. However the scientist has just created the secret of life itself, or something very like it. He methodically ticks off his planning sheet, spells "lily" incorrectly because scientists can't spell, and then complete with radiant test tube in hand marches off to who knows what. Well, certainly not me because that darn rug has got ruffled and the scientist isn't looking where he is going. This is very enjoyable, especially so as it was completed in an impossibly short period of time by just one student. Enjoy Lab Carpet.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

The Blue Plum Festival (and Mr Money)

The 2007 Blue Plum Animation Festival is a lovely name for a family orientated animation event. It is organized by the East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. There are three categories for entries: Student Animators, Independent Animators and Professional Animators. Entries have to be in by May 1st. In their archive section the organisers feature three of their past award winners. For what it is worth I enjoyed them. The student animation award for children went to Daesup Chang. His Painting Day is good fun with rousing country music, bright colours and rounded 3D figures. I once broke my wrist when my pooch pulled me off the pavement so I sympathise with the dog-owning cowboy whose attempts to paint his mechanical bull are disrupted when a bird lands on the control console. Dogs chase birds. Fred’s Birthday Surprise by Jim Watkins involves Fred anxious to tell his fellow Residential Home residents just how old he is. This won the Independent animator’s award for all ages – well it would wouldn’t it, Fred being the great age he is. But truthfully I was most impressed with Mr Money by Jamie Clennett. It has a suitably plum-mouthed narrator telling a surreal story of a character landing in a new land. Its style is reminiscent in a way of Terry Gilliam. The movie ends with the guy growing a banjo from his torso so you might get an idea of the style. There is a theme to the animation though. Australia was colonised and Jamie has some points to make about colonialisation. I was impressed enough to discover more about the creator. Jamie graduated in 2003 from the University Of Tasmania, School of Art. He’s very talented and I do feel a movie of the week moment coming on. Maybe even a request for an interview because I predict our students will like his work. Before that you might have a look at the festival site: http://digm.etsu.edu/bpaf/index.html.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Joanna Davidovich

This is the fifth in our series of interviews with those animators whose work has particularly appealed to our students here at South Axholme. Each interview is available in a more colourful format, along with suitable illustrations, on our website. Laura's interview will be posted when we return to school for the Summer Term.

Laura Ballinger interviews Joanna Davidovich

Joanna Davidovich is an animator from the USA. She made a film called “Juxtaposer” as a student and also created an informative website to go with the film. The film is about a girl who is lonely and sits on a park bench with a cat. Little dramas occur all around her although she herself is not involved. It makes her look and feel lonely. Suddenly a rather savage cat decides to sit beside her and life discovers meaning. In my interview I asked Joanna if she was a loner at college and if the animation reflects her. Well you will have to read on to find out! Joanna is a talented animator. All of her drawings are so very stylish. We also discover Joanna is to work for the BBC. Thanks again, Joanna, and I hope you like reading the interview.

Joanna: Hi Laura! Thanks for the interesting questions - I'll do my best to answer them all.


Laura: Because I come from the UK some of your terminology is a bit strange to me - I'm a bit confused about school and college types in the states - so this may be a dumb question but at what age did you start animating and why choose that particular subject?
Joanna: In America, our primary education consists of elementary school, then middle/junior high school, then high school. Our secondary education is usually a college or university, but can also be vocational school, junior college and the like. Arts education is generally weak in our public schools, and since animation is a very specialized artform, prospective animators will not have the opportunity to take classes until college level. I began my legitimate animation classes at 19 - in my third year of college. (The fact you're 15 and already taking animation classes is wonderful! You're getting quite a head start.) I had decided to study animation when I was 10, so choosing my educational paths wasn't too difficult.


Laura: What form does your training for animation take or did you just take the course at your school as part of your overall studies like I do?
Joanna: My college offered an entire major dedicated to animation- it was why I decided to go there.


Laura: In my animations class there are lots of boys and only seven girls including me. Why do you think that girls don't take as must interest in animation as boys?
Joanna: I don't think that’s true. I went to school with plenty of girls who were interested in animation. I think the historic disproportion of women animators is due more to a lack of opportunity (and sometimes outright refusal) for women to enter the certain careers. It was a horrible trend that is now thankfully considered archaic. But the appeal of animation isn't gender-specific at all.


Laura: What software do you use in your animation work?
Joanna: Erhm- I'm still experimenting with good ways to produce animation. It all starts off on paper- the software comes when I need to color it and make it look presentable as a final product. Juxtaposer was colored in Photoshop, but I'm looking into utilizing Flash as an ink/paint program.


Laura: Did you draw your work out first and scan the drawings or was it all done on screen?
Joanna: I draw everything first.


Laura: Why did you make Juxtaposer? Did it have anything to do with how you were feeling at the time of making it?
Joanna: It was my student thesis film. Honestly- I developed the story around the idea of a girl with a cat on her head.


Laura: In Juxtaposer the girl is very much alone. Are you a loner at college with nothing to do save for animating? (I'm sure you're not!)
Joanna: I was actually at my social peak in college. I had more friends in college than I ever had in high school, but I still didn't go out very much. Animation takes a great deal of labor, and it got priority over social concerns because it was, after all, the reason I was in school. Suffice it to say, yes- I know what it is to be lonely, but Juxtaposer was by no means a cry for help.

Laura: One of the most difficult things I do in animation is to get the character to walk. You seem to manage this quite easily. How did you do it?
Joanna: Well, walk cycles aren't easy. They're actually some of the most difficult things to animate because there is a veritable ballet of secondary motion and response actions in every frame of a good walk cycle. The secondary characters walk cycles in Juxtaposer were admittedly limited animation (I had some time constraints and had to cut corners) but I'm flattered that you liked them. I just tried to simplify the action as much as possible without losing the appeal. It was constant experimentation.

Laura: What was the most difficult thing you had to do in your animation other than hit the deadlines?
Joanna: The tedious things like clean-ups, inking, scanning, and coloring. If I could make a respectable film with just rough animation, I'd do it.

Laura: You had all sorts of voices on your animation plus other helpers. Was this very much a team effort?
Joanna: I did have help with the voices (some classmates), the sound design (a friend), and the scanning/coloring process (my boyfriend). I wouldn't call it a team effort though, because I didn't delegate any responsibility. The story, design, and animation were all done by me, and I was hands-on involved in the other aspects as well. So it was an individual effort, but I had help.

Laura: What tips would you give to anyone who wanted to become an animator?
Joanna: Draw. Draw. Draw.

Laura: Are there any reasons as to why you wanted to become an animator? Do you think your full time career will be, or is, in animation?
Joanna: I like to draw cartoons. I think I always will. I'm currently employed as an animator for TV commercials.

Laura: Have you received any awards or any recognition for animating? If so what?
Joanna: Yes- I have an obnoxious list which I will cut and paste:
September Shorts Film Fest [Millville, NJ] Sept 2006 : RISING STAR AWARD
Blue Plum Animation Fest [Johnson City, TN] June 2006 : BEST STUDENT, BEST IN SHOW
Hi Mom! Film Festival [Chapel Hill, NC] June 2006 : HONORABLE MENTION
ASIFA East Animation Fest [New York, NY] May 2006: 2nd PLACE STUDENT ANIMATION
Roma Int'l Film Festival [Rome, ITALY] April 2006 : BEST SHORT ANIMATION
George Lindsay UNA Film Festival [Florence, AL] March 06 : BEST STUDENT ANIMATION
Foursite Film Festival [Ogden City, UT] [Ogden City, UT] March 2006 : BEST ANIMATION
Fargo Film Festival [Fargo, ND] March 2006 : HONORABLE MENTION
Smogdance Film Festival [Pomona, CA] Jan 2006 : HONORABLE MENTION
Zion International Film Festival [Springdale, UT] Oct 2005 : BEST ANIMATION
Angelus Awards [Hollywood, CA] Oct 2005 : FINALIST
WestFest Short Film Festival [Abilene, TX] Oct 2005 : OUTSTANDING ANIMATION AWARD San Diego Girl Film Festival [San Diego, CA] Oct 2005 : AUDIENCE CHOICE AWARD
International Family Film Festival [Santa Clarita, CA] Sept 2005 : FINALIST
Black Earth Film Festival [Galesburg, IL] Sept 2005 : BEST ANIMATION
Of course, these aren't exactly Annecy or Ottowa and I didn't even make it to the Regional Student Academy Awards, but it was more than I expected for my little film.

Laura: Are there any particular animators you particularly admire?
Joanna: Ooooh, a great many. There are the classic animation directors like Chuck Jones and his unit, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, Ward Kimball, Freddie Moore, Norman McClaren- Today there's Glen Keane, Joanna Quinn, Don Herdzfelt, Pat Smith, Bill Plympton, and basically anyone industrious to complete a film has my admiration as well.

Laura: Have you any other animations being prepared?
Joanna: I do - I was commissioned to animate the main title to a sketch comedy show on the BBC. Actually - I should be working on it right now. It’s a beast of a deadline and I've had a block for the past....erhm, three months.

Laura: Have you got a photograph or image of yourself I can use to illustrate the interview?
Joanna: Here’s the headshot I used for the festival stuff. Thanks again for these great questions! I feel so important now.

Laura: You feel important! I feel honoured to have all my questions answered so quickly. Working for our own BBC! We are impressed.

Joanna’s website is http://juxtaposer.cupojo.net/

Monday, 9 April 2007

Two Rivers Films - a commercial break

Much of our television advertising is in the form of animated shorts. Some of these adverts are hugely inventive and stylish. You can advertise a product and retain your artistic integrity. Today a commercial break during Five News led to my search for the latest Strepsils commercial and from there to Two Rivers Films, a UK company formed in 1992. I was unable to discover the most recent commercial but I remember this pretty well - sharp. Using imagery as potent as barbed wire, spikes, thorns, mountain streams and sunrise the commercial communicates its point remarkably effectively. There is a fine animation for Sunbeam electric blankets, the "blanket with a brain" and also a fruchte bombe sensation, "streetball". The lead animators for these are, in order, Geoff Pedder, Roger Mainwood, and, finally, David Parvin/Roger Mainwood. I also greatly enjoyed their "other stuff", notably a gorgeous digital sunset by David Parvin and what is an amazing recreation of a Wellington Bomber by David Parvin and Lubo Hristov. David modelled the bomber using Alias Power Animator. It is so life-like it could have been contemporary footage. Parents often ask me where learning to create animations may lead to. I really have no idea. I have covered television commercials before in the blog and am presently considering changing our scheme of work to cover the industry.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

"Sneeze" Adam Fadra

sSneeze is a cheerful little movie by a student with a good pedigree in animation, his sister Sofia having been one of our stars. Adam takes the fear engendered by bird flu to its obvious conclusion. It has some very nice touches but what I like about it most are the snatches of dialogue - a sort of North Lincolnshire Wallace and Gromit. I wish Adam had done the whole movie like this. He certainly has great talent. The final two thirds of the movie is better than the opening. By the way, Sofia produced this atmospheric piece with her partner Louise Lawrence - Reflections. Perhaps we were not as technically minded then but the girls' intelligence shines through in their treatment of a girl's insecurity.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Me(n)tal Flesh, Madmesh Asylum & The ogre, the wolf and the little girl

Me(n)tal Flesh from Peter Hertzberg is a gripping 3D college piece about a journey of an android or robot. The figure meets with various creatures on his journey but never more tellingly than his spectacular encounter with a mechnical hydra. There's a rhythmic, electronic soundtrack and it's suitably experimental and futuristic. I'm not too sure about the philosophical bit on the end. I viewed it after looking at the spendid blender site - http://www.blender.org/ - and specifically at their 2007 Festival. I also liked the similar looking Madmesh Asylum by Niels Philipsen which is also in black and white, also fantastic and surreal with a touch of humour so it doesn't take itself too seriously. If it's colour you are after and a French lesson try Laurent Tagyn's The ogre, the wolf and the little girl which is really a multi-coloured version of the puzzle about how to get chickens and a fox across a river in a small boat. Once as a boy scout I had to work this puzzle out for real, or something as real as we ever attempted in the scouts.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Persian Carpet is Thread Bare

Before I attend to my responsibilities over Easter may I commend an animation completed within the 14 hour time limits for our GCSE examination. Three students combined their talents and came up with this absolute gem: Thread Bare. The theme was Persian Carpet and most students used the flying carpet as their storyline. However Matthew Howard, Anthony Smith and Jonathan Scott experimented and came up with this pretty stunning end result. With the exception of a rather wordy explanation for a moment or two, the movie is a brief history of mankind told in a manner sympathetic to the theme. It's almost all done frame by frame and has a shimmering, mobile quality to it. All the boys are artists and could take animation further into their careers. I do so love it when my students do the unexpected. As I say, I commend it to you.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Little Red Plane (and Red Balloon)

I returned to a number of emails this afternoon and one well wrapped DVD from Joey Jones. So I have at last seen the full copy of Little Red Plane. It is a heart-warming movie, very sentimental and I mean this very much as a compliment. The story of the little boy following in his father's flight-path is not a new one but here the beautifully crafted figures and action sequences are a joy. It is also very much a child's world. Joey has very kindly agreed to be interviewed by one of our students when we return from the Easter break. In preparation I shall simply have to introduce my classes to one of my favourite films (as opposed to animations) Le Ballon Rouge. It is a long time since I have seen the film; it used to be shown regularly on British television but, unless I've missed it, not for years sadly. Albert Lamorisse's thirty minute or so movie, made in 1956, traces the journey of a little boy through the streets of Paris as he is led to his adventures by the little red balloon. I remember the quintessentially French music very well too. In the absence of a recording I guess this film will have to be a purchase. So, two rich offerings for my classes, and two touches of class. Surely Joey and Wira Winata were influenced by the French classic.
I also received a welcome email from Naoki Mitsusi who has an animation project in mind and I just hope this highly talented guy whose work I admire so much decides to act on his impulses.
Finally my copy of The Guardian this morning featured an article on Mark Anders from Adobe who extols the virtues of Flash, the player being the most widely installed piece of software around. The article moved on to developments in the software designed as much, from what I can make out, to ward off encroachments by Microsoft and build in the words of the reporter "the new publishing tool of the century" Well, duuh, don't know about that but it allows our students to produce animations like Stormcrow by Lindsey Robinson and Brendan Campbell a year or so back which also features a dog fight in the skies and I think quite a sentimental feel to it. For now I'll check out http://www.andersblog.com/ to see if I can understand the latest developments in flash.